Thomas Jefferson Papers

To Thomas Jefferson from James Madison, 12 January 1799

From James Madison

Jany. 12. 99.

Dear Sir

According to a promise in my last, I inclose a copy of the rates at which McGeehee works. I inclose also a few observations on a subject which we have frequently talked of, which are submitted to your entire disposal, in whole or in part, under the sole reserve of the name of the author. In Gordon’s History Vol. IV p. 399–400, is a transaction that may perhaps be properly referred to in the debate on the alien-bill. Among other names is that of Sedgwick, to a protest agst. a Bill subjecting to banishment, without trial by jury. It does not appear clearly whether the exiles were under the character of aliens or Citizens. If under the former the case is in point. In the hurry of my last, I suspect that I overrated the payments expected from Moylan & Lewis. Should they be short of the objects to which they are appropriated, I will make up the deficiency on notice. We have lately had a few days of intense cold, & now the weather is in the opposite extreme. The Thermr. on sunday morning last was at 6°. & on monday within the Bulb. Our post had not arrived at the usual hour on wednesday & I have not since heard from the office. We are consequently without any late intelligence of your proceedings. I have been disappointed in seeing no step taken in relation to Lyon. He is clearly within his privilege & it ought to be claimed for him. In the case of Wilkes, the judges were unanimously of opinion that a libel did not take away his privilege, altho it is there less definite than with us. The House of Commons voted differently, but it was the vote of a faction, & therefore of less weight than the other authority


RC (DLC: Madison Papers); endorsed by TJ as received 20 Jan. 1799 and so recorded in SJL. Enclosed rates not found. For other enclosure, see note below.

Few observations: an essay entitled “Foreign Influence” and appearing under the signature “Enemy to Foreign Influence” that was published in the Philadelphia Aurora on 23 Jan. 1799. Identified as Madison’s by the editors of the Madison Papers, the essay warned against the growing “undue and pernicious ascendency” of Great Britain in the United States (Madison, Papers, 17:211–20).

Gordon’s history: William Gordon, The History of the Rise, Progress, and Establishment, of the Independence of the United States of America: Including an account of the late war; and of the Thirteen Colonies, from their origin to that period, 4 vols. (London, 1788). 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. 487. Theodore Sedgwick was among those who in 1783 protested against a bill in the Massachusetts House designed to prevent Tory refugees from returning to the state by subjecting them to banishment “by the sole judgment of two justices of the peace.” The protesters argued that the bill took away “that essential right of freemen, a trial by jury” (Gordon, History, 4:399–401; Richard E. Welch, Jr., Theodore Sedgwick, Federalist: A Political Portrait [Middletown, Conn., 1965], 29–30).

John Wilkes was arrested for seditious libel in 1763 when in the North Briton he criticized King George III’s speech at the opening of Parliament. Accepting the argument of Wilkes’s defense that his privilege as a member of Parliament protected him from all charges except those of treason, felony, or a breach of the peace, the court ordered his release. A majority of both houses of Parliament, however, resolved that the privilege of Parliament did not extend to the “case of writing and publishing seditious libels.” The House of Commons expelled Wilkes in January 1764 (George Rudi, Wilkes and Liberty: A Social Study of 1763 to 1774 [London, 1962], 18–27, 35; The Annual Register … for the Year 1763, 6th ed. [London, 1790], 135–41; The Annual Register… for the Year 1764, 4th ed. [London, 1792], 18–25).

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