James Madison Papers
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From James Madison to Thomas Jefferson, 21 January 1798

To Thomas Jefferson

Orange Jany. 21. 1798

Dear Sir

When your favor of the 3d. instant arrived I was on a journey to the neighbourhood of Richmond, from which I did not return till the 18th. The mail on the day following brought me the packet of Newspapers under your cover. Col. Bell has written me,1 that the nails ordered as stated in my last to you, are all ready for me. I had not requested them to be prepared in parcells as I shall use them, because I want some for out-houses immediately, and I wished to avoid the necessity of more than one trip. The attack on Monroe’s publication evidently issues from or is aided by an official source, and is a proof that the latter bites. I have not yet seen a copy of it, and was astonished to learn in Richmond, where I passed a day, that a single copy only had reached that place, which from the length of it, not more than 2 or 3 persons had read.2 By them it was said that if this did not open the eyes of the people, their blindness must be incurable. If a sufficient number of copies do not arrive there before the adjournment of the Assembly, the only opportunity of circulating the information in this State, will be lost for a year, that is till the subject has lost its flavor. The enormous price also was complained of as a probable obstacle to an extensive circulation. You will have seen in the Newspapers, the proceedings on the Amherst Memorial,3 on the Glebes & Churches,4 and on the proposition for revising the Constitution.5 The first was the only test of party strength, and so far deceptive as it confounds scrupulous Republicans with their adversaries, in the vote agst. a legislative censure on the Grand jury. I did not understand the presentment was vindicated positively by a single member in the debate. The unfavorable accts. as to our three Plenipos. got to Richmond while I was there by the way of Norfolk.6 It seemed to give extreme uneasiness to the warm & well informed friends of Republicanism, who saw in a war on the side of England, the most formidable means put into the hands of her partizans, for warping the public mind towards Monarchy. This consideration certainly merits the strictest regard as an argument for peace, as long as we have a fair choice on the question. The public will have a right to expect also from our Ex. & the Negociators, the fullest communication of every circumstance that may attend the experiment if it should miscarry. The British Treaty has placed such difficulties in the way of an adjustment, that nothing but the most cordial dispositions on both sides can overcome them; and such have been the indications on the side of our Executive, even during the negociation, that it will not be easily believed, in case of a rupture, that it was not promoted, if not caused, by our own Counsels.

We have had a fine spell of open weather with plentiful rains at proper intervals. This has been favorable to our winter operations, but otherwise to some of those of Nature, particularly in our Wheat fields which continue to present the most unpr⟨om⟩ising aspect. Accept the most affectionate farewel⟨l>’.

RC (DLC). Unsigned. Addressed by JM to the vice president at Philadelphia and franked. Docketed by Jefferson, “recd Jan. 30.”

1Letter not found.

2Monroe’s book, A View of the Conduct of the Executive, ran to over four hundred pages and cost a dollar and a half. Monroe complained that the publisher, Benjamin Franklin Bache, had “erred in not pushing the circulation.” The Virginian had “stipulated with him that he shod. send it all over the continent as soon as published—and sell it cheap” (see the advertisement in the Philadelphia Aurora General Advertiser of 1 Jan. 1798; and Monroe to Jefferson, 12 Feb. 1798, Hamilton, Writings of Monroe description begins Stanislaus Murray Hamilton, ed., The Writings of James Monroe … (7 vols.; New York and London, 1898–1903). description ends , 3:102).

3JM referred to Jefferson’s petition of “Protest against interference of Judiciary between Representative and Constituent,” which was addressed to the Virginia General Assembly on behalf of Amherst, Albemarle, Fluvanna, and Goochland counties (see Ford, Writings of Jefferson description begins Paul Leicester Ford, ed., The Writings of Thomas Jefferson (10 vols.; New York, 1892–99). description ends , 7:158; and Jefferson to JM, 3 Aug. 1797, Editorial Note).

4A bill “to repeal certain acts, declaring the construction of the Bill of Rights and Constitution concerning Religion, and directing the disposition of Glebes and Churches” claimed that part of Virginia’s law code was “inconsistent with the principles of the Constitution, and of religious freedom, and manifestly tends to the re-establishment of a national church.” Among the laws criticized were those forcing dissenters to support a state church, a law incorporating the Protestant Episcopal church, and one that gave certain powers over glebe lands to church trustees. The House of Delegates passed the bill repealing these laws, but the Senate sent the bill back with amendments the House found objectionable (JHDV description begins Journal of the House of Delegates of the Commonwealth of Virginia, Begun and Held at the Capitol, in the City of Richmond. Volumes in this series are designated by the month in which the session began. description ends , Dec. 1797 [Evans description begins Charles Evans, ed., American Bibliography … 1639 … 1820 (12 vols.; Chicago, 1903–34). description ends 34936], pp. 85, 94, 96, 105–6; for a discussion of the Baptist campaign to disestablish the Episcopal church in Virginia finally by forcing it to sell its glebe lands, see Thomas E. Buckley, S.J., “Evangelicals Triumphant: The Baptists’ Assault on the Virginia Glebes, 1786–1801,” WMQ description begins William and Mary Quarterly. description ends , 3d ser., 45 [1988]: 33–69).

5A motion to instruct Virginia’s senators and representatives in Congress to press for amendments to the U.S. Constitution was introduced 8 Jan. 1798. Three amendments were proposed: the first would have reduced the term of a U.S. senator to three years; the second would have limited U.S. presidents to two consecutive terms, with reelection possible after an interval of four years; and the third would have required the consent of the House of Representatives to all treaties that “require the agency” of the House—that is, treaties requiring the disbursement of funds to carry them out. In 1795 the Virginia General Assembly had proposed constitutional amendments that would have increased generally the power of the House of Representatives and curbed that of the Senate in the realm of foreign policy. The 1795 amendments were circulated among the states, where they met opposition. The 1798 motion did not even reach the floor for debate (JHDV description begins Journal of the House of Delegates of the Commonwealth of Virginia, Begun and Held at the Capitol, in the City of Richmond. Volumes in this series are designated by the month in which the session began. description ends , Dec. 1797 [Evans description begins Charles Evans, ed., American Bibliography … 1639 … 1820 (12 vols.; Chicago, 1903–34). description ends 34936], pp. 85–86, 114; Farnham, “Virginia Amendments of 1795,” VMHB description begins Virginia Magazine of History and Biography. description ends , 75 [1967]: 84–88).

6The report, dated 4 Jan. 1798 from Norfolk, stated that the French had refused to negotiate with the American envoys because they had no power to annul the Jay treaty with Great Britain and in consequence the envoys had been ordered to leave France (Richmond Va. Argus, 12 Jan. 1798).

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