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To Thomas Jefferson from James Madison, 29 December 1799

From James Madison

Richmond Decr. 29. 1799

Dear Sir

My promise to write to you before your leaving Albemarle was defeated by a dysenteric attack which laid me up for about a week, and which left me in a State of debility not yet thoroughly removed. My recovery has been much retarded by the job of preparing a vindication of the Resolutions of last Session agst. the replies of the other States, and the sophistries from other quarters. The Committee made their report a few days ago, which is now in the press1 and stands the order of the day for thursday next. A sett of Resolutions proposed by Mr. Giles, instructing the Senators to urge the repeal of the unconstl. acts, the disbanding of the army, and the proper arrangement of the Militia, are also in the press and stand the order of the same day for the same Committee. It is supposed that both these papers, the latter perhaps with some modifications, will go through the H. of Delegates. The Senate, owing to inattention & casualties, is so composed as to render the event there not a little uncertain. If an election, to fill the vacancy of Mr. H. Nelson who lately resigned, should send Mr. Andrews in preference to his competitor Mr. Saunders, I am told that the parties will be precisely in equilibrio; excepting only one or two, whom circumstances now & then on particular questions, transfer from the wrong to the right side. It is hoped that this contingent fund of votes, will be applicable to the Vindication. On other important questions, there is much less expectation from it. There is a report here that the Legislature of N. Carolina now in Session, have voted the Resolutions of Virginia under their table. The report is highly improbable, and I do not believe it. But it is impossible to calculate the progress of delusion, especially in a State where it is said to be under systematic management, and where there is so little either of system or exertion opposed to it. We had a narrow escape yesterday from an increase of pay to the members, which would have been particularly unseasonable & injurious both within & without the State. It was rejected on the third reading by a small majority; and was so much a favorite, with the distant members particularly, that I fear it has left them in rather an ill humour.

The late course of foreign events has probably made the same impression every where. If it should not render France less anxious to meet our advances, its good effects will be felt every way. If our Executive & their Envoys be sincere in their pacific objects, it will perhaps supply by their increased anxiety what may be lost on the other side. But there can be little confidence after what has been seen, that the negociation would be influenced by this temper of the Envoys, instead of that which perverted it in the hands of their predecessors. This possibility of failure in the diplomatic experiment, will present the most specious obstacle to an immediate discharge of the army. It would be useful for the Assembly to know how this matter is viewed where you are. Mr. Dawson will be good eno’ to write me on the subject. I intended to have written to him by this mail; but my time has been taken from me till the closing of the mail is approaching.

Yrs. affecly.

J M. Jr.

RC (DLC: Madison Papers); endorsed by TJ as received 7 Jan. 1800 and so recorded in SJL. Enclosure: Report of the Committee to Whom was Committed the Proceedings of Sundry of the Other States, in Answer to the Resolutions of the General Assembly, of the—Day of— [Richmond, n.d.]; see 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 No. 38961, in which the publication date is incorrectly conjectured as 7 Jan. 1800.

After arriving in Richmond in early December, Madison prepared a vindication of the resolutions passed by the Virginia Assembly in 1798 in opposition to the Alien and Sedition Acts. He headed a committee appointed by the House of Delegates to consider the responses of the various states to the Virginia Resolutions. On 24 Dec. the committee’s report was presented to the House, which ordered that 250 copies be printed for the use of the assembly (a copy of which Madison enclosed with this letter; see Madison to TJ, 4 Jan. 1800) and decided to consider the report in the committee of the whole on 2 Jan. 1800. On 7 Jan., after several days of debate, the House adopted the report and had it printed in the journals as amended (JHD, description begins Journal of the House of Delegates of the Commonwealth of Virginia (cited by session and date of publication) description ends Dec. 1799–Jan. 1800, 53–72). The Senate, by 15 yeas and 6 nays, agreed to the report and the closing resolution, which noted that after carefully considering the objections of the several states, the members of the Virginia Assembly found it their “indispensable duty to adhere” to the Virginia Resolutions of 21 Dec. 1798 “as founded in truth, as consonant with the constitution, and as conducive to its preservation” and renewed their protest against the Alien and Sedition Acts “as palpable and alarming infractions of the constitution” (JHD, description begins Journal of the House of Delegates of the Commonwealth of Virginia (cited by session and date of publication) description ends Dec. 1799–Jan. 1800, 38, 40, 49–50, 52, 71; Madison, Papers description begins William T. Hutchinson, Robert A. Rutland, J. C. A. Stagg, and others, eds., The Papers of James Madison, Chicago and Charlottesville, 1962–, 27 vols. description ends , 17:303–7, 317-18, 326-39). For the document as adopted, see Madison, Papers description begins William T. Hutchinson, Robert A. Rutland, J. C. A. Stagg, and others, eds., The Papers of James Madison, Chicago and Charlottesville, 1962–, 27 vols. description ends , 17:307–51.

The sett of resolutions proposed by William B. Giles instructed Virginia Senators Stevens Thomson Mason and Wilson Cary Nicholas to seek a reduction of the army; to prevent an augmentation of the navy and promote its reduction, thus reducing taxes; to oppose the passage of any law “recognizing the principle lately advanced, ‘that the common law of England is in force under the government of the United States’”; and to procure repeal of the Alien and Sedition Acts (Instructions from the General Assembly of Virginia, to Stephens Thompson Mason, and Wilson Cary Nicholas, Senators from the State of Virginia, in the Congress of the United States [Richmond, n.d.]; 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 No. 34939). Giles brought the instructions before the House on 26 Dec. and on 10 Jan. 1800 the House considered them. Sections objecting to the Nonintercourse Act for contributing to the decline of tobacco prices and calling for revision and modifying the language of the resolution on the common law were added before passage. The instructions on 11 Jan. passed the House 102 to 49 and were sent to the Senate (JHD description begins Journal of the House of Delegates of the Commonwealth of Virginia (cited by session and date of publication) description ends , Dec. 1799–Jan. 1800, 42, 77–9, 81-3).

Federalist Robert Andrews, professor of mathematics at the College of William and Mary, had served in the House of Delegates for nine terms from October 1790 through January 1799. Robert Saunders was elected to the Virginia Senate and represented Elizabeth City, Warwick, and York counties through the session ending 1 Feb. 1805 (Leonard, General Assembly description begins Cynthia Miller Leonard, comp., The General Assembly of Virginia, July 30, 1619–January 11, 1978: A Bicentennial Register of Members, Richmond, 1978 description ends , 181, 185, 189, 193, 197, 201, 205, 209, 213, 222, 226, 230, 234, 238; Madison, Papers description begins William T. Hutchinson, Robert A. Rutland, J. C. A. Stagg, and others, eds., The Papers of James Madison, Chicago and Charlottesville, 1962–, 27 vols. description ends , 3:312–13; Richard R. Beeman, The Old Dominion and the New Nation, 1788–1801 [Lexington, Ky., 1972], 260–2).

Obstacle to an immediate discharge of the army: in the 11 Jan. debate on the instructions to the state’s U.S. senators, an unsuccessful attempt was made to qualify the first resolution calling for a reduction of the army by amending it to read “as soon as an accommodation of the existing differences with the French Republic may render such a reduction safe and expedient.” The addition of the phrase “unless such a measure shall be forbidden by information not known to the public” passed, however, with both Giles and Madison voting for 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. 1799–Jan. 1800, 81–2).

1Preceding six words interlined.

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