Thomas Jefferson Papers

To Thomas Jefferson from David Leonard Barnes, 18 May 1801

From David Leonard Barnes

Providence May 18th 1801.


I should do great injustice to my own feelings, if I did not in addition to the usual Letter to the Secretary of State, declaring my acceptance of the appointment as District Judge, trouble you with this personally, to acknowledge the high sense I have of the honor done me, by that appointment both on account of the confidence you have thought proper to place in me, and the very friendly manner in which it has been done I never doubted but that Mr. Greens appointment was unconstitutional, though he informed me that a majority of the Senate were of a contrary opinion—I told him however that if he was eventually appointed, I presumed his Commission would be a temporary one, as I was fully convinced any other Commission, would expire with the next Session of the Senate—The Letter from the Honorable Levi Lincoln was so very explicit, the principles so self evident, and the inference so conclusive, that I believe there is not a doubt remaining on the mind of any reasonable man who has seen it—In addition to its having excited in me a degree of sinsibility which I cannot express, it has quieted the doubts and apprehensions of all candid men and fully confirmed the confidence in your administration which the people of this State were before disposed to indulge—I doubted at first about the propriety of shewing it, but upon consideration, was convinced it would have the effect it has produced—If I had not shewn it, Jealousy the offspring of disappointment, would have started a thousand suggestions that I had endeavoured to obtain the office to the exclusion of Mr Green—These are now entirely prevented—and the confidence of my fellow citizens, with which I have been flattered for some time past, I find is encreas’d by this appointment, and of course it gives me an opportunity, as far as is consistent with the duty of the office I retain, to be the more useful, in the support of the wise and prudent measures which I have every reason to believe you will pursue and will characterize your Administration—With Sentiments of the highest Respect

I have the Honor to be your most Obedt Servt

David Leonard Barnes

RC (DLC); at foot of text: “Honorable Thomas Jefferson President of the United States”; endorsed by TJ as received 25 May and so recorded in SJL.

Massachusetts native David Leonard Barnes (1760–1812) graduated from Harvard in 1780, then read law before establishing a legal practice in Taunton in 1783. Relocating to Providence in 1793, he was appointed U.S. attorney for Rhode Island in 1797. On 30 Apr. 1801, TJ appointed Barnes U.S. District judge for Rhode Island in place of Ray Greene, a Federalist senator and a midnight appointee of John Adams whose commission inadvertently named him to the U.S. circuit court instead of the district court. Barnes remained district judge until his death on 3 Nov. 1812 (Biographical Directory of the Federal Judiciary, 1789–2000 [Lanham, Md., 2001], 365; 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 , 1:252; Providence Gazette, 7 Nov. 1812; Vol. 33:671, 675; Theodore Foster to TJ, 28 Apr. 1801).

Barnes wrote James Madison on 14 May, acknowledging receipt of a 1 May letter from the acting secretary of state, Levi Lincoln, which enclosed his commission as district judge (Madison, Papers, Sec. of State Ser. description begins J. C. A. Stagg, ed., The Papers of James Madison, Secretary of State Series, Charlottesville, 1986–, 8 vols. description ends , 1:173).

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