Col. John P. Decatur, brother of Commodore Stephen Decatur, was a man unlike his famous brother. In 1820, New York Governor DeWitt Clinton was challenged for reelection by Daniel Tompkins, who was the sitting vice president. Some active-serving U.S. military officers used their positions to try to prevent his reelection and install...
Col. John P. Decatur, brother of Commodore Stephen Decatur, was a man unlike his famous brother. In 1820, New York Governor DeWitt Clinton was challenged for reelection by Daniel Tompkins, who was the sitting vice president. Some active-serving U.S. military officers used their positions to try to prevent his reelection and install Tompkins, an effort that failed. In 1821 Clinton laid proofs of that interference before his state legislature. Col. Decatur, at that time the naval storekeeper at the Brooklyn Navy Yard, was heavily implicated in this highly improper conduct. Information about the scandal was sent to the Navy Department by Decatur’s superior, Samuel Evans, the Captain Commandant of the Navy Yard.
The Monroe administration was not content with inaction, lest that be taken as approval that interference in an election, particularly one in which Monroe’s vice president was the candidate/beneficiary, was acceptable conduct. So as a form of discipline, Decatur was removed from New York and ordered transferred to the smaller posting of Portsmouth, NH by Secretary of the Navy Smith Thompson. Without notice, Decatur then showed up at the White House and confronted President Monroe about the injustice done him, thus backing the President into a corner and causing him to state that the move was ordered by him personally.
“It was painful to me to enter into this subject with him, but I had no alternative, & in consequence told him explicitly, that I had disapproved his conduct”
Autograph Letter Signed as President, Oak Hill, August 27, 1823, to Navy Secretary Thompson, reporting that he had personally chastised Decatur for improper conduct. “On Monday late in the evening Col. Decatur came here, in consequence of the receipt of your letter, transferring him to Portsmouth, to complain and remonstrate against it. It was painful to me to enter into this subject with him, but I had no alternative, & in consequence told him explicitly, that I had disapproved his conduct in the affair with Capt. Evans, & had directed his removal to Portsmouth. He complained of the manner, showing me the letter. I observed that the letter was not a dismissal, although it indicated dissatisfaction, which was felt & meant to be expressed; that if he went to Portsmouth, he would hold the ground there which he had held at New York, to remain in service as long as his conduct should be satisfactory to the government. That although dissatisfaction was felt at his conduct, no dishonorable motive was imputed to him, and acting prudently hereafter, he might acquire any consideration to which he might have just claims. Under these circumstances we parted. I mention the occurrence for your information. I write this on the presumption that you will have left the city before it reaches there & to be forwarded after you in that event.”
This scolding from the President seems to have little positive effect on Decatur’s conduct. In 1824 he was implicated in influencing a member of the New York Senate to vote for the incorporation of the controversial Chemical Bank, so as to gain some personal benefit from that bank in return. Decatur was dubbed “worthless” by the compiler of the Martin Van Buren papers. He was, however, well liked by Andrew Jackson, who appointed him Collector of Portsmouth, NH in 1829.
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