Thomas Jefferson Papers

Robert Fulton to Thomas Jefferson, 24 February 1810

From Robert Fulton

Kalorama Feby 24th 1810


So Soon as I published my pamphlet on Torpedoes at New York, I Sent 12 of them to Mr Madison, begging of him to forward one to you. I have the pleasure now to Send you four copies for yourself and friends, with a copy of my address after a lecture which I delivered on the engines and their utility; This subject has now excited considerable Interest. A committee of the senate1 yesterday agreed to bring in a bill on monday for a sum of 10 thousand dollars to be appropriated to carry on the experiments, and there are strong symptoms that it will be carried in both houses; the Secretary of the Navy is very friendly and gives me every aid I therefore begin to feel all my courage and hope revived I must beg for your Influence on the side of the arts. All the Tories and Marine or navy2 men are against me, they are even outragious, for if I succeed3 their hopes of Navies, armies and power with all the frippery will be blown up; But when their hope of undue Influence shall be forever gone, they may make good and useful citizens. I have long since made the drawings for your Belier hydraulic but I wished to do more than make a drawing, I wished to send you a working model but together with procrastinating workmen and my own moving from place to place I have not yet been able to accomplish it. If your men can work from the drawing I will forward it from New york. It will give me great pleasure to hear from you by letter to New york and particularly to know whether my publication has had any tendency to increase your4 faith in the practicability and utility of torpedoes—

My warmest feelings of admiration and5 respect follow you Sir to Your philosophic retreat

Robt Fulton

I go for New York tomorrow morning

RC (DLC); between signature and postscript: “Thomas Jefferson Esqr”; endorsed by TJ as received 4 Mar. 1810 and so recorded in SJL. Enclosures: (1) Fulton, Torpedo War, and Submarine Explosions (New York, 1810; Sowerby, description begins E. Millicent Sowerby, comp., Catalogue of the Library of Thomas Jefferson, 1952–59, 5 vols. description ends no. 1162). (2) Fulton, Concluding Address of Mr. Fulton’s Lecture on the Mechanism, Practice and Effects of Torpedoes. Delivered at Washington, February 17, 1810 (Washington, D.C., 1810).

Robert Fulton (1765–1815), engineer and inventor, was a native of Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, who moved to England in 1786 to seek his fortune as an artist but later shifted his focus to civil engineering. His dredging machine for cutting canals, plans for cast-iron aqueducts and, especially, his invention of an inclined plane for raising and lowering canal boats established his name in engineering circles. In 1797 Fulton went to Paris, where he designed and built a prototype submarine that proved ineffectual against the British blockade. In association with the American minister, Robert R. Livingston, Fulton constructed a steamboat in 1802 and conducted trials on the Seine. From 1804 to 1806 he was in England reworking his steamboat and submarine designs, and in the latter year he sailed home to America, where in 1808 he and Livingston secured an extension of Livingston’s earlier monopoly on steam navigation in the state of New York. They soon operated a fleet of steamboats on the Hudson River and elsewhere (ANB description begins John A. Garraty and Mark C. Carnes, eds., American National Biography, 1999, 24 vols. description ends ; DAB description begins Allen Johnson and Dumas Malone, eds., Dictionary of American Biography, 1928–36, 20 vols. description ends ; Cynthia O. Philip, Robert Fulton [1985]; Kirkpatrick Sale, The Fire of His Genius: Robert Fulton and the American Dream [2001]).

Fulton sent copies of his pamphlet on torpedoes to President James Madison and every member of Congress in January 1810. On 14 Feb. 1810 the House of Representatives invited him to come three days later “for the purpose of exhibiting the Torpedoes, and delivering a lecture on their practice and utility.” Fulton accordingly gave an address detailing “his system of sub-marine attack by torpedoes, and its probable effects on the liberty of the seas” to about two hundred people at Long’s Hotel on 17 Feb. 1810. On monday, 26 Feb., a Senate committee recommended an appropriation to determine if torpedoes and submarine mines might be usefully employed to defend American ports and harbors. A bill authorizing Paul Hamilton, the secretary of the navy, to spend up to $5,000 on such experiments was approved on 30 Mar. 1810 (Madison, Papers description begins William T. Hutchinson, Robert A. Rutland, John C. A. Stagg, and others, eds., The Papers of James Madison, 1962– , 29 vols.: Congress. Ser., 17 vols.; Pres. Ser., 5 vols.; Sec. of State Ser., 7 vols description ends , Pres. Ser., 2:154; JHR description begins Journal of the House of Representatives of the United States description ends , 7:225, 230 [9, 14 Feb. 1810]; JS description begins Journal of the Senate of the United States description ends , 4:437 [9 Feb. 1810]; Washington National Intelligencer, 19 Feb. 1810; ASP description begins American State Papers: Documents, Legislative and Executive, of the Congress of the United States, 1832–61, 38 vols. description ends , Senate, 11th Cong., 2d Sess., 1:211 [26 Feb. 1810]; U.S. Statutes at Large description begins Richard Peters, ed., The Public Statutes at Large of the United States . . . 1789 to March 3, 1845, 1855–56, 8 vols. description ends , 2:569).

1Manuscript: “committe of the senat.”

2Preceding two words interlined.

3Fulton here erased “all.”

4Manuscript: “you.”

5Manuscript: “an.”

Index Entries

  • Concluding Address of Mr. Fulton’s Lecture on the Mechanism, Practice and Effects of Torpedoes (Fulton) search
  • Congress, U.S.; and R. Fulton’s torpedo search
  • Federalist party; and R. Fulton’s torpedo search
  • Fulton, Robert; and torpedo search
  • Fulton, Robert; Concluding Address of Mr. Fulton’s Lecture on the Mechanism, Practice and Effects of Torpedoes search
  • Fulton, Robert; identified search
  • Fulton, Robert; letters from search
  • Fulton, Robert; self-acting hydraulic ram search
  • Fulton, Robert; Torpedo War, and Submarine Explosions search
  • Hamilton, Paul (1762–1816); and R. Fulton’s torpedo search
  • House of Representatives, U.S.; and R. Fulton’s torpedo search
  • Jefferson, Thomas; Books & Library; works sent to search
  • Long’s Hotel (Washington); R. Fulton lectures at search
  • machines; self-acting hydraulic ram search
  • machines; torpedo (mine) search
  • Madison, James; and R. Fulton search
  • Senate, U.S.; supports R. Fulton’s torpedo search
  • Torpedo War, and Submarine Explosions (Fulton) search
  • Washington (D.C.); Long’s Hotel search