Thomas Jefferson Papers

From Thomas Jefferson to James Madison, 19 April 1798

To James Madison

Apr. 19. 98.

I wrote you last on the 12th. & then acknoleged your last at hand of the 2d inst. the sensations first occasioned by the late publications have been kept up and increased at this place. a petition1 from the merchants & traders & others was so industriously pushed as to have obtained a very extensive signature. the same measure is pursuing in New York. as the election of their governor comes on next Tuesday, these impressions will just be in time to affect that. we have no information yet of their effect to the Eastward. in the mean time petitions to Congress against arming from the towns of Massachusetts were multiplying. they will no doubt have been immediately checked. the P’s answer to the address of the merchants here you will see in Fenno of yesterday. it is a pretty strong declaration that a neutral & pacific conduct on our part is no longer the existing state of things. the vibraters in the H. of R. have chiefly gone over to the war party. still if our members were all here, it is believed the naval-bill would be thrown out. Giles, Clopton & Cabell are gone. the debate commenced yesterday, & tho’ the question will be lost, the effect on the public mind will be victory. for certainly there is nothing new which may render war more palatable to the people. on the contrary the war-members themselves are becoming alarmed at the expences, & whittling down the estimates to the lowest sums. you will see by a report of the Secretary at war which I inclose you that he estimates the expences of preparation at seven2 millions of Dollars; which it is proposed to lower to about 3. millions. if it can be reduced to this, a stoppage of public interest will suffice & is the project of some. this idea has already knocked down the public paper, which can no longer be sold at all. if the expences should exceed 3. M. they will undertake a land tax. indeed a land tax is the decided resource of many, perhaps of a majority. there is an idea of some of the Connecticut members to raise the whole money wanted by a tax on salt; so much do they dread a land tax. the middle or last of May is still counted on for adjournment.

Colo. Innes is just arrived here, heavily laden with gout & dropsy. it is scarcely thought he can ever get home again. the principles likely to be adopted by that board have thrown the administration into deep alarm. it is admitted they will be worse than the English, French & Algerine depredations added together. it is even suggested that, if persevered in, their proceedings will be stopped. these things are not public.—your letter, by occasioning my recurrence to the constitution, has corrected an error under which a former one of mine had been written. I had erroneously concieved that the declaration of war was among the things confided by the constitution to two thirds of the legislature. we are told here that you are probably elected to the state legislature. it has given great joy, as we know your presence will be felt any where, and the times do not admit of the inactivity of such talents as yours. I hope therefore it is true, as much good may be done by a proper direction of the local force. present my friendly salutations to mrs Madison & to yourself affectionately Adieu.

RC (DLC: Madison Papers); addressed: “James Madison junr. near Orange courthouse”; franked. PrC (DLC). Enclosure: Letter from the Secretary at War, to the Chairman of the Committee, on so much of the President’s Speech as Relates to the Protection of Commerce, and the Defence of the Country … 11th April, 1798, Committed to the Committee of the whole House, on the State of the Union [Philadelphia, 1798], consisting of a letter from James McHenry to Samuel Sewall, 9 Apr. 1798, with an enclosure describing and estimating the cost of specific measures necessary for the protection of American trade and territory, including 20 vessels (2 of 22 guns, 8 of 20 guns, and 10 of 16 guns), 6 galleys, and an addition to the military establishment of one regiment each of infantry, artillery, and cavalry, with emergency powers given to the president to raise a provisional army of 20,000 men, if necessary, plus monies for additional fortifications for ports and a supply of cannons and other military stores (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. 34888). Enclosed in following document.

At noon on 17 Apr. Philadelphia merchants, underwriters, and traders presented an address to President Adams, signed by about 500, pledging firm support for measures that would protect “our rights as an independent people” in the crisis with France. Adams’s answer declared that no enemy of the United States had the power to injure the country’s commerce “if protected by its own efforts, with such aids as are in the power of the government to afford.” He indicated that if France had been willing to negotiate, the United States would have continued to pursue a “neutral, impartial, and pacific course,” but citing that country’s “spirit of hostility” Adams asserted that there were seasons when “tranquility may be fatal” (Gazette of the United States, 18 Apr. 1798).

For the death in August of James Innes, a member of the commission established under the Jay Treaty to settle prewar claims of British merchants, see TJ to Madison, 16 Jan. 1799. Madison was not elected to the state legislature until 1799 (Leonard, General Assembly description begins Cynthia Miller Leonard, comp., The General Assembly of Virginia, July 30, 1619-January 11, 1978: A Bicentennial Register of Members, Richmond, 1978 description ends , 213, 217).

1Preceding two words interlined in place of “an address.”

2TJ wrote the preceding word over a partially erased, illegible word and canceled “or eight.”

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