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From Thomas Jefferson to James Madison, 8 June 1797

To James Madison

Philadelphia June 8. 1797.

I wrote you last on the 1st. inst. You will have seen by the public papers that the amendment for putting France on an equal footing with other nations was clogged with another requiring compensation for spoliations. The objection to this was not that it ought not to be demanded, but that it ought not to be a sine qua non, and it was feared from the dispositions of the Executive that they would seize it’s mention by the representatives as a pretext for making it a sine qua non. The representatives have voted a continuance of the fortifications, and a completion and manning of the three frigates. They will probably pass the bills recieved from the Senate prohibiting the exportation of arms and ammunition and for preventing our citizens from engaging in armed vessels. The Senate have also prepared or are proposing1 bills for raising cavalry, raising a corps of artillerists, buying 9. more armed vessels, authorizing the Executive to employ them and the frigates as convoys for our commerce, and raising a great provisional army to be called into actual service only in the case of war. All these measures will pass the Senate by a majority of about 18. to 12. probably. That of permitting our merchant vessels to arm was rejected by the committee 3. to 2. Bingham who was of the committee stated to the Senate that he had taken pains to learn the sense of the merchants on this subject and that he had not found one in favor of the permission. Still a part of the Senate are for it, and do not consider it as laid aside. Smith and Harper brought on the same proposition yesterday (being the 5th. of Smith’s resolutions) before the representatives. It was amended by changing the word permitting to restricting. Another amendment was proposed to add ‘except2 to the Mediterranean and E. Indies.’ The day was spent in debate, and no question taken. I believe certainly the general permission will not be given. But what may be the fate of the 3d. 4th. 6th. 7th. and other resolutions is not very certain. We hope favorably.3 The late victory of Buonaparte and panic of the British government has produced a sensible effect in damping the ardor of our heroes. However they might have been willing at first, partly from inclination, partly from devotion to the Executive, to have met hostilities from France, it is now thought they will not force that nail, but, doing of the most innocent things as much as may be necessary to veil the folly or the boldness of calling Congress, be willing to leave the more offensive measures till the issue of the negociation or their own next meeting. This is the most we can hope, and but for the late successes of France and desperate condition of England, it was more than we should have hoped.4 For it is difficult to say whether the Republicans have a majority or not. The votes have been carried both ways by a difference of from 1. to 6. Our three renegadoes exactly make that difference. Clay proves to be as firm as a rock, having never separated but in the single instance I mentioned in my last letter, when I presume he must have been struck by some peculiar view of the question.—We expect the arrival of Paine daily. Of Monroe we hear nothing, except that he had not left Paris on the 1st. of April.

P.M. This day has been spent in the H. of Representatives in debating whether the restriction of the merchants from arming their vessels except when bound to the Mediterranean or E. Indies, should be taken off as to the W. Indies also. It was determined by 46. against 34. that the W. India vessels should not arm. This is considered as auguring favorably of the other resolutions. The Senate determined to-day 18. to 11.5 that 9 vessels should be bought, armed &c. by the president. Their cost is estimated at 60,000.D. each. This was on the 2d. reading of the bill. These bills originated in the Senate and going under their sanction to the lower house, while in so vibratory a state, have a very mischievous effect. We expect to rise on Saturday the 17th. I have written for my horses to be at Fredsbg. on Sunday the 25th. and I may be with you perhaps on the 26th. or 27th. Adieu.

RC (DLC: Madison Papers); unsigned; addressed: “James Madison junr. near Orange Court house”; franked and postmarked. FC (DLC); entirely in TJ’s hand; being a summary, with substantive exclusions recorded in notes below; at foot of text: “no copy retained. the above is the sum.”

On 5 June 1797, William L. Smith presented ten resolutions for the consideration of the House of Representatives to provide for the defense of the country and implement the president’s speech. The House immediately voted to appoint committees to bring in bills on the first two resolutions relating to the continuance of the fortifications and the completion and manning of the frigates United States, Constitution, and Constellation. On 10 June, Edward Livingston brought in the fortifications bill, which provided “for the further defence of the ports and harbors of the United States.” After extensive debate and amendment, the bill as adopted authorized states indebted to the federal government to credit state expenditures for fortifications to the settlement of their accounts if they ceded the land on which the fortifications were to be built to the United States. Passing the House by a 54 to 35 vote on 16 June, the bill allowed the expenditure of $115,000, a compromise between the $50,000 advocated by Republicans and the $200,000 desired by Federalists. The Senate passed the bill four days later and the president signed it on 23 June (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, 298–324; JHR description begins Journal of the House of Representatives of the United States, Washington, D.C., 1826, 9 vols. description ends , iii, 24, 28, 32–6; JS description begins Journal of the Senate of the United States, Washington, D.C., 1820–21, 5 vols. description ends , ii, 374, 376; 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 , I, 521–2). On 14 June, Josiah Parker reported a bill for the manning of the frigates but the measure was encompassed in the Senate bill for the protection of trade, which the House received the next day (JHR description begins Journal of the House of Representatives of the United States, Washington, D.C., 1826, 9 vols. description ends , iii, 32, 35–6). For the eight remaining resolutions that Smith introduced on 5 June, see 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, 239.

On 30 May, Jacob Read introduced in the senate a bill that prohibited, for a limited time, the exportation of arms and ammunition, and two days later Samuel Livermore reported one that prevented United States citizens from engaging in armed vessels and privateering against its own citizens or friendly nations, both of which were passed and sent to the House of Representatives on 5 June. The House approved the bills, with amendments, on 8 and 9 June, respectively. The Senate concurred with the amendments and Adams signed the legislation on 14 June 1797 (JS description begins Journal of the Senate of the United States, Washington, D.C., 1820–21, 5 vols. description ends , ii, 366–72; JHR description begins Journal of the House of Representatives of the United States, Washington, D.C., 1826, 9 vols. description ends , iii, 26–7; 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 , I, 520–1).

Uriah Tracy headed the committee charged with drawing bills to augment the military. On 6 June, he reported a bill for raising cavalry that would have added four companies of mounted infantry to the two companies of light dragoons already in service (“A Bill For raising an additional corps of light dragoons,” in DNA: RG 46, Senate Records, 5th Cong., 1st sess.). The Senate rejected the measure by a 15 to 13 vote after its second reading on 14 June (JS description begins Journal of the Senate of the United States, Washington, D.C., 1820–21, 5 vols. description ends , ii, 372). On 5 June Tracy proposed to raise A corps of artillerists, a bill that was passed by the Senate two days later by an 18 to 8 vote. The House rejected it by a wide margin on 20 June (JS description begins Journal of the Senate of the United States, Washington, D.C., 1820–21, 5 vols. description ends , ii, 367–8; JHR description begins Journal of the House of Representatives of the United States, Washington, D.C., 1826, 9 vols. description ends , iii, 38–9). For the history of the protection of trade bill, which called for the purchase of nine armed vessels, see TJ to Madison, 15 June 1797. Not until 19 June did Tracy propose giving the president the power, under certain conditions, to raise a provisional army consisting of up to 1,000 artillerists, 1,000 cavalry, and 13,000 infantry. The measure was defeated on its second reading three days later by a vote of 9 to 17 (JS description begins Journal of the Senate of the United States, Washington, D.C., 1820–21, 5 vols. description ends , ii, 373, 375; National State Papers: Adams description begins Eileen D. Carzo, ed., National State Papers of the United States, 1789–1817. Part II: Texts of Documents. Administration of George Washington, 1789–1797, Wilmington, Del., 1985, 35 vols. description ends , ii, 7–9).

During this session of Congress, both Senate and House committees considered legislation on allowing merchant vessels to arm. William Bingham served on the Senate committee appointed to establish a system of naval defense, which introduced a bill for the protection of trade on 6 June without a resolution for arming merchant vessels. The next day, however, Representatives Smith and Robert Goodloe Harper introduced the measure in the committee of the whole House, being the 5th. of Smith’s resolutions. Vigorous debate ensued over whether merchant vessels of a neutral power had the right to arm for their own defense. New York Representative John Williams observed that it was important to establish restraints since it was well known that merchants were arming. Gallatin argued that passing legislation permitting the arming of neutral vessels “would be almost certain” to ignite a war with France. If merchant vessels were arming, he advised, it would be best for the government to remain silent. After extended discussion on whether to exempt merchant vessels in the Mediterranean and E. Indies trade from the restrictions or to extend the exemption to the West Indies also, attempts to bring a bill into the House were dropped. The Senate, however, continued to discuss the issue for the remainder of the month, until on 4 July they agreed to postpone consideration of the measure until the next session (JS description begins Journal of the Senate of the United States, Washington, D.C., 1820–21, 5 vols. description ends , ii, 372–4, 376–80, 384; 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, 253–83; Philadelphia Aurora, 9 June 1797).

The Aurora of 3 June took notice of Bonaparte’s late victory over the Austrians at Tarvis, which Paine also discussed along with the British financial panic in his letter of 1 Apr. above.

I have written for my horses: see the following document.

1Preceding three words interlined.

2Preceding word interlined.

3In FC TJ summarized the preceding seven sentences: “Smith and Harper proposed permit merchants to arm, yesterday.”

4Preceding sentence not included in FC.

5Altered from “12.”

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