Thomas Jefferson Papers
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From Thomas Jefferson to James Madison, 18 May 1797

To James Madison

Philadelphia May 18. 97.

I was informed on my arrival here that Genl. Pinckney’s dispatches had on their first receipt excited in the administration a great deal of passion: that councils were held from day to day, and their ill temper fixed at length in war; that under this impression Congress was called: that the tone of the party in general became high, and so continued till the news of the failure of the bank of England. This first gave it a check, and a great one and they have been cooling down ever since. The most intemperate only still asking permission to arm their vessels for their own defence, while the more prudent disapprove of putting it in the power of their brethren and leaving to their discretion to begin the war for us. The impression was too that the executive had for some time been repenting that they had called us, and wished the measure undone. All the members from North as well as South concurred in attesting that negociation or any thing rather than war was the wish of their constitutents. What was our surprise then at recieving the speech which will come to you by this post. I need make no observations to you on it. I believe there was not a member of either house, out of the secret, who was not much disappointed. However some had been prepared. The spirit of supporting the Executive was immediately given out in the lower house and is working there. The Senate admits of no fermentation. Tracy, Laurence and Livermore were appointed to draw an answer for them, Venable, Freeman, Rutledge, Griswald and   for the representatives. The former will be reported to day, and will be in time to be inclosed: the other not till tomorrow when the post will be gone. We hope this last will be in general terms, but this is not certain, a majority as is believed (of the committee) being for arming the merchantmen, finishing the frigates, fortifying harbors, and making all other military preparations, as an aid to negociation. How the majority of the house will be is very doubtful. If all were here, it is thought it would be decidedly pacific, but all are not here and will not be here. The division on the choice of a clerk was 41. for Condy, 40 for Beckley. Besides the loss of the ablest clerk in the US. and the outrage committed on the absent members, prevented by the suddenness of the call and their distance from being here on the 1st. day of the session, it excites a fear that the republican interest has lost by the new changes. It is said that three from Virginia separate from their brethren. The hope however is that as the Antirepublicans take the high ground of war, and their opponents are for every thing moderate, that the most moderate of those who came under contrary dispositions will join them. Langdon tells me there is a considerable change working in the minds of the people to the Eastward: that the idea that they have been decieved begins to gain ground, and that were the elections to be now made their result would be considerably different. This however is doubted and denied by others.   France has asked of Holland to send away our minister from them and to treat our commerce on the plan of their late decree. The Batavian government answered after due consideration that their commerce with us was now their chief commerce, that their money was in our funds, that if they broke off correspondence with us they should be without resources for themselves, for their own public and for France, and therefore declined doing it. France acquiesced. I have this from the President who had it from his son still at the Hague. I presume that France has made the same application to Spain. For I know that Spain has memorialized our Executive against the effect of the British treaty, as to the articles concerning neutral bottoms, contraband, and the Missisipi, has been pressing for an answer and has not yet been able to obtain one. It does not seem candid to have kept out of sight in the speech this discontent of Spain which is strongly and seriously pronounced and to have thereby left it to be imagined that France is the only power of whom we are in danger.—The failure of the bank of England, and the fear of having a paper tender there, has stopped buying bills of exchange. Specie is raked up from all quarters, and remitted for paiments at a disadvantage from risks &c of 20. per cent. The bankruptcies here have been immense. I heard a sensible man well acquainted with them conjecture that the aggregate of the clear losses on all these added together in all the states would be not less than 10. millions of Dollars. A heavy tax indeed, to which are to be added the maritime spoliations, and this tax falling on only a particular description of citizens.—Bills of lading are arrived to a merchant for goods shipped from Bordeaux for this place in a vessel in which Monroe is coming passenger. We hope hourly therefore to recieve him.—Innes is arrived, and that board going to work.

May. 19. The answer of the Senate is reported by the Committee. It is perfectly an echo and full as high toned as the speech. Amendments may and will be attempted but cannot be carried.—Note to me the day you recieve this that I may know whether I conjecture rightly what is our true post day here.

RC (DLC: Madison Papers); unsigned; with blank left by TJ for fifth member of the committee of the House of Representatives (see below); addressed: “James Madison junr. Orange.” PrC (DLC). For enclosure, see note below.

Charles C. Pinckney’s dispatches to the secretary of state from 20 Dec. 1796 through 8 Mch. 1797 were among eighteen documents and extracts referred to in Adams’s address of 16 May and transmitted to Congress the following day (Pickering to TJ, 17 May 1797, in DNA: RG 46, Senate Records, 5th Cong., 1st sess.; Annals description begins Annals of the Congress of the United States: The Debates and Proceedings in the Congress of the United States … Compiled 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 , vii, 64–7). For President Adams’s speech of 16 May at the opening of the special session of Congress, see the preceding document. Those from the House of Representatives appointed to draw an answer to the president’s address were Abraham B. Venable of Virginia, Nathaniel Freeman, Jr., of Massachusetts, John Rutledge, Jr., of South Carolina, Roger Griswold of Connecticut, and John W. Kittera of Pennsylvania. TJ’s hope that the House response would be in general terms was not realized. The report submitted by the committee on 19 May stressed the impartial conduct of the United States in foreign affairs and assured the president of their “zealous co-operation in those measures which may appear necessary for our security or peace.” On 22 May, the first day the report was considered by the House, Virginia Republican John Nicholas introduced an amendment that endorsed the president’s plan for “a fresh attempt at negotiation,” called for a “mutual spirit of conciliation,” and advocated the removal of “inequalities” that might have arisen in relations between the United States and France due to the “operation” of treaties. The House debated it for a week. Robert Goodloe Harper opposed the amendment, arguing that France, once convinced of America’s firm resolve to resist “encroachments and aggressions,” would soon desist from them. On 29 May the House defeated the amendment by six votes. The next day Speaker Jonathan Dayton introduced an amendment approving of Adams’s decision to renew negotiations with France and called for giving that nation treaty rights comparable to those of other countries. The Federalists argued against the latter clause, noting that the terms of the negotiations should “be left wholly to the President.” The Dayton amendment passed by a five-vote margin on 31 May, but the following day Pennsylvania Federalist Samuel Sitgreaves introduced an alteration which canceled the clause urging equal treaty rights for France. This change was rejected by a 49 to 50 vote. Kittera then offered an alteration noting that since the negotiations were to be carried out in a “mutual” spirit of conciliation, France should be held responsible for injuries to neutral shipping suffered by the United States. Although Republicans feared that the French would view the phrase as an ultimatum which would subsequently defeat negotiations and lead to war, it passed on 2 June 1797. The controversial amendment as it was finally adopted by a 58 to 41 vote declared: “We therefore receive with the utmost satisfaction, your information that a fresh attempt at negotiation will be instituted, and we cherish the hope, that a mutual spirit of conciliation, and a disposition, on the part of France, to compensate for any injuries which may have been committed upon our neutral rights, and on the part of the United States to place France on grounds similar to those of other countries, in their relation and connection with us, if any inequalities shall be found to exist, will produce an accommodation compatible with engagements rights, duties, and honor, of the United States.” After a Republican effort to strike out the sentence which reiterated Adams’s assertion that the United States government had been “just and impartial to foreign nations” was defeated by a 45 to 53 vote, the amended address was passed and presented to the president on 3 June 1797 (JHR description begins Journal of the House of Representatives of the United States, Washington, D.C., Gales & Seaton, 1826, 9 vols. description ends , iii,10–23; Annals description begins Annals of the Congress of the United States: The Debates and Proceedings in the Congress of the United States … Compiled 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 , vii, 68–74, 191, 193, 199–200, 210–34).

It is not clear whether TJ actually enclosed the answer reported by the Senate committee on 18 May 1797, because it was recommitted the next day and does not appear to have been printed. For the address, see the Senate to John Adams, 23 May 1797.

In the choice of a clerk for the House of Representatives on 15 May, Federalists voted for Jonathan W. Condy, a young law student, the candidate agreed upon the previous day at a caucus organized by William L. Smith. John Beckley had served as clerk of the House since the inception of the post (1 Apr. 1789) and was again elected to the postion in December 1801 (Annals description begins Annals of the Congress of the United States: The Debates and Proceedings in the Congress of the United States … Compiled 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 , vii, 51–2; Biog. Dir. Cong. description begins Biographical Directory of the United States Congress, 1774–1989 Washington, D.C., 1989 description ends ; Berkeley, Beckley description begins Edmund Berkeley and Dorothy Smith Berkeley, John Beckley: Zealous Partisan in a Nation Divided, Philadelphia, 1973 description ends , 154–6). For the partisan reaction to Condy’s election, see Berkeley, Beckley description begins Edmund Berkeley and Dorothy Smith Berkeley, John Beckley: Zealous Partisan in a Nation Divided, Philadelphia, 1973 description ends , 156–8.

Three from virginia separate from their brethren: Thomas Evans, description begins Charles Evans, Clifford K. Shipton, and Roger P. Bristol, comps., American Bibliography: A Chronological Dictionary of all Books, Pamphlets and Periodical Publications Printed in the United States of America from … 1639 … to … 1820, Chicago and Worcester, Mass., 1903–59, 14 vols. description ends James Machir, and Daniel Morgan were first-term congressmen elected in 1796 who voted with the Federalists (Biog. Dir. Cong. description begins Biographical Directory of the United States Congress, 1774–1989 Washington, D.C., 1989 description ends ).

In the correspondence with his father of 3 Feb. 1797, John Quincy Adams’s assessment of the demands of France and the reaction of Holland was hypothetical and not as encouraging as presented here. The minister at the Hague noted that Dutch merchants and government officials agreed that United States commerce and payments were “almost the only resources, the enjoyment of which is yet left them,” but they feared and admitted they would “be forced to follow whatever France should dictate to them.” In a letter to his father of 7 Feb. Adams predicted that if the French government ordered “this government to suspend all intercourse, commercial or political, or both, with the United States, they could not refuse the demand, although fully sensible that it would be a measure extremely odious to the people” (Worthington Chauncey Ford, description begins Paul Leicester Ford, ed., The Writings of Thomas Jefferson, Letterpress Edition, New York, 1892–99, 10 vols. description ends ed., Writings of John Quincy Adams, 7 vols. [New York, 1913–17], ii, 106, 108).

Spain’s protests against the effect of the British Treaty were included in Spanish minister Carlos Martinez de Irujo’s letter to Timothy Pickering of 6 May 1797 which, along with Pickering’s answer of 17 May, were among the documents transmitted to the Senate by the secretary of state on 17 May (Pickering to TJ, 17 May 1797; ASP description begins American State Papers: Documents, Legislative and Executive, of the Congress of the United States, Washington, D.C., Gales & Seaton, 1832–61, 38 vols. description ends , Foreign Relations, ii, 14–17).

James Innes was a United States representative on the commission appointed under Article 6 of the Jay Treaty to consider claims of British subjects concerning debts owed them by United States citizens before the Treaty of Paris of 1783. The debt commission began its work in May 1797 (JEP description begins Journal of the Executive Proceedings of the Senate of the United States … to the Termination of the Nineteenth Congress, Washington, D.C., 1828 description ends , i, 204; Miller, Treaties description begins Hunter Miller, ed., Treaties and other International Acts of the United States of America, Washington, D.C., 1931–48, 8 vols. description ends , ii, 249–50; Perkins, First Rapprochement description begins Bradford Perkins, The First Rapprochement: England and the United States, 1795–1805, Philadelphia, 1955; Berkeley, Los Angeles, and London, 1967 description ends , 53).

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