James Madison Papers
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To James Madison from Frederick Frelinghuysen, 17 March 1796

From Frederick Frelinghuysen

Philadelphia, March 17, 1796.

Sir:

Understanding that the application of Mr. Baldwin, with the papers thereto relating, has been referred to the Committee of Privileges, of which you are chairman, and being desirous that there should be no room for doubt as to the motives of my conduct in this transaction, I take the liberty of stating that the Letters No. 1 and 21 had passed between Gen. Gunn and Mr. Baldwin without my privity, and previous to my knowledge of any controversy between them; that I have no interest of any kind in this dispute; and that, on the morning of Friday last, I first took a part in this unpleasant business, from a pure desire to effect a reconciliation between the parties.

I further declare, sir, that I do highly respect the privileges of the House of Representatives; that I am incapable of intentionally violating them in the smallest degree; and that I do most sincerely regret that any part of my conduct may, in this respect, admit of an unfavorable construction.2 I am sir, your most obedient servant,

Fred. Frelinghuysen.3

Printed copy (Annals of Congress description begins Debates and Proceedings in the Congress of the United States … (42 vols.; Washington, 1834–56). description ends , 4th Cong., 1st sess., 795). Addressed to JM as “Chairman of the Committee of Privileges of the House of Representatives.”

1James Gunn to Abraham Baldwin, 9 Mar. 1796, and Baldwin to Gunn, 10 Mar. 1796 (Annals of Congress description begins Debates and Proceedings in the Congress of the United States … (42 vols.; Washington, 1834–56). description ends , 4th Cong., 1st sess., 786–87).

2On 1 Feb. 1796 the Georgia House of Representatives passed the Rescinding Act, declaring “null and void” the Yazoo land sale of 7 Jan. 1795. Three weeks later, the Georgia Assembly began considering action against those who had been responsible for the sale, particularly U.S. Senator James Gunn. The Georgia congressional delegation was instructed to work for a constitutional amendment authorizing state legislatures to recall a senator whenever “the same may be deemed necessary.”

Understandably, Gunn was uneasy, probably more so after the anti-Yazoo congressman from Georgia, Abraham Baldwin, made a violent attack on the evils of land speculation in a speech on the land offices bill for the Northwest Territory on 2 Mar. Gunn therefore demanded, on 9 Mar., to see any papers that had passed between Baldwin and the Georgia Assembly and, when Baldwin refused, challenged him to a duel. Some meetings occurred and notes were passed between Baldwin and Gunn’s “friend” in the challenge, Senator Frederick Frelinghuysen of New Jersey, before either Baldwin or an unknown friend declared Gunn’s challenge to be a breach of the privileges of the House. The Speaker referred the matter on 15 Mar. to the Committee of Privileges, from which Baldwin—who had sat on the committee in the Randall and Whitney case—then withdrew. JM was appointed in his place and apparently chaired the proceedings. Two days later, the committee reported that Gunn and Frelinghuysen had breached the privileges of the House but that no further action was necessary as both senators had apologized for their conduct (Annals of Congress description begins Debates and Proceedings in the Congress of the United States … (42 vols.; Washington, 1834–56). description ends , 4th Cong., 1st sess., 532–33, 786–88, 789–90, 791, 795–98; JHR description begins Journal of the House of Representatives of the United States (9 vols.; Washington, 1826). description ends , 2:420, 471, 473, 474; Peter Charles Hoffer and N. E. H. Hull, Impeachment in America, 1635–1805 [New Haven, 1984], pp. 149–50; Lamplugh, Politics on the Periphery, pp. 133–35).

3Frederick Frelinghuysen (1753–1804) was a prominent New Jersey political leader, having served in the Provincial Congress, the Continental Congress, the Continental army, and the state convention to ratify the Constitution. He was elected as a Federalist to the U.S. Senate in 1793 and resigned in November 1796 (Harrison, Princetonians, 1769–1775, pp. 78–84).

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