James Madison Papers

From James Madison to Thomas Jefferson, 6 March 1812

To Thomas Jefferson

Washington Mar. 6. 1812.

Dear Sir

I return the letter from Foronda inclosed in yours of the 19th. Feby. I find I shall not be able to read his lucrubations [sic] in print. The letter from Dr. Guantt [sic] is in the hands of the Secy. of war, and will not be unheeded; but the course the nominations have taken makes it doubtful whether the wishes in behalf of his son, can be fulfilled.

You will see that Congs. or rather the H. of Rs. have got down the dose of taxes.1 It is the strongest proof they could give that they do not mean to flinch from the contest to which the mad conduct of G. B. drives them. Her perseverence in this seems to be sufficiently attested by the language of Ld. Liverpool & Mr. Perceval, in their parliamentary comments on the Regent’s message.2 The information from F. is pretty justly described in the paragraph inserted in the Natl. Intellig[enc]er after the arrival of the Constitution.3 The prints herewith inclosed are forwarded to you at the request of Thoms. Gimbrede (of N. York) the author.4 [Be assured of my great & affectionate esteem

James Madison]

RC (DLC). Docketed by Jefferson as received on 9 Mar. Complimentary close and signature clipped, supplied in pencil in an unknown hand.

1On 17 Feb. 1812 chairman Ezekiel Bacon of the House Ways and Means Committee had reported a plan for raising revenue over the next two years, with “particular reference to a state of contemplated war during a greater portion of that period.” After making provision for the ordinary expenses of government in 1812, the report estimated that the extraordinary expenses resulting from the preparations for war in that year would amount to approximately $11 million, which sum the committee then proposed should be raised by loan. To defray ordinary expenses and pay the interest on the public debt, including that on any new loans which might be authorized, the committee called for additional duties on imports and tonnage; a series of internal duties on certain licenses, sales at auction, sugars, carriages, and stamps; and a direct tax “to be laid and apportioned among the several States.” The committee proposed that the House implement the plan’s provisions by adopting fourteen resolutions. Eleven of these resolutions increased duties and provided for the direct tax. The twelfth allowed each state a deduction of 15 percent on its share of the direct tax if the sum was paid before the assessment commenced and a deduction of 7½ percent if it was paid before it was due. The thirteenth resolution stipulated that the duties and direct tax were to go into effect only after war had commenced “with a foreign European nation” or after letters of marque and reprisal had been issued “against the subjects of such nation.” The final resolution provided for the continuation of the duties and tax for “one year after the conclusion of peace with such foreign nation and no longer” (Annals of Congress description begins Debates and Proceedings in the Congress of the United States … (42 vols.; Washington, 1834–56). description ends , 12th Cong., 1st sess., 1050–56).

The House debated these resolutions in a Committee of the Whole between 25 Feb. and 4 Mar. 1812. The revenue increases were passed by reasonably large margins, with the exception of the duties on domestic and imported salt, which were both rejected, the first overwhelmingly so, on 28 Feb. On 2 Mar., however, the House reconsidered the vote against taxing imported salt and passed that measure. The next day John Randolph of Roanoke argued “at considerable length” to have the whole report recommitted, “on the ground that the budget of taxes reported was of the most oppressive character; that, moreover, they were unnecessary and impolitic, because Congress had only to repeal their own restrictive law, and revenue would accrue … to a much greater amount than was contemplated to be provided by the taxes under consideration.” Administration supporters defeated Randolph’s motion, denouncing it as “a peace project, and not calculated for the exigency”; to approve it “would be shrinking from the pressure of the crisis, and would stamp indelible disgrace on the House and nation” (ibid., 1092–1105, 1106–7, 1108–12, 1113–16, 1117–28, 1128–46, 1147–55).

2On 7 Mar. 1812 the National Intelligencer began publishing extracts from the parliamentary debates on the prince regent’s speech, including the prediction of Spencer Perceval that an Anglo-American war “would prove destructive to America—destructive to her wealth, her strength, her prosperity, & he[r] progressive civilization.”

3Dispatches carried on the Constitution had arrived in Washington on 22 Feb. 1812. The news from France was that Joel Barlow had been “received in a very favorable manner by the Emperor of France; that he had presented interesting explanations on the subject of his mission, and was then engaged in the discussion of them with the Minister of Foreign Relations” (National Intelligencer, 25 Feb. 1812).

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