Thomas Jefferson Papers

Thomas Jefferson to John M. Goodenow, 13 June 1822

To John M. Goodenow

Monticello June 13. 22.


I thank you for the volume of American jurisprudence which you have been so kind as to send me. I am now too old to read books solidly, unless they promise present amusement or future benefit. to me books of law offer neither. but I read your 6th chapter with interest and satisfaction, on the question Whether the Common law (of England) makes a part of the laws of our General government? that it makes, more or less, a part of the laws of the states is, I suppose an unquestionable fact. not by birthright, a conceit as inexplicable as the trinity, but by adoption. but, as to the Genl government, the Virginia report on the Alien and Sedition laws has so compleatly pulverised this pretension that nothing new can be said on it. still, seeing that judges of the Supreme court, Iredell, for example Elsworth, Story, had been found capable of such paralogism, I was glad to see that the Supreme court had given it up. in the case of Libel in the US. district court of Connecticut the rejection of it was certainly sound; because no law of the Genl govmt had made it an offence. but such a case might, I suppose, be sustained in the state courts which have state laws against libels. because as to the portions of power within each state assigned to the General government, the President is as much the Executive of the state, as their particular Governor is in relation to state-powers. these however are speculations with which I no longer trouble myself; and therefore, to my thanks, I will only add assurances of my great respect.

Th: Jefferson

PoC (DLC); on verso of a reused address cover from Caesar A. Rodney to TJ; at foot of text: “Mr Goodenow.”

John Milton Goodenow (ca. 1782–1838), attorney, public official, and judge, was born in Westmoreland, New Hampshire. He taught school, studied law in several northeastern states, and operated a mercantile business in Maine before moving around 1812 to Ohio, where he was admitted to the bar, established a legal practice, settled in Steubenville, and was appointed a federal tax collector by James Monroe in 1817. Goodenow sat in the Ohio legislature in 1823, became a prominent Freemason, and served as a Jacksonian in the United States House of Representatives, 1829–30. Following a brief stint on the Ohio supreme court, he relocated to Cincinnati, where he was presiding judge of the local circuit court of common pleas, 1833–34. Goodenow moved with his family to Texas in 1837 and died the following year, during or shortly after his return to Cincinnati (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, repr. 1968, 20 vols. in 10 description ends ; Hartford Connecticut Mirror, 28 Feb. 1814; Steubenville Western Herald, 6 July 1815; JEP description begins Journal of the Executive Proceedings of the Senate of the United States description ends , 3:97, 98 [12, 15 Dec. 1817]; Chillicothe Supporter, and Scioto Gazette, 25 Jan. 1827; Ohio State Journal, and Columbus Gazette, 9 Jan., 29 June 1833; Columbus Ohio State Journal and Register, 25 July 1838; Washington Daily National Intelligencer, 28 July 1838; gravestone inscription in Spring Grove Cemetery, Cincinnati).

The volume of american jurisprudence was Goodenow’s Historical Sketches of the Principles and Maxims of American Jurisprudence, in Contrast with the Doctrines of the English Common Law on the Subject of Crimes and Punishments (Steubenville, 1819; Poor, Jefferson’s Library description begins Nathaniel P. Poor, Catalogue. President Jefferson’s Library, 1829 description ends , 10 [no. 598]), which argued against the use of English common-law precedents in criminal cases either in Ohio or in federal courts.

In his lengthy report on the alien and sedition laws, which he completed early in January 1800, James Madison argued strongly against the notion that the common law of England “makes a part of the law of these states; in their united and national capacity” (Madison, Papers, Congress. Ser., 17:303–51, quote on p. 326).

The suit of United States v. Hudson and Goodwin, which originated in the us. district court of connecticut, arose when a newspaper in that state published an allegation in 1806 that TJ and Congress had “in secret voted two millions of dollars as a present to Bonaparte for leave to make a treaty with Spain.” The United States Supreme Court ruled on the case in February 1812 that federal courts “have no common law jurisdiction in cases of libel against the government of the United States” (U.S. Reports description begins Cases Argued and Decided in the Supreme Court of the United States, 1790–  (title varies; originally issued in distinct editions of separately numbered volumes with U.S. Reports volume numbers retroactively assigned; original volume numbers here given parenthetically) description ends [7 Cranch], 11:32–4, quotes on p. 32).

Index Entries

  • Alien and Sedition Acts search
  • Christianity; and Trinitarian doctrine search
  • common law; and jurisprudence search
  • common law; and libel prosecutions search
  • Ellsworth, Oliver; as Supreme Court justice search
  • Goodenow, John Milton; Historical Sketches of the Principles and Maxims of American Jurisprudence search
  • Goodenow, John Milton; identified search
  • Goodenow, John Milton; letter to search
  • Historical Sketches of the Principles and Maxims of American Jurisprudence (J. M. Goodenow) search
  • Iredell, James; as Supreme Court justice search
  • Jefferson, Thomas; Books & Library; receives works search
  • Jefferson, Thomas; Opinions on; Christianity search
  • Jefferson, Thomas; Opinions on; common law search
  • law; books on search
  • law; common search
  • libel; prosecutions during TJ’s presidency search
  • Madison, James (1751–1836); and Alien and Sedition Acts search
  • Napoleon I, emperor of France; and U.S. search
  • Spain; and U.S. search
  • Story, Joseph; as Supreme Court justice search
  • Supreme Court, U.S.; andUnited States v. Hudson and Goodwin search
  • United States; and Spain search
  • United States District Court, Connecticut District search
  • United States v. Hudson and Goodwin search