Thomas Jefferson Papers

Petition from Citizens of Portland, Maine, before 20 April 1803

Petition from Citizens of Portland, Maine

[before 20 Apr. 1803]

The subscribers, citizens of the town of Portland in the District of Maine, respectfully represent,

That they have understood from unquestionable authority that Nathaniel F. Fosdick Esqr. late Collector of the United States for the District of Portland & Falmouth, has been removed from office:—that there has been such a mistake in the name of the person who was probably intended to be the Successor of Mr Fosdick, that he will doubtless1 not incline to assume the duties of the office, untill this mistake has been rectified, or a new nomination shall have taken place.—The subscribers therefore take this method to express to you their sentiments upon this subject, in the hope, that as they are perfectly sincere, they will be the less obtrusive.

Mr Fosdick was elected to the office of Naval officer of this port, by the Legislature of this state, prior to adoption of the Constitution of the United States.—He was annually elected to the same office, in the same manner, untill the final organization of the federal Government, when he was appointed to the office of Collector, by the then President Washington; which office he has continued to hold untill the time of his late removal.—

Being intirely uninformed as to the reasons for which Mr Fosdick has been removed; and being equally with himself ignorant of the accusations (if any) which have been made against him, it cannot be expected either from him or us that they can be repelled; but we take the liberty to assure you, and that from a constant course of experience & observation since he has been in office,

That he has not been excelled by any officer in the department to which he belongs, for his correctness, intelligence, industry, punctuality and official integrity.

That since the Executive part of the Government, has devolved on you, he has conducted himself both in his language, and general deportment with perfect decency prudence & respect; and in such a manner, as the most zealous admirer of your character and administration, would deem proper, and even faultless.—

That whatever representations or calumnies may have been conveyed to you respecting him, we are ready to pledge ourselves that when they shall be made known, he will have it in his power to remove and refute them.—

That we hold sacred the sentiment2 founded in immutable justice, and the peculiar and appropriate principles of a republican and free Government, that it is the right of every man to meet his accusers face to face;—or at least that he may know who they are, and of what they accuse him, before he is condemned; and that a proper oppertunity should be given to defend himself.—

That we have reason to conjecture (and from the secret nature of the Communications against Mr Fosdick, we can do no more than conjecture) that certain individuals in our vicinity, who have undertaken to furnish information to the Government and its servants, have been actuated more from private interest and prejudice, than the principles of publick justice; and that some of them have sought the removal and ruin of Mr Fosdick from motives peculiarly malignant, and such as all honest men will be disposed to reprobate.

That there are strong reasons to apprehend that his removal has been Occasioned by a misrepresentation of a particular instance of official duty, in which we believe he conducted with uprightness and delicacy; and which on the part of the delinquents respected a most violent and outrageous attack upon the laws of Government.

That for many years after Mr Fosdick held the office, the proceeds of it were inadequate to the support of his family—

That the private character of Mr Fosdick, is that of a man not merely just and honest in his dealings; but remarkable for his generosity & hospitality.—

That he has a large and expensive family under his care; the greater part of whom are the objects of his benevolence; the circumstances of whom from motives of delicacy to him we forbear to particularize.—

That Mr Ilsley, the Gentlemen probably intended as the Successor of Mr Fosdick, is a young man with a small family, who now holds an office from the Citizens of this County, which places him in an easy and eligable situation.—

We therefore earnestly request, that Mr Fosdick may be restored to his office; and that as a just and reasonable preliminary to such a measure, an impartial enquiry may be made into his official conduct, if it should be thought necessary.

MS (DNA: RG 59, LAR, 4:0326–30); undated; in an unidentified hand, signed by Daniel Davis and 25 others; at head of text: “To the President of the United States”; endorsed by TJ as received 20 Apr. and “Portland petn. Fosdyck to be continued” and so recorded in SJL.

Federalist partisan Daniel Davis, a former state senator who resigned as U.S. attorney for the district of Maine in 1801 to become solicitor general of Massachusetts, was the primary author of this petition. Other signers included Lemuel Weeks, Daniel Cobb, James Neal, Daniel Tucker, Arthur McLellan, and Joseph H. Ingraham, holders of various town offices, and Ebenezer Mayo and Edward Oxnard, inspectors at the port. Mayo also served as a collector of internal revenue in Massachusetts (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 , Miscellaneous, 1:265, 280; Jenks’s Portland Gazette, 20 May 1799; 9 Mch., 17 Aug. 1801; 29 Mch. 1802; Brookfield, Mass., Political Repository, 10 Feb. 1801; Vol. 33:219, 520–1, 668, 670, 677; Vol. 34:682n; Vol. 36:319, 323, 331).

A critical comment on the removal of nathaniel f. fosdick appeared in the Boston Columbian Centinel on 23 Mch. Rumors of Fosdick’s imminent removal led Peleg Wadsworth to write Gallatin in January 1803 defending the collector’s record. He enclosed a letter from Fosdick that Gallatin showed the president (Enclosure No. 4, described at Gallatin to TJ, 18 Jan. 1803). Levi Lincoln urged Fosdick’s removal, noting that his correspondents had characterized the Portland collector as “very bitter and open mouthed.” TJ also had seen a letter from William Wilson at Portland advocating Fosdick’s removal (Lincoln to TJ, 6, 13 Dec. 1802; 30 Jan. 1803).

mistake in the name: on 2 Feb., TJ nominated “Isaac Illsley, junr.” as collector in place of Fosdick “removed.” Davis wrote Gallatin on 5 Apr. that there was “no such person” by that name in Portland. On 20 Apr.—the day TJ received the petition above—he entered on his personal list, the appointment of Isaac Ilsley “vice Isaac Illsley, junr. by misnomer.” In his nominations to the Senate on 11 Nov., TJ appointed Isaac Ilsley, “being the same person intended, but misnamed, in a former nomination for the same post to the Senate” (Davis to Gallatin, in DNA: RG 59, LAR, 4:0322; Appendix I: List of Appointments; TJ to the Senate, 2 Feb., 11 Nov. 1803). For support of Ilsley by James Deering and others, see Lincoln to TJ, 30 Jan. Ilsley was also recommended as a candidate for bankruptcy commissioner (Vol. 39:612n).

misrepresentation of a particular instance of official duty: in his 5 Apr. letter to the Treasury secretary, Davis detailed the charges brought against John Deering for smuggling 45 bags of coffee in the brig Ranger in the summer of 1800. After the coffee was confiscated, Deering was accused of leading an expedition to forcibly remove it from storage at Fort Sumner. In the process the building where the coffee was being held was partially destroyed. The coffee was taken to an island in Portland harbor owned by the Deering family and then disappeared. The collector “spared neither trouble nor expence to discover the authors of this felony.” As U.S. attorney, Davis brought suit against Deering and his accomplices. Deering’s friends used their influence to have the charges of stealing the coffee and destroying state property reduced. An agreement was reached that the indictment for stealing would be dismissed, when a quantity of coffee equal to that taken was received by the marshal. Davis argued that it was through Fosdick’s leniency that Deering was “exonerated from the penalties of an odious crime” and kept from being “convicted & rendered infamous.” Davis noted that James Deering, a respectable Portland merchant and cousin of the “delinquent,” had threatened the removal of Fosdick. He was being aided by U.S. Navy Captain Edward Preble, James Deering’s brother-in-law. Davis had also heard that William Wilson “of the army” had “calumniated” against Fosdick. Isaac Ilsley, the person probably intended as Fosdick’s successor, was also James Deering’s brother-in-law. Deering was “considered to be the secret concealed author of Mr Fosdicks removal” (Davis to Gallatin, 5 Apr. 1803, in DNA: RG 59, LAR, 4:0321–5; postmarked Portland, 10 Apr.; endorsed by TJ: “Fosdyck. not to be removed”).

holds an office: Ilsley resigned as Register of Deeds in Cumberland County after his appointment as collector (Boston New-England Palladium, 28 Feb. 1804).

1MS: “doubless.”

2Interlined in place of “principle.”

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