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Elisha Boudinot: Vermont Voters Disgraced Themselves by Reelecting a Congressman Who Was Jailed for Violating the Sedition Act
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I am sorry that your state have so disgraced themselves by sending again as their Representative the in-famous Lyon – but, we are in an age of excentricity! May we weather the storm!

To the chagrin of President John Adams and the Federalists like New Jersey Supreme Court Judge Elisha Boudinot, voters re-elected Congressman Matthew Lyon while he was in jail for violating the Sedition Act of 1798. The Act outlawed the publishing of “any false, scandalous, and malicious writing or writings against the government of the United States, or the President of the United States, with intent to defame...or to bring them into contempt or disrepute.” Most historians view the Alien and Sedition Acts as an overreaching criminalization of dissent during a war scare (the Quasi War with France).

ELISHA BOUDINOT. Autograph Letter Signed, to Governor Isaac Tichenor, February 12, 1799, “New Ark,” N.J. 1 p., 8 x 12¾ in. With integral address leaf (half missing). 2/12/1799.

Inventory #21480.06       Price: $1,450

Complete Transcript

            New Ark 12th feb 1799

Dear Sir

            Mr Chipman sent me the one hundred dollars you forwarded by him. As I propose to begin raising a house this spring, if it is in my power to raise the means, I shall esteem it as a particular favor if you will remit me the ballance, either by the post or some private opportunity, as whether I get a house or not will in some measure depend on it, and I have been so driven about from place to place that I long for a resting spot

            I am sorry that your state have so disgraced themselves by sending again as their representative the in-famous Lyon – but, we are in an age of excentricity! May we weather the storm!

            Will you please to make my best respects acceptable to Mrs Tichenor.

            I am Dr Sir

                                                                        Your most obd sert

                                                                        Elisha Boudinot

Govr Tichenor

[address leaf:] [Ti]chenor Esqr / Bennington [Vermont]

[docket:] Letter 12 Feby 1799 / Mr Boudinots Ret / for $1200 by Jno Chipm[an]

Historical Background
Matthew Lyon, U.S. Congressman from Vermont, was the first person to be convicted under the Sedition Act. An Irish immigrant, Lyon supported the French Revolution and advocated the creation of radical Democratic Societies that had drawn the ire of President Washington in 1793. In Congress in 1797, during a nasty debate with Connecticut Federalist Roger Griswold, Lyon spat in Griswold’s face. Griswold later beat Lyon with a hickory cane.

In October 1798, Lyon was tried for publishing and criticizing a letter from Joel Barlow that analyzed the deteriorating relationship between the U.S. and France, and counseled mobilization for war. Lyon was fined $1,000 and imprisoned for four months. To the dismay of Federalists, this made Lyon a hero who voters reelected by a wider margin. Lyon used a new publication, The Scourge of Aristocracy, to resume his attacks on John Adams and the Federalists. Their fear and scorn of democracy caused the Federalists to become increasingly unpopular; the party never recovered after Jefferson’s victory in 1800.

Elisha Boudinot (1749-1819) was born in Philadelphia. His merchant and silversmith father was a neighbor and friend of Benjamin Franklin. Elisha studied law under his brother Elias Boudinot IV (1740-1821). Elisha established a practice in Newark, New Jersey. He served as Secretary of the New Jersey Council of Safety in 1778. That December, he became the state’s Commissary of Prisoners. After the war, he was a land speculator and promoter of manufacturing. From 1798 to 1804, he served as an associate judge of the New Jersey Supreme Court.

Isaac Tichenor (1754-1838) was a lawyer and Federalist politician from Bennington, Vermont. He served as his state’s agent lobbying the Continental Congress for statehood, which was achieved in 1791. He served as assemblyman, chief justice and governor (1797-1807, 1808-1809), and was elected to the U.S. Senate twice, serving from 1796-1797, and from 1815-1821.

Matthew Lyon (1749-1822) began to learn the printing and bookbinding trades in Dublin. In 1764, he emigrated to Connecticut, indenturing himself to a farmer and merchant in Woodbury. Working for wages when permitted, Lyon saved enough to purchase the remainder of his indenture in 1768. Six years later, he moved to what became Vermont and farmed. He was a second lieutenant in the Green Mountain Boys regiment in 1776. In 1777, he served as a paymaster in Seth Warner’s Regiment, and then as a member of Vermont’s Council of Safety, as deputy secretary to the governor, and as assistant to the treasurer. From 1779 to 1783, he represented Arlington in Vermont’s House of Representatives. He founded Fair Haven, then represented that in the House from 1783 to 1796. In 1793, Lyon began publishing the Farmers’ Library newspaper, later named the Fair Haven Gazette. He unsuccessfully ran for Congress three times before being elected as a Democratic-Republican. When the Rutland Herald refused to publish Lyon’s writings, he launched his own newspaper, The Scourge of Democracy and Repository of Important Political Truth. In October 1798, he was arrested and tried under the Sedition Act. A jury convicted him, and Supreme Court Justice William Paterson sentenced him to four months in jail and a fine of $1,000 plus court costs. While in jail, Lyon was re-elected to Congress, winning more votes than all his opponents combined in a run-off. In the disputed 1800 election settled by the House of Representatives, Lyon steadfastly supported Jefferson. When his fellow Vermont representative absented himself from the House on the 36th ballot, Lyon’s vote moved Vermont to Jefferson, winning him the Presidency. By 1801, Lyon moved to Kentucky, where he was elected to the state legislature in 1802 and then to Congress, serving again from 1803 to 1811. In 1820, President James Monroe appointed him as factor for the Cherokee Nation in Arkansas Territory. Lyon ran unsuccessfully for the territory’s delegate seat in Congress. In 1840, Congress approved the refund of Lyon’s fine, with interest, to his heirs.

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