Thomas Jefferson Papers

John Dawson to Thomas Jefferson, 22 April 1812

From John Dawson

Washington April 22d 1812

Dear Sir

Louisiana having become a sister-state I take the liberty of inclosing to you a copy of her constitution, and at the same time, stating to you, with candour, my future plans, and counting, with confidence on your friendly offices, to which I feel that I have a just claim.

You are pretty well acquainted with the history of my political life, which while it has secur’d the approbation of my fellow citizens has provd ruinous to my private fortunes—particularly so was my trip to Europe.

I was regularly educated at Cambridge where I recievd a diploma and all the honours which that University coud bestow—I read law three years diligently and practisd it with success untill calld by my country to the high offices which I have held— I retain some knowledge of the Latin language and have a tolerable acquaintance with the French—under these circumstances it seems to me that I could discharge, with propriety the duties of one of the judges of Louisiana mentiond in the Constitution; and I am persuaded that a letter from you addressd to Governour Claiborne, Mr Poydras, or any other person woud be of great advantage—

Shoud you think proper to write such you will be pleasd to inclose them to me at this place.

With the sincerest regard Your friend and fellow citizen

J Dawson

RC (DLC); endorsed by TJ as received 29 Apr. 1812 and so recorded in SJL. Enclosure: Constitution or Form of Government of the State of Louisiana (New Orleans, 1812).

John Dawson (ca. 1762–1814), attorney and public official, was a native of Caroline County who began his studies at the College of William and Mary and graduated from Harvard University in 1782. His stepfather, Joseph Jones, was the uncle and guardian of James Monroe, and Dawson was a friend and political associate of Monroe and James Madison. He represented Spotsylvania County in the Virginia House of Delegates, 1786–89, opposed the new federal constitution at the state ratification convention in 1788, represented Virginia in the last months of the dormant Confederation Congress, 1788–89, and sat on the Virginia Council of State, 1789–97. In 1789 Dawson was called to the bar in Fredericksburg. He was elected as a Republican to the United States House of Representatives in Madison’s former district in 1797 and served until his death. Dawson was unsuccessful in his ongoing quest for a position in the federal government and for a judicial appointment in the new state of Louisiana (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 ; 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 ; PTJ description begins Julian P. Boyd, Charles T. Cullen, John Catanzariti, Barbara B. Oberg, and others, eds., The Papers of Thomas Jefferson, 1950– , 31 vols. description ends , 16:182, 597, 33:253, 401, 504; 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 , esp. Congress. Ser., 13:262–3, and Pres. Ser., 2:71–2; Claiborne, Letter Books description begins Dunbar Rowland, ed., Official Letter Books of W. C. C. Claiborne, 1801–1816, 1917, repr. 1972, 6 vols. description ends , 5:400, 6:156–8, 212–3; Dawson files in DNA: RG 59, LAR, 1801–09 and 1809–17; TJ to William C. C. Claiborne, 2 May 1812; Washington Daily National Intelligencer, 2 Apr. 1814).

Dawson traveled to europe in 1801 to present the amended commercial Convention of 1800 to the French government for ratification. On his return to the United States in January 1802, the constitutionality of his retention of his congressional seat while employed by the government in another capacity came into question. Dawson also experienced difficulties recovering the expenses he incurred during this mission (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 , Sec. of State Ser., 1:33, 2:352n, 410, 411n, 3:91–2). Article 4, sections 3–4 of the new Louisiana constitution (pp. 17–8) called for three to five judges of the supreme court and an unspecified number of lower-court magistrates.

Index Entries

  • Claiborne, William Charles Coles; and J. Dawson’s application search
  • Constitution or Form of Government of the State of Louisiana search
  • Dawson, John; diplomatic mission of search
  • Dawson, John; identified search
  • Dawson, John; letters from search
  • Dawson, John; sends La. state constitution search
  • Jefferson, Thomas; Correspondence; letters of application and recommendation to search
  • Latin; study of search
  • Louisiana (state); constitution of search
  • patronage; letters of application and recommendation to TJ search
  • Poydras, Julien Lalande; and J. Dawson’s application search