JEFFERSON, Thomas. Autograph letter signed ("Th: Jefferson") AS PRESIDENT-ELECT AND VICE-PRESIDENT, to General Henry Dearborn, Washington, D.C., 18 February 1801. 1 full page, 4to, integral address leaf neatly inlaid, WITH PANEL IN THE HAND OF ATTORNEY GENERAL LEVI LINCOLN, very light browning, minor stains to address leaf. [With:] LINCOLN, Levi (1749-1820). Autograph free frank ("Free L. Lincoln, No.1"), on address panel boldly addressed in Lincoln's hand: "Th. Jefferson Pres. U.S. Feby. 18 1801"
THE DAY AFTER HE IS NAMED PRESIDENT-ELECT, JEFFERSON INVITES DEARBORN TO "GIVE YOUR COUNTRY THE AID OF YOUR TALENTS AS SECRETARY OF WAR"
WITH ONE OF THE EARLIEST--QUITE POSSIBLY THE FIRST--JEFFERSON FREE-FRANK AS PRESIDENT-ELECT
An historic letter, written in the immediate aftermath of an acrimonious and bitter presidential campaign--in which Federalist journalists launched concerted personal attacks on Jefferson, attaining a virulence "rarely to be matched in the entire history of American presidential campaigns" (D. Malone, Jefferson the President. First Term, p.6). It was followed by a constitutional crisis, for when the electoral votes were tallied, in February 1801, both Jefferson and Aaron Burr received 73 votes, throwing the election into the House. While it had been clear thoughout the campaign that Jefferson was the candidate for President and Burr the nominee for Vice-President, electoral votes were not clearly designated under the Constitution, and die-hard Federalists--who considered Burr the less objectionable of the two--attempted to promote Burr as President, in flagrant disregard of the electorate's real intent. Balloting began on 11 February, and continued, deadlocked, for 35 ballots, each state casting a single ballot on the basis of the majority within each state's delegation. As the voting continued without resolution for a week, "there was grave uncertainty and at least a threat of chaos. There was even talk of civil war" (ibid.). Finally, arch-Federalist Alexander Hamilton--alarmed at the prospect of a Burr presidency--marshalled Federalist support to Jefferson, and, on the 36th ballot, the day before this letter, Jefferson was named President. His inauguration was scheduled for 4 March, so he was President-elect for a mere two weeks, and promptly tackled the task or organizing the exective branch of the government.
To Dearborn, Jefferson writes, "The House of Representatives having yesterday concluded their choice of a person for the chair of the U.S. and called me to that office, it has now become necessary to provide an administration composed of persons whose qualifications and standing have professed them of the public confidence, and whose wisdom may ensure to our fellow citizens the advantages they sanguinely expect. On a review of the characters in the different states proper for the different departments, I have had no hesitation in considering you as the person to whom it would be most advantageous to the public to confide the Department of War. May I therefore hope, Sir, that you will give your Country the aid of your talents as Secretary of War?"
But the prolonged process of choosing a Chief Executive made the speedy organization of the government and of the cabinet all the more urgent, as Jefferson explains: "The delay which has attended the election has very much abridg'd our time and render'd the call more sudden & pressing than I could have wished. I am in hopes our administration may be suspended during the first week of March, except yourself, and that you can be with us a few days after. Indeed it is probable we shall be but a few days together (perhaps to the middle of the month) to make some general & pressing arrangements & then go home for a short time to make our final removal hither. I mention these circumstances that you may see the urgency of setting out for this place with the shortest delay possible...."
In conclusion, Jefferson expresses the hope that "I shall not be disappointed in counting on your aid, and that you will favor me with an answer by return of post. Accept assurances of sincere esteem & high respect"
Other cabinet appointments were in the works: Jefferson had already arranged for James Madison to be nominated for Secretary of State, and the same day as this letter informed Albert Gallatin that he would nominate him for Treasury Secretary. Levi Lincoln (1749-1820), a member of the House in the recent balloting, immediately took up his duties as attorney general, as evidenced here by the address panel of this unusual letter. On the day after his inauguration, Jefferson presented to the Senate only four cabinet nominations: Madison, Gallatin, Lincoln and Dearborn, all of whom were duly confirmed on 5 March 1801. Unfortunately, despite a distinguished reputation as a soldier during the revolution, Dearborn proved an indifferent administrator and, in the War of 1812, a mediocre field commander. Provenance: Riba, 23 February 1985, lot 216.