Thomas Jefferson Papers

To Thomas Jefferson from James Madison, 25 December 1796

From James Madison

Philada. Decr. 25. 1796

Dear Sir

I can not yet entirely remove the uncertainty in which my last left the election. Unless the Vermont election of which little has of late been said, should contain some fatal vice in it, Mr. Adams may be considered as the President elect. Nothing can deprive him of it but a general run of the votes in Georgia, Tenissee and Kentucky in favor of Mr. Pinkney, which is altogether contrary to the best information. It is not even probable that Mr. P. will be the second on the list, the secondary votes of N. Hampshire being now said to have been thrown away on Elseworth: and a greater number consequently required from the States abovementioned than will be likely to fall to his lot. We have nothing new from Europe. The prospect and projects in our foreign Department are under a veil not a corner of which I have been able to lift. I fear the distrust with which the French Govt. view the Executive here, and the fetters which the President has suffered himself to put on, will be obstacles to the reconciliation which he can not fail to desire. It is whispered also that the Spanish Minister has intimated the probable dissatisfaction of his Court at the Explanatory Article of the British Treaty. Nor can it be doubted, from the nature of the alliance between that and France, that a common cause will be made in all the steps taken by the latter with respect to this Country. In the mean time the British party are busy in their calumnies for turning the blame of the present crisis from themselves, on the pretended instigations of France, by americans at Paris; and some of them are already bold eno’ to talk of an alliance with England as the resourse in case of an actual rupture with France. The new President who ever he will be will have much in his power; and it is important to make1 as many circumstances as possible conspire to lead him to a right use of it. There never was greater distress than at this moment in the monied world. Failures and frauds occur daily; And are so much connected with Banks that these Institutions are evidently losing ground in the public opinion.

RC (DLC: Madison Papers); unsigned; endorsed by TJ as received 7 Jan. 1797 and so recorded in SJL.

On 26 Nov. 1796, Noah Webster’s Minerva reported that the Vermont Election was “invalid—being grounded only on a Resolve of the Legislature, not a law.” The Aurora on 12 Dec. remarked that if the four votes from Vermont for Adams were not counted, the election could be thrown into the House of Representatives, where TJ would be elected president. On 28 Dec. the Minerva admitted that the statement was “ill-founded,” but the Aurora continued to assert that as no direct word had been received from Vermont, it was not clear whether Adams or Jefferson would be president (Philadelphia Aurora, 28, 29 Dec. 1796).

The explanatory article of the British Treaty, negotiated by Secretary of State Pickering and British Consul General Phineas Bond and approved by the Senate on 9 May 1796, guaranteed British traders free movement by land and water and the right to engage in commerce throughout the Northwest Territory, as required by Article 3 of the Jay Treaty, which appeared to have been restricted by the Treaty of Greenville of 1795. Ratifications of the article were exchanged in Philadelphia on 6 Oct. and it appeared as a proclamation in Philadelphia newspapers early in November (Miller, Treaties, description begins Hunter Miller, ed., Treaties and other International Acts of the United States of America, Washington, D.C., 1931–48, 8 vols. description ends ii, 346–7; Philadelphia Aurora, 11 Nov. 1796).

During a debate in the House of Representatives on 15 Dec. 1796, Fisher Ames alluded to newspaper accounts to prove that the crisis in relations between the United States and France was caused by Americans at Paris who were exciting “a spirit of animosity against this country.” He acquitted the administration of responsibility in case of war with France and blamed it on “the intrigues carried on at Paris” (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, 1650).

1Remainder of text written in margin.

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