James Madison Papers

To James Madison from Thomas Leiper, 14 January 1811

From Thomas Leiper

Philada. Janry. 14th. 1811

Dear Sir

This evening I was informed by John Smith1 the Mar[s]hall of this district that their has been a charge brought against him for not acting properly in the line of his Office in the Case of Olmstead.2 I beg leave to relate what has come within my own knowledge in that case. I was One of the Grand Jury and heard the Marshalls Testimony and his Two deputies against General Bright and his men who opposed them in the serving of the process. The Marshall certainly did not desert ’till the Guns & Bayonets were at their breast and were given to under[s]tand if the[y] advanced they would be run through. Now Sir the Grand Jury found a Bill against Bright & Co the Petty Jury found them guilty and the Judge sent them to Prison. I am of the opinion had their been any thing improper in the Marshall’s conduct it would have made its appearence on the Trial. If this is the only charge I have no doubt but the marshall will clear it up to your satisfaction indeed he says himself and I can believe him if he ever had any Merit in the line of his Office he had it in the case of Olmstead. My opinion of Pennsylvania at present is not the most favorable. To speak in a General sense we all want office or if you like it better Office hunters and if the truth was known the person who is at the bottom of this charge wants the Office himself. Bright got a fat Office from Snyder for opposing the Laws of the United3 in Smith the Marshall and Smith is to be Turned out of Office for doing his duty. Wilkinson is to be persecuted for preventing Burr Treason where will this end you who sit higher may see further. I saw Wilkinson at his post on Plouden Hill when the British were on Bunkers hill. These men and these only are to be Trusted to command a Republican Army. The United States are in a State of Fermentation and it requires some Skill to prevent the Scum getting uppermost. It has already get uppermost in Pennsylvania and if I am correctly informed they would put you undermost. But I think it is impossible we should remain long in our present State. I am with esteem & respect Your most Obedient St.

Thomas Leiper

RC (DLC). Docketed by JM.

1John Smith’s term as marshal of Pennsylvania was due to expire on 25 Jan. 1811. On 10 Jan. 1811 Gallatin had written, evidently with JM’s knowledge, to Alexander James Dallas, the U.S. attorney for Pennsylvania, warning that Smith’s reappointment would be opposed. In his reply several days later Dallas defended at length Smith’s conduct throughout the Olmstead affair, stressing that the marshal had at all times acted under his orders. The impression conveyed in the charges, made by U.S. senator Michael Leib and other opponents of Pennsylvania governor Simon Snyder, that Smith had neglected his duties by colluding with the state authorities to avoid confrontation, Dallas believed, was more apparent than real. He mentioned that Smith was grateful to the president for the “hint” and added that Smith himself would write to JM on the subject. Smith’s letter to JM has not been found, but he evidently enclosed it in a 14 Jan. 1811 letter to Robert Smith in which he explained that he sought both to be reappointed as marshal and to “refute some unfounded complaints against my official proceedings in Olmsteads Case.” JM received one other letter in defense of Smith’s conduct as marshal, and he nominated him for a further four-year term on 22 Jan. 1811 (Gallatin to Dallas, 10 Jan. 1811, Dallas to Gallatin, 13 Jan. 1811, Papers of Gallatin [microfilm ed.], reel 22; John Smith to Robert Smith, 14 Jan. 1811 [DLC; docketed by JM]; W. Lewis to JM, 14 Jan. 1811 [DNA: RG 59, LAR, 1809–17]; Senate Exec. Proceedings description begins Journal of the Executive Proceedings of the Senate of the United States of America (3 vols.; Washington, 1828). description ends , 2:163–64; Higginbotham, Keystone in the Democratic Arch, p. 230).

2For the background to the Olmstead affair, see Madison’s First Public Crisis: Olmstead v. the Executrices of the Late David Rittenhouse, 6 Apr.–6 May 1809 (PJM-PS description begins Robert A. Rutland et al., eds., The Papers of James Madison: Presidential Series (3 vols. to date; Charlottesville, Va., 1984—). description ends , 1:102–4).

3Leiper appears to have omitted the word “States” between the second and third pages.

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