Thomas Jefferson Papers

To Thomas Jefferson from James Madison, 21 February 1796

From James Madison

Philada. Feby. 21. 1796

Dear Sir

Since my last I have made enquiry as to Lownes. In general he is well spoken of, in every respect. Old Mr. Howell however, told me he was not a punctual man and was slow in his payments. I then mentioned my reasons for asking him. He proceeded to say that his son dealt in the same article with Lownes, and that if you chose to take your Iron rod here, he would be responsible for the most exact compliance of his son. I next brought Sharpless into view. He spoke of him as a man fully to be relied on, and as a man with whom his son had had some dealings. He said there was but one objection to taking your supplies at short hand from Sharpless, which was that there was very little direct intercourse from Wilmington to Southern ports: that almost every thing exported thence, came first to Philada. I asked whether vessels could not stop there and take in articles; not he said unless the freight of them was an object. As the order of my enquiries drew out the old gentleman’s opinion of Lownes, before he could well feel the interest of his son in the case, his testimony is entitled to respect. I have written to Jno. Bringhurst who resides at Wilmington to get and send me a full account of Sharpless and of the terms on which he would supply you; but have not yet received an answer.

I find as I conjectured that the provision made for the daughters of Degrasse was not in the way of loan but of gift. It would be difficult perhaps to justify the act in either way, by the text of the Constitution. The precedent nevertheless is in favor of Made. de Chatelleux’s son. Whether his claim will be viewed with the same indulgence on the score of his father’s merits is more than I can venture to decide. The services of De Grasse were critical. Chatelleux you recollect was not a favorite here, tho’ the cause may have been erroneous. Congress also were afraid of the Precedent at the time, and endeavored to interweave ingredients of peculiarity. I am really apprehensive that a compliance with the wishes of Made. de Chat: would entail on us a provision for the families of the whole French army that served1 in this Country. Congs. are occupied with a Bill for selling the Western lands. Opinions are various and the result doubtful. The British Treaty not yet before us; nor The Spanish before the Senate, or even arrived as far as I know. The Algerine is come to hand and under the deliberation of the Senate. The history of it contains some curious features, which it is not possible for me to explain in time. In general it costs an immense sum, and the annual tribute is to be paid in naval Stores, infinitely underated in the Tariff. The friendly interference of France, tho’ applied for and in train, was precluded by the Agent’s precipitancy in closing the Treaty; for the hardness of which the apology is that it was the best that could be got. The letter from Paris in the inclosed paper, is Monroe’s, and the latest in date that has been received from him. The federal Court has not yet given judgment in the case of payments into the Virga. Treasury. Marshal and Cambell were the Counsel on one side, and Lewis and Tilghman on the other. Marshal’s argument is highly spoken of. Campbell and Ingersoll will appear vs. the Carrage tax. Hamilton is here and to join Lee on the other side.

RC (DLC: Madison Papers); unsigned; addressed: “Charlottesville via Richmond Virginia”; endorsed by TJ as received 4 Mch. 1796 and so recorded in SJL.

For the claim on behalf of the late Marquis de Chastellux’s son, see Madame de Chastellux to TJ, 6 May 1795, and note.

Letter from Paris in the inclosed paper: see James Monroe to TJ, 18 Nov. 1795.

Case of payments into the virga. Treasury: the Supreme Court delivered its judgment in the British debt case of Ware, Administrator of Jones v. Hylton on 7 Mch. 1796, ruling that payments to British creditors required under the Treaty of Paris of 1783 took precedence over the Virginia sequestration law of 1777 that allowed debtors to discharge these liabilities by making payments into the state loan office (Marshall, Papers description begins Herbert A. Johnson, Charles T. Cullen, Charles F. Hobson, and others, eds., The Papers of John Marshall, Chapel Hill, 1974–2006, 12 vols. description ends , iii, 4–7, v, 295–9, 327–8). John Marshall’s argument before the Court on 9 Feb. 1796 is in same, v, 317–27.

The constitutionality of the carriage tax was being decided in Hylton v. U.S., a case which began in the Circuit Court at Richmond, where opposition to the legislation imposing the tax was strong. The Supreme Court heard arguments in the case, the first to decide the constitutionality of a federal law, on 23–25 Feb. and on 8 Mar. 1796 rendered a unanimous decision upholding the legislation (Goebel and Smith, Law Practice of Hamilton description begins Julius Goebel, Jr., and Joseph H. Smith, eds., The Law Practice of Alexander Hamilton: Documents and Commentary, New York, 1964–1981, 5 vols. description ends , iv, 297–355).

1Remainder of text is written lengthwise in margin and then continues perpendicular to the first part of the letter.

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