James Madison Papers

To James Madison from Thomas Jefferson, 1 June 1797

From Thomas Jefferson

Philadelphia June 1. [1797]

I wrote you on the 18th. of May. The address of the Senate was soon after that. The first draught was responsive to the speech & higher toned. Mr. Henry arrived the day it was reported. The addressers had not as yet their strength around them. They listened therefore to his objections, recommitted the paper added him & Tazewell to the committee, and it was reported with considerable alterations. But one great attack was made on it, which was to strike out the clause approving every thing heretofore done by the Executive. The clause was retained by a majority of four. They recieved a new accession of members, held a Caucus, took up all the points recommended in the speech, except the raising money, agreed the lists of every commee., and on Monday passed the resolutions & appointed the committees by an uniform vote of 17 to 11.1 (Mr. Henry was accidentally absent, Ross2 not then come.) Yesterday they took up the nomination of J. Q. Adams to Berlin which had been objected to as extending our diplomatic establishment. It was approved by 18 to 11. (Mr. Tatnall3 accidentally absent.) From these proceedings we are able to see that 18. on the one side & 10 on the other, with two wavering votes will decide every question. Schuyler4 is too ill to come this session, & Gunn is not yet come. Pinckney (the Genl.) John Marshall & Dana are nominated envoys extraordinary to France.5 Charles Lee consulted a member from Virginia to know whether Marshall would be agreeable. He named you as more likely to give satisfaction. The answer was ‘nobody of mr. Mad’s way of thinking will be appointed.’6

The Representatives have not yet got through their address. An amendment of mr. Nicholas’s which you will have seen in the papers was lost by a division of 46. to 52.7 A clause by mr. Dayton expressing a wish that France might be put on an equal footing with other nations was inserted by 52. against 47. This vote is most worthy of notice, because the moderation & justice of the proposition being unquestionable, it shews that there are 47. decided to go all lengths, to prevent accomodation. No other members are expected. The absent are two from Massachusets (not elected) one from Tennessee (not elected) Ben⟨to⟩n from S. C.8 who never attends and Burgess of N. Carolina.9 They have received a new orator from the district of mr. Ames. He is the son of the Secretary of the Senate.10 They have an accession from S. C. also, that state being exactly divided in the H. of Repr.11 I learn the following facts which give me great concern. When the British treaty arrived at Charleston, a meeting as you know was called, a commee. of 15. appointed of whom Genl. Pinckney was one. He did not attend. They waited for him, sent for him: he treated the mission with great hauteur, and disapproved of their meddling. In the course of subsequent altercations he declared that his brother T. Pinckney12 approved of every article of the treaty under the existing circumstances. And since that time the politics of Charleston have been assuming a different hue. Young Rutledge joining Smith & Harper is an ominous fact as to that whole interest.

Tobacco is at 9. Dollars here, flour very dull of sale. A great stagnation in Commerce generally. During the present uncertain state of things in England the merchants seem disposed to lie on their oars. It is impossible to conjecture the rising of Congress: as it will depend on the system they decide on, whether of preparation for war, or inaction. In the vote of 46. to 52. Morgan, Machir, & Evans were of the majority, and Clay13 kept his seat, refusing to vote with either. In that of 47 to 52. Evans was the only one of our delegation who voted against putting France on an equal footing with other nations. P.M. So far I had written in the morning. I now take up my pen to add that the address having been reported to the house, it was moved to disagree to so much of the amendment as went to the putting France on an equal footing with other nations; & Morgan & Machir turning tail (in consequence as is said of having been closeted last night by Charles Lee) the vote was 49. to 50. so the principle was saved by a single vote. They then moved to insert that compensation for spoliations shall be a sine qua non, & this will be decided tomorrow.

RC (DLC: Rives Collection, Madison Papers); FC (DLC: Jefferson Papers). Unsigned. RC addressed by Jefferson to JM “near Orange Ct. House.”

1“The Senate distributed today the subjects of the President’s speech to several committees; by a previous arrangement, they have left out of the comtees. every one of the minority to shew them that they have no confidence in them and are afraid to trust them at this crisis” (William Loughton Smith to Ralph Izard, 29 May 1797, in Ulrich B. Phillips, ed., “South Carolina Federalist Correspondence, 1789–1797,” American Historical Review, 14 [1908–9]: 789). The four motions, which took up the president’s proposals and designated committee members, were introduced by Theodore Sedgwick (Federalist of Massachusetts) and passed without debate. An attempt to postpone the motions was defeated, as was a motion by Henry Tazewell not to consider arming private merchant vessels (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., 15–16; for a general discussion of how Senate committee members were chosen, see Roy E. Swanstrom, The United States Senate, 1787–1801: A Dissertation on the First Fourteen Years of the Upper Legislative Body [Washington, 1985], pp. 228–29).

2James Ross, Federalist senator from Pennsylvania, was present at the session 29 May and voted with the majority (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., 15–16).

3Josiah Tattnall (1764–1803) served as U.S. senator from Georgia from 1796 to 1799, voting consistently with the Republicans. A former militia officer and Georgia legislator, he was elected governor of that state in 1801, resigning the following year owing to ill health (Coleman and Gurr, Dictionary of Georgia Biography, 2:960–62).

4Philip John Schuyler, Federalist from New York, was elected to serve in the Senate, 1797–98, but ill health prevented his attendance and forced him into permanent retirement by January 1798 (Schuyler to Alexander Hamilton, 31 Mar. 1798, Syrett and Cooke, Papers of Hamilton description begins Harold C. Syrett and Jacob E. Cooke, eds., The Papers of Alexander Hamilton (27 vols.; New York, 1961–87). description ends , 21:387; Annals of Congress description begins Debates and Proceedings in the Congress of the United States … (42 vols.; Washington, 1834–56). description ends , 5th Cong., 2d sess., 495).

5As part of the administration’s efforts to renew negotiations with the French, John Adams appointed John Marshall, Francis Dana (chief justice of the Massachusetts Supreme Court), and Charles Cotesworth Pinckney (then in Holland) U.S. envoys to France. When Dana declined the post, Elbridge Gerry was chosen in his stead (Alexander DeConde, The Quasi-War: The Politics and Diplomacy of the Undeclared War with France, 1797–1801 [New York, 1966], pp. 28–29).

6See JM to Jefferson, 22 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 , 16:471, 472 n. 1).

7On 22 May John Nicholas proposed to amend the committee’s draft reply to the president by inserting three paragraphs. Unlike the draft reply, the amendment avoided any approbation of the executive branch’s dealings with France except for Adams’s willingness to undertake new negotiations. Blaming the breach with France on “the inequalities which may have arisen in the operation of our respective treaties” with other countries, the amendment called for “a mutual spirit of conciliation, and a disposition on the part of the United States to place France on the footing of other countries.” The amendment formed the basis for a week-long debate over the policy the U.S. government should follow in its dealings with France. The vote was taken 29 May (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., 67–193).

8Lemuel Benton (1754–1818) was a South Carolina Republican member of the House of Representatives from 1793 to 1799. He had served as a militia officer during the Revolution and in the state General Assembly, 1782–88 (Edgar et al., Biographical Directory of the South Carolina House of Representatives, 3:65–66).

9Dempsey Burges (1751–1800) was elected to the House of Representatives as a moderate Republican in 1795 and again in 1797. He served in North Carolina provincial congresses and as a militia officer during the Revolutionary War (William S. Powell, ed., Dictionary of North Carolina Biography [2 vols. to date; Chapel Hill, N.C., 1979—], 1:271; Bell, Party and Faction, pp. 150, 157).

10Harrison Gray Otis (Federalist, Massachusetts), the son of Samuel A. Otis, secretary of the Senate, replaced Fisher Ames as a member of the House of Representatives in 1797. Otis served in the House until 1801 (Morison, Harrison Gray Otis, 1:57–71).

11The new member was John Rutledge, Jr. The even split in the South Carolina delegation was composed of Federalists Rutledge, William Loughton Smith, and Robert Goodloe Harper and Republicans Lemuel Benton, William Smith, and Thomas Sumter (Rose, Prologue to Democracy, p. 152; Rogers, Evolution of a Federalist, pp. 298–99).

12At the time of the Charleston meeting (16 July 1795), Thomas Pinckney was envoy extraordinary to Spain (Zahniser, Charles Cotesworth Pinckney, pp. 122–23, 125–27).

13Matthew Clay (1754–1815), an officer in the Virginia Continental line during the Revolutionary War, represented Halifax County, Virginia, in Congress from 1797 to 1813 (DAR Patriot Index description begins National Society of the Daughters of the American Revolution, DAR Patriot Index (Washington, 1966). description ends , p. 136; Parsons et al., United States Congressional Districts, p. 72).

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