James Madison Papers

From James Madison to Thomas Jefferson, 26 March 1794

To Thomas Jefferson

Mar: 26. 1794

Dear Sir

My last informed you that an embargo had been proposed & negatived. You will see by the inclosed that on a renewal of the proposition yesterday it went thro’ the H. of Reps. by a very large majority.1 The change took place among the Eastern members whose constituents were growing so clamorous under their losses in the W. Indies, as to alarm their representatives. The Senate will have the subject before them today, and will probably concur. It is said that some further measures are to be discussed in that House. The commercial propositions have not yet recd. a vote. The progress of the evils which they were to remedy, having called for more active medicine, it has not been deemed prudent to force them on the attention of the House during more critical discussions. They will however notwithstanding a change of circumstances, cooperate with other measures as an alter[n]ative System and will be pressed to a vote at the first favorable moment. Whether they can be carried into a law at the present Session is doubtful, on acct. of the lateness of the day, and the superior urgency of other questions. The point immediately depending is the discrimination between G. B and other nations as to the proposed duties on manufactures. If this should succeed, the future parts will I think meet with little difficulty. The Enquiry into the Treasury2 is going on, tho’ not very rapidly. I understand that it begins to pinch where we most expected—the authority for drawing the money from Europe into the Bank. H. endeavored to parry the difficulty by contesting the right of the Committee to call for the authority. This failing he talks of constructive written authority from the P. but relies on parol3 authority, which I think it impossible the P. can support him in.4 The old question of referring the origination of Taxes5 comes on today; and will in some degree test the present character of the House: I have written abundance of letters of late but fear they are stopped by the small pox at Richmond.

The people of Charlestown are taking a high tone. Their memorial,6 which is signed by Ramsay—the Gadzdens Young Rutlege & a very great no. of respectable citizens marks the deliberate sense of the people. The more violent has been ex⟨pres⟩sed by hanging & burning the effigies of Smith, Ames[,] Arnold, Dumourier & the Devil en groupe.7

RC (DLC). Unsigned. Docketed by Jefferson, “recd. Apr. 16.”

1On 25 Mar. the House of Representatives unanimously passed a resolution imposing a thirty-day embargo “on all ships and vessels in the ports of the United States bound to any foreign port or place.” Washington signed the joint resolution, as amended by the Senate, on 26 Mar. (Philadelphia Gazette, 26 and 28 Mar. 1794; U.S. Statutes at Large description begins The Public Statutes at Large of the United States of America … (17 vols.; Boston, 1848–73). description ends , 1:400).

2On 16 Dec. 1793 Hamilton requested that the House conduct an investigation into his administration of the Treasury Department. He wanted to silence suggestions that the previous investigation, authorized as a result of William Branch Giles’s resolutions late in the final session of the Second Congress, had been too brief. On the same day, the House tabled Giles’s resolution to revive the investigation. The Senate on 20 Jan. 1794 passed similar resolutions moved by Albert Gallatin, but they were never implemented after Gallatin was disqualified from his Senate seat. On 24 Feb. the House appointed a select committee as proposed by Giles’s resolution. It had “power to send for persons, papers, and records” and met regularly with Hamilton and other treasury officers. The House tabled the committee’s report on 22 May (Syrett and Cooke, Papers of Hamilton description begins Harold C. Syrett and Jacob E. Cooke, eds., The Papers of Alexander Hamilton (26 vols.; New York, 1961–79). description ends , 15:460–65). The committee’s report is printed in ASP description begins American State Papers: Documents, Legislative and Executive, of the Congress of the United States … (38 vols.; Washington, 1832–61). description ends , Finance, 1:281–301. JM’s copy of Report of the Committee Appointed to Examine into the State of the Treasury Department … (Philadelphia, 1794; Evans description begins Charles Evans, ed., American Bibliography … 1639 … 1820 (12 vols.; Chicago, 1903–34). Roger P. Bristol, ed., Supplement to Charles Evans’ American Bibliography (Charlottesville, Va., 1970). description ends 27909) is in the Madison Collection, Rare Book Department, University of Virginia Library.

3Parol: word of mouth.

4The House select committee appointed to examine the Treasury Department investigated, among other things, what portion of loans raised in the Netherlands for discharging the Revolutionary debt owed to France “has been drawn to the United States, at what dates and by what authority.” JM, Giles, and other Republicans suspected Hamilton of diverting to the Bank of the United States funds appropriated for repayment of the debt to France. On 24 Mar. Hamilton argued, as he had done in the earlier investigation during the last session of the Second Congress, that Washington had authorized all foreign debt transactions and that they were all “conformable with the laws.” Hamilton reminded Washington of a letter, written during the president’s 1791 southern tour, approving the secretary of the treasury’s arrangements for the Dutch loans. Washington at first did not recall the letter but soon acknowledged it privately. The secretary of the treasury cited but never divulged the letter during the House investigation of his conduct. JM later concluded that Hamilton “forbore to avail himself of the document he possessed, or to involve the President in the responsibility he was willing to take on himself” (introductory note to Hamilton to Frederick A. C. Muhlenberg, 16 Dec. 1793, Hamilton to the select committee, 24 Mar. 1794, Hamilton to Washington, 24 Mar. 1794, Washington to Hamilton, 7 May 1791, Syrett and Cooke, Papers of Hamilton description begins Harold C. Syrett and Jacob E. Cooke, eds., The Papers of Alexander Hamilton (26 vols.; New York, 1961–79). description ends , 15:462–63, 16:194, 195 n. 3, 196, 8:330; Fleet, “Madison’s Detatched Memoranda,’” WMQ description begins William and Mary Quarterly. description ends , 3d ser., 3 [1946]: 545–48; see also JM to Jefferson, 14 Apr. 1794, n. 3).

5On the appointment of the House select committee on ways and means on 26 Mar., see Madison in the Third Congress, 2 Dec. 1793–3 Mar. 1795.

6On 24 Mar. Congressman Andrew Pickens presented to the House a 1 Mar. South Carolina petition denouncing the British order in council of 6 Nov. 1793 and the resultant losses to American shipping. The petitioners viewed “the present degrading neutrality, as more injurious to the interests … of the republic, than an actual state of war” and pledged to support their representatives “if your wisdom should think it necessary to suspend all commercial intercourse between Great Britain and the United States” (Philadelphia Gazette, 26 and 31 Mar. 1794).

7On 14 Mar. the Republican Society of South Carolina at Charleston passed resolutions denouncing British policies toward the U.S. and approving JM’s proposals for commercial discrimination. On the following day, “the statue of Wm. Pitt was removed from his old place of residence…. In his place two effigys were hung up; and before the Exchange four others, said to represent some of the Delegates in Congress, whose political principles did not coincide in opinion with the freemen of Charleston” (Philip S. Foner, ed., The Democratic-Republican Societies, 1790–1800: A Documentary Sourcebook of Constitutions, Declarations, Addresses, Resolutions, and Toasts [Westport, Conn., 1976], pp. 387–89; Columbia Gazette, 28 Mar. 1794; see also Boston Gazette, 14 Apr. 1794).

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