Thomas Jefferson Papers
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From Thomas Jefferson to James Madison, 29 March 1798

To James Madison

Philadelphia Mar. 29. 98.

I wrote you last on the 21st. your’s of the 12th. therein acknoleged is the last recd. the measure I suggested in mine of adjourning for consultation with their constituents was not brought forward; but on Tuesday 3. resolutions were moved which you will see in the public papers. they were offered in committee to prevent their being suppressed by the previous question, & in the commee on the state of the Union to put it out of their power, by the rising of the commee & not sitting again, to get rid of them. they were taken by surprise, not expecting to be called to vote on such a proposition as ‘that it is inexpedient to resort to war against the French republic.’ after spending the first day in seeking1 on every side some hole to get out at, like an animal first put into a cage, they gave up that resource. yesterday they came forward boldly, and openly combated the proposition. Mr. Harper & mr Pinckney pronounced bitter Philippics against France, selecting such circumstances & aggravations as to give the worst picture they could present. the latter on this, as in the affair of Lyon & Griswold, went far beyond that moderation he has on other occasions recommended. we know not how it will go. some think the resolution will be lost, some that it will be carried, but neither way by a majority of more than 1. or 2. the decision of the Executive, of two thirds of the Senate & half the house of representatives is too much for the other half of that house. we therefore fear it will be borne down, and are under the most gloomy apprehensions. in fact the question of war & peace depends now on a toss of cross & pile. if we could but gain this season, we should be saved. the affairs of Europe would of themselves relieve us. besides this there can be no doubt that a revolution of opinion in Massachusetts & Connecticut is working. two whig presses have been set up in each of those states.—there has been for some days a rumor that a treaty of alliance offensive & defensive with Gr. Britain is arrived. some circumstances have occasioned it to be listened to; to wit the arrival of mr King’s Secretary, which is affirmed, the departure of mr Liston’s secretary which I know is to take place on Wednesday next, the high tone of the executive measures at the last & present session, calculated to raise things to the unison of such a compact, and supported so desperately in both houses in opposition to the pacific wishes of the people & at the risque of their approbation at the ensuing election. Langdon yesterday in debate mentioned this current report. Tracy in reply declared he knew of no such thing, did not believe it, nor would be it’s advocate. the Senate are proceeding on the plan communicated in mine of Mar. 15. they are now passing a bill to purchase 12. vessels of from 14. to 22. guns, which with our frigates are to be employed as convoys & guarda costas. they are estimated, when manned & fitted for sea, at 2. millions. they have past a bill for buying one or more founderies. they are about bringing in a bill for regulating private arming, and the defensive works in our harbors have been proceeded on some time since. an attempt has been made to get the Quakers to come forward with a petition to aid with the weight of their body the feeble band of peace. they have with some effort got a petition signed by a few of their society. the main body of their society refuse it, Mc.lay’s peace motion in the assembly of Pensylvania was rejected with an unanimity of the Quaker vote, and it seems to be well understood that their attachment to England is stronger than to their principles or their country. the revolution war was a first proof of this. mr White from the federal city is here, solliciting money for the buildings at Washington. a bill for 200,000. D. has passed the H.R. & is before the Senate, where it’s fate is entirely uncertain. he is become perfectly satisfied that mr A. is radically against the government’s being there. Goodhue (his oracle) openly said in commee in presence of White, that he knew the government was obliged to go there, but they would not be obliged to stay there. mr A. said to White that it would be better that the President should rent a common house there, to live in; that no President would live in the one now building. this harmonises with Goodhue’s idea of a short residence. I write this in the morning, but need not part with it till night. if any thing occurs in the day it shall be added.

P.M. Nothing material has occurred. Adieu.

RC (DLC: Madison Papers); addressed: “James Madison junr. near Orange courthouse.” PrC (DLC).

On tuesday, 27 Mch. Maryland congressman Richard Sprigg, Jr., introduced three resolutions in the committee of the whole concerning President Adams’s address of 19 Mch., which were carried in the local papers the next day. The first resolution declared that “under existing circumstances” it was “not expedient” to resort to war against the French republic. The second advocated continuing restrictions against the arming of merchant vessels and the third called for measures for coastal protection and the internal defense of the country (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 , 8:1319–20). For the response the next day by Robert Goodloe Harper and Thomas Pinckney, see same, 1334–45.

Revolution of opinion in Massachusetts: TJ highly recommended the Boston Independent Chronicle published by Thomas Adams, but it was not a new publication and the reference to the second whig press in the state is not clear. In Connecticut TJ supported The Bee, which Charles Holt began publishing in New London in June 1797, and the Philadelphia Aurora published articles from the Middletown Middlesex Gazette, which had been taken over by Tertius Dunning in October 1797 (TJ to Thomas Mann Randolph, 11 Jan. 1798; Brigham, American Newspapers description begins Clarence S. Brigham, History and Bibliography of American Newspapers, 1690–1820, Worcester, Mass., 1947, 2 vols. description ends , 1:35, 52, 307; Philadelphia Aurora, 25 Mch., 2 Apr. 1798). See also Sowerby, description begins E. Millicent Sowerby, comp., Catalogue of the Library of Thomas Jefferson, Washington, D.C., 1952–59, 5 vols. description ends Nos. 589, 602. On 30 Mch. and 2 Apr. 1798 the Philadelphia Aurora carried rumors of a treaty of alliance offensive and defensive with Britain.

On 23 Mch. the Senate began considering a bill that would authorize the executive to purchase 12 vessels to be used as convoys (“A Bill to provide an additional Armament for the further protection of the trade of the United States; and for other purposes,” in DNA: RG 46, Senate Records, 5th Cong., 2d sess., in Samuel A. Otis’s hand, with emendations and docketing on 23, 28, 29, 30 Mch. and 3, 9 Apr. in TJ’s hand). The legislation passed by the Senate on 9 Apr. increased the number to up to 16 vessels (see also TJ to Thomas Mann Randolph, 19 Apr. 1798). When the House returned the bill to the Senate, the number of vessels had been reduced to 12 and all sections restricting the use eliminated. Republican Henry Tazewell’s motion to postpone consideration of the changes until the next session was decisively defeated. When a tie vote resulted on consideration of the House amendment to strike out the fifth section of the bill, which restricted the use of convoys, TJ voted against the change. The Senate reversed his decision the next day and went on to accept all of the House amendments. On 27 Apr. the president signed the legislation that authorized the expenditure of $950,000 for the purchase and manning of up to 12 vessels (JS description begins Journal of the Senate of the United States, Washington, D.C., 1820–21, 5 vols. description ends , 2: 464, 469, 476–8; 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 , 8:1384; 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 , 1:552; Smelser, Navy description begins Marshall Smelser, The Congress Founds the Navy, 1787–1798, South Bend, Ind., 1959 description ends , 141–7). On 22 Mch. the Senate passed and sent to the House a bill for the purchase or lease of one or more founderies. The House included an appropriation of $ 100,000 for the lease and establishment of foundries as part of a larger bill that also allowed the president to expend up to $800,000 to procure cannon, arms, and ammunition. The president signed the legislation on 4 May (JS description begins Journal of the Senate of the United States, Washington, D.C., 1820–21, 5 vols. description ends , 2:460; JHR description begins Journal of the House of Representatives of the United States, Washington, D.C., 1826, 9 vols. description ends , 3:237, 287, 361; 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 , 1:555–6; Smelser, Navy description begins Marshall Smelser, The Congress Founds the Navy, 1787–1798, South Bend, Ind., 1959 description ends , 140–1).

Quakers to come forward with a petition: on 23 Mch. Samuel Wetherill sent a petition to Congress noting that peace was essential to promote the happiness of the country. Three days later in Porcupine’s Gazette William Cobbett warned members of the Society of Friends not to sign the document, claiming that it was the work not of Wetherill but of an “infamous society who were tools of France.” Several Quakers withdrew their names from the petition (Richard G. Miller, Philadelphia—The Federalist City: A Study of Urban Politics, 1789–1801 [Port Washington, New York, 1976], 104; Elaine Forman Crane, ed., The Diary of Elizabeth Drinker, 3 vols. [Boston, 1991], 2:1016). On 20 Mch. William Maclay introduced a peace motion in the Pennsylvania House of Representatives “against war in any shape, or with any nation, unless the territories of the United States should be invaded.” It was defeated by a 33 to 37 vote, with Quakers Cadwalader Evans and Robert Waln arguing against it and noting that state legislators ought not to instruct Congress. According to the Aurora, “the Quietists and Quakers, whose doctrines disavow all resistance, voted, to a man, against the resolution.” Forty members of the Pennsylvania General Assembly finally signed a modified, unofficial memorial by Maclay, which argued that the arming of merchant vessels would be a threat to the “neutrality and peace of the nation.” Albert Gallatin laid it before the House of Representatives on 3 Apr. (JHR description begins Journal of the House of Representatives of the United States, Washington, D.C., 1826, 9 vols. description ends , 3:251; 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 , 8:1373–4; Philadelphia Aurora, 21, 23 Mch. 1798; Journal of the First Session of the Eighth House of Representatives of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania… [Dec. 1797-Apr. 1798], [Philadelphia, 1797?], 305–7; Crane, Drinker Diary, 3:2145, 2225).

On 12 Apr. the Senate, by a 17 to 6 vote, passed an amended bill, which the House agreed to the next day, authorizing a $100,000 loan over two years for the buildings at Washington. Benjamin Goodhue voted against the measure (JS description begins Journal of the Senate of the United States, Washington, D.C., 1820–21, 5 vols. description ends , 2:471; JHR description begins Journal of the House of Representatives of the United States, Washington, D.C., 1826, 9 vols. description ends , 3:260–1; 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 , 1:551). See also TJ to Madison, 5 Apr. 1798.

1Preceding word interlined in place of “trying.”

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