Thomas Jefferson Papers

From Thomas Jefferson to James Madison, 17 December 1796

To James Madison

Monticello Dec. 17. 96.

Th:J. to J.M.

Your favor of the 5th. came to hand last night. The first wish of my heart was that you should have been proposed for the administration of the government. On your declining it I wish any body rather than myself: and there is nothing I so anxiously hope as that my name may come out either second or third. These would be indifferent to me; as the last would leave me at home the whole year, and the other two thirds of it. I have no expectation that the Eastern states will suffer themselves to be so much outwitted as to be made the tools for bringing in P. instead of A. I presume they will throw away their second vote. In this case it begins to appear possible that there may be an equal division where I had supposed the republican vote would have been considerably minor. It seems also possible that the Representatives may be divided. This is a difficulty from which the constitution has provided no issue. It is both my duty and inclination therefore to relieve the embarrasment should it happen: and in that case I pray you and authorize you fully to sollicit on my behalf that Mr. Adams may be preferred. He has always been my senior from the commencement of our public life, and the expression of the public will being equal, this circumstance ought to give him the preference. When so many motives will be operating to induce some of the members to change their vote, the addition of my wish may have some effect to preponderate the scale.   I am really anxious to see the speech. It must exhibit a very different picture of our foreign affairs from that presented in the Adieu, or it will little correspond with my views of them. I think they never wore so gloomy an aspect since the year 83. Let those come to the helm who think they can steer clear of the difficulties. I have no confidence in myself for the undertaking.

We have had the severest weather ever known in November. The thermometer was at 12°. here and in Goochland, and I suppose generally. It arrested my buildings very suddenly when eight days more would have completed my walls, and permitted us to cover in. The drought is excessive. From the middle of October to the middle of December not rain enough to lay the dust. A few days ago there fell a small rain, but the succeeding cold has probably prevented it from sprouting the grain sown during the drowth. Present me in friendly terms to Messrs. Giles, Venable, Page. Adieu affectionately.

P.S. I inclose a letter for Volney because I do not know where to address to him.

Pray send me Gallatin’s view of the finances of the U.S. and Paine’s letter to the President if within the compas of a conveyance by post.

RC (DLC: Madison Papers); addressed: “James Madison Congress Philadelphia”; franked. PrC (DLC); lacks final sentence of postscript. Enclosure: TJ to Volney, 17 Dec. 1796.

Madison used this letter to counter rumors that TJ would refuse to serve as vice president. He showed it to Benjamin Rush, who described it to John Adams. “In it,” Adams reported to his wife on 1 Jan., TJ “tells Mr. Madison That he had been told there was a Possibility of a Tye between Mr. Adams and himself. If this should happen says he, I beg of you, to Use all your Influence to procure for me the Second Place, for Mr. Adams’s Services have been longer more constant and more important than mine, and Something more in the complimentary strain about Qualifications &c.” In closing Adams cautioned his wife: “These are confidential communications.” But two days later, he informed her that TJ’s letter “was yesterday in the mouth of every one. It is considered as Evidence of his Determination to accept—of his Friendship for me—And of his Modesty and Moderation” (John Adams to Abigail Adams, 1,3,5 Jan. 1797, MHi: Adams Papers; and see Rush to TJ, 4 Jan. 1797). On 9 Jan. 1797, Congressman Chauncey Goodrich sent fellow Connecticut Federalist Oliver Wolcott, Sr. an account of a letter from TJ that expressed “esteem” for Adams and satisfaction on his election. Goodrich continued that although he could not “vouch for the correctness of the publication,” those who had seen the letter described the author as being “of meek humility” and “complimentary of the Vice-President.” Theodore Sedgwick, Federalist senator from Massachusetts, fully described the letter which, he noted, “was disclosed, in confidence, within one or two days after the event of the election was certainly known.” He summarized TJ’s position on the election: first, he would prefer not to be a candidate for or elected president or vice president; second, if he were a competitor of Adams and the contest went to the House of Representatives, his own pretensions should be withdrawn in favor of those of his rival; and third, “(which he most dreads) that he may be elected President” (Goodrich to Oliver Wolcott, Sr., 9 Jan. 1797, in Gibbs, Memoirs description begins George Gibbs, ed., Memoirs of the Administration of Washington and John Adams, edited from the Papers of Oliver Wolcott, Secretary of the Treasury, New York, 1846, 2 vols. description ends , i, 417; Sedgwick to Rufus King, 12 Mch. 1797, in King, Life, description begins Charles R. King, ed. The Life and Correspondence of Rufus King: Comprising His Letters, Private and Official, His Public Documents and His Speeches, New York, 1894–1900, 6 vols. description ends ii, 156–7).

Albert Gallatin’s view of the finances, A Sketch of the Finances of the United States (New York, 1796), was published in November. It included an appendix with 19 tables, making the work over 200 pages long, too large to send by regular post. See Sowerby, description begins E. Millicent Sowerby, comp., Catalogue of the Library of Thomas Jefferson, Washington, D.C., 1952–59, 5 vols. description ends No. 3523. Paine’s letter to the President: see Madison to TJ, 10 Jan. 1796.

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