Thomas Jefferson Papers

To Thomas Jefferson from Thomas Sumter, Jr., 20 April 1801

From Thomas Sumter, Jr.

Stateburgh 20th. April 1801


My Father has desired me to determine for myself & communicate to you my answer on the subject of the appointment, you have done me the honor of offering me—

I must confess Sir, that had I expected or wished for a public employment, no appointment would have been so agreeable to me as one of this nature; & no one so acceptable, for several reasons, as this particular one.—

I am therefore not only indebted to you for the flattering manner in which you have proposed it, but also for selecting the one which is most grateful to me—& I must beg your pardon for hesitating so long in making up my mind on the acceptance of it—

I am not insensible to the honor of serving the public, when a mans circumstances & qualifications authorize him to undertake it—On the contrary, I think it his duty—but I really feel great diffidence in my abilities to discharge the duties which may occur in one of the stations, to which this appointment may introduce me—I concieve the functions of a private Secretary, to be simple & easy, under the direction of an able man, & the situation an excellent one for attaining political acquirement, & not unfavorable to improvement of any other kind; And in truth, my desire to obtain an opportunity for these purposes, which private concerns have hitherto denied me, renders this one verry inviting especially in the scene where I should be placed & at the present crisis of affairs in Europe—such an occasion indeed, might well deserve some sacrifices of time and interest, & I should be perfectly satisfied with the allowance even were it less—as I am not under the necessity of making that an object of consideration—I am well aware of the advantages which the rank of Secretary of legation, would add to the situation of a private Secretary, & of the difference between those & the grade of Chargè des affaires; but as I cannot distinctly foresee what objects may arise under the latter character—I cannot help being timid in undertaking it—If, as I believe, the operations of such an officer, are left verry little to his own discretion & are guided by specific instructions from Government; his duty is much simplified & I might hope with the favor of your friendship & explicit directions, to be enabled to give satisfaction—at least so much, as fidelity & zeal could insure—Thus Sir, have I ventured to lay before you my wishes & my fears as an appology for, the delay I have already made—& were I to proceed to France before Mr. Livingston, the disposition of my Father’s affairs & my own, would oblige me to extend the delay probably1 untill the middle of June, which would be as early as I should be able to arrive at the seat of Government; where I presume you design to have my instructions delivered & where I should be pleased to recieve them—as it would afford me an opportunity of being made acquainted with some of the officers of government & perhaps with Mr. Livingston which would be verry desireable to me before my departure—

Should it be convenient Sir, to admit this arrangement, in point of time, I have determined to accept the appointment—in the mode you are pleased to recommend—& I shall be proud & happy If I can aquit myself so as to merit the approbation of an Administration, under which I promise myself it will be an honor to serve—

However If the public service should risk any prejudice from this postponement—I beg you will not make my appointment a matter of any consideration—I should be inexcuseable to wish it—I shall therefore be prepared to recieve your commands—whatever the descision may be.

I am Sir, with the highest respect & esteem your mt. obt. Hu St

Tho. Sumter Jr.

RC (MoSHi: Jefferson Papers); endorsed by TJ as received 1 May and so recorded in SJL.

Thomas Sumter, Jr. (1768–1840), was the only son of Congressman Thomas Sumter, Sr., of South Carolina. His term as secretary of the U.S. legation in Paris was brief, ending with his resignation in May 1802 following a dispute with Robert R. Livingston over the duties of the office. He served briefly as James Monroe’s private secretary in London before returning to South Carolina in November 1803. Shortly before he left office, TJ appointed Sumter a lieutenant colonel in the light artillery on 7 Jan. 1809. On 6 Mch. 1809, President James Madison appointed him minister plenipotentiary to the Portuguese court at Rio de Janeiro, where he remained until 1821 (S.C. Biographical Directory, House of Representatives description begins J. S. R Faunt, Walter B. Edgar, N. Louise Bailey, and others, eds., Biographical Directory of the South Carolina House of Representatives, Columbia, S.C., 1974–92 , 5 vols. description ends , 4:546–7; Madison, Papers, Sec. of State Ser., 3:220n, 228, 5:564; JEP, description begins Journal of the Executive Proceedings of the Senate of the United States… to the Termination of the Nineteenth Congress, Washington, D.C., 1828, 3 vols. description ends 2:93, 119; Thomas Tisdale, A Lady of the High Hills: Natalie Delage Sumter [Columbia, S.C., 2001], 31, 49–57).

1Word interlined.

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