Thomas Jefferson Papers

To Thomas Jefferson from Harry Innes, 14 January 1803

From Harry Innes

Kentucky Frankfort Jany. 14th. 1803


The inclosed copy of the proceedings in the suit Robert Morris assee. of Humphry Marshall against George Rogers Clark & myself exhibits a case which in my opinion merits Congressional interference, because being the sole Judge in this District no decision can ever take place so long as the present system of the Judicial Courts of the United States continue & my continuance in Office.

This communication should have been long since made if I had not been induced to beleive that the suit so far as it related to me had been discontinued, & this misconception existed until the last Term in November.

The cause of making me a party is obvious to those acquainted with the history of the transaction—A discussion of the subject would be improper, I conceive it sufficient to obviate the mischeif to state that the suit exists & to prove it by the inclosed documents.

The Constitution making it the duty of the President to see that the laws be duly executed, I have thought it my duty to make this communication to shew that a legal obstruction exists in the administration of Justice, & that the evil may be remedied if you think it an object worthy of attention, of which I have no doubt, such a representation will be made to the present Congress as may induce them to provide for the present case as also to guard against any case of a similar kind in future.

Pardon me Sir if this mode of communication be improper, I have been induced to do it for two reasons 1st. from the injunction contained in the Constitution. 2dly. that if a representation was made by you it wou’d be duly considered

With considerations of great esteem & respect I am Sir your mo. ob. Servt.

Harry Innes

RC (DLC); addressed: “His Excy. The President of the United States City of Washington”; endorsed by TJ as received 8 Feb. and so recorded in SJL. Enclosures not found, but see TJ to John Breckinridge, 17 Feb. 1803.

The proceedings in the suit mentioned above are not known, but were undoubtedly colored by the unremitting political feud between Innes and Humphrey marshall, Kentucky’s leading Federalist and the cousin and brother-in-law of Chief Justice John Marshall (Mary K. Bonsteel Tachau, Federal Courts in the Early Republic: Kentucky 1789–1816 [Princeton, 1978], 35–6, 42–3; Vol. 32:569–70). During the 1790s, Marshall was involved in land speculations with Robert Morris and George Rogers Clark. In 1796, Morris conveyed more than 150,000 acres of Kentucky land to Marshall and authorized him to sell part of it in order to settle his $20,000 debt to Marshall. Two years later, Marshall assigned Morris his 1795 contract with Clark for the purchase of 74,000 acres of land near the mouth of the Tennessee River. Morris agreed to pay Clark 50 cents per acre if he secured the land from all Indian and military claims. Morris later assigned the land in the Clark contract to Thomas FitzSimons (Barbara Ann Chernow, Robert Morris: Land Speculator, 1790–1801 [New York, 1978], 206–7).

present system of judicial courts: the Judiciary Act of 1802 removed Kentucky from the jurisdiction of any United States circuit court and left Innes, the United States district judge, as the sole federal judge in the state (U.S. Statutes at Large description begins Richard Peters, ed., The Public Statutes at Large of the United States…1789 to March 3, 1845, Boston, 1855-56, 8 vols. description ends , 2:157; Tachau, Federal Courts, 25, 57).

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