Thomas Jefferson Papers

To Thomas Jefferson from Theodore Foster, 21 July 1801

From Theodore Foster

Providence July 21st. 1801

Dear Sir,

Be pleased to accept my sincerest Thanks, for your Letter of the 6th. Ulto., which I Recd. the 15th,—the Day the General Assembly of this State met, at Newport, which I was obliged to attend during the Session. For more than a Fortnight, after my Return home, I was so much afflicted by an Inflamation in my Eyes and Face, (the Effect of a Sudden Cold), as to be unable to write. I should otherwise have done myself the Honour to have made an earlier Acknowledgment of the Obligations I am under, for the Information your Letter contained. It was the more interesting, on account of the Share this Town has in the Mediterranian Commerce, in which my Son-in-Law Stephen Tillinghast, is also personally engaged, having gone to the Mediterranian with a valuable Ship and Cargo, belonging to Messrs. Murray and Mumford, of New York: It relieved us from the Anxiety occasioned by the News Paper Publications that Hostilities had been actually commenced.—

I was surprized to learn that Three Years Arrearages were due to Algiers. I hope however that the prompt Measures which your Excellency has taken to fulfil our Treaty with that Power will prevent a Rupture which, at this Time, would be peculiarly distressing. Many Vessels richly laden from the New England States have adventured to the different Ports of the Mediterranean, a great Proportion of which would, in that Event be probably lost. John Rogers of this Town Brother of Dr. Wm Rogers of Philadelphia, sailed some Weeks since for Palermo in Sicily, with a Ship and Cargo, I am told, of the Value of more than an Hundred Thousand Dollors.—and I believe there are still greater Adventures from Massachusetts.—As the Northern States are greatly interested, in the present and in the expected Commerce of the Eastern World, the Fitting out of our national Ships, which have sailed and which are about to sail, for its Protection, is a Measure universally popular in New England. It is however hoped that the pacific Disposition of our Country, tempered with manly Fortitude with Justice and Clemency, will, even on the Barbarous Coast of the South Side of the Mediterranian continue to be followed with their usual Advantages,—Neutrality and a flourishing Commerce.—That Policy is generally safe which springs from a benevolent, Generous Spirit, and is founded in Justice, shewing itself firm and undaunted, when Occasion shall require it, keeping itself however always within the Bounds of Reason and Prudence—Qua si adsent “nullum Numen abest.”

Your Answer to the Address of the Legislature of this State has been published, in all the Newspapers of New England, and has given universal Satisfaction. It has been the means as was anticipated by those who promoted the Address of adding to that Confidence in your Administration of the Government which has been rapidly increasing ever since its Commencement. Though there is a Party who are opposed and will continue to be opposed yet I believe it will wax weaker and weaker. Unless something extraordinary shall happen I think it doubtful whether an Attempt will be made to bring forward a Candidate, at the next Election against the present President, if proper Measures are seasonably taken to preserve and continue the Public Confidence, in the Executive Power. I suppose your Excellency has probably heard of the Entertainment given at Stephen Higginson’s in Boston, to Mr. Ellsworth, on his Arrival from Europe. It was then proposed, in a large Company of Essex Junto Federalists that Measures should be taken, for supporting the Election of General Pinckney and Mr. Rufus King as President and Vice President, at the next Election. Mr. Ellsworth was asked his Opinion.—He replied in his prompt, masterly and decisive Way.—He gave his Opinion fully and decidedly against any Attempt of the Kind, with such strong and forcible Reasons as are said to have had a great Effect, in discouraging any Attempt to support “the Phalanx of Opposition1 recommended by General Hamilton, in his Public Address, at New York. The Reasons urged by Mr. Ellsworth have not got into Print, but will be remembered, and should Occasion require will be communicated to the Public, who will not fail of giving them the Weight they deserve.—

I inclose a Copy of an Oration, delivered from this Town on the 4th Instant by Mr. Tristam Burges, not because I approve of the Sentiments he expressed, which participate too much of an intollerant unaccommodating Party Spirit. But that Your Excellency may have an Opportunity of Judging at least of the Character of the Orator, and of learning the Manner in which “Political Deception” is attempted to be kept up by high-toned Federalists in this part of the Country, at the same time that they charge it on the Friends of the present Administration. I was too unwell to be present at the Delivery of it.—

Presuming on your Goodness and the Friendship with which you have been pleased to honour Me, I shall take the Liberty of writing, by the next Mail, on the Subject of an annual Publication, which I have sometime contemplated, intended to give an Historical and correct View of the Motives which influence the Counsels of the Country, more especially of the executive Power, so far as they are known, and it may be advisable to publish them, and of requesting the Favour of your Opinion of the Propriety and Feasibility of such an Undertaking, remaining in the mean Time with Sentiments of the highest Esteem & Respect most sincerely,

Your Friend and Obedient Servt.

Theodore Foster

RC (DLC); at head of text: “President Jefferson”; endorsed by TJ as received 6 Aug. and so recorded in SJL. Enclosure: Tristam Burges, An Oration, Delivered in the Baptist Meeting-House, in Providence, on the Fourth of July, 1801, in Commemoration of American Independence (Providence, 1801); Shaw-Shoemaker description begins Ralph R. Shaw and Richard H. Shoemaker, comps., American Bibliography: A Preliminary Checklist for 1801–1819, New York, 1958–63, 22 vols. description ends , No. 256.

New York merchant Stephen Tillinghast married Foster’s eldest daughter, Theodosia, in 1794. He and his business partner, Lebeus Loomis, declared bankruptcy in late 1800 (Genealogies of Rhode Island Families, From Rhode Island Periodicals. 2 vols. [Baltimore, 1983], 1:526; Syrett, Hamilton description begins Harold C. Syrett and others, eds., The Papers of Alexander Hamilton, New York, 1961–87, 27 vols. description ends , 22:60; New York Mercantile Advertiser, 15 Jan. 1801).

Murray and Mumford: probably John B. Murray and John P. Mumford, New York merchants with extensive shipping interests (Syrett, Hamilton description begins Harold C. Syrett and others, eds., The Papers of Alexander Hamilton, New York, 1961–87, 27 vols. description ends , 18:456).

John Rogers may have been the person of the same name who acted as supercargo for the Brown family of Providence on commercial voyages to India, China, and the East Indies during the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries (James B. Hedges, The Browns of Providence Plantations, The Nineteenth Century [Providence, 1968], 30–5, 142–4). His Brother was probably William Rogers, a 1769 graduate of Rhode Island College and professor of oratory and English language at the University of Pennsylvania from 1789 to 1811 (University of Pennsylvania, Biographical Catalogue of the Matriculates of the College, Together with Lists of the Members of the College Faculty and the Trustees Officers and Recipients of Honorary Degrees, 1749–1893 [Philadelphia, 1894], xxi, 519).

Prudence—qua si Adsent “Nullum Numen Abest”: “prudence—which if present, no divine power is absent.” Foster paraphrases the Latin axiom: “Nullum numen abest, si sit prudentia,” that is, “No divine power is absent, if there is prudence.” The axiom is an adaptation of Juvenal, Satire X, line 365: “Nullum numen habes, si sit prudentia,” that is “Thou wouldst have no divinity, O Fortune, if we had but wisdom” (G. G. Ramsay, trans., Juvenal and Persius [Cambridge, Mass., 1940], 220–1).

Your Answer to the Address: TJ to the General Assembly of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations, 26 May.

Phalanx of Opposition: in a campaign speech made at New York on 10 April, and reported in the New York Commercial Advertiser, Alexander Hamilton called on Federalists “to present such a phalanx as might enable us to support the chief magistrate, if he went right, and sufficient to deter him if he appeared disposed to go wrong” (Syrett, Hamilton description begins Harold C. Syrett and others, eds., The Papers of Alexander Hamilton, New York, 1961–87, 27 vols. description ends , 25:375–6).

A Providence attorney and active Federalist, Tristam Burges represented his state in Congress from 1825 to 1835. In his Fourth of July oration, Burges warned his audience that political deception was the greatest threat to American liberty, detailing an extended history of how tyranny in the guise of democracy and reform had undermined freedom in ancient and modern civilizations (Biog. Dir. Cong. description begins Biographical Directory of the United States Congress, 1774–1989, Washington, D.C., 1989 description ends , 703).

Annual Publication: Foster maintained a lifelong interest in history and became one of Rhode Island’s most assiduous antiquarians following his retirement from the Senate in 1803. Although he compiled a voluminous collection of books and manuscripts, he never published any historical writings of his own (DAB description begins Allen Johnson and Dumas Malone, eds., Dictionary of American Biography, New York, 1928–36, 20 vols. description ends ; Richard M. Bayles, ed., History of Providence County, Rhode Island, 2 vols. [New York, 1891], 2:629–30).

1Opening quotation mark supplied by Editors.

Index Entries