Thomas Jefferson Papers

Thomas Jefferson to Samuel Smith (of Maryland), 13 August 1820

To Samuel Smith (of Maryland)

Monticello Aug. 13. 20.

Dear Sir

If you have not heard from me since the lamentable cata[s]trophe which befell your mercantile house, it has not been from the want of a sincere sympathy with you: but because experience has taught me that time and silence are better anodynes to misfortune, than condolances which only serve to recall painful recollections to the mind. I should suppose there could hardly be a member who would not think the chair of the H. of R.1 due to your past services. and could I be useful towards ensuring it by withdrawing the competition you mention, there would not be a moment’s hesitation on my part. but the gentlemen of my family have sometimes been in opposition to mr Nelson’s elections here: & altho’ I have never taken the smallest part in that opposition, it has produced an entire intermission of intercourse between the famil[ie]s, & placed me perhaps in an attitude which, for aught I know, might render an intimation from me more injurious than useful. my friend mr Madison is on cordial terms with him, and I have written to him this day to see if he can do any thing.

That you might be valuably employed in our diplomatic line and particularly with the nations with which we have principal commerce cannot be doubted. but I do not know whether there is likelihood of any vacancy. mr Gallatin I know is expected to remain indefinitely. mr Rush I believe the same. and if mr Forsythe can obtain forgiveness from the Cortes for his rudeness to their royal government, I presume he will remain also. yet these employments are so illy paid & the consequen[t] changes so frequent that vacancies are always possible, and should the governmen[t] see with my eyes, there would be no hesitation in the choice of a successor. and I pray you to be assured that no one would be more gratified than myself by such a testimony of gratitude for your services rendered in all times of trial: and that my sentiments of friendship and respect continue constant and undiminished.

Th: Jefferson

PoC (DLC); on verso of a reused address cover from Arthur S. Brockenbrough to TJ; edge trimmed; mutilated at seal, with two words rewritten by TJ; at foot of text: “General Samuel Smith”; endorsed by TJ.

John Quincy Adams described the lamentable catastrophe in his diary on 30 May 1819: “The House of Smith and Buchanan, which has been these thirty years one of the greatest commercial Establishments in the United States, broke last week, with a crash which staggered the whole City of Baltimore, and will extend, no one knows how far.” While Adams did not assign blame to him, he added that in consequence of the event, Smith had reportedly “gone distracted” and been “confined dangerously ill in bed” (MHi: Adams Papers).

Several newspapers had recently reported that the American diplomat John Forsyth (forsythe) had used “rude, ungentlemanly and impolitic language … at the court of Spain” (Boston Daily Advertiser, 22 Mar. 1820, and elsewhere).

1Preceding seven words interlined in place of “it.”

Index Entries

  • Forsyth, John; as minister plenipotentiary to Spain search
  • Gallatin, Albert; as minister plenipotentiary to France search
  • House of Representatives, U.S.; Speaker of search
  • Jefferson, Thomas; Opinions on; anodynes to misfortune search
  • Madison, James (1751–1836); and Speaker of U.S. House of Representatives search
  • Nelson, Hugh; as candidate for Speaker of U.S. House of Representatives search
  • Nelson, Hugh; TJ’s family opposes election of search
  • Rush, Richard; as minister plenipotentiary to Great Britain search
  • S. Smith & Buchanan (Baltimore firm) search
  • Smith, Samuel (of Maryland); as candidate for Speaker of U.S. House of Representatives search
  • Smith, Samuel (of Maryland); financial situation of search
  • Smith, Samuel (of Maryland); health of search
  • Smith, Samuel (of Maryland); letters to search
  • Smith, Samuel (of Maryland); seeks diplomatic appointment search
  • Spain; and U.S. search
  • Spain; Cortes of search
  • United States; and Spain search