Thomas Jefferson Papers

To Thomas Jefferson from Tench Coxe, 24 June 1801

From Tench Coxe

Lancaster Pa. June 24th. 1801


You will be pleased to consider me as not to disposed to accept the appointments you mention in your letter of the 17th. instant. I hope no person knows that they have been offered to me, particularly by yourself, and I earnestly request that the fact may never be communicated. I could wish, if it is known, that you meditated the offer, that it may be believed that on reflexion you did not think it proper to make it. Any publicity to the circumstance would injure me, and I beg you to allow me to say that it would be capable of very unpleasant remarks in reference to yourself and your arrangements. My enemies would treat it as an evidence of very low estimation, and your enemies would, in my opinion, present it to the world in several views injurious to yourself, your plan of government and our critically situated cause—We are yet surrounded with awful perils.

I have never met with a republican, who did not think that it was necessary to relieve the people from a number of those, who under the name of federalists, monopolized the powers of the country. Nor have I met a federalist, who did not admit the moderation and reasonableness of putting half the offices into the hands of republicans—If you do less our people will be sensibly affected, and our opponents will not ascribe it to respectable considerations. I speak on observation and reflexion. I know that candid men, on both sides, have noticed to me the justice you would certainly do to me. You say I was “unjustly removed.” If so to with-hold from me the vacated offices of Secys. of State, Treasury & Navy, Supervisor, Commissary of Military Stores, and my own office of Commissioner of the Revenue—to keep the customs of Philada. in the hands of three determined party men, to shew no consideration for My indignities, my bitter sufferings, and lawless persecutions, my large and tender family are matters, it would appear well to reconsider. The very offices offered, can only be reached by “removals.” Why may not the office No. 31 be vacated by giving to that person the two appointments offered to me. Surely my preparation as a Merchant, as a member of the standing Comme. of our trade, as a Commissioner to our commercial convention, as the sole Commercial member of Congress, as the superintendant of our commerce in the office of the assistant Secy of the treasury, and as a man constantly advised with by you & all the members of our government in matters of commerce prepares me better than him. Make him Commissioner of the Revenue. Make him navy agent. Make him a Commr. for the federal city. Let not the last remaining republican in the T.D. in all the Dts. be left a suffering monument of injustice before your exulting enemies. If the Senate refuse me you will not be culpable. But I do not believe it. I am ashamed to say it, my present hardships do not arise altogether from federalists—I will not believe that a decent moderate office, for which I am particularly prepared will be denied me by the present Senate. If it should be so you will have done your part. The fear of your removing No. 2,2 will secure my confirmation in N. 3. My second brother is speaker of the Jersey Legislature, & of great federal influence.3

But has N. 3 done nothing hostile to the safety of the Country—in our late perilous trials. Did he not suffer a citizen of Pennsa. to be whipt like a malefactor by his Corps (the Western Army)4 without maintaining military discipline, or punishing the violators of a citizens house and person—Was not his present office all this time a sinecure—Was he ever qualified to maintain an intelligent check over the office N. 2. Was he punctually attending in his place—was he not the chosen instrument to lead the aristocratic band of 75,000 associators—making his office a sinecure, Did he not hold up political ideas of the most exceptional kind. What was my situation at the mean time—removed from an office worth 3000 Drs. ann:—menaced with banishment and assassination—abused in the federal prints—neglected by acquaintances, by friends, by connexions, by blood relations—openly told I was intentionally made to suffer in my Business—and that it was all right and I must be made to feel it more. Under all these circumstances did I not pursue in 1798, 1799 & 1800 every measure that would rescue us from war with republics—leagues wth. Monarchies—and protect the characters of our republican candidates of 1799 & 1800 from fatal obloquies. Does the Government find another man who has endured the same trials—will it be seen to restore all but me—will it fail to place me by some immediate arrangement in the modest station N. 3.—Why was there no delay to engage a place not vacated, to Genl. Muhlenberg, for which all say he is not at all calculated or prepared. Why so much delay for me—

I beg you to excuse me, Sir. Your character and mine are not a little concerned in my case—nor is it uninteresting to the character of your government and administration. I am compelled to do Justice to my name, my delicate & more than half worn constitution, and above all to my large growing & tender family. The salary of my office since my removal exceeds 10,000 dollars. It was made for me. Both parties placed me in it. Mr. Miller did not expect to hold it—I do not ask it. I do not want—It would be my wish to be in Philada. Since the events about Capt. Jones’s nomination, Mr. Miller’s office being never mentioned to me, the early provision for Genl. Muhlenburg, my explicit letters, and the humble offer of the 17th. I fear I do not stand in your mind or in the government in such a footing as to render my situation respectable or comfortable at Washington—

Whatever you may perceive in this letter, Sir, of the effusions of an aching heart, believe me were I a single man you would not have to read them. My duty to my family compels me to ask a part of that Justice which is due to me—

I have the honor to be, sir, yr. respectful humble Servant

Tench Coxe

You may judge of the public expectation in regard to me from this fact, that in March, after your election was decided, seven applications were made for my present office—I could add many other evidences—

RC (DNA: RG 59, LAR); torn; with two interlineations in TJ’s hand (see notes 1 and 2); endorsed by TJ as received 2[8] June and so recorded in SJL.

The three determined party men in the Philadelphia customs office were George Latimer, collector, William McPherson, naval officer, and William Jackson, surveyor, all “aggressively Federalist.” According to Coxe’s key of positions, Office No. 3 was that of naval officer and No. 2, that of collector (see enclosure at Coxe to TJ, 19 Apr. 1801). Philadelphia’s custom house has been described as “among the most active politically” (Prince, Federalists description begins Carl E. Prince, The Federalists and the Origins of the U.S. Civil Service, New York, 1977 description ends , 86, 88, 92–3).

William Coxe, Jr., served as speaker of the New Jersey general assembly (Votes and Proceedings of the Twenty-Fifth General Assembly of the State of New-Jersey [Trenton, 1801], 3).

Whipt Like a Malefactor: for the whipping of newspaper editor Jacob Schneider, see Vol. 31:152n. The same troops entered houses in Reading and attempted to force the occupants to tear down the liberty poles they had erected (Philadelphia Aurora, 24 May 1799). Office all this time a sinecure: on 11 Mch. 1799, McPherson resigned as militia commander of “MacPherson’s Blues” and received a commission as brigadier general in the federal army to lead an expedition against John Fries and other tax protesters in the Pennsylvania counties of Northampton, Montgomery, and Bucks. According to a report in the Aurora, McPherson left Philadelphia on 4 Apr. with four troops of volunteer cavalry attached to the Pennsylvania militia and two troops of “volunteer cavalry attached to the Presidential army.” Fries was arrested on 6 April and brought to Philadelphia. McPherson triumphantly returned to the city on 23 Apr. (Philadelphia Aurora, 5 Apr. 1799; Gazette of the United States, 24 Apr. 1799; Paul D. Newman, Fries’s Rebellion: The Enduring Struggle for the American Revolution [Philadelphia, 2004], 146–64; Syrett, Hamilton description begins Harold C. Syrett and others, eds., The Papers of Alexander Hamilton, New York, 1961–87, 27 vols. description ends , 22:388). John Graff, an inspector, who was also known as the deputy collector at Philadelphia, supervised the daily operations at the custom house and made it possible for McPherson to lead the expedition and have dual positions. Graff was noted for his administrative skills and noninvolvement in party politics. McPherson was still serving as naval officer when he died in 1813 (Prince, Federalists description begins Carl E. Prince, The Federalists and the Origins of the U.S. Civil Service, New York, 1977 description ends , 92–4; Cooke, Coxe description begins Jacob E. Cooke, Tench Coxe and the Early Republic, Chapel Hill, 1978 description ends , 486).

Coxe’s explicit letters on appointments he would accept included those to TJ of 10 and 23 Mch. and 19 and 23 Apr.

My present office: Coxe resigned as secretary of the Pennsylvania Land Office in Lancaster in 1801 (Cooke, Coxe description begins Jacob E. Cooke, Tench Coxe and the Early Republic, Chapel Hill, 1978 description ends , 399).

1TJ here interlined “Naval officer.”

2TJ here interlined “Latimer.”

3Preceding sentence interlined.

4Three words in parentheses interlined.

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