Thomas Jefferson Papers

From Thomas Jefferson to James Madison, 8 February 1798

To James Madison

Philadelphia Feb. 8. 98.

I wrote you last on the 25th. Ult. since which yours of the 21st. has been recieved. Bache had put 500. copies of Monroe’s book on board a vessel, which was stopped by the early & unexpected freezing of the river. he then tried in vain to get them sent on by fifties at a time by the stage. the river is now open here, the vessels have fallen down and if they can get through the ice below, the one with Bache’s packet will soon be at Richmond. it is surmised here that Scipio is written by C. Lee. Articles of impeachment were yesterday given in against Blount; but many knotty preliminary questions will arise. must not a formal law settle the oath of the Senators, forms of pleadings, process against person & goods &c. may he not appear by attorney? must he not be tried by jury? is a Senator impeachable? is an ex-Senator impeachable? you will readily concieve that these questions to be settled by 29. lawyers are not likely to come to speedy issue.—a very disagreeable question of privilege has suspended all other proceedings for several days. you will see this in the newspapers.—the question of arming was to have come on on Monday last. that morning the President sent in an inflammatory message about a vessel taken & burnt by a French privateer near Charleston. of this he had been possessed some time, and it had run through all the newspapers. it seemed to come in very apropos for spurring on the disposition to arm. however the question is not come on. in the mean time the general spirit, even of the merchants, is becoming adverse to it. New hampshire &, Rhodeisland, are unanimously against arming. so is Baltimore. this place becoming more so. Boston divided & desponding. I know nothing of New York. but I think there is no danger of the question being carried, unless something favorable to it is recieved from our envoys. from them we hear nothing. yet it seems reasonably believed that the Executive has heard, & that it is something which would not promote their views of arming. for every action of theirs shew they are panting to come to blows.—Walker’s bill will be applied to answer a draught of Colo. Monroe’s on Barnes. I have not heard yet from Bailey. I wrote to you about procuring a rider for the Fredsbg post. the propositions should be here by the 14th. inst. but I can get it kept open a little longer. there is no bidder yet but Green the printer. £100. Virga will be given.—Giles is arrived. my friendly salutations to mrs Madison Adieu affectionately.

RC (DLC: Madison Papers).

See TJ to Madison, 24 Jan. 1798, for the letter which TJ completed on the 25th. ult.

Disagreeable question of privilege: on 30 Jan. 1798 Republican Matthew Lyon, Irish-born representative from Vermont, spit in the face of Roger Griswold after the Federalist congressman repeated charges that Lyon was punished for cowardly behavior during the Revolutionary War. Shortly thereafter Massachusetts Federalist Samuel Sewall introduced a resolution seeking Lyon’s expulsion for the “violent attack and gross indecency” committed against Griswold. The resolution was immediately referred to a committee of privileges, which three days later reported that Lyon was guilty of conduct “unworthy of a member of this House” and should be expelled. In the midst of the debate Robert Goodloe Harper added the charge that during his defense on 8 Feb., Lyon had used “an expression so outrageous, so gross, and indecent, that no gentleman yet had been able to repeat it.” On 12 Feb. an amendment to reprimand rather than expel Lyon was defeated by a 44 to 52 vote. The House then voted by the same margin to expel Lyon, but lacking the two-thirds vote required for expulsion, the resolution did not carry. Three days later, Griswold sought retribution by attacking Lyon with a walking stick as he sat in his seat in the House. Lyon defended himself with tongs from the fireplace. The next day Thomas T. Davis of Kentucky called for the expulsion of both Griswold and Lyon for “violent and disorderly behaviour committed in the House.” On 20 Feb. the committee of privileges presented a report against expulsion. Three days later the House, by a 73 to 21 vote, agreed with the committee’s recommendation. A resolution to reprimand the two congressmen also failed (Annals, description begins Annals of the Congress of the United States: The Debates and Proceedings in the Congress of the United StatesCompiled from Authentic Materials, Washington, D.C., Gales & Seaton, 1834–56, 42 vols. All editions are undependable and pagination varies from one printing to another. The first two volumes of the set cited here have “Compiled … by Joseph Gales, Senior” on the title page and bear the caption “Gales & Seatons History” on verso and “of Debates in Congress” on recto pages. The remaining volumes bear the caption “History of Congress” on both recto and verso pages. Those using the first two volumes with the latter caption will need to employ the date of the debate or the indexes of debates and speakers. description ends 7:955–1029, 1034–43, 1047–58, 1063–7).

On 5 Feb. 1798 President Adams sent a message to Congress describing the actions of a French privateer near Charleston. Adams had received the information in a letter from South Carolina Governor Charles Pinckney of 22 Oct. 1797. Adams noted that he was transmitting the letter and enclosed depositions to encourage the passage of legislation that would allow the executive to take proper defensive measures to protect United States citizens and those of friendly foreign nations (JS description begins Journal of the Senate of the United States, Washington, D.C., 1820–21, 5 vols. description ends , 2:434; JHR description begins Journal of the House of Representatives of the United States, Washington, D.C., 1826, 9 vols. description ends , 3:161).

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