Thomas Jefferson Papers

James Madison to Thomas Jefferson, 15 February 1817

From James Madison

Washington Feby 15. 1817

Dear Sir

I recd yesterday yours covering the letter of Mr Spafford, which was forwarded to him as you suggested: His object in communicating it I collect only from its contents. He probably exhibited it as a proof of the spirit and views of the Eastern States during the late war.

As with you the weather here has of late been remarkable both for the degree & continuance of Cold, and the winter throughout for its dryness. The Earth has however had the advantage of a cover of snow during the period most needing it. The Wheat fields still have a slight protection from it. This morning is the coldest we have yet had. The Thermometer, on the N. side of the House under an open shed, was at 8 OC. 4.°1 above 0. at this moment half after 9 OC. it stands at 6½.° Yesterday morning about the same hour it was at 8.° and at 3 OC. between 10° & 11.°

Our information from abroad has been very scanty for a long time, and we are without any of late date. From St Petersburg nothing has been recd shewing the effect of Mr Coles’ communications on the Emperor. Mr Pinkney left Naples re infecta. He had to contend with pride poverty and want of principle. Mr Gallatin’s demands of indemnity are not recd with the same insensibility, but will have a very diminutive success, if any at all. The Govt of Spain, with its habitual mean cunning, after drawing the negociations to Madrid, has now sent them back to Onis, with powers, without instructions. They foolishly forget that, with respect to the territorial questions at least, we are in possession of that portion of our claims, which is immediately wanted, and that delay is our ally, and even Guarantee for every thing. The British Cabinet seems as well disposed as is consistent with its jealousies, and the prejudices it has worked up in the nation agst us. We are anxious to learn the result of our answer to the Dey of Algiers. It is nearly 3 months since a line was recd from Chauncy or Shaler; nor has even a rumor reached us since their return to Algiers.

All the latest accts from Europe turn principally2 on the failure of the harvests, and the prospects of scarcity. If they are not greatly exaggerated the distress must be severe in many districts, and considerable every where. When the failure in this Country comes to be known, which was not the case at the latest dates, the prospect will doubtless be more gloomy.

You will see that Congs have spent their time chiefly on the Compensation law, which has finally taken the most exceptionable of all turns; and on the Claims law as it is called relating to horses & houses destroyed by the Enemy, which is still undecided in the Senate. They shrink from a struggle for reciprocity in the W.I. trade; but the H. of R. have sent to the Senate a navigation Act, reciprocating the great principle of the British Acts, which if passed by the Senate, will be felt deeply in G.B. in its example, if not in its operation.3 Another Bill has gone to the Senate which I have not seen; and of a very extraordinary character, if it has been rightly stated to me. The object of it is, to compass by law only an authority over roads & Canals. It is said the Senate are not likely to concur in the project;4 whether from an objection to the principle or the expediency of it, is uncertain—I shall hasten my departure from this place as much as possible; but I fear I shall be detained longer after the 4th of March, than I wish. The severe weather, unites with the winding up of my public business, in retarding the preparations during the Session of Congress, and they will from their multiplicity5 be a little tedious after we can devote ourselves exclusively thereto. On my reachg home, I shall recollect your notice of the call which will afford me the pleasure of assuring you in person of my sincere & constant affection

James Madison

RC (DLC: Madison Papers); endorsed by TJ as received 19 Feb. 1817 and so recorded (with mistaken composition date of 11 Feb.) in SJL. RC (DLC); address cover only; with PoC of TJ to Wilson Cary Nicholas, 19 Mar. 1817, on verso; addressed: “Thomas Jefferson Esqr near Milton Albemarle County Virginia”; franked; postmarked Washington City, 16 Feb.

To ease tensions with Russia strained by the Kosloff affair (see note to James Monroe to TJ, 22 Oct. 1816), Madison and Monroe sent Edward Coles to st petersburg as a special envoy in support of Levett Harris, the United States chargé d’affaires there (Monroe to Madison, 29 June 1816 [DLC: Madison Papers, Rives Collection]; Elihu Benjamin Washburne, Sketch of Edward Coles, second governor of Illinois, and of the Slavery Struggle of 1823–4 [1882], 39–43). In addition to his duties as United States minister plenipotentiary to Russia, William pinkney was given the same posting for Naples after Madison suggested to the Senate the “importance and expediency of a mission to Naples, for the purpose of negotiating indemnities to our citizens for spoliations committed by the Neapolitan government” (JEP description begins Journal of the Executive Proceedings of the Senate of the United States description ends , 3:32, 35, 45, 46 [28 Feb., 7 Mar., 20, 23 Apr. 1816]). Madison charged Commodore Isaac Chauncey and United States consul William Shaler with renewing the peace treaty with the dey of algiers. The treaty was signed on 22 and 23 Dec. 1816 but not ratified by the Senate until February 1822 (Miller, Treaties description begins Hunter Miller, ed., Treaties and other International Acts of the United States of America, 1931–48, 8 vols. description ends , 2:617–44).

The compensation law established an annual salary in place of daily pay for senators, representatives, and territorial delegates. It was passed on 19 Mar. 1816 and repealed on 6 Feb. 1817 (U.S. Statutes at Large description begins Richard Peters, ed., The Public Statutes at Large of the United States … 1789 to March 3, 1845, 1845–67, 8 vols. description ends , 3:257–8, 345). A claims law authorizing payments for various types of property lost in the War of 1812 was approved on 3 Mar. 1817 (U.S. Statutes at Large description begins Richard Peters, ed., The Public Statutes at Large of the United States … 1789 to March 3, 1845, 1845–67, 8 vols. description ends , 3:397–8). w.i.: West Indies. “An Act concerning the navigation of the United States” passed on 1 Mar. 1817. Its first section restricted imports into the United States from “any foreign port or place, except in vessels of the United States” or in foreign vessels belonging to the citizens or subjects of the country in which the goods originated or were first shipped for transportation. The provision did not, however, “extend to the vessels of any foreign nation which has not adopted, and which shall not adopt, a similar regulation” (U.S. Statutes at Large description begins Richard Peters, ed., The Public Statutes at Large of the United States … 1789 to March 3, 1845, 1845–67, 8 vols. description ends , 3:351–2).

The measure of a very extraordinary character was the so-called Bonus Bill, which authorized payments for internal improvements with the public share of dividends paid by the Second Bank of the United States. The House of Representatives and the Senate approved it on 8 and 28 Feb., respectively, but Madison vetoed it on 3 Mar. 1817 as his presidency ended. He explained that “the permanent success of the Constitution depends on the definite partition of powers between the General and the State Governments, and that no adequate landmarks would be left by the constructive extension of the powers of Congress, as proposed in this bill” (JHR description begins Journal of the House of Representatives of the United States description ends , 10:369; JS description begins Journal of the Senate of the United States description ends , 6:339–41; Annals description begins Annals of the Congress of the United States: The Debates and Proceedings in the Congress of the United States … Compiled from Authentic Materials, Washington, D.C., Gales & Seaton, 1834–56, 42 vols. (All editions are undependable and pagination varies from one printing to another. Citations given below are to the edition mounted on the American Memory website of the Library of Congress and give the date of the debate as well as page numbers.) description ends , 14th Cong., 2d sess., 211–2).

1Unmatched opening parenthesis preceding this word editorially omitted.

2Word interlined.

3Preceding eight words interlined in place of “in its operation & example.”

4Word interlined in place of “Effort.”

5Manuscript: “muliplicity.”

Index Entries

  • Alexander I, emperor of Russia; and U.S. search
  • Algiers; 1816U.S. treaty with search
  • Algiers; dey of search
  • An Act concerning the navigation of the United States (1817) search
  • Bank of the United States, Second; and internal improvements search
  • canals; in U.S. search
  • Chauncey, Isaac; as U.S. Navy commodore search
  • Coles, Edward; as J. Madison’s secretary search
  • Congress, U.S.; activities of search
  • Congress, U.S.; compensation for members of search
  • Constitution, U.S.; and federalism search
  • crops; failure of search
  • Gallatin, Albert; as minister plenipotentiary to France search
  • Great Britain; and U.S. search
  • Harris, Levett; as consul at Saint Petersburg search
  • inaugurations; J. Monroe’s presidential search
  • Kosloff, Nicholas; accused of rape search
  • Madison, James (1751–1836); and E. Coles search
  • Madison, James (1751–1836); and H. G. Spafford search
  • Madison, James (1751–1836); letters from search
  • Madison, James (1751–1836); presidency of search
  • Madison, James (1751–1836); vetoes bills search
  • Monroe, James; presidential inauguration of search
  • Naples; U.S. minister to search
  • Onís y González Vara López y Gómez, Luis de; negotiations with U.S. government search
  • Pinkney, William; as minister plenipotentiary to Russia and Naples search
  • roads; in U.S. search
  • Russia; and N. Kosloff affair search
  • Russia; and U.S. search
  • Russia; U.S. minister to search
  • Senate, U.S.; and public works search
  • Shaler, William; as consul general at Algiers search
  • Spafford, Horatio Gates; and J. Madison search
  • Spain; and U.S. search
  • United States; public works search
  • War of1812; compensation claims related to search
  • weather; cold search
  • weather; effect on crops search
  • West Indies; U.S. trade with search
  • wheat; effect of weather on search