Thomas Jefferson Papers

From Thomas Jefferson to James Madison, 24 January 1798

To James Madison

Philadelphia Jan. 24.1 98.

I wrote you last on the 2d. inst. on which day I recieved yours of Dec. 25. I have not resumed my pen because there has really been nothing worth writing about but what you would see in the newspapers. there is as yet no certainty what will be the aspect of our affairs with France. either the Envoys have not written to the government, or their communications are hushed up. this last is suspected because so many arrivals have happened from Bordeaux & Havre. the letters from American correspondents in France have been always to Boston: & the experience we had last summer of their adroitness in counterfeiting this kind of intelligence, inspires doubts as to their late paragraphs. a letter is certainly recieved here by an individual from Taleyrand, which says our envoys have been heard, that their pretensions are high, that possibly no arrangement may take place, but that there will be no declaration of war by France. it is said that Bournonville has written that he has hopes of an accomodation (3. audiences having then, Nov. 3. been had) and to be himself a member of a new diplomatic mission to this country. on the whole I am entirely suspended as to what is to be expected.—the Representatives have been several days in debate on the bill for foreign intercourse. a motion has been made to reduce it to what it was before the extension of 1796. the debate will probably have good effects in several ways on the public mind, but the advocates for the reformation expect to lose the question. they find themselves decieved in the expectation entertained in the beginning of the session, that they had a majority. they now think the majority is on the other side by 2. or 3. and there are moreover 2. or 3 of them absent.—Blount’s affair is to come on next. in the mean time the Senate have before them a bill for regulating proceedings in impeachment. this will be made the occasion of offering a clause for the introduction of juries into these trials. (compare the paragraph in the constitution which says that the trial of all crimes, except in cases of impeachment, shall be by jury, with the VIIIth. amendment which says that in all criminal prosecutions, the trial shall be by jury.) there is no expectation of carrying this; because the division in the Senate is of 2. to 1. but it will draw forth the principles of the parties, and concur in accumulating proofs on which side all the sound principles are to be found.—very acrimonious altercations are going on between the Spanish minister & Executive, and at the Natchez something worse than mere altercation. if hostilities have not begun there, it has not been for want of endeavors to bring them on by our agents.—Marshall of Kentuckey, this day proposed in Senate some amendments to the constitution. they were barely read just as we were adjourning, & not a word of explanation given. as far as I caught them in my ear, they went only to modifications of the elections of President & V. President, by authorising voters to add the office for which they name each, &2 giving to the Senate the decision of a disputed election of President & to the Representatives that of Vice-President. but I am apprehensive I caught the thing imperfectly, & probably incorrectly.3 perhaps this occasion may be taken of proposing again the Virginia amendments, as also to condemn elections by the legislatures themselves, to transfer the power of trying impeachments from the Senate to some better constituted court &c. &c. Good tobo. here is 13. Doll. flour 8.50 Wheat 1.50 but dull, because only the millers buy. the river however is nearly open & the merchants will now come to market & give a spur to the price. but their competition will not be what it has been. bankruptcies thicken, & the height of them is by no means yet come on. it is thought this winter will be very trying. friendly salutations to mrs Madison. Adieu affectionately.

Jan. 25.4 I inclose Marshall’s propositions. they have been this day postponed to the 1st. of June, chiefly by the vote of the Antirepublicans under the acknoleged fear that other amendments would be also proposed, and that this is not the time for agitating the public mind.

RC (DLC: Madison Papers); with change in dateline by TJ (see note 1 below); at foot of first page: “Mr. Madison”; listed in SJL at 25 Jan. 1798. PrC (DLC); lacks change in dateline and date in postscript (see note 4 below). Enclosure: see note below.

TJ’s last letter to Madison was actually dated 3 Jan. 1798. The news that Charles François Bournonville, former secretary of the French legation in Philadelphia, would return to the United States as a member of a new diplomatic mission was reported in the Philadelphia Gazette, 23 Jan. 1798.

On 18 Jan. the House of Representatives began debate on the bill for foreign intercourse. Introduced by Robert Goodloe Harper, it would provide appropriations for the diplomatic corps. On the same day Virginia congressman John Nicholas moved to reduce significantly the size of the diplomatic establishment to what it was before the extension of 1796. He argued that the executive branch was using patronage appointments to increase its power over the legislative branch and that congressmen, eager for an appointment, were “willing to sacrifice all independent political opinions and bend at the shrine of Executive wisdom.” The House debated Nicholas’s amendment for about a week, and a month later again took up the measure. On 5 Mch. the amendment was defeated by a 52 to 48 vote. The next day the House passed the bill with the appropriations sought by Harper (Annals description begins Annals of the Congress of the United States: The Debates and Proceedings in the Congress of the United StatesCompiled 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 , 7:847–945, 1083–1215; 8:1217–34).

Bill for regulating proceedings in impeachment: see TJ to Henry Tazewell, 27 Jan. 1798, for a discussion of this bill and for TJ’s contribution to the argument in support of the introduction of juries at impeachment trials.

Viiith amendment: the Sixth Amendment as ratified.

The acrimonious altercations between the Spanish minister Carlos Fernando Martinez de Irujo and Timothy Pickering were brought before Congress in a report by the secretary of state submitted on 23 Jan. 1798, in which he characterized Spain’s refusal to carry out the provisions of Pinckney’s Treaty of 1795, especially delays in the joint survey to run the boundary line between the United States and Louisiana and Spain’s retention of certain military posts such as the one at Natchez, from whence the survey was to begin and where United States troops were congregating to aid in the project. Spain used the Blount affair to further support her delays (ASP description begins American State Papers: Documents, Legislative and Executive, of the Congress of the United States, Washington, D.C., 1832–61, 38 vols. description ends , Foreign Relations, 2:78–103; Bemis, Pinckney’s Treaty description begins Samuel Flagg Bemis, Pinckney’s Treaty: America’s Advantage from Europe’s Distress, 1783–1800, rev. ed., New Haven, 1960 description ends , 294–311).

In the four amendments to the constitution introduced by Humphrey Marshall on 24 Jan., the electors not the voters were to distinguish between their choice for president and that for vice president; the Senate would settle disputes over electoral votes for president and the House those for the vice president. The final amendment gave the Senate the power to elect the vice president, from among those who had received votes, if no person had received a majority (JS description begins Journal of the Senate of the United States, Washington, D.C., 1820–21, 5 vols. description ends , 2:430). Marshall’s propositions immediately appeared as a broadside printed by John Fenno (Evans, description begins Charles Evans, Clifford K. Shipton, and Roger P. Bristol, comps., American Bibliography: A Chronological Dictionary of all Books, Pamphlets and Periodical Publications Printed in the United States of America from … 1639 … to … 1820, Chicago and Worcester, Mass., 1903–59, 14 vols. description ends No. 48657). On 25 Jan., by a 15 to 13 vote, the Senate postponed to the 1st of june consideration of the amendments (JS description begins Journal of the Senate of the United States, Washington, D.C., 1820–21, 5 vols. description ends , 2:430).

1TJ first wrote “5” and later altered it to read as above. Change lacking in PrC.

2TJ first wrote “transferring to the Senate the right now held by the Representatives of chusing a President in the case of indecision” before altering the remainder of the sentence to read as above.

3Sentence interlined.

4Preceding two digits lacking in PrC.

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