Thomas Jefferson Papers

From Thomas Jefferson to William Branch Giles, 19 March 1796

To William Branch Giles

Monticello Mar. 19. 96

Th:J. to Mr. Giles

I know not when I have recieved greater satisfaction than on reading the speech of Dr. Lieb in the Pennsylvania Assembly. He calls himself a new member. I congratulate honest republicanism on such an acquisition, and promise myself much from a career which begins on such elevated ground.—We are in suspense here to see the fate and effect of Mr. Pitt’s bill against democratic societies. I wish extremely to get at the true history of this effort to suppress freedom of meeting, speaking, writing and printing. Your acquaintance with Sedgewick will enable you to do it. Pray get from him the outlines of the bill he intended to have brought in for this purpose. This will enable us to judge whether we have the merit of the invention: whether we were really before hand with the British minister on this subject: whether he took his hint from our proposition, or whether the concurrence in sentiment is merely the result of the general truth that great men will think alike, and act alike tho’ without intercommunication. I am serious in desiring extremely the outlines of the bill intended for us.—From the debates on the subject of our seamen, I am afraid as much harm as good will be done by our endeavors to arm our seamen against impressment. It is proposed I observe to register them and give them certificates of citizenship to protect them from foreign impressment. But these certificates will be lost in a thousand ways. A sailor will neglect to take his certificate. He is wet twenty times in a voyage. If he goes ashore without it, he is impressed, if with it, he gets drunk, it is lost, stolen from him, taken from him, and then the want of it gives an authority to impress which does not exist now. After ten years’ attention to the subject, I have never been able to devise any thing effectual but that the circumstance of an American bottom being made ipso facto a protection for a number of seamen proportioned to her tonnage: to oblige American captains when called on by foreign officers to parade the men on deck, which would shew whether they exceeded their quota, and allow the foreign officers to send 2. or 3. persons aboard and hunt for any suspected to be concealed. This Mr. Pinckney was instructed to insist upon with Great Britain, to accept of nothing short of it, and most especially not to agree that a certificate of citizenship should be requirable from our seamen: because it would be made a ground for the authorised impressment of them. I am still satisfied that such a protection will place them in a worse situation than they are at present. It is true the British minister has not shown a disposition to accede to my proposition: but it was not totally rejected: and if he still refuses, lay a duty of 1.d. sterl. a yard on British oznabrigs to make a fund for paying the expences of the agents you are obliged to employ to seek out our suffering seamen.—I congratulate you on the arrival of Mr. Ames and the British treaty. The newspapers had said they would arrive together.—We have had a fine winter. Wheat looks well. Corn is scarce and dear. 22/ here. 30/ in Amherst. Our blossoms are just opening. I have begun the demolitions of my house, and hope to get through it’s re-edification in the course of the summer. But do not let this discorage you from calling on us if you wander this way in the summer. We shall have the eye of a brick-kiln to poke you into, or an Octagon to air you in. Adieu affectionately.

PrC (DLC); faded, with date overwritten in ink by TJ.

During a debate on the four amendments to the Constitution recently proposed and sent to the states by Virginia in reaction to the Jay Treaty, the radical Republican Dr. Michael Leib delivered a speech to the Pennsylvania House of Representatives, published in the Philadelphia Aurora on 29 Feb., in which he strongly supported the Virginia proposals, upheld the right of the federal House of Representatives to withhold the appropriations necessary to execute the treaty, and denied the need for the United States to enter into any treaties with any foreign nation (Dr. Leib’s Patriotic Speech, Addressed to the House of Representatives of Pennsylvania. February 24, 1796 … [New London, 1796]; 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. 30684; see also Madison to TJ, 31 Jan. 1796). Mr. Pitt’s bill, introduced into Parliament in November 1795 and passed into law the following month, was the Seditious Meetings and Assemblies Act, which imposed strict controls on public meetings in Great Britain (Ehrman, Pitt, description begins John Ehrman, The Younger Pitt: The Reluctant Transition, London, 1983 description ends 455–9). Contrary to TJ’s wishes, Congress in May 1796 passed a law to protect our seamen against impressment that, among other things, provided for issuing certificates of American citizenship to them (Annals description begins Annals of the Congress of the United States: The Debates and Proceedings in the Congress of the United States … Compiled 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 , vi, 2919–21). Mr. Pinckney was instructed: see TJ to Thomas Pinckney, 11 June 1792 (second letter).

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