(Excerpted from William and Mary Bill of Rights Journal, February 1999)

http://www.madisonbrigade.com/t_coxe.htm#BIOGRAPHY

 

Tench Coxe came from a family that continually held a leading role in public affairs. His great-grandfather Daniel Coxe was a physician to Charles II and to Queen Anne. Although Daniel Coxe never left England, he served nominally as Governor of New Jersey by purchase of land, and bought other large tracts of land throughout America. He attempted to settle a colony of Huguenots in Virginia, but failed. Daniel Coxe's son, also named Daniel Coxe, served as a colonel in the British Army stationed in North America. He settled in Pennsylvania and served, first, on the colony's Supreme Court, later, as Speaker of the Assembly and, still later, on the New Jersey Supreme Court. Daniel Coxe was, as his grandson would be, a strong advocate of American unity. In 1722, he wrote a book proposing that an assembly of delegates from each state and a national executive could unite the American colonies.

Tench Coxe's maternal grandfather was Tench Francis, "the undisputed leader of the Pennsylvania bar of his time," whose eloquence earned him the appointment of attorney general of Pennsylvania in 1741. Coxe's cousin Tench Tilghman served as a negotiator with the Onandaga Indians on behalf of the Continental Congress, and then as aide-de-camp to General Washington throughout the Revolutionary War.

Tench Coxe was the twenty-year-old son of a merchant residing in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania when the War for Independence broke out in 1775. Coxe's company carried on a thriving business with Loyalists and the British army when the British occupied Philadelphia ―a business which would have been impossible if the British military commanders had decided not to allow it.

After radical Patriots took power, Coxe left Philadelphia for a few months only to return when British General Howe occupied the city in September 1777. Coxe remained in Philadelphia after the British departed in 1778, and some Patriots credibly accused him of having Royalist sympathies and of having served briefly in the British army. Although Coxe's trading successes during the period of British occupation lent considerable support to the charges, nothing came of the allegations, and the Revolution ended before Coxe became active in politics. The Pennsylvania militia records of 1780, 1787, and 1788 listed Coxe as a militia private.

Whatever Coxe's attitude during the first part of the Revolution in Pennsylvania, the events of the Revolution seem eventually to have influenced Coxe's political philosophy on the issue of men and arms, because most of what Coxe later wrote about the connection between arms and freedom was consistent with revolutionary Patriot philosophy. For example, Coxe, like the delegates who created Pennsylvania's 1776 Constitution and like other Patriots of revolutionary Pennsylvania, saw a direct connection between the right to hunt and the strength of the militia as a check on tyranny.

When occupying
Philadelphia in 1778, British General Howe had disarmed the population. As reported in Philadelphia newspapers, General Gage had done the same to the citizens of Boston in 1775. Although it is not known how Coxe reacted to the disarmament at the time, his later writings are aligned closely with the political philosophy of vehement opposition to firearms confiscation that Patriots of the time expressed in Philadelphia.

When the Revolution ended, Coxe formed the international merchant firm of Coxe & Frazier and began to take an interest in political reform. In addition to playing a leading role in the Philadelphia Society for Alleviating the Miseries of Public Prisons, Coxe served as secretary of the Pennsylvania Society for Promoting the Abolition of Slavery, of which Benjamin Franklin was president. In 1786, Coxe represented Pennsylvania by serving as the secretary for the Annapolis Convention, the effort to revise the Articles of Confederation, which set the stage for the constitutional convention the following year. Coxe also was appointed to represent Pennsylvania in the Continental Congress.

Firearms were among the many commodities dealt in for many years by the firm of Coxe & Frazier. A sample of business records from 1786 illustrates the company's involvement in the firearms businesses, and also reflects politico-military conditions at that time. Several New York militia companies lacked sufficient muskets of a common bore, and ordered two hundred stands from the firm. The State of Georgia ordered five hundred stands of arms for the Georgia state militia, and a Southern distributor observed how dangerous conditions were in the deep South: "you apprehend they will want them for there is scarcely a doubt, but they will be engaged in an Indian war ― if they should not purchase we apprehend this state South Carolina will ...." A Northern distributor who ordered from Coxe likewise noted how the people were arming themselves in response to political instability: "The present uneasiness in Massachusetts Shays's Rebellion has caused a great demand for muskets, in consequence of which we have disposed of about three hundred of yours with bayonets &c at three dollars each...." Like most others in the arms business, Coxe made arms for private purchase (the firearms sold in Massachusetts), for state militias (Georgia), and for local militia groups (New York).

In the summer of 1787, while the constitutional convention met in Philadelphia, Coxe presented a paper urging industrial development to the Society for Political Enquiries at the house of Benjamin Franklin. The paper presaged the major role Coxe would play in the Jefferson and Madison administrations by promoting an early version of American industrial policy. Among the articles that he promoted for domestic manufacture were gunpowder and ironworks. While the convention was meeting, Coxe delivered a major address about the need for government to promote invention. Madison probably knew of Coxe's remarks, as Madison soon after proposed to the Constitutional Convention that Congress should have authority to encourage discoveries through premiums and provisions.

In 1788 Coxe served as one of Pennsylvania's last delegates to the Continental Congress, which held its final session early the following year. As a compromise with the Constitution's opponents, who agreed not to oppose the Constitution further, many federalists reversed their opposition to a bill of rights in order to entice the remaining states to ratify.

In 1790, Treasury Secretary Alexander Hamilton appointed Coxe as the Assistant Secretary of the Treasury, making him Hamilton's second in command. Two years later, and at Coxe's request, Hamilton made Coxe the Commissioner of the Revenue.

As Commissioner of the Revenue, Coxe was in charge of the collection of all tax revenues, including the revenues from the Hamilton-inspired federal excise tax on distilled spirits, which prompted the 1794 Whiskey Rebellion in western Pennsylvania. While there is no evidence that Coxe personally supported the tax ― which bore unfairly on western farmers in general and on his state of Pennsylvania in particular (because farmers needed to distill their grain before taking it to market, in order to make it more compact and, thus, transportable) ― Coxe strongly opposed the western Pennsylvania farmers taking up arms in protest against the excise tax.

Critics of the individual rights interpretation of the Second Amendment sometimes claim that the Standard Model implies that people can go to war with the government whenever they disagree with any government decision, such as an unpopular tax increase. Coxe refuted this claim. Coxe clearly believed in the individual right to arms, and he just as clearly believed that it was wrong for the Pennsylvania farmers to take up arms against a lawful tax that had been duly created through proper constitutional methods. Coxe would continue to support the right to arms as a mechanism allowing popular revolt as a last resort against tyranny ― but Coxe, like the vast majority of Americans, could tell the difference between a tyrant and George Washington. Today, when federal taxes are much higher than the taxes that sparked the Whiskey Rebellion, the vast majority of Americans, including those who support Coxe's understanding of the Second Amendment, agree that a tax constitutionally imposed by Congress is no grounds for a Second Amendment revolution to rescue the Constitution from tyranny.

While serving President Washington's administration, Coxe wrote a major book analyzing the future of the American economy: A View of the United States of America. The book was a leading work of the time on commerce, industry, and agriculture, and has earned a modern reprint because of its comprehensive and insightful examination of American economic development.

Coxe's growing alignment with Thomas Jefferson and other Republicans led to his dismissal from office by President John Adams in 1797. Coxe then plunged into political activity supportive of the Republican cause, adherents of which claimed to be suffering repression under the Sedition Act within a year.

Coxe closely associated himself with the Philadelphia Aurora, the leading Jeffersonian newspaper of the time. By mid-1799, according to accounts in this paper, armed conflict between Federalists and Republicans threatened. The Aurora published reports of bullying, weapons brandishing, and rioting by soldiers in the Federalist faction. In retaliation, a mob of "federal savages" attacked and beat Aurora editor William Duane. As a consequence of the mob's threat to destroy the press, "a number of republican citizens collected with arms and ammunition, continue to mount guard in the Printing-Office."

The same issue of the Aurora which included this report, also included an article signed by Tench Coxe and an urgent appeal by "Mentor" addressed "To the Republican Citizens of Pennsylvania." The article vividly expressed the premises upon which Republican doctrine rested:

"But as men intent upon hostility have associated themselves in military corps, it becomes your duty to associate likewise ― Arm and organize yourselves immediately....


"Do you wish to preserve your rights? Arm yourselves. Do you desire to secure your dwellings? Arm yourselves. Do you wish your wives and daughters protected? Arm yourselves. Do you wish to be defended against assassins or the Bully Rocks of faction? Arm yourselves. Do you desire to assemble in security to consult for your own good or the good of your country? Arm yourselves. To arms, to arms, and you may then sit down contented, each man under his own vine and his own fig-tree and have no one to make him afraid....


"If you are desirous to counteract a design pregnant with misery and ruin, then arm yourselves; for in a firm, imposing and dignified attitude, will consist your own security and that of your families. To arms, then to arms."

Subsequent issues of the Aurora charged that newspaper offices were being attacked around the country wherever Federalists were losing elections. The paper portrayed the riot, the attack on Duane, and President Adams's dismissal of Tench Coxe as elements of a Federalist conspiracy to institute monarchy. Finally, the Adams administration had Duane arrested for seditious libel for publishing a letter Adams (while Vice President) wrote to Coxe which admitted British influence in the government. Duane was vindicated, and the Federalists were embarrassed, when he offered to produce the authentic letter.

The Alien and Sedition Acts and other Federalist transgressions were not the only aspects of the administration of John Adams that the Republicans attacked in the election campaign of 1800. Tench Coxe and other supporters of Jefferson emphasized that the monarchical tendencies of Adams also were exemplified in his neglect of the militia and support for a standing army.

Coxe served as an unofficial economic advisor to Jefferson, and helped the secretary of state prepare reports to Congress about America's international commerce. Having written so assiduously on behalf of Jefferson in the 1800 election, Coxe began angling for a position in the Jefferson administration. But Coxe did not succeed until 1803, when President Jefferson ― at the recommendation of Secretary of Treasury Albert Gallatin, himself a former arms manufacturer ― appointed Coxe as purveyor of public supplies. Coxe held the post through the rest of the Jefferson administration, and for the first four years of the Madison administration, including the opening months of the War of 1812.

Aside from political considerations of gratitude for Coxe's work in opposition to Adams in the election of 1800, the selection of Coxe as the head of military procurement stemmed from both his experience as a merchant and his political commitment to the militia as the defense of a free society. Halving the size of the standing army and arming the militias were important objectives of the Jefferson administration. 

Even as Jefferson was attempting to shrink the standing army, the Napoleonic wars in Europe had created a constant foreign policy crisis for the United States. Under the Adams administration, the United States nearly had gone to war with France, and certainly would have done so if a hawk like Alexander Hamilton, rather than a steady statesman like John Adams, had been president. As purveyor of public supplies, Coxe was responsible for procuring arms for both the standing army and the militia during years when war and foreign invasion were a constant threat ― a threat that materialized in 1812. 

In 1807 and 1808, Congress finally passed legislation to arm the militia, providing an annual appropriation "for the purpose of providing arms and military equipment for the whole body of the militia of the United States, either by purchase or manufacture." The arms were to be transmitted to the states for distribution to their militias. The federal armories in Springfield, Massachusetts, and Harper's Ferry, Virginia were not capable of meeting the production demands of Congress. In administering the program, Coxe contracted with and made monetary advances to private arms manufacturers. This system of government patronage greatly advanced the development of small arms making from a handicraft to a modern industry, in part by promoting the development of interchangeable parts.

For Coxe, the 1808 Act was an ideal opportunity to use federal resources to help build a strong domestic firearms industry. Coxe's letters to Secretary of War William Eustis set forth the relation between the industry and an armed populace. To defeat a standing army, a populace must be well armed:


"No part of
Europe will permit us to obtain arms from them.... A general armament for the purpose of a general stand is a measure... worthy of consideration. The omnipresence of the public force is the consequence of a general armament. The skill of modern regular armies require the mass of the population to be equipped for resisting the potent invaders of this time."

Sales of arms to the public would not only arm them, but would also generate industry advances:

"A decided tone, a good inspection, good patterns and in short much care, pains and vigilance are necessary to procure substantial Arms from public & private Armories. If sales to the Militia & private persons [&] to ships should at any time be desired and practicable, it would keep up the manufacture and enable us to improve the standard quality. 

In a circular to contracting gunsmiths, Coxe emphasized: "The importance of good arms is manifest.... The lives of our fellow citizens, to whom the use of them is committed, depend upon the excellence of their arms." In his correspondence with manufacturers and inspectors, Coxe demonstrated great technical expertise in the design and manufacture of muskets, rifles, pistols, and swords. But despite Coxe's expertise and dedication, the public arms program ran into trouble.

Coxe's small office was overwhelmed by the procurement needs of the militia and the rapidly expanding standing army as tensions with Great Britain increased. Despite working seven days and nights a week, he still had to bring in his adult sons as unpaid assistants. In 1810, Coxe fired the inspector in charge of quality control for the arms being acquired. In a series of articles published in early 1811, Coxe's former Pennsylvania political associate, William Duane, charged that Purveyor Coxe had accepted large quantities of inferior firearms. In his first article, Duane made the sweeping allegation "that arms we had seen, which had been manufactured for the MONEY (for we cannot say the use) of the United States, were better adapted to kill American soldiers into whose hands they should be put, than an enemy." Coxe rejoined in the same issue, flatly denying the charges and noting that all arms were inspected prior to payment.

In subsequent installments, Duane relied on averments of the former inspector who was discharged for incompetence. Duane claimed that some rifle barrels lacked grooves (rifling), had grooves only six inches down the barrel, or had grooves that were too shallow. Some were made with unfit Dutch locks (firing systems), or had stocks filled with glue and sawdust. There were Hessian or Hanoverian arms (German imports) which needed inspecting. "There were nine hundred pairs of pistols, but not one pair fit for public service."

In a series of articles addressed To the Public, Coxe responded to "the late unfounded attack upon the public muskets and private manufacturers of of muskets for the United States." The muskets, rifles, and pistols in question were the equivalent of any manufactured in this country. Coxe stated that, thanks to the federal procurement program, the number of private armorers had increased ten-fold in just a few years.

Months passed without further public controversy, but at the end of 1811, Duane renewed "The Military Establishment" series. Duane insinuated that in America there were those who placed "a military force before its enemy with saw dust cartridges or balls too large for the calibre, or with rifles without touchholes, and without spiral grooves, and of which 8 out of 18 burst on the proof with powder only of 135, whilst the true proof should be of the standard of 150."

The Duane dispute quieted down, and Coxe continued the course of his work, soliciting "Home Made and Other Supplies," including "Muskets, Pistols, Rifles and Swords." The outbreak of the War of 1812 in June of that year, however, occasioned a military reorganization, giving Coxe's congressional opponents the opportunity to eliminate the office of purveyor of public supplies by replacing it with a quartermaster's department.

Despite relieving Coxe from the purveyor's office, the Madison administration continued to appreciate Coxe's talents. Madison appointed Coxe to the post of collector and supervisor of the revenue in Philadelphia. Coxe eventually left this position for the larger salary of clerk of the Court of General Quarter Sessions for Philadelphia, a post he held until his retirement in 1818. Coxe's most important contribution came at the request of Treasury Secretary Albert Gallatin, who assigned Coxe to analyze the condition of industry in the republic.

Coxe retired in 1818 after having served three years as clerk of the Quarter Sessions in Philadelphia; he spent his remaining years as a writer. Coxe continued to correspond with Madison and his other political friends. Jefferson, who had found Coxe's self-promotion to be offensively blunt while he was President, reconciled himself to Coxe's personality flaws, and lauded Coxe as "'a long tried public and personal friend' and 'a fellow laborer, indeed, in times never to be forgotten."' Coxe also continued to write prolifically for public consumption, often on matters involving the right to bear arms. During his retirement years, Coxe was energized particularly by his opposition to the presidential ambitions of John Quincy Adams and by Adams's support of restrictive European laws regarding gun ownership for hunting. Coxe argued in detail that Adams's position undermined the entire right to keep and bear arms, and thereby threatened republican government.

Tench Coxe died on July 16, 1824, a few months before John Quincy Adams was elected president.

(Excerpted from William and Mary Bill of Rights Journal, February 1999)