Thomas Jefferson Papers

Thomas Jefferson to John C. Calhoun, 31 December 1817

To John C. Calhoun

Monticello Dec. 31. 17.


Mr Poirey, who was Secretary to Genl La Fayette while he served in the American army, transmitted me the inclosed papers from France, with a request to lay them before our government. they came to hand about the time that the war office became vacant. I supposed it to be a case in which the officer per interim would not take on himself to act, and expecting constantly that a principal would be appointed, I have kept them till now. I take the liberty therefore of inclosing them to you, with a request that you will be so good as to enable me to give whatever answer the rules of the government authorise. mr Poirey sets infinite value on the papers stitched toge[t]her,1 and has expressed the utmost solicitude that I should return them to him, which I must therefore pray you to enable me to do, by re-inclosing them to me.

I avail myself of this occasion of congratulating our country on the event of your consenting to take a part in it’s Executive councils, confident that the abilities displayed in another branch of it’s government will be exerci[s]ed to still2 greater advantage in this new scene of their employment; and I pray you to be assured of my high respect & es[t]eem.

Th: Jefferson

PoC (DLC); on verso of reused address cover to TJ; two words faint; at foot of text (faint): “[J]. C. Calhoun esq. Secy at War”; endorsed by TJ.

John Caldwell Calhoun (1782–1850), public official, was born on the southwestern frontier of South Carolina, attended school in Columbia County, Georgia, and graduated from Yale College (later Yale University) in 1804. During a visit to Washington the following year he met TJ. Calhoun studied law and was admitted to the South Carolina bar in 1807. He sat in the lower house of the state legislature, 1808–09, and served in the United States House of Representatives, 1811–17, where he strongly supported war with Great Britain. Calhoun was President James Monroe’s secretary of war, 1817–25, and he was elected vice president of the United States in both 1824 and 1828. He resigned the vice presidency in 1832 in order to represent South Carolina in the United States Senate, where he served from 1832 to 1843 and from 1845 until his death, with a brief intervening term as secretary of state under President John Tyler, 1843–44. Beginning his career as a nationalistic Republican, Calhoun became for many years the leading southern spokesman and intellectual champion of states’ rights, slavery, and the concept of nullification (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 ; BDSCHR description begins Walter B. Edgar and others, eds., Biographical Directory of the South Carolina House of Representatives, 1974– , 5 vols. description ends , 4:92–6; Calhoun, Papers description begins Robert L. Meriwether, W. Edwin Hemphill, Clyde N. Wilson, and others, eds., The Papers of John C. Calhoun, 1959–2003, 28 vols. description ends , esp. 1:14; John Niven, John C. Calhoun and the Price of Union: A Biography [1989]; Irving H. Bartlett, John C. Calhoun: A Biography [1993]; Washington Daily National Intelligencer, 1 Apr. 1850).

The inclosed papers included an undated petition of Joseph Léonard Poirey to the United States Congress asking for remuneration for his services as General Lafayette’s secretary and aide-de-camp during the American Revolution; George Washington to Adrienne de Noailles, marquise de Lafayette, New York, 3 June 1790, noting approvingly Poirey’s service in America and his relationship with her and her husband, and forwarding the brevet commission for Poirey that they had requested (Washington, Papers, Pres. Ser., 4:572–3n); a statement by the marquis de Lafayette, Paris, 8 Apr. 1801, certifying that Poirey acted as his secretary beginning in 1779; Jean Xavier Bureaux de Pusy to TJ, New York, 11 Aug. 1801, recommending Poirey and enclosing a letter from him to TJ, dated 15 Apr. 1801, that covered the three items above (PTJ description begins Julian P. Boyd, Charles T. Cullen, John Catanzariti, Barbara B. Oberg, and others, eds., The Papers of Thomas Jefferson, 1950– , 41 vols. description ends , 35:68–9); and TJ to Bureaux de Pusy, Monticello, 3 Sept. 1801, acknowledging receipt of the enclosures and promising to pass them to a member of Congress who could formally present Poirey’s petition to that body (PTJ description begins Julian P. Boyd, Charles T. Cullen, John Catanzariti, Barbara B. Oberg, and others, eds., The Papers of Thomas Jefferson, 1950– , 41 vols. description ends , 35:201) (all enclosures also printed in ASP, Claims, 1:605–6).

1Word mutilated at seal.

2Word added in margin.

Index Entries

  • American Revolution; and Lafayette search
  • Army, U.S.; employment of foreigners in search
  • Bureaux de Pusy, Jean Xavier; and J. L. Poirey’s military service claims search
  • Calhoun, John Caldwell; and J. L. Poirey’s military service claims search
  • Calhoun, John Caldwell; as secretary of war search
  • Calhoun, John Caldwell; identified search
  • Calhoun, John Caldwell; letters to search
  • Congress, U.S.; petitions to search
  • Lafayette, Adrienne de Noailles, marquise de (Lafayette’s wife); mentioned search
  • Lafayette, Marie Joseph Paul Yves Roch Gilbert du Motier, marquis de; and J. L. Poirey’s military service claims search
  • Poirey, Joseph Léonard; seeks compensation search
  • Revolutionary War; compensation claims search
  • War Department, U.S.; and vacant secretaryship search
  • Washington, George; and J. L. Poirey’s military service search