Thomas Jefferson Papers

To Thomas Jefferson from DeWitt Clinton, 7 September 1803

From DeWitt Clinton

Newtown 7 Septr. 1803.

Dear Sir

The appointment of Mr Sandford as District Atty. is universally approbated by our friends here: When the Senate ratifies his appointment, (of which I presume there can be no doubt) he intends to resign his office of Commissioner of Bankruptcy—upon the principle that honorary and lucrative offices ought not to be too much confined to a few: In this event, permit me to recommend to your particular attention as his successor Pierre C. Van Wyck—a young lawyer of great worth and respectability—He has attained the degree of Counsellor—This arrangement will be singularly pleasing to his highly respectable connections, particularly to his worthy Uncle Genl. V. Cortlandt.

The removal of E. Livingston excited at first some considerable speculation but the true cause is now well understood—Mr Livingston called upon me the other day—and a free conversation took place to the following effect—He stated that whatever may have been the ground of his removal, the manner in which it had been done had inflicted a stigma upon his character—that he was taken by surprise and that the first notice he had was the annunciation of the fact by Mr. Sandford in person—that the least official hint would have produced a resignation—I informed him that I had communicated to him fully & freely what he had to expect that he had promised to arrange the affair on his arrival at Washington—that instead of complying with his engagement he had observed a profound silence—In reply he admitted the imprudence of his conduct but alledged that when at Washington he had put leading questions to Messrs. Gallatin & Duval that no intimation was given by either of them and that he had even communicated with the latter on the Subject of some official business which he was to transact on his return to New York—He went on to observe that at all events he intended to go to New Orleans with a view to residence even if it was in a private capacity—that in consideration of his past services to the party, he thought the stigma ought to be removed from his character & that this might be done by conferring some office of respectability there upon him—That he should not expect any appointment which would involve any pecuniary responsibility—that he would discharge every cent he owed the Govt—and hush the business with his friends some of whom were dissatisfied. Upon this I promised to represent his wishes to you—You know his talents and past services and you can determine better than myself whether he may not be usefully employed in that Country.

I enclose you a Federal newspaper of New Haven which will throw some light on the proceedings there respecting the appointment of Collector—It is needless to tell you that all that relates to myself is false—I have indeed said what the federalists of Connecticut have said over and over again that A. Bishop is a profligate character—that if he was nominated it would be incumbent on the Connecticut Senators to substantiate the allegations of their friends or to indirectly admit their falsity—that if they should really prove his profligacy, the appointment could not take place.

I am Dr Sir With every Sentiment of the Most respectful attachment Your obedt Servt.

DeWitt Clinton

RC (DNA: RG 59, LAR); at foot of text: “The President of the U.S.”; endorsed by TJ as received on 25 Sep. and so recorded in SJL; also endorsed by TJ: “Van Wyck, Pierre C. to Commr. bkrptcy N.Y. vice Sanford who will resign.” Enclosure: see below.

respectable connections: Pierre C. Van Wyck’s mother was Congressman Philip Van Cortlandt’s sister Catharine (Jacob Judd, ed., The Van Cortlandt Family Papers, 4 vols. [Tarrytown, N.Y., 1976-81], 1:15-16, 24; Vol. 34:164-5).

federal newspaper of new haven: the 30 Aug. issue of the Visitor included an article reflecting on the candidates for the collectorship at the port. The writer noted that Samuel Bishop had received the appointment in 1801 “to reward the profligate labors of his son Abraham,” whose “character was so notoriously abandoned and detestable” that local Republicans requested that the father be appointed instead of the son. It was assumed that Abraham Bishop would succeed his father until he became “suspected of inclining to the vice President.” DeWitt Clinton had sworn that “no friend of Mr. Burr, Abraham or other, shall hold the collectorship.” Clinton, Samuel Osgood, and John Broome endorsed Samuel Broome, who suddenly appeared in New Haven “with a subscription paper in hand” to obtain signatures of support for his candidacy from local merchants. The writer noted that very few signed, and Clinton’s scheme was “entirely defeated.” What the New Haven merchants most desired was someone who could manage the business of the office, and Abraham Bishop had proven he could do that as well as “any former collector.” Although they abhorred Bishop’s moral and political character, New Haven merchants preferred him over other candidates.

Federalists James Hillhouse and Uriah Tracy were the connecticut senators (Biog. Dir. Cong. description begins Biographical Directory of the United States Congress, 1774-1989, Washington, D.C., 1989 description ends ).

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