Thomas Jefferson Papers

Notes on Charges against Arthur St. Clair, [ca. 29 April 1802]

Notes on Charges against Arthur St. Clair

[ca. 29 Apr. 1802]

1. The Ordinance,1 in the paragraph respecting counties, speaks of laws adopted or made, which must refer both to the 1st. & 2d. stage of government; it then gives the Govr. power to lay out2 counties from time to time, reserving a right to the legislature thereafter to alter them. this may mean that the Govr. is always to lay out first, & the legislature thereafter to alter, or it may mean that the Govr. is to lay out during the 1st. stage of govmt, and the legislature to do it in the second, reddendo singula singulis. the first construction renders the power reserved to3 the legislature null, because the Govr. having a negative will not permit the other branches to act against his opn manifested in the original laying out: the 2d construction gives it full effect, & must therefore be understood to be that intended by Congress4, who certainly meant to reserve a practicable right to the legislature, not a nugatory one, & the rather as the forming counties is an act of law making not of the execution of a law.—the place of dispensing justice may not seem essentially legislative, at first view but to rest naturally with those who are to dispense it:5 yet when we consider it in all it’s relation’s to public convenience as well as justice6 at how early a date it was deemed a grievance in England, and fixed by law, and how universally so in these states, this gives a sure practical construction of what Congress must have intended.

2. the policy of giving a negative on laws to the Executive seems to be 1. to provide protection against the legislature for the other independant departments. 2. to protect7 such portions of the citizens as might be oppressed by a local or partial interest happening to be predominant in the legislature at the moment. but not to set up the judgment of a single individual in cases of ordinary legislation against the collected wisdom of the nation. if these ideas be just, Govr. Sinclair is guilty on the 2d. charge.

5. the ordinance permits the whole territory N.W. of the Ohio to be divided by Congress into 3. or 5. states, and sais whenever any of the said states shall have 60,000 &c. it shall be recieved in Congress. the change of boundary proposed by the late act of the N.W. legislature did divide the population into two parts, so that both would have been much longer reaching 60,000. than if the boundaries remained as fixed by the ordinance. that the act dismembered that portion of territory which claimed to be a state, is certain. that Govr. Sinclair assented to it at least is certain. that he promoted it by his influence and with a view to continue himself & friends the longer in place & power is suggested by many, and will be judged of by every one accdg to the opinion entertd of his attachment to his office, or his power of preserving his mind unbiassed by that attachment or any other particular8 views. see St. Clair’s lre to Harrison printed State papers Mar. 14. 1800.

6. the censure implied in this charge seems to be not so much in the Governor’s giving9 commissions during pleasure in the judiciary line, tho’ a tenure for life there is familiar, as the making the Attorney general an officer for life, a thing unprecedented, at it’s being in the case of his own son. the reason assigned by the Governor that he gave him this fixed tenure because he at that time proposed himself to retire from office, & meant thus to protect his son against his successor, admits the fact charged & is far from justifying it.

7. Admitting the tenure of every commission, without any special limitation to be during the will of him who grants it, the conduct of the three justices whose commission was revoked, and that of mr Finlay whose resignation was not accepted, is not sufficiently clear of blame, to fix the charge of arbitrarily influencing & controuling the judiciary.

8. this charge is admitted to be true, by Govr. Sinclair, in the case of his son in law made Recorder of Clermont while he lived in Hamilton. see page 20. he urges some matters in justification. several other instances are stated by Worthington & Miegs. Wills’s case pa. 46.

9. this cannot be decided but on a view of the laws.

4. that one of these acts was meant as a compensation for the other is not proved. see pa. 24.43.

3. the real charge here is that the Govr. and judges selected laws from the codes of the states to give themselves fees. I was a member of Congress, & I believe of the commee which prepared the first plan for the organisation of the new states. a legislature to be composed of the Govr. & judges was a measure of necessity in the earliest stages of those territorial governments. yet we were sensible it was fundamentally wrong to subject free men to laws made by officers of the Executive. it was determined then they should not make laws themselves, but adopt10 from the codes of the states, which being past by free men for their own government it was supposed would never be oppressive. but no one dreamt of their selecting laws to give themselves fees. for to what a length11 might not this be carried by12 entitling themselves to fees for every act which was allowed a fee in any single state. their salaries were certainly understood to be in lieu of all emoluments. yet they early began this abuse. Govr. Sinclair and his associates set the example. it was not unnoticed. but as every one had rather another should pass personal censures than himself, the first laws for this purpose were laid by myself before Congress, with the other laws, without any comment, the power of repealing being in them. partly from much business, partly from no individual member being willing to come forward as the denunciator the thing went on till the arbitrary & intolerable temper of Govr. Sarjeant urged it13 on the notice of Congress. on the 12th. of Feb. 95. this among other legislative practices had been disapproved by the H. of R. (report pa. 8. 9 Feb. 19. 1801) and lost in the Senate. but Feb. 19. 1801. a commee of friends to Sarjeant appointed by his friend Sedgwick, reported it an abuse, but not proceeding from criminal intentions, and therefore resolved14 that there ought to be no further proceedings for mal admn against him; to which resoln the House disagreed by a vote of 50. against 38. tho’ a federal house; but this being late in the day of the 3d. of Mar. 1801. on which day they were to rise, nothing further could be done. but Govr. Sarjeant’s time expiring soon after, his commission was not renewed for this among other reasons.

MS (DLC: TJ Papers, 124:21416); undated; entirely in TJ’s hand.

REDDENDO SINGULA SINGULIS: “by rendering each to each”; that is, assigning separate things to separate persons, or separate words to separate subjects (Garner, Black’s Law Dictionary description begins Bryan A. Garner, ed., Black’s Law Dictionary, 8th ed., St. Paul, Minn., 2004 description ends , 1303).

LATE ACT OF THE N.W. LEGISLATURE: for the December 1801 act of the territorial assembly calling for a redivision of the Northwest Territory along the Scioto River, see William Goforth to TJ, 5 Jan. 1802.

ST. CLAIR’S LRE TO HARRISON: that is, St. Clair to William Henry Harrison, 17 Feb. 1800. This letter was subsequently printed with a 1 Jan. 1800 petition from George Tevebaugh and others, from Knox County in the Northwest Territory, the latter of which was read before the House of Representatives on 14 Mch. 1800 and ordered to lie on the table. See Charges Against Arthur St. Clair, at 30 Jan. 1802, Document I, and JHR description begins Journal of the House of Representatives of the United States, Washington, D.C., 1826, 9 vols. description ends , 3:626.

MR FINLAY: for St. Clair’s criticism of justice of the peace Samuel Finley, see Charges Against Arthur St. Clair, Document I.

CASE OF HIS SON IN LAW: for the appointment of Samuel Robb, St. Clair’s son-in-law, see Charges Against Arthur St. Clair, Document II. WILLS’S CASE: see same, Document III.

AS A MEMBER OF CONGRESS in 1784, TJ was chair of the committtee appointed to prepare THE FIRST PLAN for the temporary government of the western lands ceded by the state of Virginia. The committee’s report served as the basis for the Northwest Ordinance of 1784, which directed temporary governments of any territory “to adopt the constitution and laws of any one of the original states” (Vol. 6:584–5, 614).

ARBITRARY & INTOLERABLE TEMPER OF GOVR. SARJEANT: for the Congressional investigation of Winthrop Sargent’s conduct as governor of the Mississippi Territory, see Vol. 34:81n. On 12 Feb. 1795, in a rebuke of Sargent’s conduct as secretary and acting governor of the Northwest Territory, the House of Representatives passed a resolution disapproving several laws passed by Sargent and the judges of the territory (JHR description begins Journal of the House of Representatives of the United States, Washington, D.C., 1826, 9 vols. description ends , 2:324).

REPORT PA. 8.9 FEB. 19. 1801: TJ cites the printed 19 Feb. 1801 report of the House committee investigating Sargent, entitled Report of the Committee Appointed to Enquire into the Official Conduct of Winthrop Sargent, Governor of the Mississippi Territory (Washington, D.C., 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. 1531).

VOTE OF 50. AGAINST 38.: the recorded House vote on the 3 Mch. 1801 resolution was 38 in favor and 40 opposed (JHR description begins Journal of the House of Representatives of the United States, Washington, D.C., 1826, 9 vols. description ends , 3:844–5).

Around the same time as the above notes were written, TJ also prepared a brief list of documents relating to the charges against St. Clair. Written on a fragment of paper under the heading “Documents wanting,” the list refers to evidence in the case against St. Clair that was apparently mislaid or yet to be received:

“pa 45. No. 3. Sinclair’s lre to Harrison

34. No. 4. Finlay’s deposn.

some depns. respecting Baldwin

41. proclamns erecting 3. counties printed sheets of journals of legislature

43. Worthington’s paper No. 4.

48. No. 5. Miegs to Worthington 50.No. 6. 3 depns. on charge 10. viz Mc.Gowan’s, Dunlavy’s White’s” (MS in DLC: TJ Papers, 124:21415; undated; entirely in TJ’s hand).

1TJ first wrote “Although the Ordinance” before altering the text to read as above.

2Preceding two words interlined in place of “establish.”

3Preceding two words interlined in place of “of.”

4Word interlined in place of “the legislature.”

5Preceding eleven words and punctuation interlined.

6TJ here canceled “it must be imagined.”

7TJ here canceled “certain.”

8Word interlined.

9TJ here canceled “the justice.”

10Word interlined in place of “select.”

11TJ here canceled “of.”

12TJ here canceled “selecting.”

13Word interlined in place of “the thing.”

14Word interlined.

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