James Madison Papers

To James Madison from Thomas Jefferson, 19 February 1799

From Thomas Jefferson

Feb. 19. 99.

I wrote you last on the 11th. Yesterday the bill for the eventual army of 30. regiments (30,000) & 75,000. volunteers passed the Senate. By an amendment, the P. was authorised to use the volunteers for every purpose for which he can use militia, so that the militia are rendered compleatly useless. The friends of the bill acknoleged that the volunteers are a militia, & agreed that they might properly be called the ‘Presidential militia.’ They are not to go out of their state without their own consent. Consequently all service out of the state is thrown on the constitutional militia, the Presidential militia being exempted from doing duty with them. Leblanc an agent from Desfourneaux of Guadaloupe came in the Retaliation.1 You will see in the papers Desfourneaux’ letter to the President2 which will correct some immaterial circumstances of the statement in my last. You will see the truth of the main fact that the vessel & crew were liberated without condition. Notwithstanding this, they have obliged Leblanc to recieve the French prisoners & to admit in the paper the terms ‘in exchange for prisoners taken from us,’ he denying at the same time that they considered them as prisoners, or had any idea of exchange. The object of his mission was not at all relative to that; but they chuse to keep up the idea of a cartel, to prevent the transaction from being used as evidence of the sincerity of the French govmt. towards a reconciliation. He came to assure us of a discontinuance of all irregularities in French privateers from Guadaloupe. He has been recieved very cavalierly. In the mean time a Consul general is named to St. Domingo:3 who may be considered as our minister to Toussaint. But the event of events was announced to the Senate yesterday. It is this. It seems that soon after Gerry’s departure overtures must have been made by Pichon, French charge d’affaires at the Hague, to Murray.4 They were so soon matured that on the 28th. of Sep. 98. Taleyrand writes to Pichon approving what had been done, & particularly of his having assured Murray that whatever Plenipotentiary the govmt. of the US. should send to France to end our differences would undoubtedly be recieved with the respect due to the representative of a free, independt. & powerful nation—declaring that the President’s instructions to his envoys, at Paris, if they contain the whole of the American government’s intentions, announce dispositions which have been always entertained by the Directory, & desiring him to communicate these expressions to Murray in order to convince him of the sincerity of the French government & to prevail on him to transmit them to his government. This is dated Sep. 28. & may have been recieved by Pichon Oct. 1. and near 5. months elapse before it is communicated. Yesterday the P. nominated to the Senate W. V. Murray M. P. to the French republic5 & adds that he shall be instructed not to go to France without direct & unequivocal assurances from the Fr. government that he shall be recieved in character, enjoy the due privileges and a minister of equal rank title & power be appointed to discuss & conclude our controversies by a new treaty. This had evidently been kept secret from the Feds of both houses, as appeared by their dismay. The Senate have passed over this day without taking it up. It is said they are gravelled & divided; some are for opposing, others do not know what to do. But in the mean time they have been permitted to go on with all the measures of war & patronage, & when the close of the session is at hand it is made known. However it silences all arguments against the sincerity of France, and renders desperate every further effort towards war. I inclose you a paper with more particulars. Be so good as to keep it till you see me & then return it, as it is the copy of one I sent to another person & is the only copy I have. Since I begun [sic] my letter I have recieved yours of Feby. 8. with it’s inclosures.6 That referred to my discretion is precious and shall be used accordingly. Affectionate salutations to mrs. M. & yourself & Adieu.

P. S. I have committed you & your friends for 100. D. I will justify it when I see you.7


Extract of a letter from Taleyrand to Pichon, chargé d’affaires of France at the Hague, dated Paris Sep. 28. 98.

——[‘]I am thoroughly convinced that should explanations take place with confidence between the two cabinets, irritation would cease, a crowd of misunderstandings would disappear & the ties of friendship would be more strongly united as each party would discover the hand which sought to disunite them.

—According to these bases, (a reference to former correspondence) you were right to assert that whatever Plenipotentiary the government of the US. might send to France to put an end to the existing differences between the two countries wo⟨d.⟩ be undoubtedly recieved with the respect due to the representative of a free, independent & powerful nation.

I cannot persuade myself, citizen, that the American govmt. need any further declarations from us to induce them, in order to renew the negotiation, to adopt such measures as would be suggested to them by their desire to bring the differences to a peaceable end. If misunderstandings on both sides have prevented some explanations from reaching that end, it is presumeable that, those misunderstandings being done away, nothing henceforth will bring obstacles to the reciprocal dispositions. The President’s instructions to his envoys at Paris, which I have only known by the copy given you by mr. Murray and recieved by me July 9. announce, if they contain the whole of the American government’s intentions, dispositions which could only have added to those which the Directory have always entertained, & notwithstanding the posterior acts of that governmt., notwithstanding the irritating & almost hostile measures they have adopted, the Directory has manifested it’s perseverence in the sentiments deposited both in my correspondence with mr. Gerry and in my letter to you of the 11th. Fructidor, & which I have herein before repeated in the most explicit manner. Carry therefore, citizen, to mr. Murray those positive expressions, in order to convince him of our sincerity, & prevail upon him to transmit them to his government.’

Extract from the President’s message to Senate of Feb. 18. nominating W. Vans Murray M. P. of the US. to the French republic. ‘He will be instructed that he sh⟨d.⟩ not go to France without direct & unequivocal assurances from the French government signified by their minister of foreign relations that he shall be recieved in character, shall enjoy the privileges attached to his character by the Law of nations & that a minister of equal rank, title & power shall be appointed to treat with him, to discuss & conclude all controversies between the two republics by a treaty.’

Observe the date of Taleyrand’s letter, Sep. 28. Pichon would recieve it Oct. 1. A matter of such importance could not be near 5. months coming here. The P. then has probably been possessed of it before Congress me⟨t⟩ and has kept it back that the measures of war & influence might not be prevented.

Do not let this paper get into the press, or go out of your hand: but avail y⟨our⟩self of it’s substance as you please.

RC (DLC); FC and enclosure (DLC: Jefferson Papers). Unsigned. RC franked and addressed by Jefferson to JM “near Orange courthouse.” Enclosure is a press copy, in Jefferson’s hand.

1Gen. Edme-Etienne Borne Desfourneaux (1769–1849) was a career soldier who fought in Saint-Domingue in 1792–96 and 1797. Appointed governor of Guadeloupe in 1798, he served two years in the post until recalled to France. In 1802 Desfourneaux returned to Saint-Domingue with General Leclerc to reconquer the island. Régis Le Blanc was Desfourneaux’s personal agent who remained in Philadelphia to work for the normalization of relations between the U.S. and Guadeloupe (Biographie universelle [1843–65 ed.], 10:492–93; Ulane Bonnel, La France, les Etats-Unis et la guerre de course, 1797–1815 [Paris, 1961], p. 97).

2The letter, dated 15 Dec. 1798, informed the president that “the citizens of the United States may come, and exchange their produce for the productions of the island of Guadaloupe [and] the laws will protect them.” Desfourneaux also released the Retaliation; the ship returned with other vessels carrying “all the American citizens made prisoners before my arrival in this island” (Philadelphia Gazette of the U.S., 18 Feb. 1799).

3Dr. Edward Stevens of Philadelphia, one of Alexander Hamilton’s “oldest and closest friends,” was appointed consul general for Saint-Domingue on 16 Feb. 1799. Stevens played an influential role in opening the island to U.S. commerce (Pickering to Hamilton, 20 Feb. 1799, Syrett and Cooke, Papers of Hamilton description begins Harold C. Syrett and Jacob E. Cooke, eds., The Papers of Alexander Hamilton (27 vols.; New York, 1961–87). description ends , 22:491 and n. 2; Bonnel, La Guerre de course, pp. 101–9).

4William Vans Murray’s reports to the president of his conversations with Louis-André Pichon, along with the famous letter of 28 Sept. 1798 from Talleyrand to Pichon, are printed in C. F. Adams, Works of John Adams, 8:677–91. See also DeConde, Quasi-War, pp. 147–54, 162–66, 174–80.

5The president’s nomination of William Vans Murray was sent to the Senate for its advice and consent, along with the Talleyrand-Pichon letter of 28 Sept. 1798, on 18 Feb. 1799. George Cabot’s reaction to the nomination was typical of that of other Federalists: “this measure was unexpected and unknown to every member of the Govt. until announced to the Senate—Surprise, indignation, grief & disgust followed each other in quick succession in the breasts of the true friends of our country, & a flat negative wou’d probably have been given by the Senate if the modification had not taken place which you will see in the enclosed paper & which mitigates the evil it cou’d not wholly prevent.” The “modification” was the nomination of Patrick Henry and Oliver Ellsworth on 25 Feb. as ministers to accompany Murray. The three were confirmed two days later. When Henry declined the appointment, North Carolina governor William R. Davie was nominated and accepted the post in his stead (Senate Exec. Proceedings description begins Journal of the Executive Proceedings of the Senate of the United States of America (3 vols.; Washington, 1828). description ends , 1:313–14, 317–19, 326, 327; Cabot to Rufus King, 10 Mar. 1799, C. R. King, Life and Correspondence of Rufus King, 2:551).

6See Madison’s Aurora General Advertiser Essays, 23 Jan.–23 Feb. 1799.

7Jefferson deleted this postscript from the FC.

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