Thomas Jefferson Papers

From Thomas Jefferson to James Madison, 15 February 1798

To James Madison

Philadelphia Feb. 15. 98.

I wrote you last on the 8th. we have still not a word from our envoys. this long silence (if they have been silent) proves things are not going on very roughly. if they have not been silent, it proves their information if made public would check the disposition to arm. I had flattered myself, from the progress of the public sentiment against arming, that the same progress had taken place in the legislature. but I am assured, by those who have better opportunities of forming a good judgment, that if the question against arming is carried at all, it will not be by more than a majority of two: & particularly that there will not be more than 4. votes against it from the 5. eastern states, or 5. votes at the utmost. you will have percieved that Dayton is gone over compleatly. he expects to be appointed Secretary of war in the room of Mc. Henry who it is said will retire. he has been told, as report goes, that they would not have confidence enough in him to appoint him. the desire of inspiring them with more seems the only way to account for the eclat which he chuses to give to his conversion. you will have seen the disgusting proceedings in the case of Lyon. if they would have accepted even of a commitment to the Serjeant it might have been had. but to get rid of his vote was the most material object. these proceedings must degrade the General government, and lead the people to lean more on their state governments, which have been sunk under the early popularity of the former. this day the question of the jury in cases of impeachment comes on. there is no doubt how it will go. the general division in the Senate is 22. and 10. and under the probable prospect of what they will for ever be, I see nothing in the mode of proceeding by impeachment, but the most formidable weapon for the purposes of a dominant faction that ever was contrived. it would be the most effectual one for getting rid of any man whom they consider as dangerous to their views, and I do not know that we could count on one third on an emergency. it depends then on the H. of Representatives, who are the impeachers: & there the majorities are of 1. 2. or 3 only & these sometimes one way & sometimes another: in a question of pure party they have the majority, & we do not know what circumstances may turn up to increase that majority temporarily if not permanently. I know of no solid purpose of punishment which the courts of law are not equal to, and history shews that in England, Impeachment has been an engine more of passion than justice. a great ball is to be given here on the 22d. and in other great towns of the Union. this is at least very indelicate, & probably excites uneasy sensations in some. I see in it however this useful deduction, that the birthdays which have been kept have been, not those of the President, but of the General.—I inclose with the newspapers the two acts of parliament passed on the subject of our commerce which are interesting. the merchants here say that the effect of the countervailing tonnage on American vessels, will throw them completely out of employ as soon as there is peace. The Eastern members say nothing but among themselves. but it is said that it is working like gravel in their stomachs. our only comfort is that they have brought it on themselves. my respectful salutations to mrs Madison & to yourself friendship & Adieu.

RC (DLC: Madison Papers); addressed: “James Madison junr. near Orange Courthouse”; stamped, franked, and postmarked. PrC (DLC).

During the second session of the Fifth Congress, Jonathan Dayton, Speaker of the House of Representatives, began to side with the high Federalists. On 5 Mch. 1798 the Aurora published a piece which insinuated that Dayton’s political change was due to the fact that he expected to lose his seat in Congress and thus desired to please President Adams to increase his chances of being appointed secretary of war (Richard A. Harrison, Princetonians, 1776–1783: A Biographical Dictionary [Princeton, 1981], 37).

Although the great ball in celebration of Washington’s birthday had become an annual event, Adams had previously expressed dissatisfaction with festivities that he interpreted as promoting the veneration of a military hero, a practice that he associated with the downfall of the Roman republic. He declined the invitation to the 1798 event, calling it an insult to the office of the presidency. A number of Federalists followed the president’s lead, thereby bringing to public notice a fissure within the Federalist party. Scheduled to take place on the 22d, the ball, less than a week before the event, was postponed a day because it conflicted with the special election held in Philadelphia. TJ, as he customarily did, declined to attend the ball but on 2 Feb. paid five dollars for a subscription to the affair (TJ to Thomas Willing, 23 Feb. 1798; Page Smith, John Adams, 2 vols. [New York, 1962], 2:950–1; 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 , 2:978; Claypoole’s American Daily Advertiser, 12, 17 Feb. 1798; Philadelphia Aurora, 17 Feb. 1798).

I inclose…two acts of parliament: Message from the President of the United States, Accompanying Copies of Two Acts of the Parliament of Great-Britain, Passed on the 4th and 19th of July 1797, Relative to the Carrying into Execution the Treaty of Amity, Commerce and Navigation, Concluded between His Majesty and the United States of America; And regulating the Trade to be carried on with the British possessions in India, by the ships of Nations in amity with his Majesty [Philadelphia, 1798]. See Evans, description begins Charles Evans, Clifford K. Shipton, and Roger P. Bristol, comps., American Bibliography: A Chronological Dictionary of all Books, Pamphlets and Periodical Publications Printed in the United States of America from … 1639 … to … 1820, Chicago and Worcester, Mass., 1903–59, 14 vols. description ends No. 34802. For a discussion of these acts, see TJ to Hugh Williamson, 11 Feb. 1798.

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