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Some Correspondence with Thomas Jefferson Concerning the Public Printers Transcribed, with a Foreword, by Jessie Ryon Lucke
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Some Correspondence with Thomas Jefferson Concerning the Public Printers Transcribed, with a Foreword, by Jessie Ryon Lucke

THE DEARTH OF INFORMATION ABOUT THE early public printers of the United States has been commented on often enough; and, were it not for the pioneer listing of Greely,[1] the historian and the bibliographer alike would be lost in the morass of miscellaneous official and semi-official leaves and pamphlets which poured from the American presses during the first fourteen Congresses.

Since the following heretofore unpublished letters shed considerable light on the printing practices of the first days of the Republic, they are transcribed in full. They have not been burdened with notes concerning the writers, since such information is readily available in standard reference works.[2] They comprise the earliest group of a collection of letters in the Executive and Foreign Affairs section of the National Archives, entitled "Laws of the United States and Related Papers 1789-1923," and are contained in a portfolio of letters to the Secretaries of State, concerning the printing of laws, 1789-1822. In


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addition to fourteen letters to Jefferson, eleven of which are from printers, presented here are a letter from the printing establishment of Childs and to Remsen, chief clerk at the State Department for two years under Jefferson, and a document, signed by Jefferson, to the Department of State, which confers his official approval on an edition of the "Laws of the United States of America," printed by Andrew Brown in Philadelphia, 1792. The remaining three letters to Jefferson recommend printers; one, from Jabez Bowen, recommends Bennett Wheeler; another, from William Bingham, recommends Andrew Brown; and the third, from David Sewall, recommends Benjamin Titcomb, Jr. One other unpublished Jefferson letter from the Library of Congress collection is printed in a footnote, because it supplements the correspondence with Benjamin Russell.

This group is of special interest because of the information contained therein concerning printing prices current, and the indication, evinced by the letters of application and the letters "recommendatory," that much competition was called forth by the prestige accruing to those printers who were fortunate enough to obtain the coveted privilege of printing the federal laws. David Sewall's effort to get some political patronage for the State of Maine is also worthy of note.

letter 1


The Hon. Mesrs Goodhue and Ames have informed me of my appointment to publish the Laws, &c. of the United States for the Eastern States. As I have not, as yet, received any information thereof, or my duty, <fro>m your Excellency's office; I have to request that I may be furnished with such direction as may be necessary to the right discharge of my duty. With emotions of gratitude, and respect, I am, your Excellency's most obedient

most humble servant,
Benj. Russell
His Excellency Mr Jefferson.


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letter 2

Dear Sir

I could not resist the Solicitations of Mr Brown, to furnish him with a Letter to you expressive of the Circumstances on which he founds his Pretensions to your Patronage of his Views,—which are to procure the Preference in printing the Laws of the United States—

Mr Brown has served during the War, & I am informed had considerable Merit in the discharge of his Duty as an officer—As a Printer, he is very industrious & correct, & has supported a daily Paper with considerable Reputation—

Permit me to embrace this opportunity of joining Mrs; Bingham's Complements with mine, & of assuring you that I am with unfeigned Respect

Sir Your obedt hble servt
Wm Bingham
[On the back: 'Bingham W.m 15 Aug.t 1790 | rec.d Aug. 26'in Jefferson's hand except for '15 Aug.t 1790'.]

letter 3

Honoured Sir,

When the removal of Congress to this City was determined, I understood that Childs & Swaine intended[3] setting up a press here. I have since heard that they have no thoughts of moving. Perhaps you may have not yet fixed upon a person to do the printing of the laws here; in this case permit me to offer myself.—I am just setting out in the printing business with an extensive assortment of materials & would endeavour to merit your approbation should you think proper to employ:

Dear Sir,
Your most obedt
& most hble Servant
Benj.n Franklin Bache
Hon Th. Jefferson Esq.r
['Bache Benj. Fr. 20 Aug.t 1790 | rec.d Aug. 21.' on the back is in Jefferson's hand, except for '20 Aug.t 1790'.]


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letter 4


Having received Information, that the Laws of the United States are published in the Newspapers of some of the States by your Order, at the Expence of Government—and that it was in Contemplation to have it done in each State,—I would by Leave, in Case of such a Determination, to offer the United States Chronicle for that Purpose, upon the same Terms as are allowed to others.—Our Paper has the most extensive Circulation of any in the State, and no Attention of mine shall be wanting, to have the Work well done.—The Obligation conferred on me, in Case our Paper is made Use of, will be gratefully acknowledged; by, Sir, y.r ob.t

and very hml sev.t
Bennett Wheeler
Hon. T. Jefferson, Es.
Secrty of State.
[On the back, in Jefferson's hand: 'Wheeler Bennett. | rec.d Sep. 26.' An unknown hand adds '26 Aug.t 1790' below.]

letter 5


Under an Idea that the Laws of the United States will be published in one of the Newspapers of each State, Mr Bennett Wheeler the Printer of the United States Chronicle, has applied for Letters Recommendatory in his favour that he may be imployed in the Business

As his Paper has as large a Circulation, as [sic] is as Correctly Printed as any one in the State I could wish Mr Wheeler might have the Business; if 'tis not pre engaged.

I Remain with the highest
Esteeme Sir Your Most Obedien[t]
Humble Servant
Jabez Bowen
Thomas Jefferson Esq.r Secry of State
[At head of page 2: 'Bowen Jaber [sic] 1790 | rec.d Sep. 26.' in Jefferson's hand except for '1790'.]


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letter 6


As the Charge of publishing the Acts of Congress, & the Proclamations of the Executive of the General Government, is committed to the Secretary of State, I take the Liberty of making an offer of the Maryland Journal, & Baltimore Advertiser, as a very useful Vehicle for the Promulgation of such Matters, it having an uncommonly extensive Circulation, in various States of the Union, especially in Virginia, Pennsylvania, & Maryland. —Under a Persuasion that, in executing the Duties of your high office, you are actuated by Zeal[4] for the Interest of the Public, I have only to add, that if I shall have the Honour to be employed as a Printer, in the Service of your Department, the Trust shall be performed with Fidelity, and that my Charges shall be very moderate.

I am, with Sentiments of profound Respect
for your public & private Character, Sir,
Your most obedt Servt
William Goddard
Hon. Tho.s Jefferson, Esq:
['Goddard W.m Septem.r 11, 1790. | rec.d Sep. 26.' on the back in Jefferson's hand, except for 'Septem.r 11, 1790'.]

letter 7


I have to acknowledge the Receipt of a Letter from Mr Remsen, written by Direction of your Excellency.—My grateful Thanks are due for this Mark of Attention, as well as for your Excellency's favourable Notice of my Name, in a late Letter to my worthy Friend Mr Howell:

Agreeably to Order, the Providence Gazette shall with great Pleasure be forwarded by Post, so long as the Publication thereof may go on: But labouring as I long have done under many Discouragements, particularly in the Countenance afforded and continued to an antifederal Competitor (who obtruded himself with a printing Apparatus sold by me, under an express Stipulation that it should never be used here) I have in Contemplation to relinquish my typographical Concern, and adopt, if within the Compass of my Power, some other Line of Business, more adequate to the Support of a


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numerous Family. After a long printing Career, I shall reluctantly surrender to my said Competitor the Remains of a small Business, established with much Toil, Care and Expence; but should the Measure eventually take Place, your Excellency will be enabled to account for my Paper not arriving at your Office.

With the highest Consideration for your Excellency's Character and literary Attainments, and zealous Attachment to the Government in which you hold so distinguished a Station, I have the Honour to be, very respectfully, your Excellency's obedient and devoted Servant,

Jo n Carter.
His Excellency Thomas Jefferson, Esq.r
[On back, in an unknown hand: 'Carter John | rec.d Novem.r 2.d | 1790'; in Jefferson's hand: 'Carter John rec.d Nov. 2.']

letter 8


Agreeably to the request contained in Mr Remsen's letter of yesterday, I beg leave to inform you that should I be continued the publisher of the laws of the United States,[5] I shall perform that duty, with accuracy and expedition, at the rate of one dollar for what is equal to one page of the edition of the laws printed by Childs & Swaine.

This is considerably under what I have hitherto had from the State of Pennsylvania, and much less than my fixed price for advertising.

I beg leave just to add that should the printer of any other reputable paper propose to undertake the business for a less sum I shall most cheerfully lower my price accordingly.

I have the honor to be,
Sir, your obedient
humble servant
And.w Brown
26 Novr 1790.


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letter 9


In compliance with your request communicated by Mr. Remsen, that I would furnish you with an estimate of the expense that will attend the publication of the laws of the United States in my paper; and the lowest price for which I will perform the work; I beg permission to inform your Honour, that the Laws of the second session inserted by your order amount to Three Hundred and Seventy-two[*] Squares of Long-Primer. These at half a dollar a square, amount to One Hundred and Eighty-six dollars. The price paid for publishing the Laws of this Commonwealth, in Long-Primer squares, has been reduced, on account of the competition of the Printers for the Printing work of government, which in some of its branches, is lucrative, from One Dollar to Half a Dollar—The price, therefore, that I have inserted, is regulated by the price given by this State—Your Honour's information will enable you to judge whether it is too high or not high enough.

With me, Sir, compensation is <not the> first object, in the publication of the La<ws> of the United States; and while I earnestly solicit the continuation of your patronage; I shall rest satisfied, should I be so fortunate as to obtain it, with such allowance as you shall think just to make.

I have empowered Captain Patrick Phelen, an officer of the customs of the United States, to receive, on my behalf, such sum as shall be allowed for my services.

I am, Sir, with great respect
your most obedient, humble
Benj. Russell
Hon. Thomas Jefferson, Esq.

letter 10


In answer to your letter of the 23d ult. requesting that we would inform the Secretary of State the expence that will attend the publication of the Acts of the United States in our paper,—we would observe, that we shall be


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perfectly satisfied with such compensation as the Secretary of State shall deem reasonable. If, however, it is necessary to mention a price, we are willing to receive payment either by the session, or by the printed page of the Acts—If paid by the page, we ask one dollar; if by the session one hundred dollars.

We are, Sir,
Your most ob.t Serv.ts
Childs & Swaine
Henry Remsem Esqr

letter 11


I am requested by Mr. Remsen to furnish one copy of the Kentucky news papers for the use of the office of the Secretary of State of the U. S. to commence the first day of Octr last, and to be sent under cover by post to Philad.a to said Office. As Mr. Remsen's letter did not come to hand until the of Dec.r could not procure papers farther back than Nov.r 27. There is no direct communication between this place and Philadelphia by post, but will send them by every Oppotunity.

Your mos Obe
[Hble] Servt
John Bradford
['From the Printer at Kentucky | received February 28, 1791' in an unknown hand on the back.][6]

letter 12


The late application of Mr. Brown to Congress which has been referred to you, induces us respectfully to state, that sometime in December last, we commenced the publication of a new or second edition of the Acts of Congress passed at the first session; that this publication is nearly completed, and that another, smaller edition, is considerably advanced upon; that it is our intention


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to publish like editions of the Acts, Treaties, &c. of the second session, and so to continue for the present and all future sessions like publications as they shall become necessary:—From whence we beg leave to submit, how far the result of any decision on Mr. Brown's case may include ours, or others similar thereto, or establish any particular or exclusive indulgence in his favor—Being with every sentiment of the most perfect regard and esteem,

Your most obedt
and very hble servts.
Childs & Swaine
Philad.a Jan.y 27th 1791.
['Chiles [sic] & Swaine. 1791 | rec.d Jan. 27.' on the back of the letter is in Jefferson's hand except for '1791'.]

letter 13


I have received from Mr. Remsen, a Bank Post Note, for 88 Dols. 50 cents; the compensation which your Excellency has thought proper to allow me for publishing in my paper, the Acts and Resolves passed at the second session of the Congress of the United States.

Agreeably to Mr. Remsen's desire, I herewith inclose to your Excellency my Bill, with a Receipt in full:

And am, with great respect,
your Excellency's most obedient,
most humble servant,
Benjamin Russell.
His Excellency
Thomas Jefferson, Esq.
[On back, in unknown hand: 'Benjamin Russell | January 27, 1791 | Received February 3.d —']


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letter 14


Inclosed I transmit my amount for the publication, in the Columbian Centinel, of the Laws of the United States, passed at the <t>hird session of Congress; and am

Sir, With sentiments of respect
your o'bt hle sert,
Benj. Russell[7]
Hon. Mr. Jefferson

letter 15

Department of State, to wit

I hereby certify, that the proof Sheets of an edition of the Laws of <the> United States, under the title of "Laws of the United States of America" printed at Philadelphia by Andrew Brown 1792, in 130 pages octavo, have, from page 7, to page 114 of Acts, and from page i. to page xvi. of Treaties, inclusive, been carefully collated by sworn Clerks with the original Rolls deposited in the Office of the Secretary of State, and <have> been rendered literally conformable therewith; except that the signatures of the President of the United States, the President of the Senate, and the Speaker of the House of Representatives are omitted, and that the approbation of the President of the United States with it's date, is transposed from the end to the beginning of each Act. Given under my hand at Philadelphia, this day of July 1792.

Th: Jefferson[8] Secretary of State


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letter 16


This is to acknowledge the reciept of a Copy of the Laws of the last Session of Congress, this Week, thro' the medium of the Post Office, under your Frank—as well as those of the first Session in the same manner about a year since; and also divers Acts of the first Congress, at preceeding periods—The making these Statutes more generally known in this district, which consists of an extensive Sea Coast, would be facilitated, if they were published in the Gazette of Maine—a Paper printed Weekly at Portland, in this district By Benjamin Titcomb Junr.—And it is submitted to the consideration of the Secretary, Whether such a measure would not be expedient—at least such, as are of general Concern, commen.g with the second Session of the 2.d Congress. —I understand that Henry Dearborn Esq.r the marshall of this district, is Elected a member of the House of of the next Congress—and has forwarded a resignation of his office of marshall. It is my desire that Capt. John Hobby of Portland may be brought to the recollection of the President, whenever the appointm.t of this officer shall come under consideration—As from my Acquaintance, I do not recollect, a more suitable Person, for that department in the district. —The Judicial Act makes provision for the acting of deputies, upon the Death of the Marshall, until a Successor is appointed[9] how far a resignation may be deemed to come under that species of Vacancy arising from Death, has not to my knowledge been determined. —In case m.r Dearborn has forwarded a Resignation, it will be convenient, to say the least, to have a Successor appointed, & Commissioned[10] by the next Session of the district Court, the Third Tuesday of June next.

I am, very respectfully
your obedient humb Servant
David Sewall
Mr Secretary Jefferson
[On the back, in Jefferson's hand: 'Sewall David. | York (Maine) May, 4, 93. | rec.d May 13. | John Hobby to be Marshal of Maine'.]


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A. W. Greely, Public Documents of the First Fourteen Congresses, Washington, 1900.


Clarence S. Brigham, History and Bibliography of American Newspapers, 1690-1820. Worcester, Mass., 1947; Isaiah Thomas, The History of Printing in America, Albany, N. Y., 1874; Charles Evans, American Bibliography, Chicago, 1903-34; and, for such well known figures as Benjamin Franklin Bache, John Bradford, and William Bingham, The Dictionary of American Biography, N. Y., 1928-37.


'Intending' has been changed to 'intended'.


Before this word, at the beginning of a line, a single letter, probably an "a", is crossed out.


On the 5th of February, 1791, Jefferson presented an official report to the House of Representatives, setting forth a contemplated authoritative edition of the "Laws, Treaties, and Resolutions of the United States." The MS of this report is in the Library of Congress; it was printed in full in American State Papers, "Miscellaneous," I, 37. Jefferson's certificate of 25 July 1792, post, also refers to this job.


The square, in Typographical language, is 20 lines of Long-Primer matter—the lines being 20 ms long—and in that proportion of shorter or longer lines, larger or smaller types. Inclosed is a square of matter of the Centinel—the lines being but 18 ms long, it takes almost 23 lines to make a square.


Another notation on the back reads 'Staunton | Forw.a by P. Hieskelle'. Two other letters in the Bradford-Jefferson correspondence are known, both in the Library of Congress, both unpublished, but since they concern a gift of rock salt, they are not transcribed here.


There is a letterpress copy of an unpublished letter from Jefferson to Russell in the Library of Congress, which is added here as a footnote to the Russell series in the Archives. Letterpress, in a clerk's hand, signed by Thomas Jefferson: "Be pleased to correct the following typographical error in the Section of the Act intituled, "An Act to alter the times and places of holding the Circuit Courts in the Eastern District, and in North Carolina, and for other purposes". to wit "for the district of Massachusetts, at Boston, on the seventeenth day of June", strike out the word "seventeenth" and insert in lieu thereof the word seventh. Philadelphia March 16. 1793. Th: Jefferson If you have not published the above mentioned act, its publication with the above correction will be sufficient." Mr. Benjamin Russell


The signature, only, is in Jefferson's hand. On the back is an inscription only partially legible: "—the imp[pdn] | ...on of an Edition of the laws | of 1 Session 2 Congress printed by | A. Brown. 25 July 1792." See the note to Andrew Brown's letter, 26 Nov., 1790, ante.


"Until a Successor is appointed" has been inserted above a caret.


"& Commissioned" has been inserted above a caret.