Thomas Jefferson Papers

To Thomas Jefferson from James Madison, 5 December 1796

From James Madison

Philada. Decr. 5. 1796

Dear Sir

It is not possible yet to calculate with any degree of certainty whether you are to be left by the Electors to enjoy the repose to which you are so much attached, or are to be summoned to the arduous trust which depends on their allotment. It is not improbable that Pinkney will step in between the two who have been treated as the principals in the question. It is even suspected that this turn has been secretly meditated from the beginning in a quarter where the leading zeal for Adams has been affected. This Jockeyship is accounted for by the enmity of Adams to Banks and funding systems which is now become public, and by an apprehension that he is too headstrong to be a fit puppet for the intriguers behind the skreen. It is to be hoped that P. may equally disappoint those who expect to make that use of him, if the appointment should in reallity light on him. We do not however absolutely despair that a choice better than either may still be made; and there is always the chance of a devolution of the business on the House of Reps. which will I believe decide it as it ought to be decided.

Adêts Note which you will have seen, is working all the evil with which it is pregnant. Those who rejoice at its indiscretions and are taking advantage of them, have the impudence to pretend that it is an electioneering manoeuvre, and that the French Govt. have been led to it by the opponents of the British Treaty. Unless the unhapy effect of it here and cause of it in France, be speedily obviated by wise councils and healing measures, the crisis will unquestionably be perverted into a perpetual alienation of the two Countries by the secret enemies of both. The immediate consequences of such an event may be distressing; but the permanent ones to the commercial and other great interests of this Country, form a long and melancholy catalogue. We know nothing of the policy meditated by the Executive on this occasion. The Speech will probably furnish some explanation of it. Yrs. always & affecy.

Js. Madison Jr.

RC (DLC: Madison Papers); endorsed by TJ as received 16 Dec. 1796 and so recorded in SJL.

The contention that Alexander Hamilton secretly meditated from the beginning to push Federalist vice-presidential candidate Thomas Pinckney for president rather than John Adams is explored in Kurtz, Presidency of John Adams, description begins Stephen G. Kurtz, The Presidency of John Adams: The Collapse of Federalism, 1795–1800, Philadelphia, 1957 description ends 98–113 and Elkins and McKitrick, Age of Federalism, description begins Stanley Elkins and Eric McKitrick, The Age of Federalism, New York, 1993 description ends 515–16, 523–8. According to this jockeyship, Hamiltonian Federalists worked to keep New Englanders in line behind Pinckney while counting on the fact that many southerners would refuse to support Adams, thus giving Pinckney the highest number of votes and the presidency.

The charge that John Adams was critical of banks and funding systems became public in Tench Coxe’s tenth letter “To the Electors of the President of the United States,” which he signed “A Federalist.” Portraying Adams as “strongly opposed” to the nation’s financial management as implemented by the Treasury Department, Coxe observed that “He has often spoken of the funding system as certainly to bring upon this country evils the most extreme” (Gazette of the United States, 30 Nov. 1796; Cooke, Coxe, description begins Jacob E. Cooke, Tench Coxe and the Early Republic, Chapel Hill, 1978 description ends 286, 289).

In a note of 15 Nov., Pierre Auguste Adet, French minister to the United States, informed Secretary of State Timothy Pickering that the Directory had ordered him to suspend immediately his ministerial functions because it viewed the implementation of the Jay Treaty as a violation of the French-American treaty of 1778. Adet’s exchange of notes with Pickering had begun two weeks earlier with his 27 Oct. announcement that according to the Directory’s decree of 2 July France would henceforth “treat the flag of neutrals in the same manner as they shall suffer it to be treated by the English,” thus subjecting American ships to French seizure. Adet had the notes to Pickering and a proclamation by the Directory calling upon French citizens in the United States to wear tricolored cockades if they wished to receive protection and services from the French government sent to Benjamin Bache’s Aurora for publication (ASP description begins American State Papers: Documents, Legislative and Executive, of the Congress of the United States, Washington, D.C., Gales & Seaton, 1832–61, 38 vols. description ends , Foreign Relations, i, 576–88; Philadelphia Aurora, 31 Oct., 5, 18 Nov. 1796; Alexander DeConde, “Washington’s Farewell, the French Alliance, and the Election of 1796,” MVHR description begins Mississippi Valley Historical Review, 1914–64 description ends , xliii [1957], 653–6).

Washington delivered the speech, his annual message to Congress, on 7 Dec. 1796. In it he referred briefly to the “extensive injuries” which France was inflicting on United States commerce in the West Indies and to Adet’s communications, but he postponed a full discussion until a later date. He reassured Congress that it was his “constant, sincere, and earnest wish … to maintain cordial harmony, and a perfect friendly understanding” with the French Republic. The president did not deliver his promised message on French-American relations until 19 Jan. 1797 (JHR description begins Journal of the House of Representatives of the United States, Washington, D.C., 1826, 9 vols. description ends , ii, 607–10, 650).

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