Thomas Jefferson Papers

John Stevens to Thomas Jefferson, 7 November 1818

From John Stevens

Hoboken, near New York, Novr 7h 1818.


The vast importance, in my humble opinion, of the subject matter of the communications herewith enclosed must be my apology for the liberty I now take in requesting your perusal of them.

Should the object proposed to the consideration of the general government meet your approbation, or be considered by you of sufficient moment to induce you to favour me with an expression of your sentiments respecting it, impressed, as I should be, with a due sense of the honour, permit me also to say, that it would afford to me the highest gratification.

With Sentiments of the most profound Respect & Consideration, I have the Honour to be, Sir, Your Obedt Servt

John Stevens

RC (MoSHi: TJC-BC); dateline at foot of text; at head of text: “His Excellency Thomas Jefferson Esquire”; endorsed by TJ as received 15 Nov. 1818 and so recorded in SJL. Dft (NjHi: Stevens Family Papers, 1993); damaged at crease; endorsed by Stevens as a “Copy Letter to Mr Jefferson & to Mr Madison.” Enclosures not found.

John Stevens (ca. 1749–1838), engineer, was born in New York City, grew up in Perth Amboy, New Jersey, and graduated from King’s College (later Columbia University) in 1768 before studying law. Instead of practicing that profession he followed his father into politics, serving during the American Revolution as treasurer of New Jersey and in 1782–83 as surveyor general of the eastern part of that state. From about 1788 onwards Stevens devoted his life to perfecting and promoting steam transportation, focusing first on steamboats and later on steam-powered trains. He encouraged enactment of the first federal patent laws in order to secure protection for his own designs, and he subsequently received numerous patents for his improvements. Largely self-taught as an engineer, Stevens joined forces with the foundry owner Nicholas J. Roosevelt to put his ideas into practice. His attempts to establish a steamboat line of his own were frustrated by the Hudson River monopoly of Robert Fulton and Stevens’s brother-in-law and former partner, Robert R. Livingston. He could, however, claim responsibility for the first seagoing steamboat and for helping to secure the first American legislative railroad act. Stevens was elected to the American Philosophical Society in 1789. He died in Hoboken (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 ; Miriam V. Studley, Charles F. Cummings, and Thaddeus J. Krom, eds., Guide to the Microfilm Edition of the Stevens Family Papers [1968]; 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 , 27:797, 803–4; Milton Halsey Thomas, Columbia University Officers and Alumni 1754–1857 [1936], 101; Washington, Papers, Rev. War Ser., 2:80–1, 16:293; APS description begins American Philosophical Society description ends , Minutes, 17 Apr. 1789 [MS in PPAmP]; List of Patents description begins A List of Patents granted by the United States from April 10, 1790, to December 31, 1836, 1872 description ends , 5, 33, 78, 164; Stevens, Documents tending to prove the Superior Advantages of Rail-Ways and Steam-Carriages over Canal Navigation [New York, 1812; Poor, Jefferson’s Library description begins Nathaniel P. Poor, Catalogue. President Jefferson’s Library, 1829 description ends , 5 (no. 217); TJ’s copy in PPAmP]; New York Evening Post, 7 Mar. 1838).

Stevens sent an identical letter to James Madison on this date (Madison, Papers, Retirement Ser., 1:373, 380–1). He had previously sent a similar but longer letter to James Monroe, in which he stated that he was enclosing “what has occurred to me respecting Rail Roads, concluding with a proposal for carrying into effect a Rail Road from the River Delaware near Trenton, to the River Rariton at or near New Brunswick” (Stevens to Monroe, 21 Oct. 1818 [NjHi: Stevens Family Papers]).

Index Entries

  • American Philosophical Society; members of search
  • Jefferson, Thomas; Books & Library; works sent to search
  • Madison, James (1751–1836); works sent to search
  • Monroe, James; works sent to search
  • railroads; proposed search
  • Stevens, John (ca.1749–1838); and railroads search
  • Stevens, John (ca.1749–1838); identified search
  • Stevens, John (ca.1749–1838); letter from search
  • Stevens, John (ca.1749–1838); sends work to TJ search