James Madison Papers

From James Madison to Thomas Jefferson, 21 February 1796

To Thomas Jefferson

Philada. Feby. 21. 1796

Dear Sir

Since my last I have made enquiry as to Lownes. In general he is well spoken of, in every respect. Old Mr. Howell however, told me he was not a punctual man & was slow in his payments. I then mentioned my reasons for asking him. He proceeded to say that his son dealt in the same article with Lownes, and that if you chose to take your Iron rod here, he would be responsible for the most exact compliance of his son.1 I next brought Sharpless2 into view. He spoke of him as a man fully to be relied on, & as a man with whom his son had had some dealings. He said there was but one objection to taking your supplies at short hand from Sharpless, which was that there was very little direct intercourse from Wilmington to Southern ports; that almost every thing exported thence, came first to Philada. I asked whether vessels could not stop there & take in articles; not he said, unless the freight of them was an object. As the order of my enquiries drew out the old gentleman’s opinion of Lownes, before he could well feel the interest of his son in the case, his testimony is entitled to respect. I have written to Jno. Bringhurst3 who resides at Wilmington to get & send me a full acct. of Sharpless & of the terms on which he wd. supply you; but have not yet recd. an answer.

I find as I conjectured that the provision made for the daughters of Degrasse4 was not in the way of loan but of gift. It would be difficult perhaps to justify the act in either way, by the text of the Constitution. The precedent nevertheless is in favor of Made. de Chattelleux’s son. Whether his claim will be viewed with the same indulgence on the score of his father’s merits is more than I can venture to decide. The services of De Grasse were critical. Chatelleux you recollect was not a favorite here, tho’ the cause may have been erroneous. Congress also were afraid of the Precedent at the time, & endeavored to interweave ingredients of peculiarity. I am really apprehensive that a compliance with the wishes of Made. de Chat: would entail on Us a provision for the families of the whole French army that served in this Country.5 Congs are occupied with a Bill for selling the Western lands. Opinions are various & the result doubtful. The British Treaty not yet before us; nor The Spanish before the Senate, or even arrived as far as I know. The Algerine is come to hand & under the deliberation of the Senate. The history of it contains some curious features, which it is not possible for me to explain in time. In general it costs an immense sum, & the annual tribute is to be pd. in naval Stores, infinitely underated in the Tariff.6 The friendly interference of France, tho’ applied for & in train, was precluded by the Agent’s precipitancy in closing the Treaty; for the hardness of which the apology is that it was the best that could be got. The letter from Paris in the inclosed paper, is Monroe’s,7 & the latest in date that has been recd from him. The fedl. Court has not yet given judgment in the case of payts. into the Virga. Treasury.8 Marshall & Cambell were the Counsel on one side, & Lewis & Tilghman on the other. Marshal’s argument is highly spoken of. Campbell & Ingersol will appear vs. the Carrage tax. Hamilton is here & to join Lee on the other side.

RC (DLC). Unsigned. Addressed by JM to Jefferson at Charlottesville, “via Richmond.” Docketed by Jefferson, “recd. Mar. 4.”

1Since 1794 Jefferson had been receiving nail rod for his nail-manufacturing operation at Monticello from Caleb Lownes, a Philadelphia iron merchant with a shop at 16 North Fourth Street. Samuel Howell, Sr., was a merchant with premises at 54 Chestnut Street; his son, Samuel Howell, Jr., an iron merchant on the Vine Street Wharf, supplied Jefferson with nail rod from 1796 (Betts, Jefferson’s Farm Book, pp. 426–53; Betts, Jefferson’s Garden Book, p. 414; Stephens’s Philadelphia Directory, for 1796, p. 114; Hardie, Philadelphia Directory [1794 ed.], p. 73; Jefferson to JM, 24 Apr. 1796).

2Probably Jonathan Sharpless, a Quaker blacksmith who lived in Wilmington, Delaware, 1792–95. He had manufactured a coin-pressing screw for the U.S. Mint in Philadelphia (Gilbert Cope, comp., Genealogy of the Sharpless Family … [Philadelphia, 1887], pp. 247–48).

3Letter not found.

4Private acts in 1795 and 1798 granted a total of $2,000 to each of the late comte de Grasse’s four daughters (ASP description begins American State Papers: Documents, Legislative and Executive, of the Congress of the United States … (38 vols.; Washington, 1832–61). description ends , Claims, pp. 206–7; 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 , 6:19–20, 31).

5Plunkett Chastellux, widow of the marquis de Chastellux (d. 1788), had written to Jefferson on 6 May 1795 complaining of hard times and of her inability to provide her infant son, Alfred, with an inheritance or an education. On the basis of her husband’s services during the Revolution, she hoped for an annual allowance or a grant of land from Congress, enclosed a similar letter for President Washington, and begged Jefferson to intercede on her behalf. Jefferson forwarded her letter to Washington on 12 Sept. 1795 and evidently discussed the matter with friends in Congress, including JM. Neither Washington nor JM wished to support the application, fearing that the precedent would invite a flood of similar requests. Jefferson accordingly strongly discouraged Mme Chastellux from proceeding with any application for American support (Plunkett Chastellux to Jefferson, 6 May 1795; Jefferson to Washington, 12 Sept. 1795; Washington to Jefferson, 4 Oct. 1795; and Jefferson to Mme Chastellux, 10 July 1796 [DLC: Jefferson Papers]).

6The treaty of 5 Sept. 1795 with Algiers had been sent to the Senate on 15 Feb. Under its terms, Congress appropriated up to $24,000 annually for the purchase of naval stores as tribute to the dey of Algiers (ASP description begins American State Papers: Documents, Legislative and Executive, of the Congress of the United States … (38 vols.; Washington, 1832–61). description ends , Foreign Relations, 1:528–32; 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 , 1:460).

7On 20 Feb. 1796 the Philadelphia Aurora General Advertiser printed a lengthy extract from a letter on European affairs by “an American” in Paris, dated 18 Nov. 1795. Jefferson was later to receive, on 21 May 1796, the same information in a letter Monroe sent to him, also dated 18 Nov. 1795 (Jefferson to Monroe, 12 June 1796 [DLC: Jefferson Papers]). Monroe had probably sent a similar letter to Beckley who could have inserted the extract in the Aurora, a practice he had previously adopted with Monroe’s consent (Berkeley and Berkeley, John Beckley, p. 108).

8Ware, Administrator of Jones v. Hylton.

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