Thomas Jefferson Papers
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To Thomas Jefferson from James Madison, 21 January 1798

From James Madison

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, 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 by1 an official source, and is a proof that the bitten 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. 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, on the Glebes & Churches, and on the proposition for revising the Constitution. 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. It seemed to give extreme uneasiness to the warm & well informed2 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 unpromising aspect. Accept the most affectionate farewel

RC (DLC: Madison Papers); torn by seal at closing; addressed: & “The Vice President of the United States Philadelphia”; franked; endorsed by TJ as received 30 Jan. 1798 and so recorded in SJL.

Amherst memorial: see Editorial Note and group of documents on petition to Virginia House of Delegates, printed at 3 Aug. 1797.

In January 1798 the Virginia House of Delegates debated a bill to revoke Virginia laws that promoted the & “reestablishment of a National Church” and interfered with the state’s statute on protection of religious freedom. The section of the bill which called for the sale of Episcopalian glebes and churches as parishes became vacant (with the proceeds going for the education of poor children) was deleted during the House debate. The entire bill was defeated when the House would not agree to Senate amendments that further diluted it (JHD description begins Journal of the House of Delegates of the Commonwealth of Virginia (cited by session and date of publication) description ends , Dec. 1797-Jan. 1798, p. 73, 78, 80–1, 85, 94, 96, 105–6; Philadelphia Aurora, 18, 24 Jan. 1798; Thomas E. Buckley, “Evangelicals Triumphant: The Baptists’ Assault on the Virginia Glebes, 1786–1801,” WMQ description begins William and Mary Quarterly, 1892- description ends , 3d ser., 45 [1988], 49–54).

On 8 Jan. 1798 a proposition for revising the Federal constitution was introduced in the Virginia House of Delegates instructing Virginia congressmen to “use all constitutional exertions” to obtain amendments that would cut the term of United States senators in half, limit the president to two consecutive terms followed by a four-year interval before seeking a third term, and require that treaties needing appropriations would be considered “obligatory” only with the consent of the House of Representatives. Consideration of this three-part resolution was continuously postponed and did not come to a vote during the session (JHD description begins Journal of the House of Delegates of the Commonwealth of Virginia (cited by session and date of publication) description ends , Dec. 1797-Jan. 1798, p. 85–6, 114). On 9 Jan. 1798 the House of Delegates defeated a motion to call a convention to revise the Virginia state constitution (same, 87; Philadelphia Aurora, 24 Jan. 1798).

1Preceding four words interlined.

2Preceding two words and ampersand interlined.

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