Thomas Jefferson Papers

James Madison’s Opinions on the Charges Against Arthur St. Clair, 19 June 1802

James Madison’s Opinions on the Charges Against Arthur St. Clair

The President having called on the heads of Departments for their opinion in writing whether certain charges made by Col. Worthington against Governor St. Clair be or be not established; and whether such as are established, be sufficiently weighty to render the removal of the Governor proper? the Secretary of State respectfully submits his opinion as follows;

Charge 1. Forming new Counties & fixing their seats of justice by his sole authority.

The fact is admitted and its legality contended for. The reasons given are unsatisfactory to the judgment of the Secretary of State; but he can not undertake to say that they have so little plausibility1 as to preclude a difference of opinion

Ch. 2d. “Putting a negative on useful & necessary laws.”

It appears that the Negative has been exercised in many cases, and in some probably, where the laws would have been salutary. The discretion however involved in the use of this power, requires stronger and clearer abuses of it, than are shewn, to justify a hasty or rigorous condemnation.

Ch. 3. “Taking illegal fees”

In the case of ferry licenses the charge seems undeniable. In that of tavern licenses, an act is found in the code of the Territory, authorizing the fees; but there is reason to believe that a latitude of construction or rather an abuse of power in which the Govr. himself participated, was employed in the adoption of the Act. With respect to the marriage fees, it is affirmed that a legal authority also exists. As the volume of laws however referred to on this point can not be consulted2 no opinion will be given either on the tenor or the origin of the Act.

The taking of illegal fees is in itself an abuse of power, of so deep a die, as, unless mitigated by powerful circumstances, to justify a rigorous proceeding against the author of it3 and as to be altogether excusable under no circumstances.

Ch. 4. “Negativing a bill for abolishing fees, and passing one giving the Govr. a sum meant by the Legislature as a substitute for them.”

This charge involves questions which it would be difficult4 to unravel, and perhaps improper to decide.

Ch. 5. “Concurring in the plan of changing the Constitutional boundaries of the proposed states N.W. of the Ohio.”

The fact is certain, and the attempt of the Governor to explain obscure & unsatisfactory.

Ch. 6. “Appointing his son Attorney General, by an illegal commission during good behavior.” The fact is admitted and without being palliated by the explanations given by the Governor.

Ch. 7. “Attempting to influence certain judiciary proceedings.”

This charge as far as it can be judged of by what appears, can not be considered as established. In one at least of the transactions referred to the conduct of the Governor was justified by that of the Justices.

Ch. 8. “Appointing to offices requiring residence in one county, persons residing in another.”

The fact here may be true, and conduct of the Govr. free from blame. If the offices were incompatible, the second appointment might be made on the presumption that the first would be relinquished. To judge fully of the case it ought also to be known what the law of the territory is with respect to the residence & deputyship of the different officers.

Ch. 9. “Neglecting to organize & discipline the Militia.”

This charge is not established.

Ch. 10. “Hostility to republican form of Government.”

The circumstances under which expressions to this effect are admitted to have been used, & under which the evidence of them appears to been collected, render it improper to lay stress on this charge.

Upon the whole, it appears that altho’ the conduct of the Governor has been highly culpable in sundry instances, and sufficiently so in the particular cases of Commissioning his son during good behavior, and in what relates to fees, to plead, for a removal of him from his office, yet considering the revolutionary & other interesting relations in which he has stood to the public, with other grounds on which some indulgence may be felt for him, it is the opinion of the Secretary of State, that it will be proper to leave him in possession of his office under the influence of a salutary admonition

James Madison

MS (DLC); endorsed by TJ: “St. Clair’s case. Secy. of state’s opinion.”

A SALUTARY ADMONITION: on 23 June, Madison wrote St. Clair to inform him that his defense against charges of misconduct “have been duly considered by the President.” Despite St. Clair’s many honorable past services to his country, the president “has judged it indispensible that his particular disapprobation should be expressed to you, of your conduct in granting your son an illegal tenure of office; and in accepting yourself illegal fees, an abuse which he expects will be immediately rectified by proper notice to the agents collecting them.” The president also wishes it known that by continuing to lay out counties and fix seats of justice in the Northwest Territory by his sole authority, St. Clair has “not pursued the construction put by the Executive on the Ordinance constituting the Territorial Government.” “From the regret which the President has felt at an occasion for the animadversions now conveyed,” Madison concluded, “you will be sensible how much you will contribute to his satisfaction by such a line of official conduct as may best obviate discontents among the people under your administration, foster their respect for the laws, and coincide with the benevolent policy of the federal Government towards their rights and interests.” St. Clair replied to Madison on the same day, stating that it pained him to see that his conduct as governor “should have drawn forth the animadversions of the Presdt.” He promised to cease the collection of fees and to “correct” his interpretation of the laws regarding the creation of new counties. He closed by asking Madison to convey his respect to the president, as well as his thanks “for the delicate manner in which you have been pleased to communicate the Animadversions … he has had occasion to make” (Madison, Papers description begins William T. Hutchinson, Robert A. Rutland, J. C. A. Stagg, and others, eds., The Papers of James Madison, Chicago and Charlottesville, 1962–, 32 vols. Sec. of State Ser., 1986–, 8 vols. Pres. Ser., 1984–, 6 vols. Ret. Ser., 2009–, 1 vol. description ends , Sec. of State Ser., 3:332, 335).

1Madison here canceled: “as to be <incapable of [conferring]> inconsistent with an honest excercise of those powers.”

2Preceding three words interlined in place of “<is not> can not have been found.”

3Madison here canceled: “The pleas need by this.”

4Preceding five words interlined in place of “on which it is unnecessary.”

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