Thomas Jefferson Papers
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From Thomas Jefferson to Thomas Bell, 18 May 1797

To Thomas Bell

Philadelphia May 18. 97.

Dear Sir

I inclose you a copy of the President’s speech at the opening of Congress, from which you will see what were the objects in calling us together. When we first met our information from the members from all the parts of the union was that peace was the universal wish. Whether they will now raise their tone to that of the executive and embark in all the measures indicative of war and by taking a threatening posture provoke hostilities from the opposite party is far from being certain. There are many who think that not to support the Executive is to abandon government. As far as we can judge as yet the changes in the late election have been unfavorable to the republican interest. Still we hope they will neither make nor provoke war—there appears no probability of any embargo, general or special. The bankruptcy of the English bank is admitted to be complete, and nobody scarcely will venture to buy or draw bills lest they should be paid there in depreciated currency. They prefer remitting dollars for which they will get an advanced price: but this will drain us of our specie. Good James river tobacco here is 8 1/2 to 9.D. flour 8 1/2 to 9 D. wheat not saleable. The bankruptcies have been immense, but are rather at a stand. Be so good as to make known to our commercial friends of your place and Milton the above commercial intelligence. Adieu &c.

Th: J

P.S. Take care that nothing from my letter gets into the newspapers.

FC (DLC); entirely in TJ’s hand; at foot of text: “Colo. Bell.” Enclosure: see note below.

In the president’s speech at the opening of congress, which TJ enclosed, Adams justified calling the special session to respond to the French government’s refusal to receive the new United States minister to France, Charles Cotesworth Pinckney; to consider the Directory’s leave-taking of James Monroe, in which Vicomte de Barras, the president of that body, expressed sentiments described by Adams as “dangerous to our Independence and Union” because they evinced “a disposition to separate the people of the United States from the Government”; and to respond to the decree passed by the Directory on 2 Mch. 1797, threatening the commerce of the United States with seizure. In the address Adams proposed to “institute a fresh attempt at negociation” with France, but he also recommended a preparedness program including the establishment of a navy, the development of regulations for the arming of merchant vessels, the equipment of frigates “to take under convoy such merchant vessels as shall remain unarmed,” the further fortification of major seaports, the formation of a provisional army, the reorganization of the militia, and finally, consultation with other neutral nations and consideration of the renewal of treaties with Prussia and Sweden (Speech of the President of the United States, to Both Houses of Congress, on Tuesday, May 16th, 1797 [Philadelphia, 1797], 3–11).

According to SJL, TJ and Bell exchanged eight letters between 14 Mch. 1794 and 9 Apr. 1797, none of which has been found.

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