Thomas Jefferson Papers

To Thomas Jefferson from George Helmbold, 30 July 1801

From George Helmbold

Georgetown, District of Columbia July 30th 1801

Honoured Sir,

Presuming the press of business would render it inconvenient for you to grant me a personal interview, I take this method of soliciting your attention—Men of information have frequently advanced it as their opinion, that so respectable a portion of the population of the United States as the Germans consist of, ought to have more attention paid them by government, on the score of diffusing information, than the former Administration thought proper to pay them—As a german I cannot but observe and lament their total ignorance of the most interesting and important acts of government—Hence it arises that they so frequently commit infranctions on the laws, and are more easily diverted from supporting government by malevolent and designing characters—Nay, I am certain means are now taking to divide the republican interst in Pennsylvania, by misrepresenting every Official act of the present administration; in order to ward off the intended evil, information should be profusely distributed, particularly among the Germans; and the effectual means would be, to direct the laws of the late session to be published in one, two, or more german papers, and to endeavour to obtain an act from the national legislature sanctioning the printing of the laws of the United States in the german language—Could the above objects be effected, I, as a co—partner in a German press at Philadelphia, issuing a paper to a large respectable number of subscribers would engage to publish them on a correct, neat and economical plan—My next request is, should you deem it proper to make any future appointments in Pennsylvania, I venture to solicit your attention to me. I am publicly known in my native city, and trust that any information you may request would prove highly satisfactory—I am now engaged in publishing an “American Gallery” in conjunction with Mr. Gilbert Stuart, the celebrated painter, and venture to solicit your recommendation of the plan to the attention of your friends—Mr Stuart and I shall visit the City in October next for the purpose of obtaining paintings of Messrs. Madison, Gallatin &c. when we hope to have the honour of conversing with you in person.

I remain, Your humble Servant—

George Helmbold, jun.

RC (NN); at foot of text: “Thos: Jefferson Esqr. President of the U.S.”; endorsed by TJ as received 6 Aug. and so recorded in SJL with notation “S.”; also endorsed by TJ: “refd. to the Secretary of State to consider the proposition of publishing the laws in German. Th:J. Aug. […]. 1801.”

TJ forwarded Helmbold’s letter to Madison on 7 Aug. But Helmbold had also written directly to Madison on 30 July. Jacob Wagner forwarded the letter, along with his memorandum on it, to Montpelier. Wagner thought “the idea of printing the laws in german, in one of the papers in Pennsylvania, an important one.” On 8 Aug., Madison authorized him to have the laws printed as recommended. Wagner responded to Madison on 17 Aug., noting that he had learned that the Pennsylvania legislature had previously objected to printing federal laws in German because “it would be giving two texts of the law.” Wagner, however, suggested that no objection could be made to publishing a translation, “rendered upon the responsibility of the editor of a gazette only, tho’ paid for by the public, and designed to furnish an imperfect light to those who are now in utter darkness. Very many Germans in that state understand no other language but their own.” Helm-bold was subsequently granted the printing contract, under which he printed the laws of the U.S. for 1800 and 1801 in German and charged $119 for his services (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 , 2:13–14, 21, 25, 35, 49, 75, 425; TJ to Madison, 7 Aug.; Madison to TJ, [12 Aug.]).

American Gallery: in July 1801, Helmbold began to advertise his plan to publish the American Gallery of Distinguished Public Characters. The publication would include portraits of “the most distinguished Public Characters in America,” including TJ, George Washington, John Adams, Aaron Burr, Thomas Mifflin, George Clinton, Horatio Gates, Thomas McKean, Samuel Smith, and others. Gilbert Stuart was to undertake a series of paintings for the work, while David Edwin would execute the engravings. Subscribers could choose whose portraits to include, their order of appearance, and the size, “whether whole-length or poster size.” Helmbold advertised his scheme until at least August 1802, but apparently never completed the project (Philadelphia Gazette, 8 July 1801, 27 Aug. 1802; Gazette of the United States, 20 July 1801).

Helmbold wrote TJ again on 7 Aug. to reiterate his interest in a federal appointment, specifying “purveyor of public Supplies, Surveyor of the Revenue, Inspector of Carriages or almost any Office of inferior consequence.” Observing that TJ seemed to favor granting appointments to veterans of the American Revolution, Helmbold explained that he was too young to serve during the war but that his father had “both fought and bled at Trenton.” Helmbold assured the president that his private character would “stand the test of the Strictest scrutiny” (RC in DNA: RG 59, LAR; at foot of text: “Thos. Jefferson Esqr. President of the U.S.”; endorsed by TJ as received 13 Aug. and so recorded in SJL with notation “Off”).

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