Thomas Jefferson Papers

To Thomas Jefferson from John S. Lillie, 7 April 1802

From John S. Lillie

Boston Goal April 7th 1802


Your well known candor induses me, although I acknowledge it to be a painful task, to be under the disagreeable necessity, to solicit an appointment, under your administration.

I am a young man, and commenced Bussiness in the Mercantile line, but, in consequence of my takeing a very active and decided part [in the] politics of the Day; became obnoxious to the Party who stile them[selves] Federalists; consequently suffered very considerably in my Bussiness. In the year ’99, I quitted the Mercantile employ, disposed of my property in trade, and came forward in the arduous task of Editor of the Constitutional Telegraphe, in which Bussiness I have sacrificed my little property, and am reduced to the disagreeable alternative of soliciting an appointment.

I am now suffering 3 Months close imprisonment, together with a fine of $100, for publishing a supposed Libel, on the “Lord Chief Justice of the Common Law of England ”; which appellation, His Honor Judge Dana, was pleased to apply to himself.

In Septbr. 1800 Providence was pleased to bless me with a Son, which I had Baptized at the Old South Church with your name, in honor & respect for your Excellencys character; this Child is now 18 Months old, & has this Day, by particular request, paid a visit to the Venerable, & patriotic, Samuel Adams Esqr, formerly your Co-patriot in Congress, a character whom I am proud to rank as one of my best friends.

If, Sir, at present, or even at any future period, you should think proper to honor me with your confidence, by confering on me any office of profit & trust, under your administration, which if I know my own heart, I can say I have exerted myself to the best of my small abilities to promote, without any viewes of profit, or emolument, but merely from principle itself.

If your Excellency should want any information [respec]ting my character &c, Doctor Eustis, or Col. Varnum, […] the former, can give you the requisite. You will excuse Sir, the freedom I take in thus addressing you, and give me leave to subscribe myself with sentiments of the highest honor, and respect, Your Excellencys Devoted, Humble Servant.

John S Lillie

RC (DNA: RG 59, LAR); torn; at head of text: “Thomas Jefferson Esqr President of the United States”; endorsed by TJ as received 26 Apr. and “for some appointment” and so recorded in SJL.

John Sweetser Lillie (1766–1842), nephew of prominent Boston merchant John Sweetser, took over as publisher of Samuel S. Parker’s semiweekly Constitutional Telegraphe in October 1800 and continued as its editor until March 1802, when he began a three-month imprisonment for libel. After his release, he served thirty years as a pension clerk in the U.S. loan office and was vice president of the Republican Institution and of the Massachusetts Charitable Society (Brigham, American Newspapers description begins Clarence S. Brigham, History and Bibliography of American Newspapers, 1690–1820, Worcester, Mass., 1947, 2 vols. description ends , 1:280; Nathaniel B. Shurtleff, A Topographical and Historical Description of Boston, 2d rev. ed. in 2 pts. [Boston, 1872], 2:619–22; Constitutional Telegraphe, 30 Sep. 1801; Boston Daily Evening Transcript, 19 Aug. 1842; Lillie to TJ, 12 Oct. 1803).

PUBLISHING A SUPPOSED LIBEL: Lillie’s Constitutional Telegraphe for 4 Feb. 1801 referred to an unsigned piece in the New-England Palladium of 27 Jan. 1801 that was “fabricated” by the “illuminati Doctor, one of the pious editors, or the lord chief justice of the common law of England” to disparage TJ’s character. Judge Francis Dana took offense, and both Lillie and John Vinal, the author of the anonymous article, were indicted and tried for libel. Only Lillie went to jail (Pasley, description begins Jeffrey L. Pasley, “The Tyranny of Printers”: Newspaper Politics in the Early American Republic, Charlottesville, 2001 description ends Tyranny of Printers, 141, 276–77; Boston New-England Palladium, 27 Jan. 1801; Constitutional Telegraphe, 4, 14, and 18 Feb. 1801, 24 Mch. 1802).

Lillie’s son, Thomas Jefferson Lillie, was baptized in the Old South Meeting House in Boston where samuel adams had been a member since June 1789 (Hamilton Andrews Hill, History of the Old South Church [Third Church] Boston 1669–1884, 2 vols. [Boston, 1889–90], 2:247, 285; Dedham Columbian Minerva, 18 Sep. 1800).

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