Thomas Jefferson Papers

From Thomas Jefferson to Peregrine Fitzhugh, 4 June 1797

To Peregrine Fitzhugh

Philadelphia June 4. 1797.

Dear Sir

I am favored with yours of May 19. and thank you for your intentions as to the corn and the large white clover, which if forwarded to Mr. Archibald Stuart at Staunton will find daily means of conveyance from thence to me. That indeed is the nearest post road between you and myself by 60. or 70. miles, the one by George town being very circuitous.

The representatives have at length got through their address. As you doubtless recieve the newspapers regularly from hence, you will have seen in them the address, and all the amendments made or proposed. [While mentioning newspapers, it is doing a good office to as distant places as yours and mine to observe that Bache has begun to publish his Aurora for his country customers on 3 sheets a week instead of six. You observe that the 1st. and 4th. pages are only of advertisements: the 2d. and 3d contain all the essays and news. He prints therefore his 2d and 3d pages of Monday’s and Tuesday’s papers on opposite sides of the same sheet, omitting the 1st. and 4th. so that we have the news pages of 2. papers on one. This costs but 5. instead of 8. dollars and saves half the postage. Smith begins in July to publish a weekly paper without advertisements, which will probably be a good one. Cary’s paper is an excellent one, and Bradford’s compiled by Loyd1 perhaps the best in the city; but both of these are daily papers. Thinking this episode on newspapers might not be unacceptable in a position as distant as yours, I return to Congress and to politics.] You will percieve by the votes that the republican majority of the last congress has been much affected by the changes of the late election. Still however if all were here the majority would be on the same side, tho’ a small one. They will now proceed to consider what is to be done. It is not easy nor safe to prophecy. But I find the expectation is that they will not permit the merchant vessels to arm, that they will leave the militia as it stands for the present season, vote further sums for going on with the fortifications and frigates, and prefer borrowing the money of the bank to the taking up the subject of taxation generally at this inconvenient season. In fact I consider the calling Congress so out of season as an experiment of the new administration, to see how far and in what line they could count on it’s support. Nothing new had intervened between the late separation, and the summons, for Pinckney’s non-reception was then known. It is visible from the complexion of the President’s speech that he was disposed or perhaps advised2 to proceed in a line which would endanger the peace of our country: and though the address is nearly responsive yet it would be too bold to proceed on so small a majority. The first unfavorable event, and even the necessary taxes, would restore preponderance to the scale of peace. The nomination of the envoys to France does not prove a thorough conversion to the pacific system. Our greatest security perhaps is in the impossibility of either borrowing or raising the money which would be necessary. I am suggesting an idea on the subject of taxation, which might perhaps facilitate much that business and reconcile all parties. That is to say, to lay a land tax leviable in 1799 &c. But if by the last day of 1798. any state brings it’s whole quota into the federal treasury, the tax shall be suspended one year for that state. If by the end of the next year they bring another year’s tax, it shall be suspended a 2d. year as to them, and so toties quoties for ever. If they fail, the federal collectors will go on of course to make their collection. In this way those who prefer excises may raise their quota by excises, and those who prefer land taxes may raise by land taxes, either on the federal plan, or on any other of their own which they like better. This would tend I think to make the general government popular, to render the state legislatures useful allies and associates instead of degraded rivals, and to mollify the harsh tone of government which has been assumed. I find the idea pleasing to most of those to whom I have suggested it. It will be objected to by those who are for a consolidation.—You mention the retirement of Mr. Ames. You will observe that he has sent us a successor, Mr. Otis as rhetorical as himself.—You have perhaps seen an attack made by a Mr. Luther Martin on the facts stated in the Notes on Virginia relative to Logan, his speech, the fate of his family, and the share Colo. Cresap had in their extermination. I do not mean to enter the field in the newspapers with Mr. Martin. But if any injury has been done Colo. Cresap in the statement I have given, it shall certainly be corrected whenever another edition of that work shall be printed. I have given it as I recieved it. I think you told me Cresap had lived in your neighborhood. Hence I have imagined you could in the ordinary course of conversations in the societies there, find the real truth of the whole transaction, and the genuine character and conduct of Cresap. If you will be so good as to keep this subject in your mind, to avail yourself of the opportunities of enquiry and evidence which may occur, and communicate the result to me, you will singularly oblige me.—The proceedings in the federal court of Virginia to overawe the communications between the people and their representatives excite great indignation. Probably a great fermentation will be produced3 by it in that state. Indeed it is the common cause of the confederacy, as it is one of their courts which has taken the step. The charges of the federal judges have for a considerable time been inviting the Grand juries to become inquisitors on the freedom of speech, of writing and of principle of their fellow citizens. Perhaps the grand juries in the other states as well as in that of Virginia may think it incumbent in their next presentments to enter protestations against this perversion of their institution from a legal to a political engine, and even to present those concerned in it.—The hostile4 use which is made of whatever can be laid hold of of mine, obliges me to caution the friends to whom I write, never to let my letters go out of their own hands, lest they should get into the newspapers. I pray you to present my most friendly respects to your father, and wishes for the continuance of his health and good faculties, and to accept yourself assurances of the esteem with which I am Dear Sir Your most obedt. & most humble servt

Th: Jefferson

RC (NcD); brackets supplied by TJ; with several emendations, the most important of which are noted below; at foot of first page: “Peregrine Fitzhugh esq.” PrC (DLC).

On 23 June 1797, Uriah Forrest, who described Fitzhugh as “a democratic relation of mine,” sent Adams an extract of this letter, which he had produced from memory after having read it twice. While Forrest noted that he was violating a confidence in sharing the contents, he justified his actions by arguing that he was fulfilling a duty he owed to his country and to Adams. He asserted that he extracted it “without exaggeration” and gave “it every degree of moderation it was susceptible of.” In the extract Forrest reported on TJ’s assertion that Adams had convened Congress “to try the strength of Government in the House of Representatives” to see “how far that House could be calculated” to support a war. Adams’s speech indicated that he was not averse to war and the nomination of the envoys did not contradict this belief. War would not be risked at this time, however, because the majority for it was so small it “would be changed by the first unsuccessful event the first unpopular tax or when the taxes began to be felt.” Forrest summarized TJ’s tax plan, indicating that TJ believed it would raise the state governments “from their present degraded state” and check the “High tone of Government.” He also noted TJ’s criticism of the conduct of the grand jury at Richmond and of federal judges, who “courted Presentments” that were designed to check the freedom of speech, opinion, and writing, thus causing the courts to “become Political Machines for directing the Public Will and for answering Party Purposes.” The extract concluded with TJ’s summary of legislation to be considered during the session, his judgment that little would be accomplished, and a warning to take care lest the letter find its way into the newspapers (RC in MHi: Adams Papers).

The impact this extract of TJ’s letter had upon Adams is evident in his reply to For-rest in which he noted that the enclosure was “a serious thing.” He continued: “It will be a motive, in addition to many others, for me to be upon my guard. It is evidence of a mind, soured, yet seeking for popularity, and eaten to a honeycomb with ambition, yet weak, confused, uninformed, and ignorant. I have been long convinced that this ambition is so inconsiderate as to be capable of going great lengths” (Adams, Works description begins Charles Francis Adams, ed., The Works of John Adams, Boston, 1850–56, 10 vols. description ends , VIII, 546–7). For a description of the circumstances which led to the circulation of the contents of this letter, see Fitzhugh to TJ, 15 Oct. 1797. As Dumas Malone indicates in his discussion of this letter, there is no evidence that Fitzhugh or TJ was aware of Forrest’s disclosure to Adams (Malone, Jefferson description begins Dumas Malone, Jefferson and his Time, Boston, 1948–81, 6 vols. description ends , iii, 320–2).

TJ paid Samuel Harrison Smith three dollars to cover a year’s subscription for his projected weekly paper, which Smith did not begin publishing until 16 Nov. 1797 as The Universal Gazette (MB description begins James A. Bear, Jr., and Lucia C. Stanton, eds., Jefferson’s Memorandum Books: Accounts, with Legal Records and Miscellany, 1767–1826, Princeton, 1997, The Papers of Thomas Jefferson, Second Series description ends , ii, 961). 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. 595.

For the attack made by Luther Martin, see TJ to John Gibson, 31 May 1797.

On 22 May 1797, James Iredell, associate justice of the United States Supreme Court, delivered a charge to the grand jury in the Federal Court of Virginia, declaring that if a man loved his country he would respectfully submit to “any public authoritative decision” even if he disapproved of it. He declared that the jury had a responsibility to prosecute offenses against the United States in order to preserve the union, noting that if the country were disunited and allowed “differences of opinion to corrode into enmity” it would have the effect “of inviting some foreign nation to foment and take advantage” of the situation. The grand jury, under the foremanship of John Blair, a former associate justice of the Supreme Court, then proceeded to issue a presentment in which they charged that the circular letters of several members of the Fourth Congress, particularly those of Samuel J. Cabell, were “a real evil” which with their “unfounded calumnies” threatened to separate the people from the government. In the letter to his constituents of 12 Jan. 1797, Cabell had reiterated French Minister Adet’s charge that the United States government, particularly the executive branch, had shown partiality towards Great Britain to the “great injury of France,” which culminated in the adoption of Jay’s Treaty. Cabell also characterized the election of John Adams as an event “at which the patriotism of 76 and republicanism must sicken,” contending that the preservation of peace and reconciliation with France were darkened by it. Cabell deprecated the idea of war with France and hoped “that the virtue, wisdom, and policy of our Executive” would lead to the adoption of measures designed to “restore the two Republics to their former love and friendship” (Noble E. Cunningham, Jr., ed., Circular Letters of Congressmen to Their Constituents, 1789–1829, 3 vols. [Chapel Hill, N.C., 1978], I, 67–70; DHSC description begins Maeva Marcus and others, eds., The Documentary History of the Supreme Court of the United States 1789–1800, New York, 1985–2007, 8 vols. description ends , iii, 173–8, 181). For the controversy resulting from Judge Iredell’s charge to the grand jury and the grand jury’s presentment, see DHSC description begins Maeva Marcus and others, eds., The Documentary History of the Supreme Court of the United States 1789–1800, New York, 1985–2007, 8 vols. description ends , iii, 149–51, 183–5, 187–220. For TJ’s actions, see Petition to the Virginia House of Delegates, at 3 Aug. 1797.

1Preceding three words interlined.

2Preceding five words interlined in place of indecipherable word.

3Preceding word interlined in place of indecipherable word.

4Word interlined.

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