Thomas Jefferson Papers

John H. Coleman to Thomas Jefferson, 16 July 1822

From John H. Coleman

Paris Bourbon County Kentucky July 16th 1822—


I flatter myself that you will not be displeased at the liberty I take of troubling you with this communication—There is at this time an interesting and important political question that agitates to a great degree the body politic of our State—And knowing the sincere and heartfelt interest that you have ever entertained for our common Country; I have concluded that you might not be disinterested in a matter so important to a Western State—This question has arisen from the pecuniary embarrassments of our State, and has assumed a shape that is well calculated to alarm the friends and Republicans of our Govt.—A discord exists between our Legislative and Judicial departments—The Legislature in 1820 enacted a Law establishing the “Commonwealth’s Bank.” As there was no specie deposited in its Vaults the paper soon after it’s issue began to depreciate: but as the measure was a very popular one at our next session a Law was passed requiring a Plaintf who had recovered Judgt., to endorse upon his execution when issued that the paper of that Bank should be taken in discharge thereof; and if this step was not taken that the Deft. should have a right to replevy the debt for two years to be discharged in specie—

This Law was opposed by some of our Citizens; and a Party who had recovered Judgement for a debt brought the question before our Circuit Court by moving to quash a Replevy Bond, on the grounds that the Law authorising the proceedings was contrary to the Federal and State Constitutions—The Judge decided the Law to be unconstitutional. The Legislature were then in session;—and proceeded instanter to act upon the business in a manner which you will observe by a perusal of the document which I have taken the liberty herewith to communicate—In the lengthy discussion upon the Subject our members refered to that excellent authority written by yourself in “Notes of Virginia”—Where you so perspicuously shew the relative nature and duty of the several departments of our well organised Govt.—This authority would have been conclusive; but the Supporters of the Law attempted to diminish it’s influence by producing a Letter which you have lately written to Mr Jarvis who has recently composed a political Work: and they relyed upon that part of your letter in which you remark “You seem in pages 84 & 148. to consider the Judges the ultimate arbiters of all constitutional questions; a very dangerous doctrine indeed, and one that would place us under the despotism of an oligarchy”—they further attempted to shew that by the tenor of that letter that1 if a Judge should decide a Law unconstitutional, that the Legislature were required by a sense of duty to remove him from office, if they deemed the Law essential and important to promote the happiness of the Country—All men admit that “Salus populi, Lex suprema” but most politicians would contend, that if a law is passed in contravention to the constitution, that, that instrument must be impaired and paralyzed if the Law is enforced—And that however great may be the necessity of the Law, that where there is a discrepancy between the Law and the Constitution that the latter must prevail, untill it is regularly altered or amended—

I sincerely apologize, Sir, for troubling you with this communication—and would not have written it, but in consideration of the very high esteem and veneration in which I hold your character as a Statesman and a Republican—and beleiving that although your personal interest may not in the slightest degree be affected;2 that you still retain that general and patriotic feeling, and those orthodox principles of liberty and equality which have been so proudly cherish[ed] by the western people—Pardon me Sir for making the request that if it is not inconsistent with your feelings or convenience that you will give me an answer and communicate even briefly your views upon this political subject—I wish to make no public use of it; but as I am a young man and meet with some difficulty upon the subject, it would be highly gratifying to know yr sentiments—My Father who (when living) was your warm personal friend taught me when a youth to cherish the noble principles that you dictated for your Countrymen and since I arrived to the age of maturity I am confirmed in the rectitude of his precepts—

Accept Sir, the assurances of my highest respect and best wishes that the evening of your life may be as tranquil as the meridian of it was usefull
Very Respectfully your humbl Servt

John H. Coleman.

RC (MHi); damaged at seal; addressed: “The Honble Thomas Jefferson Monticello near Charlottesville Virginia”; franked; postmarked Paris, 20 July; endorsed by TJ as received 3 Aug. 1822 and so recorded in SJL. Enclosure not found.

John H. Coleman (d. 1826), attorney, was married in Bourbon County, Kentucky, in the spring of 1818 and served four years later as a manager of a lottery to raise money to build a Masonic hall in Paris in that county. He owned nine slaves in Harrison County in 1820. Coleman helped choose Henry Clay’s slate of presidential electors in 1824 but also took part that year in an unsuccessful attempt to convince Andrew Jackson to attend a public dinner in Paris. He died in Athens, Alabama (Bourbon Co. marriage records [Madison Co. courthouse, Richmond, Ky.]; DNA: RG 29, CS, Ky., Harrison Co., Marysville, 1820; Acts passed at the second session of the thirtieth, and the first session of the thirty-first General Assembly for the Commonwealth of Kentucky [Frankfort, 1823], 90–6; Frankfort Argus of Western America, 18 Aug. 1824; Jackson, Papers description begins Sam B. Smith, Harold D. Moser, Daniel Feller, and others, eds., The Papers of Andrew Jackson, 1980– , 11 vols. description ends , 5:573; Frankfort Commentator, 9 Sept. 1826; Lexington Kentucky Reporter, 11 Sept. 1826).

Bourbon County Circuit Court judge James Clark had recently ruled in the case of Williams v. Blair that the 25 Dec. 1820 “Act to regulate endorsements on executions” was unconstitutional. The Kentucky legislature impeached him in May 1822, but it could not muster enough votes to remove him from office (Journal of the House of Representatives of the Commonwealth of Kentucky, begun and held … on Monday the thirteenth day of May 1822 [Frankfort, 1822], 64, 67–8, 116).

1Coleman here canceled “even.”

2Manuscript: “effected.”

Index Entries

  • banks; currency issued by search
  • banks; in Ky. search
  • books; on government search
  • Clark, James (of Kentucky); as circuit court judge search
  • Coleman, John H.; and judicial review search
  • Coleman, John H.; family of search
  • Coleman, John H.; identified search
  • Coleman, John H.; letter from search
  • Commonwealth Bank of Kentucky search
  • Constitution, U.S.; and judicial review search
  • currency; paper search
  • Jarvis, William Charles; letter from TJ referenced search
  • Jarvis, William Charles; The Republican; or, A Series of Essays on the Principles and Policy of Free States search
  • Jefferson, Thomas; Opinions on; judicial review search
  • Jefferson, Thomas; Writings; Notes on the State of Virginia search
  • Kentucky; and judicial review search
  • Kentucky; banks in search
  • Kentucky; Bourbon County Circuit Court search
  • Kentucky; endorsement and replevin laws in search
  • Kentucky; legislature of search
  • law; and judicial review search
  • law; endorsement, property, and replevin search
  • Notes on the State of Virginia (Thomas Jefferson); mentioned search
  • politics; books on government search
  • The Republican; or, A Series of Essays on the Principles and Policy of Free States (W. C. Jarvis) search