Skip to Main Content
Have library access? Log in through your library
Timothy Pickering and the American Republic

Timothy Pickering and the American Republic

Gerard H. Clarfield
Copyright Date: 1980
https://doi.org/10.2307/j.ctt9qh8tc
Pages: 328
https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt9qh8tc
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    Timothy Pickering and the American Republic
    Book Description:

    Timothy Pickering was an important figure in the early American republic. For more than fifty years, he was deeply entrenched in the political, military and diplomatic affairs of the young nation. He held important administrative posts during the Revolution, two cabinet posts, and served as a congressman, senator, and as a spokesman for the extremist element of New England's Federalists. Clarfield presents the first comprehensive biography of Pickering, and a critical assessment of this controversial and often intractable man.

    eISBN: 978-0-8229-7626-4
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

Export Selected Citations Export to NoodleTools Export to RefWorks Export to EasyBib Export a RIS file (For EndNote, ProCite, Reference Manager, Zotero, Mendeley...) Export a Text file (For BibTex)
  1. ONE From Loyalist to Whig
    (pp. 3-15)

    Some twenty miles from Boston on Massachusetts’ North Shore lies the town of Salem, today one picturesque component of a great metropolitan community. There was a time, however, when Salem had an identity that was clearly its own. Two hundred years ago and more, her harbor was busy with the commerce of the world. The tall ships at anchor and the pervasive smell of “fish flakes” in the air, the bustling, cluttered streets were more than ornamental indicators of a way of life: they were signals of a prosperity that made Salem by the 1750s a distant second to Boston...

  2. TWO The Revolution Closes In
    (pp. 16-33)

    The tea act and the crisis it spawned, culminating in the Boston Tea Party of December 1773, at last moved Pickering down the road toward active resistance to ministerial authority. But it was the Boston Port Act, labeled by Samuel Hall “one of the most CRUEL ARBITRARY ACTS that ever disgraced the reign of a tyrant,” that fully aroused his nationalist consciousness.¹ By the middle of 1774 he was actually romanticizing about a unique American future. Writing to his nephew, the Boston minister John Clarke, he became enthusiastic over the “growing empire” he saw opening and urged Clarke to playa...

  3. THREE A Taste of Battle
    (pp. 34-46)

    Once back in salem, Pickering quickly concluded that there was little choice but to support the war. The middle ground that he had held since 1770 had at last given way beneath him. In the emotionally charged atmosphere following the battle there was a great deal to be lost by further delay. His career, his prestige in the community, his status as a leader, all these had been built on Whig foundations. Others, less prominent, had the option of maintaining a kind of personal neutrality by remaining quietly at home. But that was not a possibility for a previously outspoken...

  4. FOUR The Board of War
    (pp. 47-61)

    In november 1777, Pickering learned that he had been appointed to the recently reorganized Board of War. Reassignment, however, did not spare him from all of that dreadful winter at Valley Forge, for it took General Washington three months to find a replacement. Though Pickering did not suffer personally during this interval, what he witnessed would not quickly be forgotten. The army, lacking food, tools, shelter, and clothing, was melting away. Its official strength was 21,788 men. But as early as December Pickering calculated that only 9,976 were present, and fully 10 percent of these were unfit for duty because...

  5. FIVE Quartermaster General
    (pp. 62-74)

    Pickering issued his bleak prognosis on March 23, 1780. By that time Congress had already begun to act. On the eighteenth it reversed an earlier decision to distribute no more paper currency and began issuing bills of a “new emission.” This was part of an attempt to fund the government’s operations, finance the war, and simultaneously curb inflation. Provisions of the new financial policy stipulated that the value of old Continental bills of credit be established at a ratio of 40 to 1 to the new bills. Simultaneously, the legal value of the new currency was set at par with...

  6. SIX Peace and Disillusion
    (pp. 75-84)

    Whatever pleasure Pickering felt on being extricated from his financial difficulties by Robert Morris was tempered by a deep yet growing bitterness. Not even the victory at Yorktown tasted so sweet as he had once imagined it would. He was sick of the war and the constant demands that it made upon him, tired of wearing threadbare clothes while others reaped golden harvests, and above all utterly wearied by Washington’s carping criticism. The ideologue was fatigued and emotionally incapable of carrying on.

    As much a victim of the delusion that a peace treaty would soon put an end to the...

  7. SEVEN The Allure of Western Lands
    (pp. 85-101)

    On may 10, 1783, at what seemed an ideal moment, the firm of Pickering and Hodgdon, commission merchants, opened its doors in Philadelphia. For eight long years the war had denied Americans regular access to European and English goods. Now the fighting was over and an economic boom was in the making. Unhappily, however, Pickering and his partner were only two among a myriad of new merchants who, as Alexander Hamilton noted some time later, “without capital and in many instances without information … rushed into trade” in this period.¹

    Competition was ferocious, and even though Pickering’s friends and relatives...

  8. EIGHT Kidnaped
    (pp. 102-115)

    Pickering’s confidence that passage of the Confirming Act marked the end of his struggle was in fact misplaced, for resistance to the implementation of the law soon developed. In Philadelphia the Pennamites raised a furious outcry. Claiming that their property rights had been invaded by the legislature, some even threatened armed resistance. Before long, rumors that the Confirming Act would be repealed were circulating openly. Hodgdon, who served as Pickering’s eyes and ears in the capital, wrote that “every art is trying to embroil affresh this happily terminated dispute.”¹

    John Franklin, meanwhile, had not given up the fight either. His...

  9. NINE “Civilizing” the Iroquois
    (pp. 116-129)

    The more than two years that Pickering spent in the Wyoming Valley left him on the brink of financial ruin. During all of that time he had earned next to nothing while using his slim resources to purchase farm land, build a house and barn, add to his already large landholdings, and clear ground for planting. The expense was overburdening. He tried to sell some of his treasured Luzerne County land, but there were no buyers.¹ He borrowed, first from his brother John, and then from his brother-in-law, George Williams. He also appealed for funds from outside sources. By the...

  10. TEN A Diplomat Among the Indians
    (pp. 130-144)

    During the next few months Pickering’s memories of poverty and frustration in Wilkes-Barre receded before the prospect of a comfortable life in Philadelphia. Once again he found himself an actor on the national stage, close to power and secure in political office. Becoming acquainted with his new responsibilities was not at all difficult. One trip to New York for a briefing by the former postmaster general, Samuel Osgood, a few days familiarizing himself with the routine of the tiny office, and he had things in hand. Learning the political realities of life under the Constitution was only a little more...

  11. ELEVEN The War Department, Securing the Peace
    (pp. 145-162)

    In mid-september 1793, after an uneventful trip, Pickering arrived in New York City where he first learned that Philadelphia was experiencing an epidemic of yellow fever. He hurried southward against a current of humanity fleeing the dread plague. Germantown, Reading, and other villages in the vicinity were jammed with exiles. The capital, by contrast, stood as if besieged. “The streets are lonely to a melancholy degree,” wrote Henry Knox. “Hundreds are dying and the merchants have fled.”¹ It was as though some phantom army occupied the city while the terrified inhabitants remained indoors behind shuttered windows. Commerce ground to a...

  12. TWELVE Secretary of State
    (pp. 163-179)

    Following edmund randolph’s resignation, the president stunned Pickering and a great many other political observers as well by appointing him ad interim secretary of state. Washington had no intention of keeping the volatile New Englander in that position, however, and immediately began to search for a more qualified replacement. In October, after five candidates had turned him down in rapid succession, he asked Alexander Hamilton to contact Rufus King about taking over the State Department. But it came as no surprise when, like the others, King proved uninterested. In fact, Hamilton explained, no “first rate” man was available. It was...

  13. THIRTEEN Pickering and Adams
    (pp. 180-196)

    If timothy pickering did not breathe a sigh of relief on learning that John Adams had won the presidential election of 1796, he must at any rate have felt a good deal more relaxed. Had Jefferson been victorious he surely would have been forced to resign.¹ Adams’s slim margin of victory meant that he could think in terms of at least four and possibly eight more years of national service. It was a comforting thought to a man who, at fifty-five, remained completely dependent upon his government salary. Nor was Pickering disturbed at the prospect of working with the new...

  14. FOURTEEN Schism
    (pp. 197-210)

    Although there had been repeated disagreements between Pickering and the president during the first sixteen months of Adams’s administration, until the summer of 1798 events had conspired to prevent their differences from becoming irreconcilable. Then, however, a clash over defense policy proved the first in a series of disputes upon which the relationship foundered. The original point at issue between Pickering and the president centered around proposals for enlarging the army. Adams was altogether opposed to a plan endorsed by Pickering for the creation of a large, well-trained provisional army.¹ Behind this difference of opinion lay a more significant disagreement...

  15. FIFTEEN Humiliations
    (pp. 211-218)

    On november 1, 1799, Oliver Ellsworth and William R. Davie sailed to join William Vans Murray in France. Their departure marked the end of any possibility for harmony between Pickering and Adams. In a flurry of letters to Federalist leaders, Pickering dissociated himself from the mission, urging that the president be dropped from the Federalist ticket in 1800. Only if Adams retired at the end of his term, Pickering wrote, would the party be able to reunite and perhaps yet “save the country from ruin.”¹

    During the next half-year, relations between Adams and Pickering remained strained and excessively formal. There...

  16. SIXTEEN Hysteria, the First Secessionist Conspiracy
    (pp. 219-228)

    The junior senator from Massachusetts arrived in Washington in October 1803. Though chagrined by his recent humiliation at the hands of the younger Adams, he was nevertheless delighted to be back at the focus of national affairs. The return from exile was a kind of personal vindication that left him, at least momentarily, in high spirits. Even his first view of the new capital did not dampen that enthusiasm. Most observers were appalled on catching their earliest glimpse of Washington, for the town, situated on a virtual swamp, was at best uninviting. But Pickering thought it a “delightful site for...

  17. SEVENTEEN Battling the Embargo
    (pp. 229-242)

    In the spring of 1805, as Pickering’s abbreviated term in the Senate neared its expiration, he toyed with the idea of retirement. At sixty he was weary and depressed. Everywhere, even in Massachusetts, Federalism was in retreat before a rising Republican tide. At home in New England there would be more time for his family; he would be able to take up farming seriously and enjoy the grandchildren that were certain to come along now that both John and Tim Jr. had decided to marry. Such thoughts spun through his brain as he considered the alternative, another six years in...

  18. EIGHTEEN The Crucible of War
    (pp. 243-261)

    After the enactment of the Nonintercourse Law, Pickering assumed that relations between the United States and Britain would deteriorate still further. Naturally, then, he was utterly confounded when the new president, james Madison, announced in his premier message to Congress that he and the British minister, David Erskine, had arranged an accommodation between their two countries.¹ A president he despised and an envoy for whom he had not a shred of respect had somehow managed to achieve the unattainable. It was all very perplexing.

    Amazement, however, soon gave way to euphoria, as Pickering’s entire attitude toward the new administration underwent...

  19. NINETEEN Epilogue
    (pp. 262-270)

    For more than a decade prior to 1815 Pickering had lived with great tension, much of it self-induced, the product of a rich political fantasy life. Now, with the coming of peace, he relaxed into an amiable social existence spent in the company of well-to-do Federalists in Georgetown and nearby Maryland.¹ He came to view the political opposition in a new and more tolerant light as well, explaining to Beckey that the democrats seemed “more cordial” than before, when in truth he too had changed. Not only was there less to quarrel about, but he was less quarrelsome.²

    Though in...