James Madison Papers
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From James Madison to Thomas Jefferson, 25 December 1797

To Thomas Jefferson

Orange Decr. 25. 1797

Dear Sir

I have let Col. Monroe know that you was furnished with a draught on a House in Philada. for 250 drs. & finding that it would be convenient to him, have authorised him to draw on you for that sum. I have also given him a draught on Genl. Moylan, of which the inclosed is a letter of advice.1 I reserve the note of Bailey2 towards covering the advance made by you, unless it should be otherwise settled by Col. Monroe & yourself, as he intimated a desire that it might be. Perhaps it wd. save delay & trouble to Mr. B. if you should find a convenient opportunity to drop a hint to his friend Van Cortland that the note was in your hand; as it is more than probable he may be the channel of taking it up.

According to the bill of nails given in by the Workman I shall want from your Nailory,3 50,000 sixes, 3,000. eights, 20,000 tens, 5,000 twentys, & 12,000 flooring Brads. I shall also want 50,000. fours for lathing, 4,000 sprigs sixes, & 3,000 do. eights.4 You can inform me whether these are also made at your shops, or whether it would be better to get them in Philada. I shall write as you suggested to Col. Bell; but it may not be amiss for you to confirm the orders for having the supply prepared for me, according to the above list.

We have had a great proportion of cold weather since you passed us.5 The Thermr. however has not been lower than 10°. It was at this point, on the morning of the 21st. instant. The drought also is equal to the cold. Within the last 31 days the fall of water has been but 1¼ inches only. Of snow there has been none. This cold & dry spell succeeding the dry fall & late seeding, gives to the Wheat fields the worst of appearances.

You will not expect political occurrences from this quarter. The objects of enquiry here are Liston’s Plot—the envoyship to France, and Monroe’s publication. The delay of this last occasions some surprize. I observe that the President, has laid hold of t⟨he⟩ late endemic [sic] at the seat of Govt. as an occasion for getting the prerogative of prorouging the Legislature.6 Fortunately the Constitution has provided an important barrier in this case, by requiring a session at least within every year. But still the power may in unforeseen emergencies, be made an instrument of party or of usurpation; & it is to be hoped will not therefore be granted. I have not examined it in a constitutional view, but that also merits Attention. Ambition is so vigilant, and where it has a model always in view as in the present case, is so prompt in seizing its advantages, that it can not be too closely watched, or too vigorously checked.

When you do me the favor to write, let your letters leave Philada. in the mail of friday morning. They will then come without any halt. Adieu

RC (DLC). Unsigned. Docketed by Jefferson, “recd. Jan. 2.”

1Letter not found. Gen. Stephen Moylan rented a house in Philadelphia owned by the Madisons (Moylan to JM, 25 Apr. 1798).

2Theodorus Bailey, a former Republican congressman from New York, was part purchaser of JM’s Mohawk Valley lands in 1796. Bailey had given JM a note for $1,250 due on or before 1 Jan. 1797 as part payment. The purchase agreement was witnessed by Philip Van Cortlandt, another New York congressman (Articles of Agreement with Theodorus Bailey, 5 Jan. 1796, PJM description begins Robert J. Brugger et al., eds., The Papers of James Madison: Secretary of State Series (1 vol. to date; Charlottesville, Va., 1986—). description ends , 16:179; Brant, Madison description begins Irving Brant, James Madison (6 vols.; Indianapolis and New York, 1941–61). description ends , 2:340–42).

3Jefferson’s nail manufactory started production in 1794 and continued intermittently throughout his life. Thomas Bell of Charlottesville was one of several merchants who sold the nails at retail (Malone, Jefferson and His Time description begins Dumas Malone, Jefferson and His Time (6 vols.; Boston, 1948–81). description ends , 3:217–20).

4In a marginal note, Jefferson calculated the weight of the nails that JM requested: “℔ / 350 VI / 30. VIII / 260. X / 125. XX / 240. XVI / [totaling] 1005.”

5Jefferson evidently stopped at Montpelier on his way to Philadelphia for the congressional session. He arrived at the capital on 12 Dec. 1797 (ibid., 3:360 n. 3).

6Although an act of 1794 already gave the president, “from the prevalence of contagious sickness, or the existence of other circumstances,” the power to convene Congress at “such other place as he may judge proper,” John Adams, in his speech to Congress of 23 Nov., proposed that the president be empowered to “postpone the sitting of Congress without passing the time fixed by the Constitution upon such matters.” The proposal was referred to a select committee on 29 Nov. and a bill reported 18 Dec. Albert Gallatin offered an amendment limiting the postponement to thirty days, which Robert Goodloe Harper thought “showed great hostility, and the highest disrespect” to the president. Gallatin replied that “they [the Congress] were bound to give the President just so much [confidence] as the Constitution required, and no more.” The debate that ensued mirrored JM’s objections. Gallatin’s amendment lost by one vote, 45–44; the bill was defeated, 58–32 (U.S. Statutes at Large description begins The Public Statutes at Large of the United States of America … (17 vols.; Boston, 1848–73). description ends , 1:353; Annals of Congress description begins Debates and Proceedings in the Congress of the United States … (42 vols.; Washington, 1834–56). description ends , 5th Cong., 2d sess., 630–31, 653, 735–39).

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