Thomas Jefferson Papers

To Thomas Jefferson from John Brown, 29 June 1798

From John Brown

Phila. 29th. June 1798

Dear Sir.

The Letter herewith inclosed was this day handed to me by Mr Baldwin to be forwarded to you. He recd. it from Mr Lee through a Chanel which forbids him to suspect that it has passed through the hands of the Inquisition. To avoid the probable effects of illiberal curiosity so prevalent at the present day, I shall put this packet under Cover addressed to our mutual friend Colo. Bell of Charlottesville with request to give it a safe conveyance to you—

Mr Sedgewick (ex Member) was by 12 Votes placed in the Chair as President pro tem—From the symptoms he exhibits I fear his Head, of which you know he has been long complaining, will derive no advantage from this elevation.—Lloyds famous Treason Bill is still with the Committee to whom it was refered. It excites much attention in this City, & having been extensively circulated in connection with Traceys Speech, will make in all probability considerable impression upon the public Mind.

No arrivals from Europe since you left us.—

I have the Honor to be with esteem Sir Yo Mo Obt. & Hble Sert.

J. Brown

RC (DLC); at foot of text: “Tho Jefferson Esqr.”; endorsed by TJ as received 26 July 1798 and so recorded in SJL. Enclosures: Joel Barlow to TJ, 12 Mch. 1798 (two letters), and enclosure.

On 27 June, the day TJ left Philadelphia, the Senate elected Theodore Sedgwick president pro tempore. James Lloyd had introduced his treason bill the day before, and on 27 June it was referred to a committee consisting of Lloyd, Uriah Tracy, and other Federalists. As introduced, the bill defined the giving of “aid and comfort” to the government or people of France or its dependencies as treason, punishable by death, and provided a definition and punishment for sedition. The committee dropped the sections relating to treason, but retained the provisions on seditious libel. The Senate passed the bill on 4 July, the House approved it, and on 14 July it went into effect as the Sedition Act (JS description begins Journal of the Senate of the United States, Washington, D.C., 1820–21, 5 vols. description ends , 2:518–20; Smith, Freedom’s Fetters description begins James Morton Smith, Freedom’s Fetters: The Alien and Sedition Laws and American Civil Liberties, Ithaca, N.Y., 1956 description ends , 107–11; Syrett, Hamilton description begins Harold C. Syrett and others, eds., The Papers of Alexander Hamilton, New York, 1961–87, 27 vols. description ends , 21:522–3n; U.S. Statutes at Large description begins Richard Peters, ed., The Public Statutes at Large of the United States … 1789 to March 3, 1845, Boston, 1855–56, 8 vols. description ends , 1:596–7; MB description begins James A. Bear, Jr., and Lucia C. Stanton, eds., Jefferson’s Memorandum Books: Accounts, with Legal Records and Miscellany, 1767–1826, Princeton, 1997, The Papers of Thomas Jefferson, Second Series description ends , 2:986).

Traceys speech: in the Senate on 23 June, in debate on the bill to void the treaties with France, Tracy called the French “a race of reprobates” marked by “their notorious baseness, their perfidy, their audacity and their want of all sense of religious or moral obligation.” He called for “a war of EXTINGUISHMENT” and, as reported by the Aurora on 26 June, declared his wish “to put arms in the hand of every man, every woman and of every child in America, against every man, every woman and every child in France.”

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