James Madison Papers

To James Madison from Christopher Ellery, 20 November 1810

From Christopher Ellery

Providence, R. I. Nov. 20. 1810.


The inclosed statement of facts was intended for general circulation, but, for the moment, is confined to individuals.1 I transmit it to the President of the United States because I wish him to be informed that the Governor of this State is, at best, a despot and that the Senator U. S. lately elected is his creature—his miserable tool. J. B. Howel was chosen by one majority.2 It was in his power, having one vote himself, to say to the republican party in the convention, “choose me, or the federalist, Burrill, shall be the senator”: the same power had the Governor, Fenner; he also having a vote: all which being perfectly understood by the other members of the assembly, they submitted. Every of your moments is precious—therefore am I concise, but my manner, if disrespectful, does not correspond with my heart, which, assuredly, is full of respect & attachment for you, Sir, whose most obedient servant I have the honor to be, ever—

Christ. Ellery

RC (DLC). Enclosure not found, but see n. 1.

1The enclosure was very likely another copy of a printed broadside that Ellery forwarded to Albert Gallatin at the same time he wrote to JM (see Ellery to Gallatin, 20 Nov. 1810, Papers of Gallatin [microfilm ed.], reel 21). This was an account of the nomination and election of a successor to Elisha Mathewson in the U.S. Senate at a convention of the Republican members of the Rhode Island General Assembly held on 30 Oct. 1810. The Republicans, confident of their majority, entrusted the selection of their candidate to the members from Providence, who, after deciding that Mathewson could not be reelected, chose Henry Smith. The governor, James Fenner, objected, after which Smith declined the nomination. The Republicans next selected Jonathan Russell, to whom Fenner also objected on the grounds that he was out of the country. The governor indicated his own preference for David Howell but failing that declared he would accept the nomination of Howell’s son, Jeremiah. Many Republicans, however, were unhappy with the situation, and Jeremiah Howell defeated the Federalist candidate, James Burrill, Jr., by only one vote—his own. The account concluded by denouncing Fenner for his personal proscription of Republican candidates chosen by a majority vote in the party convention, a practice that he had also followed during earlier legislative sessions.

2Jeremiah Brown Howell (1771–1822) served one term in the U.S. Senate from 1811 to 1817. Throughout the first session of the Twelfth Congress he generally supported the preparedness policies sought by JM and his administration, and in the May 1812 congressional caucus he voted for JM’s renomination for a second term. He was, however, to vote against the declaration of war against Great Britain in June 1812 (see Leland R. Johnson, “The Suspense Was Hell: The Senate Vote for War in 1812,” Indiana Magazine of History, 65 [1969]: 251).

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