Thomas Jefferson Papers

To Thomas Jefferson from Henry Tazewell, 7 December 1798

From Henry Tazewell

Kings mill 7th. Decr. 1798.

Dear Sir

My intention was to have been in Philadelphia on the first day of the present Session of Congress, if my health would have allowed me—But an autumnal fever with which I was attacked last August immediately after my return home, has not permited me to enjoy one day of health since that time—As the Winter comes on I hope I shall get the better of it—but it cannot be, that I shall be able to undertake the Journey until after ‘Xmas, unless some occasion more valuable than my life requires my presence in the Senate—Towards the close of the last Session an order was passed in the Senate to enable that body to send for absent Members under grievous penalties—If this should be attempted to be executed as to me—I beg the favour of you to state my situation, and to assure the Senate that so soon as I am fit for the Journey, I will hasten to the place of my duty—Any political occurence worth knowing would be acceptable to me in my Confinement, and therefore if your leizure will permit, and any such events turn up, you will oblige me by communicating them—

You know our Ass: met last Monday—I hear that the Speaker & Clerk are reelected, the former by a Majority of 14 & I know nothing of the state of the latter vote—whether this is to be considered as a tryal of the strength of the political parties I have not heard—but my belief is, that it affords no just criterion. The election of a Senator will give a better evidence, and there is every reason to believe that the british party are using their utmost exertions to displace me—I have not heard when the election will be made, nor what the probable result maybe—If however I am discontinued, you will probably not see me this Winter in Philadelphia, as it will be a long and hazardous Journey for a short Session—

I am with great respect & esteem Your mo. obt.

Henry Tazewell

RC (DLC); endorsed by TJ as received 15 Jan. 1799 and so recorded in SJL.

On 25 June 1798 the Senate amended the rule which required that a senator obtain leave before an absence and gave the sergeant at arms the power to send for absent members at any time during the session if a quorum was not present. The order was to be carried out at the absent senator’s expense unless he gave a sufficient excuse for non-attendance (JS, description begins Journal of the Senate of the United States, Washington, D.C., 1820–21, 5 vols. description ends 2:517–18; PW description begins Wilbur S. Howell, ed., Jefferson’s Parliamentary Writings, Princeton, 1988, The Papers of Thomas Jefferson, Second Series description ends , 133, 366).

The Virginia House of Delegates met on 3 Dec. and as its first order of business proceeded to elect a Speaker & Clerk. According to the House records, the Republicans did not nominate anyone to stand against John Stewart, who had served as clerk since 1795. John Taylor, however, nominated Wilson Cary Nicholas as qualified to discharge the duties of speaker against Federalist nominee John Wise, who had served as speaker since 1794. Wise was reelected. By joint ballot of the House and Senate, Tazewell was reelected as a United States senator on 12 Dec. but not without exertions to displace him. On the previous day his opponents had attempted to delay the ballot until 1 Jan. in order to investigate the charge that Tazewell had been overheard to declare in Philadelphia in the summer of 1797 “that if the French nation should land an army in these states, he would join the said army against the government of the United States.” The resolution to postpone the vote was defeated, 53 yeas to 98 nays (JHD, description begins Journal of the House of Delegates of the Commonwealth of Virginia (cited by session and date of publication) description ends Dec. 1798–Jan. 1799, [3], 18–20; Leonard, General Assembly description begins Cynthia Miller Leonard, comp., The General Assembly of Virginia, July 30, 1619-January 11, 1978: A Bicentennial Register of Members, Richmond, 1978 description ends , xv-xvi, 211).

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