George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Thomas Jefferson, 4 March 1791

From Thomas Jefferson

Mar. 4. 1791.

On view and consideration of the testimonies in favour of mr Anderson’s character, they appear to me to place it on high ground. against this there is no testimony but that of mr Jaquet, which being contradicted by his own former testimony and by the person who committed it to writing, and who seems to have been made acquainted with the subject of it, I should estimate it at nothing, and certainly as not sufficient to oppose the whole current of evidence which has been produced in favour of mr Anderson.1

Th: Jefferson

ALS, DNA: RG 59, Miscellaneous Letters.

For the background to this letter, see Joseph Anderson to GW, 1 Mar. 1791.

1GW probably turned the matter of Anderson’s appointment as judge for the Southwest Territory over to Jefferson on 2 Mar. 1791. A decision had to be made swiftly, because if GW was to return the appointment to the Senate with a request that Anderson’s confirmation be revoked, he would have to act immediately. On 1 Mar. GW had called on the vice-president to convene a special session of the Senate on 4 Mar. to confirm appointments to offices in Vermont, three military appointments, and a long list of appointments in the excise service (see GW to John Adams, 1 Mar. 1791). This business was expected to consume two or three days at the most. No evidence has been found indicating that Jefferson had any prior knowledge of the case. That GW turned to him for advice at this juncture suggests that he was considering returning the appointment to the Senate and was probably concerned about the political and legal implications of this course. The case raised difficult and important constitutional questions about the untested prerogatives of the Senate in confirming presidential appointees, a matter that had led to discord between GW and the Senate during the first two years of GW’s administration (see GW to the U.S. Senate, 6 Aug. 1789 and 4 June 1790). In assessing the evidence and formulating his opinion, Jefferson seems to have struggled with these questions. Interlined notations in his “Summary Journal of Public Letters” demonstrate that he first determined to advise GW to revoke the nomination. The first entry on the subject reads “on revocation of a nomination approved by Senate in the case of M[ajor? Anderson].” Jefferson altered this line to read “draught of a message on revocation of a nomination approved by Senate in the case of M[ajor? Anderson].” Beneath this entry Jefferson added the final one, describing the document sent to GW printed here: “Opinion Th: J. in favor of Anderson” (Jefferson Papers, description begins Julian P. Boyd et al., eds. The Papers of Thomas Jefferson. 41 vols. to date. Princeton, N.J., 1950–. description ends 19:400). Upon receipt of Jeffferson’s opinion, Tobias Lear responded on GW’s behalf on 4 Mar. 1791: “By the President’s command T. Lear has the honor to inform the Secretary of State, that the Opinion given by the Secretary in the case of Mr Anderson agrees fully with that which the President had formed upon a complete view of the circumstances—and it is the President’s wish that Mr Anderson’s Commission should issue accordingly” (DLC:GW). The affair did not end there, however. Jaquett, who had himself recently applied for federal employment (see Jaquett to GW, 18 April 1789), soon learned that his role in the affair had been represented in an unfavorable light and wrote to GW defending himself (see Jaquett to GW, 14 Mar. 1791).

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