… with respect to Dr. Sibley … I observe two specific charges: 1. that he left his wife but it does not appear whether the separation was through the fault or the will of her or him. 2. that he attempted to marry again. this is a charge of weight, but no proof being adduced, it cannot weigh against the integrity of his character affirmed by others, and his unquestionable good sense and information.
Thomas Jefferson to William C. C. Claiborne, May 26, 1805
Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Should unsubstantiated accusations derail a leader’s career?
John Sibley (1757-1837) was a Massachusetts-born Revolutionary War surgeon who relocated to the New Orleans area in the early 1800s. He was a contracted army surgeon there and appointed by Jefferson in 1805 to be Indian Agent for the New Orleans Territory. Territorial Governor Claiborne had written the President about allegations made regarding Sibley’s personal life that might compromise his professional effectiveness.
Jefferson acknowledged the charges but noted the first lacked clarity, and the second, more serious, lacked proof. Weighed against those charges were Sibley’s “unquestionable good sense and information [provided about native people in the area]” and “his character affirmed by others.” Thus, he would not withdraw Sibley, who had a well-known professional track record, because of unsubstantiated accusations about his personal life.