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U.S. Senator Johnston of North Carolina Writes to His Protégé James Iredell Just Days Before Washington Nominates Iredell as One of the First Justices of the Supreme Court

SAMUEL JOHNSTON, Autograph Letter Signed, to James Iredell, February 2, 1790, New York, New York. Includes docketing by Iredell. Also includes an engraving of Iredell by Albert Rosenthal of Philadelphia in 1889. 2 pp., 7.5? x 8.75?. Expected folds; tear of second leaf on opening, not affecting text; very good.

In this fantastic letter, U.S. Senator Samuel Johnston, the former governor of North Carolina, writes to his brother-in-law and former law student James Iredell with news from the national capital in New York City. He reports that Robert H. Harrison (1745-1790) of Maryland was likely to decline his appointment to the U.S. Supreme Court. President George Washington had nominated Harrison on September 24, 1789, and the Senate confirmed him two days later. Harrison initially declined the appointment, but Washington sent Dr. James Craik with a personal appeal. Harrison agreed to accept and began the trip to New York City, but his health worsened, and he returned to Maryland. On January 21, 1790, Harrison sent Washington a letter again declining the appointment and citing family obligations and his health as the reasons. Harrison died on April 2, 1790.

Six days after Johnston penned this letter, President Washington nominated Iredell to the U.S. Supreme Court in place of Harrison. The Senate confirmed his appointment on May 12, and he received his commission the same day.

Johnston also discusses An Act for giving effect to the several acts therein mentioned, in respect to the state of North Carolina, and other purposes, which Congress passed, and President Washington signed into law on February 8. Because North Carolina did not ratify the U.S. Constitution until November 21, 1789, laws that Congress passed in July 1789 to regulate the collection of duties on imports did not provide for North Carolina. This law addressed that difficiency by establishing five collection districts and designating ports of entry and officers to collect the duties in each port.

Complete Transcript:

New York 2d February 1790
Dear Sir
You will receive by a Vessell addressed to Mr Jackson the Loaf Sugar Books & Medicines which you ordered the enclosed Bills will shew you the price of the Sugar and Medicines the Books cost 40/ I have not yet had an opportunity of bespeaking yours. in the same Package with your books is a set of Bacon’s Abridgement for B. Baker. I likewise send you the Acts of the last session of Congress, the Journals of both Houses and the Report of the Secretary of the Treasury with such Newspapers as have come to me since my arrival as I have not had time to read one word in them, you must not blame me if they are not worth your Acceptance.
The Federal Court met here yesterday. It adjourned before I could get out of Congress so that I had not an opportunity of seeing their Honors. I understand that Mr Harrison of Maryland has resigned, but have not yet understood who is to succeed him. The Act for extending the import Laws to our State was read the third time in the Senate and passed with Amendments, which are now before the House of Representatives for their consideration.
I continue very well except the remains of my Cough which still sticks by me
Present my love to Mrs Iredell the Girls and your sweet Babes. remember me to all friends and believe me always yours affectionately
Saml Johnston
P.S. Be pleased to forward the Letters to Mr McKenzie and my Brother as soon as possible


[Docketing in Iredell’s hand:] New York, 2 Feb. 1790. / Sam. Johnston. / Ans[were]d

Samuel Johnston (1733-1816) was born in Scotland and came to America with his father in 1736, when they settled in North Carolina. He was educated in New England and read law in North Carolina. He became a planter in Chowan County, gained admission to the bar, and began a law practice in Edenton. He served in the North Carolina House of Burgesses from 1759 to 1775. A strong supporter of independence, Johnston was a delegate to the first four provincial congresses and presided over the third and fourth in 1775 and 1776. He represented North Carolina in the Continental Congress in 1780 and 1781, and though elected as the first president of the Confederation Congress, he declined to serve. Johnston served as Governor of North Carolina from 1787 to 1789 and presided over both conventions to ratify the U.S. Constitution, the second of which ratified the document. He served as one of North Carolina’s first two U.S. Senators from 1789 to 1793. From 1800 until retiring in 1803, he served as a judge in the Superior Court of North Carolina.

James Iredell (1751-1799) was born in England and immigrated to the United States in 1767. Relatives helped him obtain a position in the customs service at the port of Edenton, North Carolina. Iredell read law under Samuel Johnston and gained admission to the bar in 1771. In 1773, Iredell married Johnston’s sister Hannah. A strong supporter of independence, Iredell published a pamphlet in 1774 that established him as the most influential essayist in North Carolina. During the war, he helped organize the court system of North Carolina and served as a judge of the Superior Court in 1778, as state attorney general from 1779 to 1781, and as compiler of the laws of North Carolina from 1787 to 1791. He was a leader of the Federalists in North Carolina and a strong supporter of the U.S. Constitution. On February 8, 1790, President George Washington nominated Iredell as an Associate Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court, and the Senate confirmed his nomination on May 12. He was the youngest of the early Supreme Court justices and served until his death nine years later. In the case of Chisholm v. Georgia (1793), Iredell was the lone dissent from the majority opinion, but public and political opinion agreed with Iredell and led to the passage of the Eleventh Amendment to the U.S. Constitution in 1795.

From the famous Supreme Court collection of Scott Petersen.

This item comes with a Certificate from John Reznikoff, a premier authenticator for both major 3rd party authentication services, PSA and JSA (James Spence Authentications), as well as numerous auction houses.

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