Thomas Jefferson Papers

To Thomas Jefferson from James Madison, 29 December 1798

From James Madison

Decr. 29. 1798

Dear Sir

I inclose a draught on Genl. Moylan out of which you will be pleased to pay yourself the price of the Nails £48–11.3. Va. Cy. to let Barnes have as much as will discharge the balance I owe him, & to let what may remain lie till I write you again.

The P.’s speech corresponds pretty much with the idea of it which was preconceived. It is the old song with no other variation of the tune than the spirit of the moment was thought to exact. It is evident also that he rises in his pitch as the Ecchoes of the S. & H. of R. embolden him, & particularly that he seizes with avidity that of the latter flattering his vigilance & firmness agst. illusory attempts on him, without noticing, as he was equally invited, the allusion to his pacific professions. The Senate as usual perform their part with alacrity in counteracting peace by dextrous provocations to the pride & irritability of the French Govt. It is pretty clear that their answer was cooked in the same shop, with the Speech. The finesse of the former calculated to impose on the public mind here, & the virulence of the latter still more calculated to draw from France the war, which can not be safely declared1 on this side, taste strongly of the genius of that subtle & malignant2 partizan of England who has contributed so much to the public misfortunes. It is not difficult to see how A. could be made a puppet thro’ the instrumentality of creatures around him, nor how the Senate could be managed by similar artifice. I have not seen the Result of the discussions at Richmond on the Alien & Sedition laws. It is to be feared their zeal may forget some considerations which ought to temper their proceedings. Have you ever considered thoroughly the distinction between the power of the State, & that of the Legislature, on questions relating to the federal pact. On the supposition that the former is clearly the ultimate Judge of infractions, it does not follow that the latter is the legitimate organ; especially as a Convention was the organ by which the Compact was made. This was a reason of great weight for using general expressions that would leave to other States a choice of all the modes possible of concurring in the substance, and would shield the Genl. Assembly agst. the charge of Usurpation in the very act of protesting agst the usurpations of Congress. I have not forgot my promise of McGeehee’s prices, but cd. not conveniently Copy them for the present mail.

Always affy yrs.

Js. Madison Jr

RC (DLC: Madison Papers); with calculations of price of nails in TJ’s hand below endorsement (see below); endorsed by TJ as received 5 Jan. 1799 and so recorded in SJL. Enclosure not found.

TJ recorded the price of the nails on 9 Jan. 1799, converting the amount in Virginia currency to $161.875 (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 2:996).

P.’s speech: see TJ to Thomas Mann Randolph, 20 Dec. 1798. On 14 Dec. the House of Representatives delivered their response to the annual message. They upheld Adams’s desire for vigilance & firmness with France noting that negotiations should not take place as long as France persisted in the enforcement of decrees hostile to the rights of the United States and that whether or not negotiations were resumed “vigorous preparations for war” were indispensable. The House message concluded with an allusion to the president’s pacific professions, encouraging the chief executive “to make known to the world that justice on the part of France will annihilate every obstacle to the restoration of a friendly intercourse” and that the United States would “respect the sacred rights of embassy.” In his response Adams reiterated that “no illusory professions” would seduce him to abandon “the rights which belong to the United States as a free and independent nation” (JHR, description begins Journal of the House of Representatives of the United States, Washington, D.C., 1826, 9 vols. description ends 3:407–10). The Senate’s response to the president’s message, delivered on 12 Dec., gave no support for peace initiatives and instead expanded upon the reasons why further negotiations with France were harmful, noting that French initiatives were “designed to separate the people from their government, and to bring about by intrigue that which open force could not effect.” In his response Adams commented upon the “officious interference of individuals, without public character or authority”—clearly with Logan’s mission to France in mind—and queried whether the Senate ought not to take measures to prevent individuals from interfering in public affairs, because they, through “secret correspondence” and other means, “intended to impose upon the people, and separate them from their government” (JS, description begins Journal of the Senate of the United States, Washington, D.C., 1820–21, 5 vols. description ends 2:562–3).

Partizan of England: Alexander Hamilton.

For Madison’s fears concerning the discussions at Richmond on the Virginia Resolutions, see TJ to Wilson Cary Nicholas, 29 Nov. 1798.

1MS: “delared.”

2Preceding ampersand and word canceled, but probably by a later hand.

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