James Madison Papers

To James Madison from James Sullivan, 19 November 1805

From James Sullivan

Boston 19th. Novr. 1805


The idea of preserving the post offices, and mails inviolable is almost too sacred to allow a petition for mitigating the punishment of any one who may have been convicted of robbing them. We are very unfortunate here. A young man, labouring under an accidental, but nearly inpenetrable, deafness of respectable connexions; and one whose character stood well before; has been duly and fairly, as I suppose, convicted of stealing money from a letter in the post office.1 He had long been employed in the office without any suspicions. By the Law, the Judges were obliged to sentence him to be whiped. A late law of this state, fostered by some of our Judges and principal men, has done away this infamous kind of punishment. The ideas on which that act was supported, through the forms of Legislation, was, that such punishment was incongenial to the nature of our constitutions; that it had no tendency to reclaim the offender, but cast him out of civil society; fixing a deep and indelible stain on his character, and doing an incurable injury to that of his friends. That it was founded in principles of a government of Terror, and unsuitable to be applied to a citizen. The manner of punishment has become odious in the public opinion here, and the execution of it, in this instance, as I firmly beleive, will be of no advantage to the national government. I do not know whether the president holds a power of a conditional pardon, and therefore say nothing on that point. I feel a diffidence to interfere in a concern, where I have no privity authority, or interest, but a confidence that the attempt will tend to save a respectable, and numerous connexion from most excruciating torture, as well as to serve the interest of the government, urges me to give you this trouble and gives me an opportunity to assure you with how much respect I am your most humble Servant.

Ja Sullivan

RC (DLC: Jefferson Papers).

1In May 1804 Richard Quince Hoskins (1770–1825), chief clerk at the Boston post office, was accused of stealing from the mail four hundred dollars sent by Edmund M. Blunt to Joseph White Jr. at Salem. Hoskins paid Blunt four hundred and forty dollars with the proviso that the money would be refunded if the letter was returned with proof that Hoskins had nothing to do with its disappearance; if such proof did not accompany the letter, only four hundred dollars would be returned. In the July 1805 federal court term, Hoskins was convicted and sentenced to receive twenty lashes, to spend three years at hard labor, and to pay court costs. In addition to Sullivan’s appeal through JM, fifty-two distinguished Massachusetts citizens, among them Christopher Gore, Harrison Gray Otis, and merchants Peter Chardon Brooks and Perez Morton, submitted a petition requesting a pardon for Hoskins. Because Hoskins refused to admit any guilt, Jefferson did not sign a pardon until 12 Aug. 1808, after Hoskins had spent fifty months in jail (Lucius B. Marsh and Harriet F. Parker, Bronsdon and Box Families [Lynn, Mass., 1902], 224; Fredericktown, Md., Bartgis’s Republican Gazette, 22 June 1804; Edmund M. Blunt to Richard Q. Hoskins, 10 May 1804, Harrison Gray Otis et al. to Jefferson, ca. 27 Dec. 1805, and Hoskins to Jefferson, 14 and 28 Aug. 1808, DLC: Jefferson Papers; Pardon No. 147, DNA: RG 59, PPR, 1:156).

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