|Died||October 6, 1822|
New Orleans, Louisiana
Eligius Fromentin (1767?-1822) was a lawyer and politician who served as a U.S. Senator for Louisiana. After leaving Congress, he was appointed federal judge of West Florida at the time of its transfer to the United States in 1821, but resigned following a confrontation with Andrew Jackson over the latter's imprisonment of José Callava.
Fromentin was born and raised in France, where he later became a Roman Catholic priest. He fled the country during the French Revolution and arrived in the United States. At first settling in Pennsylvania, he then moved to Maryland and worked as a schoolteacher and a priest. By the early 1800s, Fromentin decided to leave the church and moved to Louisiana, which was being purchased by the United States. He settled in New Orleans and became a lawyer.
Fromentin was a member of the territorial house of representatives from 1807 to 1811. He was part of the constitutional convention that developed Louisiana's state constitution when it became a state in 1812. In 1813, he was elected to the United States Senate from Louisiana, and served for one term, retiring in 1819. He may have been the first former priest to serve in Congress.
Upon his retirement, Fromentin returned to Louisiana and became judge of the New Orleans criminal court in 1821, but was quickly appointed by President James Monroe to a federal judgeship in West Florida, which was being ceded by Spain to the United States. On June 27, Secretary of State John Quincy Adams sent Fromentin his commission and ordered him to Pensacola.
Upon his arrival on August 11, Fromentin immediately took issue with Andrew Jackson, who had already appointed a 5-person territorial court (the presiding judge of which was only 22 years old) and relegated Fromentin's jurisdiction to revenue laws and the importation of slaves.
On August 23, after learning that Jackson had arrested former Spanish governor José Callava the previous evening, a group of citizens "of all descriptions and languages" appealed to Fromentin for a writ of habeus corpus. He issued the order, but was rebuffed by Jackson, who denied his authority and claimed habeus corpus did not extend into the territory.
Fromentin recounted his confrontation with Jackson to Secretary of State Adams on August 26:
The conversation, as you may suppose, was nearly all on one side, not unmixed with threats of what he said he had a right to do for my having dared to interfere with his authority. … Much more was said by the General respecting the extent of his powers, the happy selection made of him by the President, the hope that no living man should ever in the future be clothed with such extraordinary authority. How fortunate it was for the poor, that a man of his feelings had been placed at the head of the government, &c. &c. &c. &c. &c. the whole intermixed with, or rather consisting altogether of the most extravagant praises of himself, and the most savage and unmerited abuse of Colonel Callava and of myself, for doing my duty, in attempting to set him at liberty. The first time the authority of General Jackson is contested, I should not be surprized if, to all the pompous titled by him enumerated in his order to me… he should superadd that of grand inquisitor, and if, finding in my library many books formerly prohibited in Spain, and among others the constitution of the United States, he should send me to the stake. … Sir, it is reluctantly that I speak of a man whom I once delighted to honor; but, I owe you the truth, and painful as the task may be, I must discharge my duty.
In the weeks following this initial confrontation, Fromentin was incensed to hear that he had allegedly apologized to Jackson, in the form of a pledge never again to interfere with Jackson's authority. In a flurry of correspondence on September 3, Fromentin denied his reported apology: "[N]ever, sir, never. My blood recoils at such a statement. Its last drop will flow before I subscribe to it."
On October 26, Adams responded to Fromentin's many letters of the previous months, confirming Jackson's assertion that Fromentin's jurisdiction encompassed only laws of revenue and slavery.