Thomas Jefferson Papers

To Thomas Jefferson from Bernard Smith, 13 April 1803

From Bernard Smith

Washington April 13. 1803.


Although I have not the honor to be personally acquainted with your Excellency, yet as I know that you are accessible to any of your fellow-citizens I shall take the liberty to address a few lines to you.

Levi Lincoln Esqr. to whom I had a Letter of introduction, did me the honor to recommend me to your Excellency, as a person capable of filling some subordinate Office under the government. Mr. Lincoln informs me that altho’, you was disposed to serve me, it was not then in your power. This same gentlemen has likewise had the goodness to make application in my behalf to the Gentlemen who are at the head of the departments, but without sucess, as he was informed that there was no vacancies in the public Offices. and although many of those persons employed there, particularly the Clerks are the avowed partizans of a faction hostile to the government, it was not considered advisable to make any removals.

I will not presume to say how far it is politic or just to retain such persons in Office, when their places could easily be supplied by persons who are the friends of the administration. Your Excellency who so justly merits the confidence of the Republicans in this Country, was pleased to observe, in your answer to a remonstrance from the Merchants of New Haven—“If a due participation of office is a matter of right, how are vacancies to be obtained? Those by death are few, by resignation none. Can any other mode than by removal be proposed? This is a painful office: but this is my duty, and I meet it as such”—

Although I have ever been uniform in my politics, and indefatigable in my exertions in the republican cause, and which is well known to most of the destinguished patriots of my native state (N.J.), still I never before had the vanity nor the presumption to aspire after any office, nor should I now make application for one, where it not that my family on account of various misfortunes which they have recently experienced are unable to assist me in going into business at this time. Thus situated I concluded by the advice of my republican friends to repair to this place in hopes of obtaining some subordinate office under the government. and altho, I have been here for some time, and am concious of Mr. Lincoln’s wishes to serve me I have not as yet been able to succeed. Persuaded as I am of your Excellency’s justice and magnanimity, I have taken the liberty to make known to you my situation, and humbly solicit your high patronage; and should it be in your Excellency’s power to serve me on this occasion, permit me to assure you that it will ever be held in grateful remembrance both by myself and all my friends, and the summit of my ambition will always be to merit your confidence.

I have taken the liberty to forward to your Excellency an Oration which I deliver’d on the death of Genr. Washington, and likewise a few numbers of the New Jersey “Centinel” in which are contained (under the signature of “Brutus”) some writings of mine in defence of the administration.

If your Excellency should honor me with a few lines, please to direct it to me at my lodgings at Mrs. Sweeney’s nearly opposite the Bank.

I have the honor to be very respectfully, Your Excellencey’s Most obdt. & very Humle. Servt.

Bernard Smith Junr.

RC (DNA: RG 59, LAR); addressed: “His Excellency Thomas Jefferson Esqr. President of the United States. City of Washington”; endorsed by TJ “a clerkship” and so recorded in SJL at 13 Apr. Enclosures: see below.

Born in Morris County, New Jersey, Bernard Smith (1776–1835) actively supported the Republican cause in the state beginning in the late 1790s, reporting and writing pieces for the Newark Centinel of Freedom signed “Brutus.” He served as a clerk in the State Department from 1804 until his appointment as postmaster at New Brunswick in 1810 and as surveyor and inspector of the revenue in 1812. He held those positions until 1819, when he returned to Washington as a New Jersey congressman. He served only one term, during which he voted to remove restrictions on slavery in the Missouri bill, an unpopular stand with his constituents. In 1821, President Monroe appointed Smith register of the land office at Little Rock, in Arkansas Territory, a position he held until his death. He also served as secretary to the territorial governor from 1825 to 1828 and as a subagent to the Quapaw Indians until their removal (Biog. Dir. Cong. description begins Biographical Directory of the United States Congress, 1774–1989, Washington, D.C., 1989 description ends ; Madison, Papers, Sec. of State Ser. description begins William T. Hutchinson, Robert A. Rutland, J. C. A. Stagg, and others, eds., The Papers of James Madison, Chicago and Charlottesville, 1962- , 35 vols., Sec. of State Ser., 1986- , 9 vols., Pres. Ser., 1984- , 7 vols., Ret. Ser., 2009- , 2 vols. description ends , 7:81, 346n; 8:131n, 178, 339; Pres. Ser., 2:164; JEP description begins Journal of the Executive Proceedings of the Senate of the United States…to the Termination of the Nineteenth Congress, Washington, D.C., 1828, 3 vols. description ends , 2:270, 272; Carl E. Prince, New Jersey’s Jeffersonian Republicans: The Genesis of an Early Party Machine, 1789–1817 [Chapel Hill, 1964], 46n; Walter R. Fee, The Transition from Aristocracy to Democracy in New Jersey, 1789–1829 [Somerville, N.J., 1933], 241–2; Stets, Postmasters description begins Robert J. Stets, Postmasters & Postoffices of the United States 1782–1811, Lake Oswego, Ore., 1994 description ends , 169; Newark Centinel of Freedom, 10 July, 18 Sep., 30 Oct. 1798; 16 July 1799; Daily National Intelligencer, 12 Aug. 1835; RS description begins J. Jefferson Looney and others, eds., The Papers of Thomas Jefferson: Retirement Series, Princeton, 2004- , 9 vols. description ends , 3:510–11).

your answer to a remonstrance: see Vol. 34:554–8.

Smith’s oration on the death of Washington has not been found, but articles in the Centinel of Freedom signed brutus extend from 3 Apr. 1798 to 18 Jan. 1803. In 1798, “Brutus,” critical of the Adams administration, observed: “It is not from France that you are in danger—it is from the influence Britain is daily acquiring here, that our danger comes.—A stamp tax, land tax &c. are already the blessed fruits of following their foot-steps. A sedition bill is on the carpet.” Brutus urged New Jersey voters to send Republican John Condit to Congress as “the true patriot and able defender of his country’s rights, liberties, and independence.” He applauded the election of Condit, Aaron Kitchell, and James Linn in the fall of 1798 with a piece entitled “Republicanism Triumphant: or, The British Faction out-done.” In October 1798, “Brutus” also submitted a tribute to the memory of Benjamin F. Bache. In July 1800, he argued that prosecutions under the Sedition Act violated the Constitution and perverted justice. The courts had become “engines of oppression, and weapons of party vengeance.” He described the election of Jefferson as the “pivot upon which turns the destinies of our country, our liberty.” In a letter dated 26 Jan. 1801, “Brutus” warned against the “daring attempt to overset the free choice of the people in the late Elections.” In his last piece dated Morris County, 12 Jan. 1803, he applauded the beneficial changes brought about by the Jefferson administration, including the relief from “obnoxious taxes” and the payment of $8,000,000 in principal and interest on the public debt, with a $4,500,000 surplus yet in the Treasury brought about through prudence and economy. Republicans still had to be on guard for the opposition party was “indefatigable in their opposition to every measure of the government” and resorted to calumny and misrepresentation. By “inventing the most infamous lies,” they have attempted “to injure the character of our worthy chief magistrate.” Scurrility and personal abuse were the order of the day. Smith called on Republicans to be vigilant. Should this faction ever succeed in their intrigues, “then may the patriots of America put on the mantle of mourning, and bid adieu to the Constitution and liberties of their Country” (Newark Centinel of Freedom, 3, 10 Apr., 10 July, 18 Sep., 9, 30 Oct. 1798; 29 July 1800; 3 Feb. 1801; 18 Jan. 1803). For several pieces written by Smith while a clerk in the State Department, using the signature “Franklin,” see the National Intelligencer, 10 and 15 Oct. 1804 (Madison, Papers, Sec. of State Ser. description begins William T. Hutchinson, Robert A. Rutland, J. C. A. Stagg, and others, eds., The Papers of James Madison, Chicago and Charlottesville, 1962- , 35 vols., Sec. of State Ser., 1986- , 9 vols., Pres. Ser., 1984- , 7 vols., Ret. Ser., 2009- , 2 vols. description ends , 8:339).

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