Thomas Jefferson Papers

Thomas Jefferson to Ritchie & Gooch, 13 May 1822

To Ritchie & Gooch

Monticello May 13. 22.

Messrs Ritchie and Gooch

I am thankful to you for the paper you have been so kind as to send me, containing the arraignment of the Presidents of the US. generally as peculators or accessaries to peculation, by an informer who masks himself under the signature of ‘a native Virginian.’ what relates to myself in this paper, (being his No VI. and the only No I have seen) I had before read in the Federal Republican of Baltimore of Aug. 28. which was sent to me by a friend with the real name of the Author. it was published there during the ferment of a warmly contested election. I considered it therefore as an electioneering maneuvre merely, and did not even think it required the trouble of recollecting, after a lapse of 33. years, the circumstances of the case in which he charges me with having purloined from the Treasury of the US. the sum of 1148. Dollars. but as he has thought it worth repeating in his Roll of informations against your Presidents nominally, I shall give the truths of the case, which he has omitted, perhaps because he did not know them and ventured too inconsiderately to supply them from his own conjectures.

On the return from my mission to France, and joining the Government here, in the spring of 1790. I had a long and heavy account to settle with the US. of the administration of their pecuniary affairs in Europe, of which the superintendance had been confided to me while there. I gave in my account early, but the pressure of other business did not permit the accounting officers to attend to it till Oct. 10. 1792. when we settled, and a balance of 888. D 67 C appearing to be due from me (but erroneously as will be shewn) I paid the money the same day, delivered up my vouchers, and recieved a certificate of it. but still the articles of my draughts on the bankers could be only provisionally past, until their accounts also should be recieved to be confronted with mine. and it was not till the 24th of June 1804. that I recieved a letter from mr Richard Harrison the Auditor informing me ‘that my accounts, as Minister to France, had been adjusted and closed’ adding ‘the bill drawn and credited by you under date of the 21st of Octob. 1789. for banco florins 2800. having never yet appeared in any account of the Dutch bankers, stands at your debit only as a provisional charge. if it should hereafter turn out, as I incline to think it will, that this bill has never been negociated or used by mr Grand, you will have a just claim on the public for it’s value.’ this was the first intimation to me that I had too hastily charged myself with that draught. I determined however as I had allowed it in my account, and paid up the balance it had produced against me, to let it remain a while, as there was a possibility that the draught might still be presented by the holder to the bankers: and so it remained till I was near leaving Washington on my final retirement from the administration in 1809. I then recieved from the Auditor, mr Harrison the following Note. ‘Mr Jefferson in his accounts as late minister to France, credited among other sums, a bill drawn by him on the 21st Octob. 1789. to the order of Grand & co. on the bankers of the US. at Amsterdam for Banco f. 2800. equal with Agio to Currt florins 2870. and which was charged to him provisionally in the official statement made at the Treasury in the month of Octob. 1804. but as this bill has not yet been noticed in any account rendered by the bankers, the presumption is strong that it was never negociated or presented for payment, and mr Jefferson therefore appears justly entitled to recieve the value of it, which at 40. cents the gilder (the rate at which it was estimated in the above mentioned statement) amounts to Dollars 1148. Auditor’s office, Jan. 24. 1809.’

Desirous of leaving nothing unsettled behind me, I drew the money from the treasury, but without any interest, altho I had let it lie there 20. years, and had actually on that error paid 888.D. 67. cents an apparent balance against me, when the true balance was in my favor 259.D. 33. cents.   The question then is How has this happened? I have examined minutely and can state it clearly.

Turning to my pocket Diary I find that on the 21st day of Octob. 1789. the date of this bill, I was at Cowes in England, on my return to the US. the entry in my Diary is in these words, ‘1789. Octob. 21. sent to Grand & co. letter of credit on Willinks, Van Staphorsts and Hubbard for 2800. florins Banco.’ and I immediately credited1 it in my account with the US. in the following words, ‘1789. Oct. 21. By my bill on Willinks, Van Staphorsts & Hubbard in favor of Grand and co. for 2800. florins equal to 6250 livres–18 sous.’ my account having been kept in livres and sous of France, the Auditor settled this sum at the current exchange, making it 1148. Dollars. this bill, drawn at Cowes in England had to pass through London to Paris by the English and French mails, in which passage it was lost, by some unknown accident, to which it was the more exposed in the French mail, by the confusion then prevailing; for it was exactly at the time that Martial law was proclaimed at Paris, the country all up in arms, and executions by the mobs were daily perpetrating thro’ town and country. however this may have been, the bill never got to the hands of Grand and co. was never, of course, forwarded by them to the bankers of Amsterdam, nor any thing more ever heard of it. the Auditor’s first conjecture then was the true one, that it never was negotiated, nor therefore charged to the US. in any of the bankers’ accounts. I have now under my eye a duplicate furnished me by Grand of his account of that date against the US. and his private account against myself, and I affirm that he has not noticed this bill in either of these accounts, and the Auditor assures us the Dutch bankers had never charged it.   The Sum of the whole then is that I drew a bill on the US. bankers, charged myself with it on the presumption it would be paid, that it never was paid however either by the bankers of the US. or any body else. it was surely just then to return me the money I had paid for it. yet the ‘Native Virginian’ thinks that this act of recieving back the money I had thus thro’ error overpaid ‘was a palpable and manifest act of moral turpitude, about which no two honest, impartial men can possibly differ.’ I ascribe these hard expressions to the ardor of his zeal for the public good, and as they contain neither argument nor proof, I pass them over without observation. indeed I have not been in the habit of noticing these morbid ejections of spleen either with or without the names of those venting them. but I have thought it a duty on the present occasion to relieve my fellow citizens & my country from the degradation in the eyes of the world to which this informer is endeavoring to reduce it by representing it as governed hitherto by a succession of Swindlers and Peculators. nor shall I notice any further endeavors to prove or to palliate this palpable misinformation. I am too old and inert to undertake minute investigations of intricate transactions of the last century; and I am not afraid to trust to the justice and good sense of my fellow citizens on future, as on former attempts to lessen me in their esteem.

I ask of you, gentlemen the insertion of this letter in your paper: and I trust that the printers who have hazarded the publication of the libel, on anonymous authority, will think that of the answer a moderate retribution of the wrong to which they have been accessory.

Th: Jefferson

PoC (DLC). Printed in Richmond Enquirer, 17 May 1822, and elsewhere.

Ritchie & Gooch was a partnership formed in 1820 by Thomas Ritchie and Claiborne W. Gooch to publish the Richmond Enquirer. The firm dissolved toward the end of 1828 (Brigham, American Newspapers description begins Clarence S. Brigham, History and Bibliography of American Newspapers, 1690–1820, 1947, 2 vols. description ends , 2:1138; Richmond Enquirer, 3 Mar. 1820, 7 Nov. 1828).

The arraignment of the presidents of the us was reprinted in Letters addressed to the People of the United States, by a Native of Virginia, on the subject of Illegal and Improper Disbursements of the Public Money, &c. originally published in the Federal Republican (Baltimore, 1822; reprinted in New York the same year, retitled Public Defaulters Brought to Light). TJ confused letter number 3 by “A Native of Virginia,” which did not name him and which appeared, along with an unsigned article attacking him for other reasons, in the 28 Aug. 1821 issue of the Federal Republican and Baltimore Telegraph, with letter no vi, from a later, unidentified issue of the paper. In this sixth letter the author, who has sometimes been identified as William B. Giles, but whom TJ eventually believed to be Jacob Wagner, accused him of committing “a palpable and manifest act of moral turpitude,” one that “regards the public interest, and about which no two honest impartial men can possibly differ.” The essayist wrote that, inasmuch as the ex-president had admitted “in his own hand writing” (p. 14) to receiving in 1789 the “cash” for the abovementioned bill on Willink, Van Staphorst & Hubbard, “Mr. Jefferson has twice received the money on this same bill—first at Paris, where he negotiated it, in 1789, and afterwards at Washington in 1809. And I do contend, that, upon no correct principle of law or morality had he a shadow of right to take the money a second time. … Neither Mr. Jefferson, nor any body else, had a right to profit by the loss of the bill in question, which the government will be bound in justice and good faith to pay, should it ever be presented for payment. And here it may be proper to remark, that no security, by way of indemnity to the U. States, in the event of a contingency of that kind, was taken from Mr. Jefferson. His accounts as minister in France had been settled and closed for nearly twenty years. They were opened for the unworthy—I will not say dishonest—purpose of taking money from the public treasury which he had not the shadow of right to claim or demand. If any one should ask how the accounting officers of the treasury were induced to allow to Mr. Jefferson this claim?—it may be answered, that, even in our republic, there are not wanting men who will wrong the public and their own consciences, for the purpose of obtaining favor with certain great men” (p. 15).

Richard Harrison’s letter to TJ was actually dated 24 Oct. 1804, not the 24th of june 1804 (PTJ description begins Julian P. Boyd, Charles T. Cullen, John Catanzariti, Barbara B. Oberg, James P. McClure, and others, eds., The Papers of Thomas Jefferson, 1950– , 45 vols. description ends , 44:598–9). agio is the percentage charged when exchanging a currency for a more valuable one (OED description begins James A. H. Murray, J. A. Simpson, E. S. C. Weiner, and others, eds., The Oxford English Dictionary, 2d ed., 1989, 20 vols. description ends ). For the entries from TJ’s pocket diary and account with the us, see MB description begins James A. Bear Jr. and Lucia C. Stanton, eds., Jefferson’s Memorandum Books: Accounts, with Legal Records and Miscellany, 1767–1826, 1997, The Papers of Thomas Jefferson, Second Series description ends , 1:746, and PTJ description begins Julian P. Boyd, Charles T. Cullen, John Catanzariti, Barbara B. Oberg, James P. McClure, and others, eds., The Papers of Thomas Jefferson, 1950– , 45 vols. description ends , 24:187, respectively.

1Word interlined in place of “charged myself with.”

Index Entries

  • aging; TJ on his own search
  • Baltimore, Md.; Federal Republican and Baltimore Telegraph search
  • Federal Republican and Baltimore Telegraph (newspaper) search
  • French Revolution; TJ on search
  • Giles, William Branch; possible author of “A Native of Virginia” articles search
  • Grand, Ferdinand; as banker search
  • Grand & Compagnie (Paris firm) search
  • Harrison, Richard (auditor of the treasury); and settlement of TJ’s account search
  • Jefferson, Thomas; Health; aging search
  • law; martial search
  • martial law; and French Revolution search
  • newspapers; Federal Republican and Baltimore Telegraph search
  • Paris; martial law declared in search
  • Ritchie & Gooch (Richmond firm); and “A Native of Virginia” search
  • Ritchie & Gooch (Richmond firm); identified search
  • Ritchie & Gooch (Richmond firm); letters to search
  • Wagner, Jacob; possible author of “A Native of Virginia” articles search
  • Willink, Van Staphorst & Hubbard (Amsterdam firm) search
  • “A Native of Virginia” (pseudonym); accuses TJ of misuse of public funds search
  • “A Native of Virginia” (pseudonym); identity of search
  • “A Native of Virginia” (pseudonym); TJ’s replies to search