Thomas Jefferson Papers

Horatio G. Spafford to Thomas Jefferson, 30 March 1814, with Postscript 7 April 1814

From Horatio G. Spafford

Albany, 3 Mo. 30, 1814.

Esteemed Friend—

Thy very interesting Letter of the 17th instant came duly to hand, & will form a kind of guide to my future life. Those sentiments were my own, except that in relation to the Lawyers, I was not informed of a possible cause, having read very little Law or Lawyers’ books. I hope I have an implied permission to show the Letter to some friends, for I have done so already.

Ere this can reach thee, thou wilt have received a late Letter from me, of little other interest than to inform of my curiosity to learn thy opinion of the Gazetteer. In some former Letters, I have acquainted thee that I had never sought for political or official honors, & thou knowest the moderation of my religious, moral & political creeds. Lately, I have written to the new P. M. General to inform him how much I wish to be the Post Master in this City. The present incumbent has held the office many years, (since Pickering was Post-Master General,) has made a large fortune by it, & is independently rich. I have stated these things, as also that Dr Mancius is a worthy man, & keeps a good office, He has a partner, & associate. Dr M. is a Federalist; his partner is any thing, for the times, to save his office. If such a [league?] can perpetuate for 25 or 30 years, why not patent the offices at once? Threats are even thrown out now by the Federalists, that the President dare not remove Dr. Mancius. Rotation in office, is a part of my Republicanism. Would it be too much to ask of thee to aid my wishes in this matter? If thou couldest do so, I should be greatly obliged. If I have not done as much as some others to excite the friendship of a party & its influence, I have not neglected the public interests—I have a large expensive family to support, & my whole fortune is absorbed in my copy-rights. Besides, the distresses among my connexions, principally frontier inhabitants, occasioned by the war, press heavily on me. My Parents, far advanced in years, & my Father a cripple, have been more than a year past driven from their home, dependent on their Sons for support. Two of my own Cousins, active, useful farmers, of Genesee in this state, fell lately in battle at Buffalo—& two of my Brothers are detained in Canada. I had a little property in England, which is detained by the War, & indeed I expect to lose it entirely by the War. How many men find this their opportunity! but I suffer extremely & am overlooked or unattended to. Would I go to England, I have a support there, if not even a fortune; & to my entreaties for permission to draw it thence, I have not even an answer to my Letters, nor any acknowledgement during 6 or 8 months! I pray thee to forgive my importunity, & to interest thyself in my application. Mine is a hard case, & I am very reluctant to ask any thing of the government.

And now—though thou art tired of my Letter, I pass to the main object of it. For a long time I have been engaged in investigations of mechanics—or rather the philosophy of motion, & the powers of moving bodies. Philosophers & Mechanics have failed to perceive one grand consequence of the Laws of motion & moving bodies, which I discovered, to my own satisfaction, about 14 years ago: it will be 14 years in May next. During this long period, I have been busily employed at intervals, on these investigations; & I am very happy to have it in my power to inform thee that I have lately succeeded to complete demonstration. My discovery will prove of vast utility to the poor & midling classes of people; & nothing of the present age will outlive it in fame. I long to see thee, & to show thee what no man hath ever seen but myself—& to receive the coveted boon of thy entire approbation. My discovery rests as yet with myself—& at the moment of receiving thy late Letter, I was meditating a journey to Washington on business, & thence to Monticello, to present first to thee, the greatest discovery of the age in which we live. Slender finances retard my operations, & this only will prevent my purpose, at no distant day, should we both live. Don’t startle at these suggestions;—they are all the sober reflections & facts of a sober & practical mind, not given to speculation, & whose projects have never been deemed visionary by others, nor have they ever deceived me. In my mind’s eye, thou art the man, of all others in the world, to whom I would first disclose, a great discovery, hidden hitherto, for purposes which Divine Providence alone can assign. Flattery is far from my present purpose—& so devoutly am I engaged in this wish, that I am this moment in tears, humbly craving the blessing of Heaven upon it. To a man who loves peace as I do, our Patent laws do not afford an inducement to make public so important a discovery & invention—& I want to be governed by thy advice in this matter. Sooner than incur all the evils attendant upon a profitable patent, in this country, I would carry my discovery to a foreign government, & present it to the nation, for a reward which I am Sure would be liberal. On these terms, I would present it to America, recommended by the Man who drew its Declaration of Independence, & in whose mind rest the seeds of all that has kept us Republican to the present day. Secured by his patronage, (& to him alone would I disclose my great secret,) I could with confidence approach the National Councils, & offer to the Nation, for a National indemnity, or a competent reward, a source of incalculable wealth & national honor.

Aware that it is presumption in me to ask so much attention, I offer an apology that will, I hope, be accepted—the greatness & perfect justice of my objects in so doing. To do this, I have long hesitated; & I sincerely regret to give thee so much trouble. Let me still live in thy kind remembrance, & I should be much obliged by knowing that thou wilt attend to these numerous requests: If so, I shall hope to see thee before midsummer, & perhaps within 4 or 5 weeks.

Presuming that thy wishes would be duly respected by the President, & the Post-Master General, I have taken a liberty in soliciting that attention, which, I hope thy goodness will excuse—With very sincere esteem & respect, thy grateful friend,

Horatio Gates Spafford.

Postscript. Albany, 4 Mo. 7, 1814. I have determined to go for Washington in a few days—probably within ten days or two weeks at most. A part, (& indeed that part is a very considerable one,) of my object, is an intention to submit to thee in person, the mechanical demonstration of my discovery & invention. I shall be governed by thy advice in endeavoring to secure my right, or in rendering it useful to myself & the public. There is such a species of successful piracy operating against useful rights, that I dare not trust to the patent Laws. Pray have the goodness to forward to Washington a Letter, informing if I shall find thee at Monticello, & at what time? My Wife accompanies me as far as Philadelphia, & perhaps to Washington.

I have informed my friends of my intention to see & first submit to thee my mechanical inventions, who all approve of the design, but without knowing what it is. They are all ignorant of it, except that I have long been employed upon it, & without knowing how, or with what success.

With the most sincere esteem & respect,

H. G. Spafford.

RC (MHi); one word illegible; postscript on separate sheet and filed separately at 7 Apr. 1814; at foot of postscript: “Thomas Jefferson, LL.D.”; endorsed by TJ on verso of postscript as a letter of 30 Mar. 1814 received 22 Apr. and so recorded in SJL.

The new p. m. general was Return J. Meigs. George W. mancius served as postmaster of Albany, 1792–1814 (Robert J. Stets, Postmasters & Postoffices of the United States 1782–1811 [1994], 51, 173; Joel Munsell, Annals of Albany [1850–59], 6:105; Joseph Fry, The Albany Directory, for the year 1814 [1814], 42; Fry, The Annual Register, and Albany Directory, for the year 1815 [1815], 61).

Index Entries

  • A Gazetteer of the State of New-York (H. G. Spafford) search
  • copyright; of H. G. Spafford search
  • inventions; of H. G. Spafford search
  • Jefferson, Thomas; Correspondence; letters of application and recommendation to search
  • law; legal profession search
  • Madison, James; and H. G. Spafford search
  • Mancius, George W.; as postmaster of Albany search
  • Meigs, Return Jonathan (ca.1765–1825); as postmaster general search
  • patents; of H. G. Spafford search
  • patronage; letters of application and recommendation to TJ search
  • Pickering, Timothy; as postmaster general search
  • Spafford, Elizabeth Clark Hewitt (Horatio G. Spafford’s wife); travels of search
  • Spafford, Horatio Gates; A Gazetteer of the State of New-York search
  • Spafford, Horatio Gates; and J. Madison search
  • Spafford, Horatio Gates; and patents search
  • Spafford, Horatio Gates; and term limits search
  • Spafford, Horatio Gates; and War of1812 search
  • Spafford, Horatio Gates; copyrights of search
  • Spafford, Horatio Gates; family of search
  • Spafford, Horatio Gates; inventions of search
  • Spafford, Horatio Gates; letters from search
  • Spafford, Horatio Gates; on lawyers search
  • Spafford, Horatio Gates; seeks appointment search
  • Spafford, Horatio Gates; visits Washington search
  • Spafford, Horatio Gates; wishes to visit TJ search
  • War of1812; privations caused by search