Thomas Jefferson Papers

To Thomas Jefferson from James Madison, 29 March 1789

From James Madison

New York, March 29th, 1789

Dear Sir

My last was committed in December to Mr. Gouverneur Morris. I was then on my way to Virginia. The elections for the new government commenced shortly after my arrival. The first was of Electors, to Ballot for a President and Vice President. The successful candidates were General Wood, Mr. Zachy. Johnson, Genl. Edward Stephens, Doctor David Stuart, Mr. W. Fitzhugh of Chatham, Mr. Warner Lewis of Gloucester, Mr. Jno. Harvey, Mr. Walk, of or near Norfolk, Mr. Kello of Southampton. These nine were federalists. The remaining three, Mr. Patrick Henry, Mr. Roane of King and Queen, and Mr. Pride of Amelia, were of the adverse party. Two of the former party did not attend. The votes were unanimous with respect to General Washington, as appears to have been the case in each of the States. The secondary votes were given, among the federal members, chiefly to Mr. J. Adams, one or two being thrown away in order to prevent a possible competition for the Presidency. Governor Clinton was the secondary choice of the anti-federal members. In the succeeding election of Representatives, federalism was also proved to be the prevailing sentiment of the people. The successful candidates on this list are Mr. Moore, late of the Executive Council (from Rockingham,) Mr. Alexander White, Mr. Richard Bland Lee, Mr. John Page, (Rosewell,) Mr. Samuel Griffin, Mr. Brown, member of the old Congress, (from Kentucky,) J. Madison, Col. Parker, (late nav. officer at Norfolk,) Col. Isaac Coles, (of Halifax,) and Col. Bland. Of these, the seven first have been on the side of the Constitution; the three last in the opposition. Col. Parker appears to be very temperate, and it is not probable that both the others will be very inveterate. It was my misfortune to be thrown into a contest with our friend, Col. Monroe. The occasion produced considerable efforts among our respective friends. Between ourselves, I have no reason to doubt that the distinction was duly kept in mind between political and personal views, and that it has saved our friendship from the smallest diminution. On one side I am sure it is the case.

Notwithstanding the lapse of time since the birthday of the new Government, (the 4th of March,) I am under the necessity of informing you that a quorum is not yet formed, either in the Senate or House of Representatives. The season of the year, the peculiar badness of the weather, and the short interval between the epoch of election and that of meeting, form a better apology for the delay than will probably occur on your side of the Atlantic. The deficiency at present in the House of Representatives requires two members only for a Quorum, and in the Senate one only. A few days will, therefore, fit the Body for the first step, to wit, opening the Ballots for the President and Vice President. I have already said that General Washington will be the first by a unanimous suffrage. It is held to be certain that Mr. Adams, though refused a great many votes from different motives, will have the second appointment. A considerable delay will be unavoidable, after the ballots are counted, before the President can be on the spot, and, consequently, before any Legislative act can take place. Such a protraction of the inactivity of the Government is to be regretted on many accounts, but most on account of the loss of revenue. A prospect of the Spring importations led to the appointment of the first meeting at a time which, in other respects, was unseasonable.

It is not yet possible to ascertain precisely the complexion of the new Congress. A little time will be necessary to unveil it, and a little will probably suffice. With regard to the Constitution, it is pretty well decided that the disaffected party in the Senate amounts to two or three members only; and that in the other House it does not exceed a very small minority, some of which will also be restrained by the federalism of the States from which they come. Notwithstanding this character of the Body, I hope and expect that some conciliatory sacrifices will be made, in order to extinguish opposition to the system, or at least break the force of it, by detaching the deluded opponents from their designing leaders. With regard to the system of policy to which the Government is capable of rising, and by which its genius will be appreciated, I wait for some experimental instruction. Were I to advance a conjecture, it would be, that the predictions of an anti-democratic operation will be confronted with at least a sufficient number of the features which have marked the State Governments.

Since my arrival here I have received your favor of November 18th. It had been sent on to Virginia; but not reaching Fredericksburg before I passed that place, it followed me back hither. I am much concerned that your scheme of passing the ensuing summer in your native country has been defeated. Mr. Jay, with whom I have conversed on the subject, tells me that his answer to your public letter has explained the impossibility of giving effect to your wishes, no Congress having been formed under the old Confederation since the receipt of your letter, or, indeed, since the expiration of the last federal year. The most that can now be done will be to obtain from the new authority, as early as possible, some act which may leave the matter to your own discretion. Perhaps it may be neither more inconvenient to your private nor to the public affairs to make your visit in the fall instead of the Spring, and to pass the Winter instead of the Summer in America. The same cause on which you are to charge your disappointment in this instance prevented a decision on the question of outfit, stated in one of your former communications.

With some printed papers containing interesting articles, I inclose a manuscript copy of Col. Morgan’s invitation to persons disposed to seek their fortunes on the Spanish side of the Mississippi. There is no doubt that the project has the sanction of Gardoqui. It is a silly one on the part of Spain, and will probably end like the settlements on the Roman side of the Danube, with the concurrence of the declining empire. But it clearly betrays the plan suggested to you in a former letter, of making the Mississippi the bait for a defection of the Western people. Some of the leaders in Kentucky are known to favor the idea of connection with Spain. The people are as yet inimical to it. Their future disposition will depend on the measures of the new Government.

I omitted to mention that a dispute between the Senate of this State, which was federal, and the other branch, which was otherwise, concerning the manner of appointing Senators for the Congress, was so inflexibly persisted in that no appointment was made during the late session, and must be delayed for a considerable time longer, even if the dispute should on a second trial be accommodated. It is supposed by some that the superintending power of Congress will be rendered necessary by the temper of the parties. The provision for the choice of electors was also delayed until the opportunity was lost; and that for the election of Representatives so long delayed that the result will not be decided till tuesday next. It is supposed that at least three out of the six will be of the federal party. In New Jersey, the inaccuracy of the law providing for the choice of Representatives has produced an almost equal delay, and left room for contests, which, if brought by the disappointed candidates into the House, will add a disagreeable article to the list of its business.

I am much obliged for the two estimates on the subject of our foreign debt, and shall turn your ideas to the account which they deserve.

MS missing; text from The Writings of James Madison, Gaillard Hunt, ed., New York, 1904, V, 333–8. Recorded in SJL as received 8 June 1789. Enclosure: The manuscript of Col. Morgan’s invitation was probably a copy (missing) of the printed handbill issued 3 Oct. 1788 by George Morgan (facsimile in Max Savelle, George Morgan: Colony Builder, New York, 1932, facing p. 206).

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