Front Page Titles (by Subject) TO MESSRS. RITCHIE AND GOOCH - The Works, vol. 12 (Correspondence and Papers 1816-1826)
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TO MESSRS. RITCHIE AND GOOCH - Thomas Jefferson, The Works, vol. 12 (Correspondence and Papers 1816-1826) 
The Works of Thomas Jefferson, Federal Edition (New York and London, G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 1904-5). Vol. 12.
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TO MESSRS. RITCHIE AND GOOCH
Monticello, May 13, 1822
Messrs. Ritchie and Gooch,
—I am thankful to you for the paper you have been so kind as to send me, containing the arraignment of the Presidents of the United States generally, as peculators or accessories to peculation, by an informer who masks himself under the signature of “a Native Virginian.” What relates to myself in this paper, (being his No. VI., and the only No. I have seen,) I had before read in the Federal Republican of Baltimore, of August 28th, which was sent to me by a friend, with the real name of the author. It was published there during the ferment of a warmly-contested election. I considered it, therefore, as an electioneering manœuvre merely, and did not even think it required the trouble of recollecting, after a lapse of thirty-three years, the circumstances of the case in which he charges me with having purloined from the treasury of the United States the sum of $1,148. But as he has thought it worth repeating in his Roll of informations against your Presidents nominally, I shall give the truths of the case, which he has omitted, perhaps because he did not know them, and ventured too inconsiderately to supply them from his own conjectures.
On the return from my mission to France, and joining the government here, in the spring of 1790, I had a long and heavy account to settle with the United States, of the administration of their pecuniary affairs in Europe, of which the superintendence had been confided to me while there. I gave in my account early, but the pressure of other business did not permit the accounting officers to attend to it till October 10th, 1792, when we settled, and a a balance of $888 67 appearing to be due from me, (but erroneously as will be shown,) I paid the money the same day, delivered up my vouchers, and received a certificate of it. But still the articles of my draughts on the bankers could be only provisionally past; until their accounts also should be received to be confronted with mine. And it was not till the 24th of June, 1804, that I received a letter from Mr. Richard Harrison the auditor, informing me “that my accounts, as Minister to France, had been adjusted and closed,” adding, “the bill drawn and credited by you under date of the 21st of October, 1789, for banco florins 2,800, having never yet appeared in any account of the Dutch bankers, stand at your debit only as a provisional charge. If it should hereafter turn out, as I incline to think it will, that this bill has never been negotiated or used by Mr. Grand, you will have a just claim on the public for its value.” This was the first intimation to me that I had too hastily charged myself with that draught. I determined, however, as I had allowed it in my account, and paid up the balance it had produced against me, to let it remain awhile, as there was a possibility that the draught might still be presented by the holder to the bankers; and so it remained till I was near leaving Washington, on my final retirement from the administration in 1809. I then received from the auditor, Mr. Harrison, the following note: “Mr. Jefferson, in his accounts as late Minister to France, credited among other sums, a bill drawn by him on the 21st October, 1789, to the order of Grand & Co., on the bankers of the United States at Amsterdam, f. Banco f. 2,800, equal with agio to current florins 2,870, and which was charged to him provisionally in the official statement made at the Treasury, in the month of October, 1804. But as this bill has not yet been noticed in any account rendered by the bankers, the presumption is strong that it was never negotiated or presented for payment, and Mr. Jefferson, therefore, appears justly entitled to receive the value of it, which, at forty cents the gilder, (the rate at which it was estimated in the abovementioned statement,) amounts to $1,148. Auditor’s office, January 24th, 1809.”
Desirous of leaving nothing unsettled behind me, I drew the money from the treasury, but without any interest, although I had let it lie there twenty years, and had actually on that error paid $888 67, an apparent balance against me, when the true balance was in my favor $259 33. The question then is, how has this happened? I have examined minutely, and can state it clearly.
Turning to my pocket diary I find that on the 21st day of October, 1789, the date of this bill, I was at Cowes in England, on my return to the United States. The entry in my diary is in these words: “1789, October 21st. Sent to Grand & Co., letter of credit on Willinks, Van Staphorsts and Hubbard, for 2,800 florins Banco.” And I immediately credited it in my account with the United States in the following words: “1789, October 21. By my bill on Willinks, Van Staphorsts and Hubbard, in favor of Grand & Co., for 2,800 florins, equal to 6,230 livres 18 sous.” My account having been kept in livres and sous of France, the auditor settled this sum at the current exchange, making it $1,148. This bill, drawn at Cowes in England, had to pass through London to Paris by the English and French mails, in which passage it was lost, by some unknown accident, to which it was the more exposed in the French mail, by the confusion then prevailing; for it was exactly at the time that martial law was proclaimed at Paris, the country all up in arms, and executions by the mobs were daily perpetrating through town and country. However this may have been, the bill never got to the hands of Grand & Co., was never, of course, forwarded by them to the bankers of Amsterdam, nor anything more ever heard of it. The auditor’s first conjecture then was the true one, that it never was negotiated, nor therefore charged to the United States in any of the bankers’ accounts. I have now under my eye a duplicate furnished me by Grand of his account of that date against the United States, and his private account against myself, and I affirm that he has not noticed this bill in either of these accounts, and the auditor assures us the Dutch bankers had never charged it. The sum of the whole then is, that I drew a bill on the United States bankers, charged myself with it on the presumption it would be paid, that it never was paid however, either by the bankers of the United States, or anybody else. It was surely just then to return me the money I had paid for it. Yet “the Native Virginian” thinks that this act of receiving back the money I had thus through error overpaid, “was a palpable and manifest act of moral turpitude, about which no two honest, impartial men can possibly differ.” I ascribe these hard expressions to the ardor of his zeal for the public good, and as they contain neither argument nor proof, I pass them over without observation. Indeed, I have not been in the habit of noticing these morbid ejections of spleen either with or without the names of those venting them. But I have thought it a duty on the present occasion to relieve my fellow citizens and my country from the degradation in the eyes of the world to which this informer is endeavoring to reduce it by representing it as governed hitherto by a succession of swindlers and peculators. Nor shall I notice any further endeavors to prove or to palliate this palpable misinformation. I am too old and inert to undertake minute investigations of intricate transactions of the last century; and I am not afraid to trust to the justice and good sense of my fellow-citizens on future, as on former attempts to lessen me in their esteem.
I ask of you, gentlemen, the insertion of this letter in your paper; and I trust that the printers who have hazarded the publication of the libel, on anonymous authority, will think that of the answer a moderate retribution of the wrong to which they have been accessory.1
[1 ]Once more, Jefferson wrote to Ritchie and Gooch:
Monticello, June 10, 1822
Page 2, column 2, l. 48 to 29 from the bottom, ‘he [Mr. J.] admits in his account rendered in 1790 and settled in 1792, that he had received the “cash,” [placing the word cash between inverted commas to have it marked particularly as a quotation] that he had received the “cash” for the bill in question, and he does not directly deny it now. Will he, can he, in the face of his own declaration in writing to the contrary, publicly say that he did not receive the money for this bill in Europe? This is the point on which the whole matter rests, the pivot on which the arguments turn. If he did receive the money in Europe, (no matter whether at Cowes or at Paris,) he certainly had no right to receive it a second time from the public treasury of the United States. This is admitted I believe on all sides. Now, that he did receive the money in Europe on this bill, is proved by the acknowledgment of the receiver himself, who credits the amount in his account as settled at the treasury thus: “cash received of Grand for bill on Willincks, Van Staphorsts, 2,876 gilders, 1,148 dollars.’” Col. 3, l. 28 to 21 from bottom. ‘There is a plain difference in the phraseology of the account, from which an extract is given by Mr. J. as above, and that which he rendered to the Treasury. In the former he gives the credit thus, “By my bills on Willincks,” &c. In the latter he states, “By cash received of Grand for bill on Willincks,” &c.’ There is a difference, indeed, as he states it, but it is made solely by his own interpolation. Col. 3, l. 8, from bottom. ‘That Mr. Jefferson should, in the very teeth of the facts of the evidence before us, and in his own breast, gravely say that he had paid the money for this bill, and that therefore it was but just to return him the amount of it, when he had, by his own acknowledgment, sent it to Grand & Co., and received the money for it, is, I confess, not only matter of utter astonishment but regret.’ I spare myself the qualifications which these paragraphs may merit, leaving them to be applied by every reader according to the feelings they may excite in his own breast. He proceeds: ‘And now to place this case beyond the reach of cavil or doubt, and to show most conclusively that he had negotiated this bill in Europe, and received the cash for it there, and that such was the understanding of the matter at the treasury in 1809, when he received the money.’ These are his own words. Col. 4, he brings forward the overwhelming fact ‘not hitherto made public but stated from the most creditable and authentic source, that one of the accounting officers of the treasury suggested in writing the propriety of taking bond and security from Mr. J., for indemnification of the United States against any future claim on this bill. But it seems the bond was not taken, and the government is now liable in law, and in good faith for the payment of this bill to the rightful owner.’ How this suggestion of taking bond at the treasury, so solemnly paraded, is more conclusive proof than his own interpolation, that the cash was received, I am so dull as not to perceive; but I say, that had the suggestion been made to me, it would have been instantly complied with. But I deny his law. Were the bill now to be presented to the treasury, the answer would and should be the same as a merchant would give: ‘You have held up this bill three and thirty years without notice; we have settled in the meantime with the drawer, and have no effects of his left in our hands. Apply to him for payment.’ On his application to me, I should first inquire into the history of the bill; where it had been lurking for three and thirty years? how came he by it? by interception? by trover? by assignment from Grand? by purchase? from whom, when and where? And according to his answers I should either institute criminal process against him, or if he showed that all was fair and honest, I should pay him the money, and look for reimbursement to the quarter appearing liable. The law deems seven years’ absence of a man, without being heard of, such presumptive evidence of his death, as to distribute his estate, and to allow his wife to marry again. The Auditor thought that twenty years non-appearance of a bill which had been risked through the post-offices of two nations, was sufficient presumption of its loss. But this self-styled native of Virginia thinks that the thirty-three years now elapsed are not sufficient. Be it so. If the accounting officers of the treasury have any uneasiness on that subject, I am ready to give a bond of indemnification to the United States in any sum the officers will name, and with the security which themselves shall approve. Will this satisfy the native Virginian? or will he now try to pick some other hole in this transaction, to shield himself from a candid acknowledgment, that in making up his case, he supplied by gratuitous conjectures, the facts which were not within his knowledge, and that thus he has sinned against truth in his declarations before the public? Be this as it may, I have so much confidence in the discernment and candor of my fellow-citizens, as to leave to their judgment, and dismiss from my own notice any future torture of words or circumstances which this writer may devise for their deception. Indeed, could such a denunciation, and on such proof, bereave me of that confidence and consolation, I should, through the remainder of life, brood over the afflicting belief that I had lived and labored in vain.