Thomas Jefferson Papers

To Thomas Jefferson from John Steele, 28 June 1802

From John Steele

Washington June 28th. 1802


About the 10th. of next month, I wish to be favored with your permission to visit my family in Carolina. Hitherto a variety of considerations have restrained me from removing them to this place. Among others, a desire not to do any thing which would render it inconvenient for me to conform to your views, whatever they might be, in relation to the disposition of my office. I thought it my duty also to postpone any communication of my sentiments to you on this delicate subject, until you should have had leisure to mature an opinion of my public conduct, and until Mr. Gallatin, with all the assistance which I could give him in the mean time, should have become sufficiently acquainted with the forms, and principles of business in the Department to experience no inconvenience from a New appointment if that should be your intention, or if circumstances on my part should render a resignation necessary. After leaving the seat of Government with the permission which I now solicit, I am not certain that it will suit me to return:—but if I should conclude to do so, my family will accompany me about the beginning of October, and in deliberating with them in the course of the summer on a step which must be attended with trouble, and the sacrifice of many domestic comforts, it will be extremely gratifying to me, to be certain that I understand your wishes. The politeness with which you have uniformly honored me since our first acquaintance, and a certain bias which is inseparable from the reflection, that we are Citizens of the same Geographical section of the United States cannot but increase my reluctance to withdraw my services, if they are considered of any importance to your administration. Salary altho necessary to me, in relation to my private circumstances is far from being my principal object in serving the public. In a country as free as this happily is, a man should have higher, and better views.—Mine are regulated by a desire, I trust an honest one,1 to be useful and in that way to acquire reputation, by deserving it. I am sensible, however that in times like the present, it is not possible for any man to continue in such an office with satisfaction to himself, or advantage to the public unless he can have reason to be assured that your confidence in his fitness is entire.

I have the honor to be, Sir With sentiments of perfect respect Your most obt. Servant

Jno. Steele

RC (DLC); addressed: “Thomas Jefferson Esqr. President of the United States”; endorsed by TJ as received 28 June and so recorded in SJL. Dft (NcU: John Steele Papers); endorsed by Steele as a “Rough draft.”

DISPOSITION OF MY OFFICE: as a Federalist and comptroller of the Treasury since 1796, Steele defended the practices of the previous administration. In a letter to Gallatin dated 4 June, Steele justified payments made by the Treasury Department to clerks and officers of the executive branch for expenses related to “the removal of themselves and families” to Washington, D.C. in 1800. In the 29 Apr. 1802 report issued by the congressional committee investigating government expenditures, doubt was cast on the legality of the payments. Steele presented evidence and argued that the expenses were “defensible as well in an equitable sense, as according to the strict letter of the law.” On 21 June, Steele enclosed a copy of the letter to Madison for his perusal, with the request that he show it to the president, although he thought Gallatin might already have done so. When Madison returned the letter on 24 June, he noted that he “gave the President an opportunity of perusing it” (Biog. Dir. Cong. description begins Biographical Directory of the United States Congress, 1774–1989, Washington, D.C., 1989 description ends ; 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 , Finance, 1:752, 811–16; Henry M. Wagstaff, ed., The Papers of John Steele, 2 vols. [Raleigh, N.C., 1924], 1:275–81, 283–4; 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., 3:330, 337).

1Preceding five words canceled in Dft.

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