March 11th 1806
A general expectation seems to prevail that Colo. Smith will be removed from the office of Surveyor of the port of New York, and I am asked by almost every one whether it is not already done. Mr Madison who seems to coincide in the opinion that he ought to be removed, informed me that you had expressed a doubt whether conviction ought not to precede the removal. I must confess that it seems to me that, as the facts are as fully in the possession of the Executive at this time as they will be after the trial, and as indeed such of them as rest on his own evidence cannot be brought against him in a criminal prosecution, it is not necessary, if those facts are considered a just cause of removal, to wait the event of such prosecution. The honor of Government, and the peace of the country seem to require an explicit mark of disapprobation and disavowal: and retaining in public service an officer, who, by his own declaration, has been guilty of an outrage against the law of Nations which endangers the peace of his country, and of a direct violation of a positive statute, will be considered by Spain & France, as an evidence of our connivancey, and impede the intended negotiations. Nor does it appear to me that Colo. Smith’s plea, that he was induced to believe, from Miranda’s representations, that Govt. did not disapprove the expedition, can be adduced even in extenuation of the offence. Not only it is evident that his former connections with Miranda, and hopes of private advantages for his son or for himself, were his motives of action: but he acknowledges that even Miranda had not presumed to hint that Govt. authorised or approved such an expedition, but, on the contrary, told him that he was cautioned not to commit any illegal act. Supposing Colo. Smith to have been induced in error by Miranda’s misrepresentations, it would be no justification of an illegal act; but when he expressly declares that he was not deceived on that point, and then avows that he enlisted and caused to be enlisted a number of men; does it not amount to a full acknowledgment that he committed the illegal act, knowing at the same time that Governt. disapproved the same?
To this may be added that, abusing the confidence which attached to his official character, he persuaded Fink to enlist men as for the service of the U. States; and that as one of the officers of the customs it was his duty to report to the collector every circumstance respecting the armament & cargo within his knowledge. Indeed it does not appear possible that the private lading of canon & military stores, and the other illegal parts of the armament could have been effected without his connivance & assistance. They would, otherwise, have come to the knowledge of the collector: and the fitting out of the expedition, & preserving the secret till after the vessel’s departure, may fairly be ascribed by Spain to the agency of our own officer. Why, with the fullest proof of these facts, have you continued the guilty officer in service? will be a natural question for her to ask.
I may add that Colo. Smith is a bad officer, that he does not attend to the duties of his office; that he has presented fallacious statements of his emoluments, with intention of keeping a portion which by law ought to have been paid in the Treasury; and that he has not even paid what he acknowledged to be due. I know that the delicacy of removing, under all circumstances, a near connection of the late President of the U. States, made you anxious to overlook every inferior breach of duty in that officer: and those are now mentioned only to show that he is not entitled from his general official conduct to any special indulgence. Excuse the length of this letter: I only intended to suggest the subject to you; but my knowledge of the general opinion, and my own conviction of the necessity of the measure, have drawn me into a longer discussion than was necessary. I had intended to call on you to day on that & some other subjects, but was so unwell that I could not leave home.
With great respect and attachment Your obt. Sv.
DLC: Papers of Thomas Jefferson.