1823: Peter Hoffman Cruse to Philip Richard Fendall

This letter was written by Peter Hoffman Cruse (1795-1832), a young lawyer friend of Philip Richard Fendall, to whom he wrote the letter. Cruse is probably best known for teaming up with another young lawyer named John P. Kennedy who shared Cruse’s ambition to be a writer. Together, in 1820, they published the “Red Book” under the pseudonym “Dilworth” to protect their identities as satirists. Cruse died a few years later of the Asiatic cholera without achieving any permanent reputation as a writer, but his partner went on to become recognized as one of the best novelists in the ante-bellum South.

Philip Richard Fendall

Philip Richard Fendall II was an American lawyer and politician. He was born December 18, 1794 at the Lee-Fendall House, located at 614 Oronoco St., Alexandria, Virginia. Fendall matriculated to the College of New Jersey, later known as Princeton University in 1812 where he excelled at forensics and belonged to several clubs and debating societies. His academic performance was excellent and he graduated with honors in 1815. He was the “First Honor Man” (Salutorian of his class).

Upon his return to Alexandria, Virginia following his graduation, Fendall secured a position working in the law practice of his uncle, Richard Bland Lee I, who was a Congressman from Northern Virginia. He was an aide to Richard, who was placed by President James Madison, as an overseer in charge of reconstructing the new Capital, due to the British burning the city during the War of 1812. In 1820 Fendall was admitted to the Alexandria Bar. The 1820s were filled with financial woes for Fendall, which were compounded by his mother’s financial difficulties, and by 1821 the Fendall’s were forced to mortgage the Lee-Fendall House on Oronoco Street, Alexandria, Virginia, which Fendall’s father built. In 1822, Fendall was elected President of the Periclean Society of Alexandria. This organization was composed of 24 men who met and debated philosophical and political questions. It was through this, that Mr. Fendall sharpened his forensic skills.

In August 1824, Fendall was appointed by President James Monroe (1758–1831), as Captain of Infantry, 2nd Brigaide of the local District of Columbia Militia. However, he did not hold this position very long, and it is doubtful that he exercised his command, for he resigned his commission on May 26, 1825. Fendall became the Editor of the National Journal in Washington, D.C. from 1824 to 1830, which was established by his close friend Peter Force (1790–1868), who at one time was Mayor of Washington, D.C. President Monroe appointed him judge of the Orphan’s Court for Alexandria County.

Fendall married Mary Elizabeth Young (1804–1859) in Alexandria, Virginia on March 31, 1827. Elizabeth was the daughter of Brig. Gen. Robert Young (1768–1824). Following their marriage, the newlyweds moved to Washington, D.C. and set up housekeeping at 4th and Louisiana Avenue. This spacious house would serve as Philip’s home and law office for the balance of his life. It was also in this house where Philip and Mary raised eight sons and three daughters. Mary died in 1859, after thirty-two years of marriage.

In 1827-1828, Fendall was a clerk in the U.S. State Department. While working there he developed a lifelong friendship with Sen. Henry Clay (1777–1852), Secretary of State under President John Quincy Adams. On May 1, 1829, Fendall was terminated from his position by then-Secretary of State Martin Van Buren in an early example of patronage based terminations at the State Department. Fendall remained a loyal and close confidant to Clay through his long career.

On July 4, 1841, President John Tyler IV, Gen. (1790–1842) appointed Fendall District Attorney. In 1844 he was dismissed when the Whig Party lost to the Democrats, and President James K. Polk (1795–1849) came into office. In 1849 President Millard Fillmore (1800–1874) re-appointed him to his former post and he served in this capacity until his resignation in 1853 during the Pierce administration. Fendall also maintained his own practice as a lawyer when not handling the affairs of U.S. District Attorney. He was a pall bearer for the burial of Dolley (Payne) Todd Madison (1768–1849), wife of President James Madison.

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Addressed to Philip R. Fendall, Esq., Alexandria, [Virginia]

Baltimore [Maryland]
2 May 1823

My Dear fierco,

Any prospect of being reunited in those strict bonds of literary and sentimental friendship with you, which were at once my consolation and my pride, has the effect of giving an unwonted promptness to my pen. I hasten, therefore (having first taken a pinch of genuine “Gouiran extraordinary) to inform you of what I know. It is nearly certain, indeed, that no relaxation of our rule of court will be made in your favor, not even had you resided in Washington all your life, unless a very strong solicitation be made on the part of your friends here, which would be materially enforced by your residence here, since then those admirable qualities which distinguish you from all other men would be best appreciated and melt even the stern heart of Judge Dorsey in your favor. By the way, take care, therefore, what you write against him; and perhaps it were better to write nothing at all. The rule is against “all persons not born in the State of Maryland, or who have not resided therein three year.” But as this rule exists only in the County Court, you might practise in the District of Circuit Courts — in the City Court perhaps — which is the Criminal Court, and in the Court of Chancery, and the Court of Appeals. Office business added to all this, might give you sufficient employment and lucre, until your probation were expired, and the dross of your Virginianism burnt out of you. At the same time, it is extremely probable that your studies in the law might gain you the knowledge which, like all other tyroes you may want. All this, dear Philip, though said with levity, I would have you consider seriously.

In your removal I have a deep personal interest. It would be an agreeable epoch in a “weary life;” and I should reckon from it, as you proposed to do “Ab auno Divae.” The Diva too might sometimes be present in person, to light or to bewilder you in the legal track; — if we only can contrive to keep her unmarried. Such a heavenly treasure must not cheer the fireside of a fool, or be bartered for an establishment set out with sophas and red curtains: and yet, egregious with as thou art, thou art not quite handsome enough to hope to wear her. The days are gone when the Satyrs and Fauns played their jokes on the wood nymphs. But I wander.

I will see Heath and others tomorrow or soon after, and try what can be done now or hereafter, touching the relaxation of the rule of the Co: Court.

Were you here at my side, methinks I should feel revive within my breast the scholar-like ardors which once inflamed it: they are too nearly extinct. It is possible too, that we might embark together is some literary enterprise, and accomplish together what either singly might find too much. Men and mountains are both so much diminished since Ovid wrote that it takes two Atlases to prop the heavens. Come then, my brother! Together let us scale the skies.

I confess I should be gratified that your professional avocations should permit you to remould your oration. My aid has been slight indeed, but I am willing to make it greater, when the shape of your speech allows it. As to the terse remarks of government, I cannot promise; I am much engaged and in very different pursuits. But do strive to do yourself credit, or rather to sustain your well earned reputation. I really begin to feel a pride in you, tho’ you are not near so handsome as myself. Certain it is you are one half a Caesar: if you cannot act what is worthy to be written, you can write what is worthy to be read.

“All the talents” by which phrase I would indicate my particular set of associates would be extremely happy to see you here, tho’ I have not mentioned to them what happiness they have probably in store. Miss Johnson has sometimes spoken of you. You made the due impression there, and in fact, I fear that Mrs. Evans’s tender heart has never recovered the shock you gave it in early youth.

I have lately read Junius Identified: it is an excellent argument, and I feel sufficiently convinced. I suppose the coincidence of the Sir Philip Frances with P. Fendall in the Christian names and the initials of the surnames first gave you the idea of making Miss Fanny’s Uncle in law, Mr. Adams, your Drake of Grafton. Adieu (my Junius: Vale, amice reverendeissime) — P. H. Cruse

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