Thomas Jefferson Papers

To Thomas Jefferson from Henry Tazewell, 1 February 1797

From Henry Tazewell

Philadelphia 1st. February 1797.

Dear Sir

Your Letter of the 16th. January was lately delivered to me by Mr. Madison. On examination, I found the proceedings on the two former Elections for President and V. President, had been as you stated them. When a proper occasion presented itself I intended to make the most adviseable use of your communication, as to the mode of notifying you of the appointment which should fall to your lot. But unexpectedly, the Senate this day appointed a Committee to meet another from the House of Representatives to report a Method of counting the Votes, and of notifying those concerned of their appointments. The names of those who were appointed on this Committee mark the measure as a thing of Concert: Sedgwick, Laurance, and Read. The House of Representatives have not yet acted on this subject. If a previous arrangement has been made, the speaker of that House will persue it—and you may easily conjecture of what kind the Report will be. Perhaps however as Mr. Adams is on the spot, if it can be contrived to make your wishes known to the Committee without hazard, they may be induced to adopt the plan of communication which you propose. This shall be attempted. If it fails, altho to oppose, will be less agreable, than originally to propose a mode of notification; yet my own inclination, backed by your wishes, will carry me as far as prudence will permit in an attempt to place it on the least exceptionable footing—I will however take no step which does not meet Mr. Madison’s approbation. Under these circumstances suppose you were to set out for this place before any notification can reach you? You can be advised from hence at any place, of any fact, you may wish to know. By this means you can illude any disagreably ceremonious notification. It is extremely probable that the Senate will continue in Session longer than the 3d. of March. If you should be appointed the V. President, you can then take the necessary Oath—and enter on the duties of your office. The Newspapers of this Evening announce the arrival of some interesting intelligence from Europe. The manner, excites a belief that the communication is to the Executive—and conjecture says it contains an account of the failure of Malmsbury’s Negotiation, and of the refusal to receive Mr. Pinkney as our Minister in France. These circumstances, if true, when added to a fact which I am told exists—that a French Vessel has lately captured an American East Indiaman, will increase our apprehensions of a War. Your friend & Servt

Henry Tazewell

RC (DLC); endorsed by TJ as received 10 Feb. 1797 and so recorded in SJL.

Not until the electoral votes were counted on 8 Feb. 1797 did the Senate and House of Representatives actually begin to consider the mode of notifying TJ of his election. After two days of debate by both houses it was agreed that the Senate should take charge of the notification. A committee, consisting of Virginia Republican Stevens T. Mason and Federalists Theodore Sedgwick of Massachusetts and James Hillhouse of Connecticut, brought in a report that was adopted the same day requesting that the president of the United States be charged with transmitting the notification to the vice president elect and that the president of the Senate “make out and sign a certificate” in words agreed to by the Senate (JHR description begins Journal of the House of Representatives of the United States, Washington, D.C., 1826, 9 vols. description ends , ii, 687, 689–90; JS description begins Journal of the Senate of the United States, Washington, D.C., 1820–21, 5 vols. description ends , ii, 321–3). For TJ’s notification, see the two letters from Pickering to TJ of 11 Feb. 1797.

Tazewell’s concern that the Senate committee appointed to develop the procedures for counting the electoral votes was a thing of concert probably stemmed from the composition of the committee: Sedgwick, John Laurance of New York, and Jacob Read of South Carolina, all Federalists.

Their appointments may have been decided at Senator William Bingham’s residence, which, since his election in 1795, had evolved from a political gathering place for Federalists to the site of secret party caucuses (Biog. Dir. Cong.; Robert C. Alberts, The Golden Voyage: The Life and Times of William Bingham, 1752–1804 [Boston, 1969], 262–3). By February 1797 these meetings were becoming public knowledge, for TJ—perhaps when he came to Philadelphia in early March to take the oath of office or when he returned to the city in May to preside over the Senate during the first session of Congress—received an extract of an undated letter between unidentified correspondents expressing concern over machinations in the choice of Bingham as president pro tempore of the Senate on 16 Feb., the day after President-elect John Adams relinquished his Senate duties. The correspondent conveyed the rumors circulating in his “part of the Country” that a number of senators were holding “clandestine consultations out of Doors.” He had been informed that on 14 Feb., the day after Adams announced the date he would be leaving the Senate, Benjamin Goodhue of Massachusetts, Sedgwick, and Bingham invited “the federal part of the Senate” to a meeting at Bingham’s house “to arrange measures for chusing a president of the Senate pro tempore.” The invitation, so “derogatory to the honor of the Members of the Senate,” was accepted by some, who met at the appointed hour and resolved to support the man who had the most votes. Upon counting the ballots it appeared that Sedgwick and Laurence each had a few votes and Bingham the majority. Bingham had thus gained his position “by this disgraceful combination.” (Tr in DLC: TJ Papers, 96: 42162; being an extract in unknown hand; undated; at head of text, in a different hand: “Extract of a letter from a correspondence”).

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