Thomas Jefferson Papers

From Thomas Jefferson to Joseph H. Nicholson, 13 May 1803

To Joseph H. Nicholson

Washington May 13. 1803.

Dear Sir

I return you the letter of Capt Jones, with thanks for the perusal. while it is well to have an eye on our enemy’s camp, it is not amiss to keep one for the movements in our own. I have no doubt that the agitation of the public mind on the continuance of tories in office, is excited in some degree by those who want to get in themselves. however the mass of those affected by it1 can have no views of that kind. it is composed of such of our friends as have a warm sense of the former intolerance, and present bitterness of our adversaries and they are not without excuse. while it is best for our own tranquility to see and hear with apathy the atrocious calumnies of the presses which our enemies2 support for the purposes of calumny, it is what they have no right to expect; nor can we consider the indignation they excite in others3 as unjust, or strongly censure those whose temperament is not proof against it. nor are they protected in their places by any right they have to more than a just proportion of them, & still less by their own examples while in power: but by considerations respecting the tranquility of the public mind. this tranquility seems necessary to predispose the candid part of our fellow-citizens who have erred & strayed from their ways, to return again to them, and to consolidate once more4 that union of will, without which the nation will not stand firm against foreign force & intrigue. on the subject of the particular schism at Philadelphia, a well informed friend says, ‘the fretful turbulent disposition which has manifested itself in Phila. originated in some degree from a sufficient cause, which I will explain when I see you. a reunion will take place, & in the issue it will be useful. their resolves will be so tempered as to remove most of the unpleasant feelings which have been experienced.’ I shall certainly be glad to recieve the explanation and modification of their proceedings; for they were taking a form which could not be approved on true principles. we laid down our line of proceedings on mature enquiry & consideration in 1801. and have not departed from it. some removals, to wit 16. to the end of our 1st. session of Congress5 were made on political principle alone, in very urgent cases: and we determined to make no more but for delinquency, or active & bitter opposition to the order of things which the public will had established. on this last ground 9. were removed from the end of the 1st. to the end of the 2d. session of Congress; and one since that. so that 16. only have been removed in the whole for political principle, that is to say to make room for some participation for the republicans who had been systematically excluded from office. I do not include the midnight appointments. these were a mere fraud not suffered to go into effect. pursuing our object of harmonising all good people of whatever description, we shall steadily adhere to our rule, and it is with sincere pleasure I learn that it is approved by the more moderate part of our friends.

We have recieved official information that in the instrument of cession of Louisiana to France were these words, ‘Saving the rights acquired by other powers in virtue of treaties made with them by Spain’; and cordial acknolegements from this power for our temperate forbearance under the misconduct of her officer. the French prefect too has assured Governor Claiborne that if the Suspension is not removed before he takes place, he will then remove it. but the Spanish Intendant has before this day recieved the positive order of his government to do it, sent here by a vessel of war, & forwarded by us to Natchez.

Altho’ there is probably no truth in the stories of war actually commenced, yet I believe it inevitable. England insists on a remodification of the affairs of Europe, so much changed by Buonaparte since the treaty of Amiens. so that we may soon expect to hear of hostilities.—you must have heard of the extraordinary charge of Chace to the grand jury at Baltimore. ought this seditious & official attack on the principles of our constitution, and on the proceedings of a state, to go unpunished? and to whom so pointedly as yourself will the public look for the necessary measures? I ask these questions for your consideration. for myself, it is better that I should not interfere.   Accept my friendly salutations and assurances of great esteem & respect.

Th: Jefferson

RC (Herbert R. Strauss, Chicago, Illinois, 1957); addressed: “Joseph H. Nicholson esq. Chesterfield near Centreville Maryld.”; franked and postmarked; endorsed by Nicholson. PrC (DLC).

letter of capt jones: see Nicholson to TJ, 10 May.

well informed friend: TJ quotes from Gideon Granger’s letter of 6 May, which he had received this day.

For the lists of appointments and removals prepared by TJ at the end of the congressional sessions in 1802 and 1803, categorizing the removals to include those dismissed on political principle to make room for Republican participation, see Vol. 33:668–74. For changes in TJ’s categorization of removals in 1803, see Noble E. Cunningham, Jr., The Jeffersonian Republicans in Power, Party Operations, 1801–1809 (Chapel Hill, 1963), 60–3.

french prefect: Pierre Clément Laussat (William Bache to TJ, 29 Mch.).

On 2 May, Supreme Court Justice Samuel Chase delivered a charge to the grand jury meeting at Baltimore. Referring to the repeal of the Judiciary Act of 1801, he declared: “The independence of the national Judiciary is already shaken to its foundation, and the virtue of the people alone can restore it.” On the state level, he deplored changes in the Maryland constitution that established universal suffrage. He believed the change would “certainly and rapidly destroy all protection to property, and all security to personal liberty,” noting “our republican constitution will sink into a mobocracy, the worst of all possible governments.” Although he did not attack the president by name, he charged that the “modern doctrines by our late reformers, that all men in a state of society are entitled to enjoy equal liberty and equal rights” had “brought this mighty mischief upon us.” Chase observed “that there could be no rights of man in a state of nature previous to the institution of society; and that liberty, properly speaking, could not exist in a state of nature.” In fact, “state of nature,” he challenged, was “a creature of the imagination only, although great names” sanctioned “a contrary opinion” (Annals description begins Annals of the Congress of the United States: The Debates and Proceedings in the Congress of the United States…Compiled from Authentic Materials, Washington, D.C., Gales & Seaton, 1834–56, 42 vols. All editions are undependable and pagination varies from one printing to another. The first two volumes of the set cited here have “Compiled…by Joseph Gales, Senior” on the title page and bear the caption “Gales & Seatons History” on verso and “of Debates in Congress” on recto pages. The remaining volumes bear the caption “History of Congress” on both recto and verso pages. Those using the first two volumes with the latter caption will need to employ the date of the debate or the indexes of debates and speakers. description ends , 14:673–6; National Intelligencer, 20 May). Nicholson consulted with Nathaniel Macon in the summer of 1803 on taking necessary measures against Chase. Macon discouraged Nicholson from leading the effort to have Chase removed, since the Maryland congressman would be considered a likely appointee to an open seat on the court. In January 1804, it was John Randolph who brought a resolution before the House of Representatives calling for an inquiry into Chase’s conduct (Malone, Jefferson description begins Dumas Malone, Jefferson and His Time, Boston, 1948–81, 6 vols. description ends , 4:464–9; James Haw and others, Stormy Patriot: The Life of Samuel Chase [Baltimore, 1980], 214–18; Richard E. Ellis, The Jeffersonian Crisis: Courts and Politics in the Young Republic [New York, 1971], 79–81).

1TJ here reworked “the” to “those” and interlined the preceding three words in place of “nation.”

2Preceding two words interlined in place of “they.”

3Preceding two words interlined.

4Preceding two words interlined in place of “again.”

5Preceding passage beginning at “to wit” interlined in place of “not exceeding 20. or 30.”

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