James Madison Papers

To James Madison from Thomas Ewell, 15 April 1812

From Thomas Ewell

15th april 1812


Percieving from a late Law of Congress, that th⟨e⟩ President is authorised to make extensive purchases of the amunitions of war,1 & supposing it might not be through the Heads of the Departments, I have taken the liberty to trouble you with this statement.

Under the impression of receiving encouragement from all the branches of Government dealing in Gun-powder, I have almost finished the completion of a manufactory, equal to any in the country.2 As it is deemed a good public object to have such an establishment at the seat of the Government, and as the power to progress depend⟨s⟩ on immediate patronage from the public—I would beg leave to ask the favor of an order to manufacture on contract a portion of the above articles—on the just principles of equal quality & prices. Encouragement in the infant state of my work is of the utmost consequence—to its success—I have ready the most ample individual security—and in my favor is this—that the Honble Secy. of the navy under whose notice I have long acted—has been pleased to favor my undertaking. But from its extent—the aid of other branches of the Government, is necessary. And the expediency of encourageing at this time, such works—will I trust be received as my excuse for begging the Presidents favorable recommendations to other Departments. Most respectfully

Th[omas Ewell]

RC (DLC). Signature missing owing to damage to Ms. Author identified as Ewell in an unknown hand on the Ms and confirmed by the editors on the basis of the contents of n. 2 and a comparison of the handwriting in Ewell’s subsequent letters to JM.

1Ewell was probably referring to “An Act authorizing the purchase of ordnance and ordnance stores, camp equipage and other Quartermaster’s stores and small arms,” which had been signed by JM on 14 Jan. 1812. The act appropriated $1.5 million for purchases of ordnance “under the direction of the President of the United States,” while the second section of the act authorized the president to spend up to $400,000 for the purchase of saltpeter and sulfur “for making the same into powder, and for ordnance and small arms for the use of the navy of the United States” (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 , 2:674–75).

2Thomas Ewell (1785–1826) was a naval surgeon who had opened an apothecary’s shop in Washington in December 1810. Ten months later he announced proposals for a partnership to establish a gunpowder mill near Bladensburg on the site known as “Mr. Stoddert’s Mill” (Van Horne, Papers of Benjamin Henry Latrobe, 2:879 n. 14; National Intelligencer, 17 Oct. 1811).

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