James Madison Papers

To James Madison from John Dawson, 18 May 1797

From John Dawson

Phila. May 18. 97.

Dear Sir!

I am sorry to find all your apprehensions verified by the Presidents warlike speech1—to it we shall reply in a day or two in a stile rather more pacific, I trust2—tho we are very equally divided, & there is reason to fear that Mr. Rutledge,3 of the committee, will take a course different from what was expected, & to be wishd.

We have no late accounts from Monroe, but expect him daily & anxiously4—by two arrivals there is reason to believe that it was reported at Hamburg about the begining of April that the directory had resolvd to recieve Mr. Pinckney, & that all matters woud be adjusted with the republic5—this, which I very much wish I very much doubt.

Will you present me to Mrs. M. & your fathers family? Yrs. with Esteem

J Dawson

RC (DLC). Docketed by JM.

1John Adams reacted to the news that the French government had refused to receive Charles Cotesworth Pinckney as U.S. minister by calling, on 25 Mar., for a special session of Congress to meet on 15 May. His speech, which opened the session on 16 May, proposed that the U.S. make “a fresh attempt at negotiation” in order to “promote and accelerate an accommodation” with France. In addition, however, the president advised Congress to pass laws providing for “effectual measures of defence.” These included the protection of American commerce through the buildup of naval forces, the arming of merchant ships, and the fortification of harbors. Adams also called for an addition to the regular artillery and cavalry, revision of the militia laws, and arrangements for raising a provisional army. Dawson’s comment was characteristic of Republican reaction to the speech. As Sarah McKean wrote to Dolley Madison, “Old Adams’s speach, or rather old Belzebubs, many people who went to hear him, were so amazed at it, that they scarce believed their own ears” (Kurtz, The Presidency of John Adams, pp. 230–31; Annals of Congress description begins Debates and Proceedings in the Congress of the United States … (42 vols.; Washington, 1834–56). description ends , 5th Cong., 1st sess., 54–59; Sarah McKean to Dolley Madison, 7 June 1797, American Art Association Catalogue, “President Madison’s Correspondence from … the Notable Collection of … Frederick B. McGuire,” 26 Feb. 1917, item 88).

2The House of Representatives debated more than two weeks before sending an answer to the president on 3 June. The longest discussion was spurred by an amendment proposed by John Nicholas of Virginia that would have given a less belligerent tone to the original draft reply. The amendment was defeated on 29 May, 52–46 (Annals of Congress description begins Debates and Proceedings in the Congress of the United States … (42 vols.; Washington, 1834–56). description ends , 5th Cong., 1st sess., 59–238).

3Though John Rutledge, Jr., of South Carolina had opposed the Jay treaty and had voted for Jefferson as a presidential elector in 1796, the French affront to Pinckney and the lack of enthusiasm among Republicans for defense measures gradually pulled him into the Federalist camp (Lisle A. Rose, Prologue to Democracy: The Federalists in the South, 1789–1800 [Lexington, Ky., 1968], pp. 148–52; Zahniser, Charles Cotesworth Pinckney, pp. 125, 202–3). By the spring of 1798, Theodore Sedgwick could write that “Mr. Rutledge from S.C. who is the son of C[hief] J[ustice] Rutledge, has come out decidedly with us contrary to the calculations of every one” (Sedgwick to Ephraim Williams, 20 May 1798, quoted ibid., p. 203 n. 17).

4Monroe took leave of the French Directory in his capacity as U.S. minister on 1 Jan. 1797 but waited until the middle of April before taking ship from Bordeaux. He did not arrive in Philadelphia until 27 June (Jefferson to JM, 18 May 1797; Monroe to JM, 8 Jan. 1797, PJM description begins Robert J. Brugger et al., eds., The Papers of James Madison: Secretary of State Series (1 vol. to date; Charlottesville, Va., 1986—). description ends , 16:449; Ammon, James Monroe, p. 157).

5The erroneous report, dated 11 May from Portsmouth, New Hampshire, was published in the Philadelphia Gazette of the U.S. on 17 May 1797.

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