Thomas Jefferson Papers

To Thomas Jefferson from James Madison, 22 May 1796

From James Madison

Philada. May 22. 1796

Dear Sir

Congress are hurrying through the remnant of business before them, and will probably adjourn about saturday next. Petitions in favor of the Treaty Still come in from distant places. The name of the President and the alarm of war, have had a greater effect, than were apprehended on one side, or expected on the other. A crisis which ought to have been so managed as to fortify the Republican cause, has left it in a very crippled condition; from which its recovery will be the more difficult as the elections in N.Y. Massachusetts and other States, where the prospects were favorable, have taken a wrong turn under the impressions of the moment. Nothing but auspicious contingences abroad or at home, can regain the lost ground. Peace in Europe would have a most salutary influence, and accounts just received from France revive in some degree the hope of it with the Emperor, which will hasten of course a peace with England. On the other hand, a scene rather gloomy is presented by a letter I have just received from Col. M. It is dated Feby. 27. The following extracts form the substance of it.

“About a fortnight past I was informed by the1 minister of foreign affairs that the government had at length resolved how to act with us in respect to our treaty with England that they considered it as having violated or rather annulled our treaty of alliance with them and taken part with the coalised powers that they had rather have a open enemy than a perfidious friend—that it was resolved to send an envoy extraordinary to the U.S. to discuss this business with us and whose powers would expire with the execution of the trust. I was astonished with the communication and alarmed with it’s probable consequences. I told him it might probably lead to war and thereby separate us which was what our enemies wished—that it hasarded much and without a probable gain that from the moment a person of that character arrived their friends would seem to act under his banner and which circumstance would injure their character and lessen their effortsin truth I did every thing in my power to prevent this measure and in which I am now told by the minister that I have succeeded the Directory having resolved to continue the ordinary course of representation only. But thro’ this I hear strong sentiments will be conveyedthe whole of this is made known to the executive by me.”

“The forced loan was less productive than was expected, and the embarrasment in the finance extreme. Some think another movement at hand but I see no evidence of it at present. In all calculations on this subject it ought to be recollected that the executive are sound and having the government in their hands are strong.”

“There are strong simptoms of an actual rupture between us and this country. The minister the government preferd to have us as open rather than perfidious friends.2 Other proofs occur to shew that this sentiment has gone deep into their councils.”

The “Minerva” of N.Y. lately announced, with an affected emphasis, a letter from Paris to N.Y. intimating that influencial persons in the U.S. were urging measures on France, which might force this Country to chuse war against England, as the only alternative for war against France. It is probable that categorical steps on the part of F. towards us are anticipated as the consequence of what has been effected by the British party here, and that much artifice will be practised by it to charge them in some unpopular form, on its Republican opponents.

Before I leave this I shall make up a parcel of pamphlets &c. for you to be forwarded to Richmond. The inclosed number of the Debates is a continuation which has been regular, I hope the preceding numbers have all arrived safe.

King is appointed Minister to London

and Humphreys to Madrid, Pinkney and Short retiring.

The vacancy at Lisbon not yet filled.

RC (DLC: Madison Papers); unsigned; at foot of text: “Mr. Jefferson”; includes extract of three paragraphs partly in code, being transcribed by Madison from Monroe’s letter to him of 27 Feb. 1796, but containing minor coding anomalies introduced by Monroe and possibly words inadvertently omitted by him in the final paragraph (see note 2 below), with two coding errors corrected by Madison, the whole being deciphered interlinearly by TJ (see note 1 below); endorsed by TJ as received 3 June 1796 and so recorded in SJL. Monroe’s letter to Madison (DLC: Madison Papers; written partly in Code No. 9 and deciphered interlinearly by Madison) is printed in 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– , 26 vols. Sec. of State Ser., 4 vols. description ends , xvi, 236–7.

Early in 1796 the French government hoped to arouse pro-French sentiment in America and force a repudiation of United States policy toward Great Britain. Accordingly, after the ratification and publication of the Jay Treaty, the Directory resolved to send an envoy extraordinary to protest the treaty. Monroe learned of the plans in a conversation with Charles Delacroix, minister of foreign affairs, on 15 Feb. 1796. At a meeting with Delacroix the next day and in a private letter to him of the 17th, Monroe argued that the proposed special mission could cause an outright breach between the two countries and that it might lead to war. In a letter to Delacroix the following month, Monroe countered some of the Directory’s complaints about the treaty. In June the appointment of Charles Vincent, director of fortifications at Saint-Domingue, to serve as envoy extraordinary was rescinded (Ammon, Monroe, description begins Harry Ammon, James Monroe: The Quest for National Identity, New York, 1971 description ends 145–50; Alexander DeConde, Entangling Alliance: Politics and Diplomacy under George Washington, [Durham, N.C., 1958], 427–31; Albert Hall Bowman, The Struggle for Neutrality: Franco-American Diplomacy During the Federalist Era [Knoxville, 1974], 238–47).

This is made known to the executive by me: see Monroe to Timothy Pickering, 16, 20 Feb. and 10 Mch. 1796, in Monroe, Writings description begins Stanislas Murray Hamilton, ed., The Writings of James Monroe, New York, 1899, 7 vols. description ends , ii, 454–60, 463–6.

The forced loan, decreed by the Directory in December 1795, was designed to bring 600 million francs into the treasury, but by the spring of 1796 the tax had yielded only a fraction of that amount (Lyons, France Under the Directory, description begins Martyn Lyons, France Under the Directory, Cambridge, 1975 description ends 170; Lefebvre, Thermidorians, description begins Georges Lefebvre, The Thermidorians and the Directory: Two Phases of the French Revolution, trans. Robert Baldick, New York, 1964 description ends 265–6).

The extract from a letter from Paris printed in the New York Minerva, 17 May 1796, was presumably that referred to in Gouverneur Morris to Alexander Hamilton, 4 Mch. 1796, but dated 15 Feb. rather than 14 Feb. 1796 (Syrett, Hamilton, description begins Harold C. Syrett and others, eds., The Papers of Alexander Hamilton, New York, 1961–87, 27 vols. description ends xx, 59–60n). The informant asserted that “influential men” in the United States had encouraged the French government to take a strong stand against the execution of the Jay Treaty, “even to go so far, as to claim our guarantee of the French West Indies; placing before us the alternative of war with France or Great Britain.”

Inclosed number of the debates: see Giles to TJ, 26 Mch. 1796.

1This and subsequent italicized words are written in code, the text being supplied from TJ’s decipherment and verified by the Editors against Code No. 9.

2Preceding sentence thus encoded and deciphered. For the intended meaning, see the first enciphered sentence above.

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