James Madison Papers

To James Madison from William Thornton, 20 January 1821

From William Thornton

City of Washington Jany. 20th: 1821.

Dear Sir

I have just heard that Mr. Charles Todd, of Kentucky, is returning from the Republic of Columbia, & as another Agent will most probably be appointed, I am exceedingly desirous of succeeding him. I had been very highly recommended to the President before Mr: Todd was appointed, by the honorable Colonel Johnson,1 & some other respectable Senators, & the Colonel & many other Friends are desirous of aiding me in obtaining the appointment now: but as this is a popular Government, & the voice of the people is always attended to, it has been thought proper to convince the President that it would be a popular appointment before I could expect to receive this honor.

I have served this Government above twenty six years, & have been so happy as to obtain the approbation of the successive Presidents. I have been invited by the Officers of the highest grade in the Republic of Colombia to accept of Commissions from them: but I have very explicitly refused every offer, though very tempting. The Secretary of State & Finance of Colombia, Señor Don José R: Revenga,2 being my very intimate Friend, the celebrated Roscio,3 Vice President of the Republic, being also my Friend; & having been intimate with the famous Orator Don Pedro Gual4 L.L.D. formerly Govr: of Carthagena, I am confident I should be well received as an Agent to that Country. One of my Objects is to write the natural History of, & describe by drawings &c, that very extensive, rich & interesting, but almost unknown Country: and I am now so far advanced in life that I have not a moment to lose. The celebrated Franklin offered if I would travel in the Service of the United States, keep a Journal of what I though[t] worthy of record, without subjection to any restraint whatever, & deliver my writings to the United States, he would obtain for me a Salary that should be worthy of any Gentleman, & as his individual Subscription to aid in carrying into Effect what he wished, he would give his Salary as Governor of Pennsylva: for one Year, which was a thousand pounds Pennsylva: Curry: but my delicate State of Health solely prevented me from accepting one of the most honorable Appointments that perhaps was ever offered from one so justly renowned, & so high in Science, to one so young as I then was. I have written to the late President Jefferson that great patron of the Sciences & Arts, to favor me with a few lines if he think me worthy, & I solicit from you whatever you can with good conscience say in my behalf on this Occasion. I shall never forget the Obligation, & shall consider your Opinions, if in my favor, as the Summum of all that can be desired. Be assured, also, that I shall never cease to endeavour to prove myself worthy of your patronage.

Govr: Barbour of Virginia mentioned to some of my Friends a few Days ago, an Expression of Mr: Jefferson’s in my favor, which I shall never forget, but cherish in the most grateful remembrance.

My wife & her mother would not perhaps go with me at first; but if I should be appointed & agreeably established I am in hopes they would not refuse to go afterwards. Please to give our best regards & most respectful compliments to your amiable Lady. Her name is mentioned very often, with uncommon kindness, & her kind & condescending deportment & friendly attentions to the Citizens will never be forgotten. I am dear Sir, with the highest respect, most sincere regard & consideration Yrs &c

William Thornton

An Answer as soon as your time will permit will very much oblige me, as there is not a moment to be lost. Yrs. W.T.

RC (DLC). Docketed by JM.

1Richard Mentor Johnson (1781–1850) was a Kentucky lawyer who served in the U.S. House of Representatives, 1807–1819, and 1829–36, in the U.S. Senate, 1819–1829, and as vice president of the United States, 1836–40. He supported the Madison administration, and raised two regiments of mounted volunteers, commanding troops in several engagements during the War of 1812, including the Battle of the Thames, where he is said to have killed Tecumseh (Biographical Encyclopaedia of Kentucky [1980 reprint], 297–98).

2José Rafael Revenga (1781–1852) was sent to the United States in 1810 to gain recognition of the revolutionary government of Venezuela. He dined with JM in Washington in November 1811. An associate of Simón Bolívar, Revenga was sent on diplomatic missions to the United States (again in 1815), Spain (1821), and Great Britain (1822), and was several times, secretary of state for foreign relations (Donna Keyse Rudolph and G. A. Rudolph, Historical Dictionary of Venezuela, 2 ed., [Lanham, Md., 1996], 593; PJM-PS description begins Robert A. Rutland et al., eds., The Papers of James Madison: Presidential Series (7 vols. to date; Charlottesville, Va., 1984–). description ends 4:11 and n. 1).

3Juan Germán Roscio (1769–1821), a doctor of canon and of civil law from the University of Caracas, was a key participant in the independence movement in Venezuela in 1810 and thereafter. In 1812 he was imprisoned in North Africa for his revolutionary activities. In 1818 he visited the United States, where he published El Triunfo de la Libertad Sobre el Despotismo. He was briefly president of the department of Venezuela in the Republic of Colombia before his death (Rudolph and Rudolph, Historical Dictionary of Venezuela, 2d ed., 614–15).

4Pedro Gual (1784–1862) was a Venezuelan revolutionary and diplomat who served as provincial governor, minister of foreign affairs, and organizer of and delegate to the Congress of Panama in 1826. He represented Ecuador in Spain and Great Britain and was briefly president of Venezuela in 1861. He visited the United States in 1812 (ibid., 320–21).

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