U.S. Marshal of New York.
Paris, Nov. 13, 1787
DEAR SIR, — I am now to acknoledge the receipt of your favors of October the 4th, 8th, & 26th. In the last you apologise for your letters of introduction to Americans coming here. It is so far from needing apology on your part, that it calls for thanks on mine. I endeavor to shew civilities to all the Americans who come here, & will give me opportunities of doing it: and it is a matter of comfort to know from a good quarter what they are, & how far I may go in my attentions to them. Can you send me Woodmason’s bills for the two copying presses for the M. de la Fayette, & the M. de Chastellux? The latter makes one article in a considerable account, of old standing, and which I cannot present for want of this article. — I do not know whether it is to yourself or Mr. Adams I am to give my thanks for the copy of the new constitution. I beg leave through you to place them where due. It will be yet three weeks before I shall receive them from America. There are very good articles in it: & very bad. I do not know which preponderate. What we have lately read in the history of Holland, in the chapter on the Stadtholder, would have sufficed to set me against a chief magistrate eligible for a long duration, if I had ever been disposed towards one: & what we have always read of the elections of Polish kings should have forever excluded the idea of one continuable for life. Wonderful is the effect of impudent & persevering lying. The British ministry have so long hired their gazetteers to repeat and model into every form lies about our being in anarchy, that the world has at length believed them, the English nation has believed them, the ministers themselves have come to believe them, & what is more wonderful, we have believed them ourselves. Yet where does this anarchy exist? Where did it ever exist, except in the single instance of Massachusetts?* And can history produce an instance of rebellion so honourably conducted? I say nothing of it’s motives. They were founded in ignorance, not wickedness. God forbid we should ever be 20 years without such a rebellion. The people cannot be all, & always, well informed. The part which is wrong will be discontented in proportion to the importance of the facts they misconceive. If they remain quiet under such misconceptions it is a lethargy, the forerunner of death to the public liberty. We have had 13. states independent 11. years. There has been one rebellion. That comes to one rebellion in a century & a half for each state. What country before ever existed a century & half without a rebellion? & what country can preserve it’s liberties if their rulers are not warned from time to time that their people preserve the spirit of resistance? Let them take arms. The remedy is to set them right as to facts, pardon & pacify them. What signify a few lives lost in a century or two? The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots & tyrants. It is it’s natural manure. Our Convention has been too much impressed by the insurrection of Massachusetts: and in the spur of the moment they are setting up a kite to keep the hen-yard in order. I hope in God this article will be rectified before the new constitution is accepted. — You ask me if any thing transpires here on the subject of S. America? Not a word. I know that there are combustible materials there, and that they wait the torch only. But this country probably will join the extinguishers. — The want of facts worth communicating to you has occasioned me to give a little loose to dissertation. We must be contented to amuse, when we cannot inform.* – William Stephens Smith, (Nov. 8, 1755 – June 10, 1816), was a United States Representative from New York. He married Abigail “Nabby” Adams, the daughter of President John Adams, and so was a brother-in-law of President John Quincy Adams. He was appointed by President Washington as the First U.S. Marshal of New York.
Mr. Smith had frequent correspondence with Thomas Jefferson, as well as John Jay, (Dec. 12, 1745 – May 17, 1829), who was an American statesman, Patriot, diplomat, one of the Founding Fathers of the United States, signer of the Treaty of Paris, and first Chief Justice of the United States Supreme Court, (1789–95).
Born in New York on November 8, 1755, Smith graduated from the College of New Jersey (Princeton) in 1774 before entering the practice of law. But before he could establish himself as a lawyer, the Revolutionary War interrupted his career. He entered the service in August 1776 as a major, serving as an aide to General Sullivan. That same month, he fought at the battle of Long Island. When the Americans withdrew, he was among the last to leave, accompanying General Washington on the latter’s barge across the East River. He was wounded in the fighting at Harlem Heights, which did not prevent him from helping destroy a bridge at Throgs Neck, thereby preventing the British General Howe from out-flanking the American forces. He fought again at White Plains and accompanied the American retreat across New Jersey. His gallantry at the battle of Trenton earned him a promotion to the rank of lieutenant colonel. He also fought at the battles of Monmouth Courthouse and Newport. Afterwards, he became an inspector and adjutant in a corps of light infantry under the command of the famous French general, the Marquis de Lafayette. Washington appointed Smith his aide in July 1781.
Smith performed valuable services for the Commander-in-Chief at Yorktown. After the war, he supervised the evacuation of the British from New York in accordance with the treaty of peace.
In 1785, Smith was appointed the secretary of the American legation in London, where he served under Minister John Adams. A year later, he married his boss’s daughter. His diplomatic career included several missions to Spain and Portugal.
Smith and his wife returned to the United States in 1788. The following year, when Smith was 33, Washington, appointed him Marshal. Since New York City was the nation’s capital during the first year of the new government, Smith dealt personally with the President in the performance of his duties. He also dined with Washington on many occasions during 1789-90.
He resigned as Marshal after one year in office to become supervisor of the revenue. Some time later, he took the job of surveyor of the port of New York. These positions, combined with his private business affairs, brought him a degree of wealth. In 1786, for example, he owned $3,800 worth of continental debt certificates. In addition to these activities, Smith was one of the founders of the Society of the Cincinnati.
When Jefferson assumed the presidency in 1801, Smith surrendered his positions within the federal government and returned to his private pursuits. Early in the new century, he became involved in the Miranda expedition, a poorly planned and illegal filibustering attempt against Venezuela. Although arrested and clearly guilty of the offense, Smith obtained an acquittal. In 1812, he was elected to Congress as a member of the fading Federalist party. He retained his seat until his death on June 10, 1816, at the age of 61. [Source: U.S. Marshals Service.]