Thomas Jefferson Papers

To Thomas Jefferson from Benjamin Stoddert, 14 March 1801

From Benjamin Stoddert

Navy Depart. 14 March 1801.


I understand from the letter with which you honored me, of yesterdays date, that I am not to send the letter I proposed, to Mr Marbury—but that, as it makes a part of my representation to you, it may be recorded in the books of the office, which I will have done.

I confess it would have been more agreeable to me, to have sent the letter to Mr Marbury, because the contractors have been taught to expect that I would have the disputed point settled while I remained in office—not from an Idea that it would be the disposition of any person who might execute the duties of the Navy Department, under your administration, to deny them Justice—but from the apprehension that their claim to the Philadelphia prices, might not be so well understood as by the person under whose authority they made the contracts.

In the case of the Southern contracts, a positive rule could not well be applied at this time—& for any rule which mitigates the hardship of their case, they must be indebted to the Indulgence of Government—in the case of the contractors here, a rule could be applied, a rule too which the Contractors think and which I confess I also think, must in Justice govern in the settlement with them. I think it must govern, because both they & the Public agent who contracted with them, concur in agreeing that they were made to understand the prices agreed on, were the Phila. prices—even at these prices they will probably be loosers by their contracts.

I thought it due to the persons interested & to myself, to say this much in explanation—and have the honor to be, with

great respect Sir yr. most obed. Serv

Ben. Stoddert

RC (DLC); endorsed by TJ as received 15 Mch. and so recorded in SJL. FC (Lb in DNA: RG 45, LSP).


Following the entries for Stoddert’s correspondence with TJ of 12–14 Mch. recorded in the Navy Department letterbooks are entries for two documents regarding the disposition of the navy under the Peace Establishment Act. Neither document is addressed or signed, but they presumably record discussions between TJ and Stoddert, or perhaps other naval officials, on immediate steps to be taken to reduce the navy. The first document, which is undated, makes recommendations regarding the discharge and terms of enlistment of naval personnel, transporting a copy of the convention with France to the Île de France, and the recall of navy vessels still in the West Indies. The second document, dated 23 Mch. 1801, records that it is “Agreed with Mr. Stoddart” that the ship Herald shall be dispatched to recall vessels in the West Indies; that a copy of the convention be sent to the Île de France with Jacob Lewis, the former consul, who would travel in his own ship; and that the crews of the ship Connecticut and frigate President be discharged. The second document concludes with a list of the 13 frigates to be retained in service, with their current locations and dispositions, and a list of navy vessels in port and at sea to be sold (DNA: RG 45, LSP; NDQW, description begins Dudley W. Knox, ed., Naval Documents Related to the Quasi-War between the United States and France, Naval Operations, Washington, D.C., 1935–38, 7 vols. (cited by years) description ends Dec. 1800-Dec. 1801, 145–6).

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