James Madison Papers

To James Madison from Morgan Lewis, 8 April 1811

From Morgan Lewis

Albany 8th. April 1811

Dear Sir

Accident has recently put me in possession of some facts which may possibly be interesting to you, and which I shall therefore in confidence communicate. A plan is formed, of which the outlines are, that at the ensuing Election George Clinton is to be your Opponent for the presidency and General Armstrong the Candidate for the vice presidency. An Appointment under the general government is to be procured, if possible, for Govr. Tompkins, for the purpose of enabling D. W. Clinton (should he succeed at the next Election, of which there is little prospect) to Administer the Government of the State. Genl. Armstrong has within a few days received a Letter from Washington, the writer of which informs him, that it is the Opinion of his friends there, which Mr. Secretary Smith assured him of and requested him to advertise the General of, that he should decline accepting any Office under your Administration, and that he should immediately acquire a residence in Pensylva.

General A——g immediately repaired to this place, where he has been a Week at the House of Judge Spencer,1 with whom Mr. Clinton also lodges. There, measures were taken to bring this State into the plan, which I trust will not be successful. This information may be relied on—I have it from a Source not to be questioned.

Mr. German the Senator from this State,2 it is said, has already taken the field, and declares your Administration merits not the Confidence of the people.

Mr. W. P. Van Ness,3 a Man of considerable intrigue, has lately attached himself to the Clinton party, and it is understood is to be rewarded with an Appointment under the general Government.

When I assure you sir there is not an Office in the Gift of any Government on Earth that I would accept, you will duly appreciate the motives of this Communication.

The Legislature of this State being on the Eve of Adjournment I am too much occupied to enlarge. I am sir your’s respectfully

Morgan Lewis.4

RC (DLC: Rives Collection, Madison Papers). Docketed by JM.

1Ambrose Spencer (1765–1848), a graduate of Yale and Harvard, had a lengthy career in law and politics in New York. A Federalist in his politics until 1798, he served at various times between 1793 and 1802 in the New York Assembly, in the state senate, and also on the Council of Appointment. From 1802 to 1804 he was state attorney general, and in the latter year he was appointed to the state supreme court where he remained until 1823, serving as chief justice after 1819. Both his second and third wives were sisters of DeWitt Clinton, with whom he was closely associated politically until they quarreled in 1811–12. Thereafter, his political efforts were devoted to advancing the career of his lifelong friend John Armstrong, who became JM’s secretary of war in 1813. He was widely regarded as a dominant force in New York politics, at least until 1823 when his renomination to the state supreme court was rejected. He was elected to one term in the U.S. House of Representatives, 1829–31. His son, John Canfield Spencer, served in both the war and treasury departments during the administration of John Tyler.

2Obadiah German (1766–1842), a Clintonian Republican, represented New York in the U.S. Senate, 1809–15.

3William P. Van Ness (ca. 1778–1826), a New York lawyer, was Aaron Burr’s second in the 1804 duel with Alexander Hamilton. In May 1812 JM nominated him to be a judge of the district court of New York (Kline, Papers of Burr, 1:584 n. 1; 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 , 2:269).

4Morgan Lewis (1754–1844) had met JM at the College of New Jersey in Princeton, from which he graduated in 1773. He served during the Revolution, mainly on the staff of Horatio Gates, and in 1779 married the sister of Robert R. Livingston. He entered politics in 1787 as a Federalist, but by the early 1790s he had joined the Clintonian Republicans and was appointed chief justice of New York in 1801. Between 1804 and 1807 he was governor of New York, during which time he broke irrevocably with both George and DeWitt Clinton. Throughout the summer of 1808 Lewis kept JM informed about the efforts of New York’s Republicans to prevent JM’s election to the presidency, and in 1811 he entered the New York state senate where he continued to oppose the politics of the Clintonians. In May 1812 JM commissioned Lewis as a brigadier general and quartermaster in the U.S. Army, but Lewis preferred a line appointment and was promoted to major general in February 1813. He led U.S. forces without distinction in the Canadian campaigns of 1813, and after the fiasco at Chrysler’s Farm in November, he was transferred to the command of the Third Military District where he remained until October 1814 (Harrison, Princetonians, 1769–1775, pp. 308–17).

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