Thomas Jefferson Papers

From Thomas Jefferson to James Madison, 22 November 1799

To James Madison

Monticello Nov. 22. 99.

Dear Sir

I have never answered your letter by mr Polk, because I intended to have paid you a visit. this has been postponed by various circumstances till yesterday, being the day fixed for the departure of my daur Eppes, my horses were ready for me to have set out to see you. an accident postponed her departure to this day & my visit also. but Colo. Monroe dined with us yesterday, and on my asking his commands for you, he entered into the subject of the visit, and dissuaded it entirely, founding the motives on the espionage of the little wretch in Charlottesville, who would make it a subject of some political slander, & perhaps of some political injury. I have yeilded to his representations, & therefore shall not have the pleasure of seeing you till my return from Philadelphia. I regret it sincerely, not only on motives of affection but of affairs. some late circumstances change considerably the aspect of our situation, and must affect the line of conduct to be observed. I regret it the more too, because from the commencement of the ensuing session, I shall trust the post offices with nothing confidential, persuaded that during the ensuing twelvemonth they will lend their inquisitorial aid to furnish matter for new slanders. I shall send you as usual printed communications, without saying any thing confidential on them. you will of course understand the cause.

In your new station let me recommend to you the jury system: as also the restoration of juries to the court of Chancery, which a law not long sine repealed because ‘the trial by jury is troublesome & expensive.’ if the reason be good they should go through with it, & abolish it at common law also. if P. Carr is elected in the room of W.N. he will undertake the proposing this business and only need your support. if he be not elected, I hope you will get it done otherwise. my best respects to mrs Madison, and affectionate salutations to yourself

Th: Jefferson

RC (DLC: Madison Papers, Rives Collection); at foot of text: “Mr. Madison.”

The letter from Madison delivered by Charles Peale Polk is found at 3 Nov.

Little wretch in charlottesville: Albemarle County clerk John Nicholas, probably author of the critical letter to TJ signed “Americanus,” dated 10 Apr. 1798.

I shall trust the post offices with nothing confidential: according to SJL, TJ did not write Madison from Philadelphia until 4 Mch. 1800, when Hore Browse Trist agreed to deliver the missive on his return to Virginia. Thomas Mann Randolph probably carried TJ’s letter of 26 Nov. 1799 to Madison in Richmond (Randolph to TJ, 3 Dec. 1799).

For the changes TJ advocated in the jury system and selection of jurors, see Petition to the General Assembly of Virginia, [2 or 3 Nov. 1798]. For his advocacy of “trial by jury for all matters of fact” as a means of guarding “against the dangers apprehended” from the Court of Chancery, see Vol. 9:71. The Virginia House of Delegates on 28 Dec. began discussion of a committee report on the need for reorganization of the High Court of Chancery to expedite the “crowded legal docket.” On 14 Jan. 1800 the House appointed TJ, Edmund Pendleton, George Wythe, and an unnamed fourth person, or any three of them, to report on the existing judiciary system and recommend necessary changes. At the same time, the House defeated a substitute resolution, possibly a plan submitted by St. George Tucker to Archibald Stuart, Speaker of the Senate, to establish a five-district chancery court. No legislation reforming the chancery court system passed until 1802 (JHD, description begins Journal of the House of Delegates of the Commonwealth of Virginia (cited by session and date of publication) description ends Dec. 1799–Jan. 1800, 20–1, 44, 47, 85; Charles T. Cullen, St. George Tucker and Law in Virginia 1772–1804 [New York, 1987], 110–13).

w.n.: Wilson Cary Nicholas. On 5 Dec. the Assembly elected Nicholas, an Albemarle County member of the House of Delegates, to fill the U.S. Senate seat vacated by Henry Tazewell’s death in January. William Woods, not Peter Carr, succeeded Nicholas in the House of Delegates (JHD description begins Journal of the House of Delegates of the Commonwealth of Virginia (cited by session and date of publication) description ends , Dec. 1799–Jan. 1800, 10; 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 215; TJ to John Wayles Eppes, 21 Dec. 1799).

Index Entries