James Madison Papers

To James Madison from Thomas Jefferson, 30 September 1781

From Thomas Jefferson

MS (LC: Jefferson Papers). A second page, which Jefferson used as the cover of this letter, is addressed to “The honourable James Madison Philadelphia favoured by Mr. Short.” Note 2, below, explains why this letter was never received.

Monticello Sep. 30. 1781.

Dear Sir

I beg leave to introduce to your acquaintance the bearer mr. Short who comes to Philadelphia in hopes of being able to prosecute in greater quiet there than he can here the studies in which he is engaged: and I chearfully add to what you may already have heard of him my testimony of his genius, learning & merit. I do this the rather as it gives me an opportunity of saving the right of correspondence with you which otherwise might be lost by desuetude, acknoledging not to have written to you these five months before, and lamenting that the same space has occurred since I heard from you.1 Tho ours is at present the busy & interesting scene yet I have nothing to communicate to you of the military kind, as I am so far from the scene of action and so recluse that I am persuaded you know every event before I do and more especially as mr. Short does not set out immediately.2 I pray you to consider me as being with very sincere respect & esteem Dr. Sir

your friend & servt.

Th: Jefferson

2William Short (1759–1849) of Surry County was a graduate of the College of William and Mary, 1779, and a founder and president of the Phi Beta Kappa Society. When he applied for a license to practice law, he was directed on 19 September 1781 to stand examination before any two of five attorneys named by the Governor in Council. On 30 September Jefferson examined him at Monticello and certified him as “duly qualified.”

On the date of this note to JM, Jefferson also wrote to Thomas McKean, Robert Morris, and Richard Peters, all living in Philadelphia, introducing Short as “a gentleman of very uncommon genius, erudition and merit.” None of these four letters reached its addressee. They apparently were returned to Jefferson by Short, who seems to have changed his mind about going to Philadelphia when the surrender of the British forces at Yorktown made Virginia sufficiently “quiet” to enable him to study at home. Possibly owing to a shortage of paper, Jefferson later turned the present letter upside down, and the cover sideways, and filled the two sheets with notes upon a suit at law (Boyd, Papers of Jefferson description begins Julian P. Boyd et al., eds., The Papers of Thomas Jefferson (16 vols. to date; Princeton, N.J., 1950——). description ends , VI, 122–24).

On 2 November 1781 Short satisfied the directive of the Governor in Council, mentioned above, by appearing before George Wythe for examination and being certified by him as “duly qualified” to practice law. On 18 February 1782 Short was admitted to practice “in the County & other inferior Courts.” Elected when only twenty-four years of age to the Virginia Council of State, Short served thereon from 10 June 1783 until 24 August 1784 (Journal of the House of Delegates description begins Journal of the House of Delegates of Virginia, March 1781 Session in Bulletin of the Virginia State Library, XVII, No. 1 (January 1928). description ends , May 1783, p. 40; Journals of the Council of State description begins H. R. McIlwaine et al., eds., Journals of the Council of the State of Virginia (Richmond, 1931——). description ends , III, 267, 374–75, 409), resigning to follow his patron, Jefferson, to Europe as private secretary. Later he became secretary of legation and, when Jefferson returned to the United States in 1789, chargé d’affaires at Paris. Thereafter Short was minister to the Netherlands (1792–1793), envoy to Spain (1793), and minister resident at Madrid (1794–1795), during which tenure he laid the groundwork for the Pinckney Treaty of 1795. He lived in Paris from 1795 to 1802, when he returned to the United States. In August 1808 he was commissioned by President Jefferson as minister to Russia, but in March 1809, after reaching Paris, Short learned that the Senate had refused to confirm his appointment, and he returned home in 1810. He settled in Philadelphia, accumulated a sizable fortune, and never again engaged in public affairs.

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