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From Thomas Jefferson to James Madison, 2 March 1798

To James Madison

March 2. 98.

I wrote you last on the 22d. since which I have received yours without date, but probably of about the 18th. or 19th. an arrival to the Eastward brings us some news which you will see detailed in the papers. the new partition of Europe is sketched, but how far authentic we know not. it has some probability in it’s form. the French appear busy in their preparations for the invasion of England: nor is there any appearance of movements on the part of Russia & Prussia which might divert them from it.

The late birthnight has certainly sown tares among the exclusive federals. it has winnowed the grain from the chaff. the sincerely Adamites did not go. the Washingtonians went religiously, & took the secession of the others in high dudgeon. the one sex threaten to desert the levees, the other the evening parties. the whigs went in number, to encourage the idea that the birthnights hitherto kept had been for the General & not the President, and of course that time would bring an end to them. Goodhue, Tracy, Sedgwick &c did not attend: but the three Secretaries & Attorney General did. we were surprised at the close of the last week with a symptom of a disposition to repeal the stamp act. petitions for that purpose had come from Rhode island & Virginia, & had been committed to rest with the Ways & Means. mr Harper, their chairman, in order to enter on the law for amending it,1 observed it would be necessary first to put the petitions for repeal out of the way, and moved an immediate decision on them. the Rhode islanders begged & prayed for a postponement, that not expecting that question to be called up they were not at all prepared. but Harper would shew no mercy. not a moment’s delay should be allowed. it was taken up, and on a question without debate determined in favor of the petitions by a majority of 10. astonished & confounded, when an order to bring in a bill for repeal was moved, they began in turn to beg for time 3 weeks, one week, 3 days, 1 day. not a moment would be yeilded. they made three attempts for adjournment. but the majorities appeared to grow. it was decided by a majority of 16. that the bill should be brought in. it was brought in the next day, & on the day after passed, sent up to the Senate, who instantly sent it back rejected by a silent vote of 15. to 12. R. I. & N. Hampshire voted for the repeal in Senate.2 the act will therefore go into operation July 1. but probably without amendments. however I am persuaded it will be shortlived. it has already excited great commotion in Vermont, and grumblings in Connecticut. but they are so priest-ridden that nothing is to be expected from them but the most bigotted3 passive obedience. no news yet from our commissioners. but their silence is admitted to augur peace. there is no talk yet of the time of adjourning, tho’ admitted we have nothing to do, but what could be done in a fortnight or three weeks. when the spring opens and we hear from our commissioners, we shall probably draw pretty rapidly to conclusion.—a friend of mine here wishes to get a copy of Mazzei’s Recherches historiques et politiques. where are they? salutations & Adieu.

wheat 1.50. flour 8.50. tobo. 13.50

RC (DLC: Madison Papers); addressed: James Madison junr. near Orange Court house,” written over partially erased “Mr. Alexander F[…]”; franked. PrC (DLC); at foot of first page in ink: “Mr. Madison.”

On 2 Mch. the Philadelphia Gazette carried the articles of peace to be ratified at the conference at Rastadt, which detailed the new partition of Europe.

On 11 Jan. Thomas Tillinghast presented a resolution from the Rhode Island legislature urging repeal of the Stamp Act. The next day Virginia congressman Carter B. Harrison presented a petition from three Virginia counties with the same request. The Virginia petition was referred to the ways and means committee, which reported a few days later that repeal would be inexpedient. In the committee of the whole house on 26 Feb., Robert G. Harper noted that the secretary of the treasury was preparing to implement the tax and needed any amendments to it immediately. Despite the report of the ways and means committee, the House voted 47 to 37 in favor of the petitions. Tillinghast then moved for a vote on his resolution in favor of repeal, which passed 49 to 36. Seeing that he was in the minority, Harper encouraged the House to delay action until more information was available from the Treasury Department. Motions for postponement and adjournment were defeated, and a resolution to bring in a bill to repeal the stamp tax was passed 52 to 36. The legislation was brought in the next day and on 28 Feb. it passed by a 51 to 42 vote. Before adjournment that same day, the House received word that the Senate had rejected it (Annals description begins Annals of the Congress of the United States: The Debates and Proceedings in the Congress of the United StatesCompiled from Authentic Materials, Washington, D.C., Gales & Seaton, 1834–56, 42 vols. All editions are undependable and pagination varies from one printing to another. The first two volumes of the set cited here have “Compiled … by Joseph Gales, Senior” on the title page and bear the caption “Gales & Seatons History” on verso and “of Debates in Congress” on recto pages. The remaining volumes bear the caption “History of Congress” on both recto and verso pages. Those using the first two volumes with the latter caption will need to employ the date of the debate or the indexes of debates and speakers. description ends , 7:820, 828, 830–1, 847, 1069–83, 1097–8; JHR description begins Journal of the House of Representatives of the United States, Washington, D.C., 1826, 9 vols. description ends , 3:203–9). commotion in Vermont, and grumblings in Connecticut: on 31 Jan., The Bee, the Republican newspaper in New London, Connecticut, printed an essay entitled “Loyalty,” which asserted that an “unqualified attachment to government” is “one of the most pernicious doctrines that can be admitted into a republic.” It shackled Americans with “polltaxes, excise laws, British treaties, and stamp duties.” The same issue reported that protests against the “dreaded Stamp Act” erupted in parts of Vermont, Massachusetts, and New York state when it became known that the act was expected to go into effect on 1 Jan. Although some protesters were quieted by the news that the tax would fall primarily on seaports, the reporter remarked: “What kind of a law is that, the only argument in favour of which is, that the burden of it will be borne by a small part only of the community? Grumblers call it unequal and unjust.

In 1788 Madison received 164 copies of Philip Mazzei’s Recherches historiques et politiques sur les États-Unis d’Amérique, a work of four volumes that had been published in Paris. For the distribution of this publication, 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. Sec. of State Ser., 5 vols. description ends , 17:88n.

1Preceding five words interlined in place of “something else.”

2Preceding two words interlined.

3Preceding word interlined in place of “abject.”

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