James Madison Papers

To James Madison from John Wilson, 8 November 1804 (Abstract)

§ From John Wilson1

8 November 1804, Washington. Narrowed circumstances and “an ardent desire to obtain a sort of establishment” leads him to apply to JM for “a specie of friendship which has, so far, proved unavailing in others.” Has a wife and two children to support and moved to Washington from Norfolk County two years ago. Encloses a letter [not found] from Gabriel Duvall.

“It is true Mr Nourse offered me a place in his department worth 625$, but I declined because I could not then, well disengage myself from the business of a person which I had the charge of, & besides that, the salary was small; but at this time such a salary would be very acceptable, as it seems very unlikely that I shall be favoured with a better offer.

“I had great hopes of an appointment a few months ago in Mr. Simms.2 department which was given to a Mr. Smith,3 it was worth upwards of 13 hundd. dolls.: I had considerable conversation with Mr. S respecting the duties & he appeared convinced of my being qualified, but it seems I had not such influential recommends., or being a Virginian perhaps may be some obstacle.

“If, Sir, you will be kind enough to serve us, you will ever be considered as a great Benefactor.”

Adds in a postscript that he will be happy to wait on JM at any time.

RC (DLC). 1 p.

1Wilson, son of Virginia General Assembly member, John Wilson, was a native of Norfolk County whose family had fallen on hard times following his father’s death and the investment of the estate in paper money during the Revolution. After failing in business in Norfolk and unsuccessfully seeking work in Washington, Wilson, who was trained as an accountant and had worked as an “engrosser” for the Virginia legislature, moved to Alexandria, where he temporarily managed a shoe shop, but he was most interested in obtaining a government post (Wilson to Jefferson, 27 Aug. 1803, and Thomas Newton Jr. to an unidentified correspondent, 30 Nov. 1804, DNA: RG 59, LAR, 1801–9, filed under “Wilson”).

2Wilson probably referred to William Simmons, the accountant for the War Department, in which office Wilson was employed as a clerk twelve years later (ASP description begins American State Papers: Documents, Legislative and Executive, of the Congress of the United States … (38 vols.; Washington, D.C., 1832–61). description ends , Miscellaneous, 1:304, 2:310).

3This was probably John Smith (ca. 1774–1811), who had been educated at the University of Providence, qualified as a physician, and later studied law, practicing in Somerset, Pennsylvania. He joined the War Department in 1802, became chief clerk in 1805, and served as secretary of war ad interim after Henry Dearborn’s resignation in 1809 (National Intelligencer, 30 Apr. 1811; Dearborn to Jefferson, 16 Feb. 1809, DLC: Jefferson Papers).

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