James Madison Papers

To James Madison from Caleb Wallace (Abstract), 22 February 1805

§ From Caleb Wallace1

22 February 1805, Kentucky. “I have just received information that my friend John Coburn2 of this State wishes to remove to the Louisiana Country, could he succeed in obtaining some respectable Office there. In his youth he received a collegiate Education and a Licence to practice law in Pennsylvania, and he has been one of the Judges of our General Court of Oyer and Terminer and District and Circuit Courts from the times they serverally originated, and has acted in all of them with general approbation. And for a while he was my near neighbour, and I know him to be of strict morals, sound intellects, very industrious, and a Zealous unwavering and intelligent republican; which cause me to regret that he has thoughts of leaving this State. But he commenced his progress in life without much patrimony and has now a numerous helpless and amiable family, for the comfor[t]able suppo<r>t of which I believe his prospects in this State are rather decreasing. I therefore approve of his intention of emigrating from it, should an opportunity offer of doing better for them in some other part of the Union. I adm<it> <t>h<a>t I have so high an Opinion of his Talents Industry and Principles, I think him qualified to fill almost any Office in the Governments now organizing under the direction of the General Government. But I presume it would be most congenial to his disposition and wishes to be employed in the Judiciary department. And being well pleased with his political principles I am of opinion that such characters will be as indispensable as natural salt to prevent the putrifaction to which I fear our newly acquired Territories are too much inclined. Therefore political considerations as well as those of friendship induces me to wish success to Mr. Coburn; and I am really sorry that his modesty has prevented him from sooner venturing to make an Offer of his services.”

RC (DNA: RG 59, LAR, 1801–9, filed under “Coburn”). 2 pp.

1Caleb Baker Wallace (1742–1814) was born in Amelia County, Virginia. He graduated from the College of New Jersey in 1770 but stayed another year to study for the Presbyterian ministry. He was ordained in 1774 in Cub Creek, Virginia, where he settled. Wallace was active in the fight for religious freedom in Virginia as well as in the founding of what is now Washington and Lee University. He moved to the Kentucky district in 1783, where he was appointed judge after serving briefly in the Virginia Assembly; he remained on the bench until 1813 (Harrison, Princetonians, 1769–1775, 116–21).

2John Coburn (1763–1823) was born and educated in Philadelphia. He moved in 1784 to Lexington, Kentucky, where he became a merchant, and in 1794 to Mason County, Kentucky, where he became district court judge. He was subsequently named a judge of the Kentucky circuit court. In 1805 and 1807 he declined appointments as judge in Orleans and Michigan territories respectively. In April 1807 he was named judge in Louisiana Territory; however, because of his family’s reluctance to leave Kentucky, he never moved to that territory but traveled there regularly to perform his judicial duties. When the law requiring Federal district and territorial judges to live in their appointed districts was passed in December 1812, Coburn resigned his position the following month in what was by then Missouri Territory (The Biographical Encyclopaedia of Kentucky [1878; reprint, Easley, S.C., 1980], 114–15; Carter, Territorial Papers, Orleans, 9:537 and n. 9; Carter, Territorial Papers, Louisiana-Missouri, 13:570, 14:114, 147, 152–53, 437, 622 and n. 34); U.S. Statutes at Large, description begins The Public Statutes at Large of the United States of America … (17 vols.; Boston, 1848–73). description ends 2:743).

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