James Madison Papers

To James Madison from William Cobbett, 12 June 1812

From William Cobbett

London, 12. June, 1812.


I understand, that Mr. Asbury Dickins; now Chancellor to the American Consulate in England, has made application to his government to be appointed the Successor of the late Consul, General Lyman;1 and, having been very intimately acquainted with Mr. Dickins, during the whole of his residence in this country, and feeling a deep interest in his welfare, I am tempted to address myself directly to you upon the subject, notwithstanding my being wholly a stranger to you, and, notwithstanding many other circumstances, which, according to the ordinary rules of intercourse between man and man, would seem to forbid it.

You will easily suppose, Sir, that, upon this occasion, I am principally actuated by a wish to serve Mr. Dickins; but, strong as that wish certainly is, I would not attempt to gratify it at the expence of truth. With perfect truth, then, I beg leave to assure you, Sir, that I have been most intimately acquainted with Mr. Dickins, from within a few months of his arrival in England to this day; that I know him to be not only an honest and honourable man, and to have always retained and evinced an unshaken attachment to his country and her principles and mode of government, and an ardent zeal for her prosperity and honour; but that I also know him to be (as far as my judgment warrants me in asserting) a man of talents rarely to be met with, while, at the same time, he has all the sobriety, application, quickness, and courage, which are necessary to give effect to those talents, together with a degree of prudence and an amiableness of disposition and of manners very seldom to be found combined with the qualities of a higher order. In short, Sir, I do not, in the whole world, know a man on whose judgment and discretion I would sooner rely, or in whose honour I would sooner confide.

Mr. Dickins’s absence from his country and friends must naturally render testimonials as to character the more necessary to him; and, though he might, I dare say, have easily obtained them from quarters better calculated to give them weight, I could not refrain from offering him my testimony, as a mark, at least, of my anxious desire to see him placed according to his merit; relying upon your benevolence to suggest an apology for my having taken so great a liberty. I am, Sir, With the greatest respect, Your most humble and most obedient Servant,

Wm. Cobbett.2

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

1Asbury Dickins had requested the position of U.S. consul in London in September 1811, at the time he informed the State Department of the death of the incumbent, William Lyman. On that occasion Dickins had obtained the support of several “Merchants of London concerned in the American Trade” and had rounded up some other letters of reference as well, but he was frustrated in his quest for the office by the decision of John Spear Smith, the U.S. chargé d’affaires, to appoint Reuben G. Beasley to the vacancy. In seeking the office in 1811, Dickins described himself as a native of Halifax, North Carolina, thirty years in age, who had been in Europe since 1802 and working in the London consulate since 1807. During his impressionable youth in the 1790s he had been a Federalist, Dickins admitted, but since his arrival in Europe, he claimed, he had seen the error of his ways and was now convinced of the truth of “pure” Republicanism (see Dickins to Monroe, 27 Sept. 1811 [DNA: RG 59, LAR, 1809–17, filed under “Dickins”]).

Dickins’s friends renewed their efforts to obtain the London consulate for him in November and December 1812, but JM took no action on the matter until after the War of 1812. On 2 Mar. 1815 he nominated Dickins to be the American consul in London, but the Senate refused its consent the next day (see Christopher Ripley to JM, 10 Nov. 1812, and Ripley to Monroe, 17, 19, and 24 Nov. 1812 [ibid.]; 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 , 2:626–27).

2William Cobbett (1762–1835) had resided in Philadelphia and New York between 1792 and 1800 and was to return to live in the U.S. again between 1817 and 1819. During the 1790s, writing under the pseudonym of “Peter Porcupine,” he was one of the more abrasive editors writing in support of the Federalist party, and in 1801–2 he published his American polemical writings under the title of Porcupine’s Works (see PJM description begins William T. Hutchinson et al., eds., The Papers of James Madison (1st ser., vols. 1–10, Chicago, 1962–77, vols. 11–17, Charlottesville, Va., 1977–91). description ends , 16:183 n. 7). After his return to Great Britain in 1800 he continued his career as a bookseller, printer, and political essayist, and in 1803 he commenced the publication of his Parliamentary Debates, which in 1812 came under the management of Thomas Hansard.

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