Thomas Jefferson Papers

From Thomas Jefferson to James Madison, 7 April 1793

To James Madison

Philadelphia Apr. 7. 93.

Th: J. to J. Madison

We may now I believe give full credit to the accounts that war is declared between France and England. The latter having ordered Chauvelin to retire within eight days, the former seemed to consider it as too unquestionable an evidence of an intention to go to war, to let the advantage slip of her own readiness, and the unreadiness of England. Hence I presume the first declaration from France. A British packet is arrived. But as yet we learn nothing more than that she confirms the accounts of war being declared. Genest not yet arrived.—An impeachment is ordered here against Nicholson their Comptroller general, by a vote almost unanimous of the house of Representatives. There is little doubt I am told but that much mala fides will appear: but E.R. thinks he has barricaded himself within the fences of the law. There is a good deal of connection between his manoeuvres and the accomodating spirit of the Treasury Deptmt. of the US. so as to interest the impeachors not to spare the latter. Duer now threatens that, if he is not relieved by certain persons, he will lay open to the world such a scene of villainy as will strike it with astonishment.—The papers I occasionally inclose you, be so good as to return, as they belong to my office. I move into the country tomorrow or next day. Adieu your’s affectionately.

RC (DLC: Madison Papers). PrC (DLC).

John Nicholson, comptroller general of Pennsylvania since 1782, was notorious for taking advantage of his office to engage in land and securities speculation on a grand scale. On 5 Apr. 1793 the Pennsylvania House of Representatives voted to impeach him on the grounds that he had violated a state law enacted in 1789 to reduce the Continental debt Pennsylvania had assumed in 1786 when it issued new state loan certificates in exchange for Continental securities held by its citizens. Nicholson was accused of contravening the 1789 act—which encouraged holders of the new state certificates to surrender them for federal securities—by subsequently certifying new state loan certificates he had subscribed in his name and for others as debts assumable by the state and redeeming them at the state treasury. Although the Pennsylvania Senate acquitted him in April 1794 of all the charges, Nicholson resigned from office soon thereafter, apparently to forestall further legislative inquiries into his conduct as comptroller general (Robert D. Arbuckle, Pennsylvania Speculator and Patriot: The Entrepreneurial John Nicholson, 1757–1800 [University Park, Pa., 1975], 5–38, 52–60; Ferguson, Power of the Purse description begins E. James Ferguson, The Power of the Purse: A History of American Public Finance, 1776–1790, Chapel Hill, 1961 description ends , 228–30, 331). e.r.: Attorney General Edmund Randolph, who was in debt to Nicholson, subsequently refused to serve as a counsel to the prosecution or the defense in the impeachment trial. Randolph, however, did act as Nicholson’s attorney before the Pennsylvania Supreme Court in the summer of 1793 in a separate suit brought by the state to recover the more than $60,000 Nicholson had received from the redemption of the abovementioned state certificates (same, 57–8). TJ had long been convinced that William Duer, the former assistant secretary of the treasury who had been confined in debtor’s prison in New York since March 1792, could implicate Alexander Hamilton in unlawful speculative activities as Secretary of the Treasury (see Appendix on the first conflict in the cabinet, Vol. 18: 648–58).

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