Thomas Jefferson Papers

From Thomas Jefferson to James Madison, 19 December 1800

To James Madison

Washington Dec. 19. 1800.

Mrs. Brown’s departure for Virginia enables me to write confidentially what I would not have ventured by the post at this prying season. the election of S. Carolina has in some measure decided the great contest. tho’ as yet we do not know the actual votes of Tenissee, Kentucky & Vermont yet we believe the votes to be on the whole1 J. 73. B. 73. A. 65. P. 64. Rhode isld. withdrew one from P. there is a possibility that Tenissee may withdraw one from B. and Burr writes that there may be one vote in Vermont for J. but I hold the latter impossible, and the former not probable; and that there will be an absolute parity between the two republican candidates. this has produced great dismay & gloom on the republican gentlemen here, and equal exultation in the federalists, who openly declare they will prevent an election, and will name a President of the Senate pro tem. by what they say would only be a stretch of the constitution. the prospect of preventing this is as follows. G. N.C. T. K. V. P. & N.Y. can be counted on for their vote in the H. of R. & it is2 thought by some that Baer of Maryland & Linn of N.J. will come over. some even count on Morris of Vermont. but you must know the uncertainty of such a dependance under the operation of Caucuses and other federal engines. the month of February therefore will present us storms of a new character. should they have a particular issue, I hope you will be here a day or two at least before the 4th. of March. I know that3 your appearance on the scene before the departure of Congress, would assuage the minority, & inspire in the majority confidence & joy unbounded, which they would spread far & wide on their journey home. let me beseech you then to come with a view of staying perhaps a couple of weeks, within which time things might be put into such a train as would permit us both to go home for a short time for removal. I wrote to R.R.L. by a confidential hand three days ago. the person proposed for the T. is not come yet.

Davie is here with the Convention as it is called; but it is a real treaty & without limitation of time. it has some disagreeable features, and will endanger the compromitting us with G.B. I am not at liberty to mention it’s contents, but I believe it will meet with opposition from both sides of the house. it has been a bungling negociation. Elsworth remains in France for his health. he has resigned his office of C.J. putting these two things together we cannot misconstrue his views. he must have had great confidence in mr A’s continuance to risk such a certainty as he held. Jay was yesterday nominated Chief Justice. we were afraid of something worse. a scheme of government for the territory is cooking by a committee of each house under separate authorities but probably a voluntary harmony. they let out no hints. it is believed that the judiciary system will not be pushed as the appointments, if made by the present administration, could not fall on those who create them. but I very much fear the road system will be urged. the mines of Peru could not supply the monies which would be wasted on this object, nor the patience of any people stand the abuses which would be incontroulably committed under it. I propose, as soon as the state of the election is perfectly ascertained, to aim at a candid understanding with mr A. I do not expect that either his feelings, or his views of interest will oppose it. I hope to induce in him dispositions liberal and accomodating. accept my affectionate salutations.

RC (DLC: Madison Papers, Rives Collection); addressed: “James Madison junr. Orange.” PrC (DLC).

Mrs. Brown: probably Catherine Brown of Philadelphia whose daughter Mary was the wife of Hore Browse Trist (Jane Flaherty Wells, “Thomas Jefferson’s Neighbors: Hore Browse Trist of ‘Birdwood’ and Dr. William Bache of ‘Franklin,’” Magazine of Albemarle County History, 47 [1989], 1, 3, 8).

George Baer of Maryland, a Federalist, served in the House of Representatives in the Fifth, Sixth, and Fourteenth Congresses. James Linn of N.J., a graduate of the College of New Jersey and a lawyer, was elected as a Republican to the Sixth Congress, and was a supporter of TJ’s although some of his colleagues in the House considered him a swing vote. Lewis Richard Morris of Vermont was a Federalist representative in the Fifth, Sixth, and Seventh Congresses (Biog. Dir. Cong.; Harrison, Princetonians, 1769–1775 description begins Richard A. Harrison, Princetonians—1769–1775—A Biographical Dictionary, Princeton, 1980 description ends , 29–30).

R.R.L.: Robert R. Livingston, to whom TJ offered the secretaryship of the navy on 14 Dec. Albert Gallatin, the person proposed for the t. (treasury), arrived in Washington on 10 Jan. 1801 although TJ did not formally offer him the post until after 17 Feb. 1801 (Raymond Walters, Jr., Albert Gallatin: Jeffersonian Financier and Diplomat [New York, 1957], 126, 141–2).

I am not at liberty to mention it’s contents: although the Journal of the Executive Proceedings indicates simply that on 17 Dec. the Senate progressed in reading the papers communicated by the president with the Convention of 1800, a motion on a scrap of paper in TJ’s hand, “that it be a standing order that all treaties be considered as secret while the question of their ratification is depending before the Senate,” is docketed as “Mr Morris motion for injunction of secrecy on consideration of Treaties Decr 17th 1800.” The passage, “which shall be hereafter submd to the considn of the Senate,” appears in TJ’s hand on the verso of the docketing (DNA: RG 46, Senate Records, 6th Cong., 2d sess.). It provides the only official evidence that New York Senator Gouverneur Morris introduced the motion on secrecy on that date. But on 19 Dec. the National Intelligencer not only carried an account of Morris’s motion, the newspaper also noted that a Senate vote on the measure resulted in an equal division, with TJ casting the tie-breaking vote against it. On 19 Dec. the Senate requested that the president send them the instructions given to the U.S. envoys when they embarked on their mission. The president transmitted the instructions on 22 Dec., with the request that the Senate consider them “in strict confidence” and return them to the executive as quickly as possible. On the same day the Senate passed a resolution “That all confidential communications made by the President of the United States to the Senate, shall be, by the members thereof, kept inviolably secret; and that all treaties which may hereafter be laid before the Senate, shall also be kept secret, until the Senate shall, by their resolution, take off the injunction of secrecy” (JEP description begins Journal of the Executive Proceedings of the Senate of the United States … to the Termination of the Nineteenth Congress, Washington, D.C., 1828, 3 vols. description ends , 1:359–61). TJ included this resolution in his parliamentary manual (see TJ to Samuel H. Smith, printed at 6 Jan. 1801).

When William R. Davie returned from France he carried a letter from Oliver Ellsworth indicating he had resigned his office of chief justice. A painful kidney ailment prompted Ellsworth’s decision and prevented him from making the transatlantic journey until the end of March 1801 (ANB description begins John A. Garraty and Mark C. Carnes, eds., American National Biography, New York and Oxford, 1999, 24 vols. description ends ; William Garrott Brown, The Life of Oliver Ellsworth [New York, 1905], 302–3, 310). John Adams nominated John Jay on 18 Dec. 1800 and the Senate confirmed him the following day. He declined the office because of his health (JEP description begins Journal of the Executive Proceedings of the Senate of the United States … to the Termination of the Nineteenth Congress, Washington, D.C., 1828, 3 vols. description ends , 1:360; Syrett, Hamilton description begins Harold C. Syrett and others, eds., The Papers of Alexander Hamilton, New York, 1961–87, 27 vols. description ends , 25:264).

For the scheme of government for the District of Columbia, see TJ to Madison, 26 Dec.

Revision of the judiciary system resulted from “An Act to provide for the more convenient organization of the Courts of the United States,” also known as the Judiciary Act of 1801, which expanded and reorganized the federal court system by redefining districts and creating 23 judgeships and court posts (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 , 2:89–100; Vol. 31:261–3, 434n).

Road system: “An Act further to alter and to establish certain post roads” was signed on 3 Mch. 1801 (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 , 2:125–27).

1Preceding three words interlined.

2TJ here canceled “believed” before interlining the following three words.

3Canceled: “nothing.”

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