Thomas Jefferson Papers

From Thomas Jefferson to James Madison, 24 May 1798

To James Madison

May. 24. 98.

My last was of the 17th. since which yours of the 13th. is recieved. the Alien bill of the Senate still hangs before them. some of it’s features have been moderated, which has so much disgusted it’s warmest friends that some of them have declared they will vote against it, so that I think it possible they may reject it. they appear to be waiting for one from the house of repr. worse I think than theirs, which got on to it’s third reading; but in that stage was recommitted by a majority of 2. yesterday. I suppose it will be softened a little on the recommitment. the Senate yesterday passed their bill for capturing any French cruisers, who shall have taken our vessels, or who shall be found hovering on our coast for that purpose. Sitgreaves’s resolutions proposed to the H. of R. of nearly the same tenor, were yesterday debated but no question taken. if these bills pass, and place us in a state of war, it may truly be ascribed to the desertion of our members. of 14. who are absent, 10 are from the republican side of the house. had every one been in his place not a single one of the dangerous measures carried or to be carried would have prevailed. even the provisional army would have been rejected, for it was carried but by a majority of 11. the absentees are Freeman, Skinner, Livingston, S. Smith, Nicholas, Giles, Cabell, Clay, Finlay, &1 Swanwick sick. the news from Amsterdam from our Consul Bourne, which you will see in the papers, has every appearance of truth. the war-men however are very unwilling to have it believed. the flame kindled by the late communications, has from the nature of them, and the unparalleled industry of the war party, spread more even in the country than I had expected. addresses continue to be poured in on us. I mentioned in my last the P’s attack on Monroe. his friends here think that nothing can save him from the impression of that, but his coming into the H. of R. taking his stand on an independant theatre, from which his countrymen will see what are his principles. it has been said Cabell will give place to him. on that hypothesis I have counselled him strongly to come to the next session. such a recruit is immensely wanted here. it is believed we have gained 2. members in the N. York election. salutations to the family & friendly Adieux to yourself.

Mr. Adams, in a conversation in the Statehouse yard with Blair Mc.lanachan, declared that such was his want of confidence in the faith of France, that were they to agree to a treaty ever so favourable, he should think it his duty to reject it.

P.M. Sitgreave’s resolns were moved to be postponed to a very distant day in June. the question was this day lost 51. to 40. had all been here it would have been carried.—Tracey (one of the war-commee of the Senate) told Anderson yesterday that he had drawn a bill for declaring our treaty with France void, & commencing hostilities but the commee thought the bill now past by the Senate would answer the same end & give less alarm.—Stockton told Tazewell yesterday he should be for a Declaration of war before Congress should separate. it is now declared by several Senators that they would not accept any treaty which France could offer.

RC (DLC: Madison Papers, Rives Collection); postscripts in margin; addressed: “James Madison junr. near Orange courthouse”; franked. PrC (DLC).

On 18 May Benjamin Goodhue introduced legislation that authorized the capture of armed vessels who shall have taken our vessels, or who shall be found hovering on our coast for that purpose. The bill’s preamble made it clear that the legislation was aimed at the French, who were capturing American ships near the coast in violation of the law of nations and treaties between the United States and France. A motion on 23 May by North Carolina Senator Alexander Martin to have the preamble expunged was defeated by a 7 to 16 vote. An attempt to postpone the bill until word was received of the “total failure” of negotiations with France was defeated by the same margin. The Senate then passed the legislation, 16 yeas to 7 nays. The same bill, “An act more effectually to protect the commerce and coasts of the United States,” passed the House on 26 May by a 50 to 40 vote (JS description begins Journal of the Senate of the United States, Washington, D.C., 1820–21, 5 vols. description ends , 2:490–3; JHR description begins Journal of the House of Representatives of the United States, Washington, D.C., 1826, 9 vols. description ends , 3:313–16; U.S. Statutes at Large description begins Richard Peters, ed., The Public Statutes at Large of the United States … 1789 to March 3, 1845, Boston, 1855–56, 8 vols. description ends , 1:561). Samuel Sitgreaves’s resolutions, allowing armed vessels, private as well as public, to capture French armed cruisers preying on American shipping, were introduced on 22 May. The Philadelphia Aurora referred to them as the “war resolutions.” On 24 May, a motion to postpone consideration of the resolutions until 12 June was defeated by a 43 to 37 vote, not 51 to 40 as TJ indicated. The House then sent them to the committee that was considering the bill passed by the Senate (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 , 8:1783, 1812; Philadelphia Aurora, 25 May 1798). For TJ’s revision of the consequences of the desertion of Republican members on the votes in the House of Representatives, see TJ to Madison, 31 May.

Newspapers in Philadelphia reprinted a letter from Amsterdam from United States consul Sylvanus Bourne to Boston merchant Benjamin Russell of 20 Mch. indicating that the envoys had recently had several conferences with the French minister of foreign affairs with unknown results. A summary of a second letter from Bourne gave news from Elbridge Gerry that the envoys had had three conferences with Talleyrand “and that the negociation appeared to be in good train.” The Gazette of the United States observed that Bourne’s letter did not give the date or indicate whether the conferences were official or informal. Fenno wondered whether the meetings referred to were those already described in the published dispatches (Gazette of the United States, 21 May 1798; Philadelphia Aurora, 22 May 1798).

Conversation in the statehouse yard: the Philadelphia Aurora of 24 May reported that in conversing with “a republican member of congress,” President Adams noted “that he could not answer it to his conscience, his country, or his God, to enter in any treaty with the present government of France.”

1TJ here canceled: “some others whom I do not recollect” and interlined the remainder of the sentence.

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