Thomas Jefferson Papers

Robert Johnson to Thomas Jefferson, 5 September 1811

From Robert Johnson

Great Crossings Septr. 5 1811

Dr Sir,

The right of instruction by state Legislatures has become a subject of controversy in Kentucky Perhaps on account of the state Legislature having passed a resolution to the following effect Resolved1 That our Senators & Representatives in Congress are requested to oppose a renewal of the Charter2 of the Bank of the United States. Two members in the lower house voted against the resolution. A request was Sent by Petition from some of the Inhabitants of Lexington to our members of Congress in favour of renewing the Charter of said Bank The resolution was also sent requesting our members to oppose the renewal. Mr Clay voted against the renewal and Mr. Pope in favour of it. It is said by the party in opposition to instructions: That it is a Dangerous and alarming usurpation of the Peoples right for state Legislatures to instruct; That the constitution has not vested any such power in the state Legislatures. Some of them agree that the people have a right to instruct & others that they have not: on the other hand it is observed:3 that the national government possess all power given by the federal constitution and no more. That the state governments possess all powers except those prohibited or reserved4 to the people: That the state governments are parties to the federal compact and have a right to speak their sentiments on any infraction on the Constitution: That the state Legislatures are the people by representation and are accountable to them for improper conduct: That they have a right to offer instructions on political Subjects on important occasions and if right; it is proper but ought not to do it on trivial or Doubtful occasions If instructions are disregarded the corrective will be at next election. That the Bank Charter not being confined within the ten miles square was unconstitutional and created unconstitutional criminal Jurisdiction in the federal Courts (over Counterfeiters of notes) not given by the constitution. They refer to the virginia resolutions in 1798 and their reconsideration at their next session. That the Institution admitted Brittish Subjects to hold the greater part of the stock in this great monied institution and It was as impolitic as to permit aliens to hold land and have influence on the great landed interest. It seems the right of instruction to members in Parliament of G. B. by the people was not questioned for 150 years That Judge Blackstone was the first who oppose[d] it in England Since that time the Brittish government has become more corrup[t] having hinted some points in controversy and being desirous to have your opinion on state Legislative instructions to their Senators and representatives in Congresss on Subjects not included within the powers given to them by the constitution also on the Doctrine5 of instruction in cases of policy which are included in those powers Delegated to them If it be not Disagreable or inconvenient you will very much oblige me in sending a letter on the Subject directed to me at the Post office at the Great Crossings, Scott County Kentucky or to my son Richard M. Johnson at Congress who will forward it to me. If I have made too free in addressing this letter to you I hope you will forgive your friend and obedient Servant

Robert Johnson

RC (DLC); edge trimmed; originally endorsed by TJ as a letter of 25 Sept. 1811 received 2 Oct. 1811 and so recorded in SJL; TJ later corrected the date of the letter in his endorsement but not in SJL.

Robert Johnson (1745–1815) was a native of Orange County who first traveled to what is now Kentucky in 1779, moved there with his family the following year, settled about 1783 at Great Crossing in Scott County, and amassed an estate totaling more than 100,000 acres. He established a reputation as an Indian fighter in 1780 and 1782, and in the latter year he represented Fayette County in the Virginia House of Delegates. Johnson took part in conventions to draft constitutions for Kentucky in 1792 and 1799. He was also a state senator from Woodford County, 1792–95, represented Scott County eight times in the Kentucky House of Representatives between 1796 and 1813, and helped to establish the boundary between Kentucky and Virginia. His son Richard Mentor Johnson became the ninth vice president of the United States (John E. Kleber and others, eds., The Kentucky Encyclopedia [1992], 76, 102–3, 475–6; Clay, Papers description begins James F. Hopkins and others, eds., The Papers of Henry Clay, 1959–1992, 11 vols. description ends , 1:183; Leonard, General Assembly description begins Cynthia Miller Leonard, comp., The General Assembly of Virginia, July 30, 1619–January 11, 1978: A Bicentennial Register of Members, 1978 description ends , 145; John D. Barnhart, “Frontiersmen and Planters in the Formation of Kentucky,” Journal of Southern History 7 [1941]: 26; Lexington [Ky.] Western Monitor, 27 Oct. 1815).

For the Kentucky legislature’s resolution instructing its congressional delegation to oppose renewal of the charter of the Bank of the United States, see John Jordan to TJ, 1 Sept. 1811, and note. William blackstone argued that every member of Parliament, “though chosen by one particular district, when elected and returned serves for the whole realm. … And therefore he is not bound, like a deputy in the united provinces, to consult with, or take the advice, of his constituents upon any particular point, unless he himself thinks it proper or prudent so to do” (Commentaries on the Laws of England [Oxford, 1765–69; Sowerby, description begins E. Millicent Sowerby, comp., Catalogue of the Library of Thomas Jefferson, 1952–59, 5 vols. description ends nos. 1806–7], 1:155).

1Manuscript: “Resolred.”

2Manuscript: “Chater.”

3Manuscript: “obseved.”

4Manuscript: “reseved.”

5Manuscript: “Doctrime.”

Index Entries

  • Bank of the United States; opposition to search
  • Blackstone, William; on legislators’ responsibility to constituents search
  • Clay, Henry; as U.S. senator search
  • Congress, U.S.; power of state legislatures to instruct members of search
  • Johnson, Richard Mentor; family of search
  • Johnson, Robert; and legislative instructions search
  • Johnson, Robert; identified search
  • Johnson, Robert; letters from search
  • Kentucky; and Bank of the United States search
  • politics; and legislative instructions search
  • Pope, John; as U.S. senator search
  • Senate, U.S.; and Bank of the United States search