Thomas Jefferson Papers

To Thomas Jefferson from John Thomson Mason, 5 October 1801

From John Thomson Mason

Georgetown 5th Octo. 1801.

Dear Sir

The inclosed letter from the Revd. Mr Knox a very Republican Minister and the Head of an accademy in Frederick town, was sent to me with a view I presume of its being laid before you. Mr Polk the subject is I beleive personally known to you, he is a limner by profession.

Mr Knox is I beleive mistaken as to the hopes of Mr Kilty’s doing anything for him. There is not like to be any vacancy in that County, which Mr Kilty has power to fill, and he well knows the discontent that would be produced by filling up a vacancy in any other County with a man not residing therein.

With the highest respect & esteem I am D Sir Your Obedt Servt

John T. Mason

Mr Polk talks of calling on you this after noon in person

RC (DNA: RG 59, LAR); endorsed by TJ as received 5 Oct. and so recorded in SJL with notation: “Polke to office”; TJ canceled “Mason J. T.” and added “Charles P. Polke for office” to the endorsement. Enclosure: Samuel Knox to John T. Mason, Frederick Academy, 30 Sept. 1801, providing information on the financial distress experienced by Polk and his family, assuring Mason that Polk “would not Disappoint the Expectations of those who would Introduce Him to Any thing by which He Could Make a Sustenance for his family,” and noting that John Kilty of Baltimore “would employ Him in the Revenue, if He thought that the Appointment would be approved,” but for want of influential recommendations Polk despairs “of success in that quarter, And goes once more down to the City to enquire of Any place suited to His Talents might offer” (RC in DNA: RG 59, LAR).

Presbyterian clergyman and educator Samuel Knox served as principal of Frederick Academy in Maryland from 1797 to 1803 and again from 1823 to 1827. Knox wrote A Vindication of the Religion of Mr. Jefferson and a Statement of his Services in the Cause of Religious Liberty, which he signed “By a Friend to Real Religion” and had published in Baltimore in 1800. He defended a strict separation of church and state in his sermons and writings (ANB description begins John A. Garraty and Mark C. Carnes, eds., American National Biography, New York and Oxford, 1999, 24 vols. description ends ; RS description begins J. Jefferson Looney and others, eds., The Papers of Thomas Jefferson: Retirement Series, Princeton, 2004–, 4 vols. description ends , 2:174n).

Personally Known to You: Charles Peale Polk painted TJ’s portrait at Monticello in 1799. On 12 Apr. 1801, Mason forwarded Levi Lincoln a letter recommending Polk for a revenue inspectorship in Maryland. Mason described Polk as “a man of real merit and cleverness, he has a large and promissing family to support, and his means to do it are very precarious and still more scanty” (RC in DNA: RG 59, LAR; Vol. 31:xliii, 231–2). For Polk’s appeals to Madison for a position in the federal government in 1801 and 1802, see 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 , 1:65–6; 2:234; 3:399. Polk observed that the wealthy in Maryland had not encouraged him as a painter because of his Republican principles. In 1806 he received employment as a clerk in the comptroller’s office at the Treasury Department (Gallatin, Papers description begins Carl E. Prince and Helene E. Fineman, eds., The Papers of Albert Gallatin, microfilm edition in 46 reels, Philadelphia, 1969, and Supplement, Barbara B. Oberg, ed., reels 47–51, Wilmington, Del., 1985 description ends , 13:651).

John Kilty, supervisor of the revenue for the district of Maryland, was a Washington appointee and noted Federalist who feared for his position under the new administration (Prince, Federalists description begins Carl E. Prince, The Federalists and the Origins of the U.S. Civil Service, New York, 1977 description ends , 144–5; 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 , 1:179).

On 10 Oct., Mason wrote TJ from Alexandria introducing his friend Robert Young, a respectable merchant from that town, who wished to have a personal interview with the president (RC in DNA: RG 59, LAR; endorsed by TJ as received 10 Oct. and “Robert Young to be Consul at Havanna” and so recorded in SJL). Two days later, Young informed Daniel C. Brent that he had learned that John Morton, consul at Havana, was resigning for health reasons, and that he had mentioned the fact to TJ. In recognition of their many years of friendship, Young requested that Brent give the president a character reference for him. Young received the appointment as consul at the port of Havana with a commission dated 4 Feb. 1802 (RC in same, endorsed by TJ: “Young Robert to Danl. Carrol Brent to be Consul at Havanna”; commission in Lb in DNA: RG 59, PTCC).

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