Thomas Jefferson Papers

To Thomas Jefferson from James Madison, 19 December 1796

From James Madison

Philada. Decr. 19. 1796

Dear Sir

The returns from N. Hampshire, Vermont, S.C. and Georga. are still to come in, and leave the event of the Election in some remaining uncertainty. It is but barely possible that Adams may fail of the highest number. It is highly probable, tho’ not absolutely certain, that Pinkney will be third only on the list. You must prepare yourself therefore to be summoned to the place Mr. Adams now fills. I am aware of the objections arising from the inadequateness of the importance of the place to the sacrifices you would be willing to make to a greater prospect of fulfilling the patriotic wishes of your friends; and from the irksomeness of being at the head of a body whose sentiments are at present so little in unison with your own. But it is expected that as you had made up your mind to obey the call of your Country, you will let it decide on the particular place where your services are to be rendered. It may even be said, that as you submitted to the election knowing the contingency involved in it, you are bound to abide by the event whatever it may. On the whole it seems essential that you should not refuse the station which is likely to be your lot. There is reason to believe also that your neighbourhood to adams1 may have a valuable effect on his councils particularly in relation to our external system. You know that his feelings will not enslave him to the example of his predecessor. It is certain that his censures of our paper system and the intrigues at new York for setting P. above him have fixed an enmity with the British faction. Nor should it pass for nothing, that the true interest of new england particularly requires reconciliation with France as the road to her commerce. Add to the whole that he is said to speak of you now in friendly terms and will no doubt be soothed by your acceptance of a place subordinate to him. It must be confessed however that all these calculations, are qualified by his political principles and prejudices. But they add weight to the obligation from which you must2 not withdraw yourself.

You will see in the answer to the P.s speech, much room for criticism. You must, for the present, be content to know that it resulted from a choice of evils. His reply to the foreign paragraph indicates a good effect on his mind. Indeed he cannot but wish to avoid entailing a war on his successor. The danger lies in the fetters he has put on himself and in the irritation and distrust of the French government.

RC (DLC: Madison Papers); unsigned; written partly in code, with interlinear decipherment in TJ’s hand (see note 1 below), including minor coding anomalies corrected by TJ; endorsed by TJ as received 31 Dec. 1796 and so recorded in SJL.

The 16 Dec. answer of the House of Representatives to Washington’s annual message to Congress noted concern over the disruption of friendly relations with the French Republic and echoed the president’s expressed desire to preserve peace and restore harmony with that country. Expressing regret that Washington was about to retire, the House praised him expansively for his “wise, firm, and patriotic Administration.” The concluding sentence noted that “For your country’s sake—for the sake of Republican liberty—it is our earnest wish that your example may be the guide of your successors; and thus, after being the ornament and safeguard of the present age, become the patrimony of our descendants.” The House divided 54 to 24 against a motion to delete the last sentence and only 12 refused their consent to the final document. Madison, who had served on the committee to consider Washington’s message, was not among them. Washington’s reply to the foreign paragraph in the House’s address reiterated his regret at any interruption in our good understanding with France and pledged by “all honorable means” to preserve peace and to restore “harmony and affection” between the two nations (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, 1611–17; JHR description begins Journal of the House of Representatives of the United States, Washington, D.C., 1826, 9 vols. description ends , ii, 607–11, 615–20, 623).

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.

2Encoded word underlined.

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