Thomas Jefferson Papers

To Thomas Jefferson from George Clinton, 14 October 1801

From George Clinton

Albany Octr. 14th. 1801


I have now the honor to transmit to the Office of the Secretary at war a plan for fortifying the Port of New York projected by Coll. De. Puzy under the direction of my Predecessor, accompanyed with surveys and Maps of the Harbor and an explanatory Memoir of the Engineer—If any other information on the subject should be deemed Necessary Coll. Willet who has been employed as my Agent in this business will be able to furnish it, and it is with this view I have thought proper to make him the bearer of this dispatch—Although it would appear to me that in order to have concerted an acceptable plan of this kind, the views of the general Government respecting the Nature of the defence, and the monies to be expended ought to have been previously Ascertained, As for the want of this knowledge the most perfect project may be rejected; Yet as Mr. Dexter late Secretary at War by his letter to Governor Jay of the 28th. of June 1800 A Copy of which is inclosed, expressed a Contrary Opinion, the business was commenced and has been conducted according to his Ideas, at an expence little short of four thousand Dollars—It would be Difficult if not impracticable to calculate the expence which would attend the execution of the present plan tho’ it is easy to determine that it would very far exceed the sums contemplated to be advanced by this State,1 And it may be useful to remark that the Expenditure of them is expressly restricted to Fortifications to be erected on Lands within the State.

I have the honor to be with the highest respect & Esteem Your Most Obet. Servt—

Geo: Clinton

RC (DLC); in a clerk’s hand, signed by Clinton and with an insertion in his hand (see note 1); at foot of text: “Thomas Jefferson Esqe. President of the Ud: States”; endorsed by TJ as received 13 Nov. and so recorded in SJL. Enclosure: Samuel Dexter to John Jay, 28 June 1800, acknowledging a copy of an act by the legislature of New York concerning harbor fortifications for New York City; Dexter naming Jean Xavier Bureaux de Pusy to prepare a plan for submission to the president; suggesting, since Dexter himself was “so little of a Military Man,” that it was “best to let a plan be taken without any particular instructions” from the War Department; cautioning, however, that foreign-trained engineers were inclined “to prepare their plans on too extensive a scale & with too little regard to Œconomy” (Tr in DLC; in a clerk’s hand; at head of text: “Copy”).

Under federal statutes, the state of New York could retire its debt to the United States by fortifying the port of new york. In 1800, Jean Xavier Bureaux de Pusy, who had come to the U.S. as a member of Pierre Samuel Du Pont de Nemours’s extended family and had training as a military engineer in France, obtained the appointment to draw up a plan for new harbor fortifications. His assessment, which Clinton sent to the War Department as indicated in the letter above, had an estimated cost of $3,968,658, far more than the state’s $1,852,035 debt to the federal government. Bureaux de Pusy’s plan also called for the primary fortifications to be at Sandy Hook, New Jersey—not within the state of New York (ASP description begins American State Papers: Documents, Legislative and Executive, of the Congress of the United States, Washington, D.C., 1832–61, 38 vols. description ends , Military Affairs, 1:193; Kline, Burr description begins Mary-Jo Kline, ed., Political Correspondence and Public Papers of Aaron Burr, Princeton, 1983, 2 vols. description ends , 1:527–8; Vol. 31:265n; Vol. 32:56–7; Vol. 33:308–9).

On 17 Nov., Dearborn responded to Clinton about the submitted plan. Citing the projected cost as an “insuperable objection,” Dearborn also expressed concerns about relying on the opinions of “any one or two Engineers” for such a large expenditure. It was “the wish of the President,” Dearborn wrote, that Clinton should “select from five to seven Citizens of New York, who from their weight of Character in Society, their general information, and Knowledge of the subject may be able, on a full investigation, to make such a report as will be likely to afford good and sufficient grounds for commencing the Business as soon as the nature of the case will admit.” The costs of whatever plan was recommended, the secretary of war added, would have to fall “within the means provided by law, it being very doubtful whether Congress will think proper to make any further provision at present” (Lb in DNA: RG 107, MLS).

1Remainder of paragraph interlined in Clinton’s hand.

Index Entries