James Madison Papers

To James Madison from Thomas Jefferson, 15 June 1797

From Thomas Jefferson

Philadelphia June 15. 97. A.M.

My last was of the 8th. inst. I had inclosed you separately a paper giving an account of Buonaparte’s last great victory. Since that we recieve information that the preliminaries of peace were signed between France & Austria. Mr. Hammond will have arrived at Vienna too late to influence the terms. The victories lately obtained by the French on the Rhine were as splendid as Buonaparte’s.1 The mutiny on board the English fleet, tho allayed for the present has impressed that country with terror. King has written letters to his friends recommending a pacific conduct towards France ‘notwithstanding the continuance of her injustices.’2 Volney is convinced France will not make peace with England, because it is such an opportunity for sinking her as she never had & may not have again. Buonaparte’s army would have to march 700. miles to Calais. Therefore it is imagined the armies of the Rhine will be destined for England.3 The Senate yesterday rejected on it’s 2d reading their own bill for raising 4. more companies of light dragoons by a vote of 15. to 13. Their cost would have been about 120,000 D. a year. To-day the bill for manning the frigates & buying 9 vessels @ about 60,000 D. each, comes to it’s 3d. reading. Some flatter us we may throw it out. The trial will be in time to mention the issue herein. The bills for preventing our citizens from engaging in armed vessels of either party, & for prohibitg. exportn. of arms & ammunition have passed both houses. The fortification bill is before the Representatives still. It is thought by many that with all the mollifying clauses they can give it, it may perhaps be thrown out. They have a separate bill for manning the 3. frigates. But it’s fate is uncertain. These are probably the ultimate measures which will be adopted, if even these be adopted.4 The folly of the convocation of Congress at so inconvenient a season & an expence of 60,000 D. is now palpable to every body: or rather it is palpable that war was the object, since, that being out of the question, it is evident there is nothing else. However nothing less than the miraculous string of events which have taken place, towit the victories of the Rhine & Italy, peace with Austria, bankruptcy of England, mutiny in her fleet, and King’s writing letters recommending peace, could have cooled the fury of the British faction. Even all that will not prevent considerable efforts still in both houses to shew our teeth to France. We had hoped to have risen this week. It is now talked of for the 24th. but it is impossible yet to affix a time. I think I cannot omit being at our court (July 3.) whether Congress rises or not. If so, I shall be with you on the Friday or Saturday preceding. I have a couple of pamphlets for you, Utrum horum, & Paine’s agrarian justice, being the only things since Erskine which have appeared worth notice.5 B⟨esides⟩ Bache’s paper there are 2. others now accomodated to country circulation. Gale’s (successor of Oswald) twice a week, without advertisements at 4. Dollars.6 His debates in Congress are the same with Claypole’s. Also Smith proposes to issue a paper once a week, of news only, and an additional sheet while Congress shall be in session, price 4. dollars.7 The best daily papers now are Bradford’s compiled by Loyd, and Markland & Cary’s.8 Claipole’s you know. Have you remarked the pieces signed Fabius? They are written by John Dickinson.9

P.M. The bill before the Senate for equipping the 3 frigates & buying 9. vessels of not more than 20. guns has this day passed on it’s 3d. reading by 16. against 13. The fortification bill before the representatives as amended in commee. of the whole passed to it’s 3d. reading by 48. against 41. Adieu affectionately with my best respects to mrs. Madison.

RC (DLC); FC (DLC: Jefferson Papers). Unsigned. RC franked and addressed by Jefferson to JM “near Orange court house.”

1The Philadelphia Aurora General Advertiser of 15 June 1797 reported that the French armies of the Rhine and Moselle and the Sambre and Meuse had launched a successful offensive across the Rhine River into Germany in April. The latter army had defeated the Austrians at the Battle of the Lahn on 18 Apr., and only the signing of a preliminary peace at Leoben had brought French operations to a close.

2In a letter to Oliver Wolcott of 14 Apr. 1797, Rufus King, U.S. minister to Great Britain, wrote: “I hope, and indeed I feel persuaded that, notwithstanding the injuries we receive, we shall not consent to any step that shall involve us in the war. I am deeply convinced that our duty and interest require that we should remain at peace.” King communicated identical sentiments to Hamilton on 2 Apr. and to Pickering on 19 Apr. (Gibbs, Memoirs of the Administrations of Washington and Adams, 1:551; C. R. King, Life and Correspondence of Rufus King, 2:162, 174).

3Invasion rumors had surfaced in England intermittently ever since the beginning of the war, particularly in 1794 and 1796. Nor were they without substance. In December 1796 a French expedition of six thousand men attempted to land in Ireland and establish a republic under the leadership of Theobald Wolfe Tone. In February 1797 a smaller force of French irregulars led by a former Continental amy officer named William Tate landed in Wales. Both operations failed; the latter was quickly suppressed. But with the elimination of Austria from the war in April 1797, England faced France alone, and invasion became a stark possibility (E. H. Stuart Jones, The Last Invasion of Britain [Cardiff, Wales, 1950], pp. 17–21, 45–144; Lefebvre, French Revolution, 2:193–94).

4The first session of the Fifth Congress produced a number of acts for the defense of the U.S. but fewer than the president and some Federalists had hoped. Laws were enacted to prevent U.S. citizens from privateering against friendly countries and other U.S. citizens (14 June), to prohibit the exportation of arms and ammunition (14 June), to provide for the defense of ports and harbors (23 June), to regulate the militia (24 June), and to man and employ three new frigates (1 July) (Smith, John Adams, 2:940; Welch, Theodore Sedgwick, pp. 166–67; 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 , 1:520–25).

5[Dennis O’Bryen], Utrum Horum? The Government; or, The Country? (Dublin, 1796); Thomas Paine, Agrarian Justice, Opposed to Agrarian Law, and to Agrarian Monopoly … (Philadelphia, 1797; Evans description begins Charles Evans, ed., American Bibliography … 1639 … 1820 (12 vols.; Chicago, 1903–34). description ends 32630); Thomas Erskine, A View of the Causes & Consequences of the Present War with France (Albany, 1797; Evans description begins Charles Evans, ed., American Bibliography … 1639 … 1820 (12 vols.; Chicago, 1903–34). description ends 32094). See Sowerby, Catalogue of Jefferson’s Library, 3:165, 293.

6Joseph Gales bought Eleazer Oswald’s Independent Gazetteer a year after the latter’s death in September 1795 and published it as Gales’s Independent Gazetteer, beginning 16 Sept. 1796. Gales then sold it to Samuel Harrison Smith a year later (William S. Powell, ed., “The Diary of Joseph Gales, 1794–1795,” N.C. Historical Review, 26 [1949]: 335–47; Brigham, History of American Newspapers, 2:910, 919–20).

7Samuel Harrison Smith had been publishing a daily, the New World, since August 1796, but that paper folded in August 1797. To replace it, Smith bought Joseph Gales’s newspaper and brought it out as the Universal Gazette (Brigham, History of American Newspapers, 2:910, 927).

8The Merchants’ Daily Advertiser was established by Thomas Bradford in January 1797 and carried the congressional debates compiled by the shorthand reporter Thomas Lloyd. The Daily Advertiser, established in February 1797 by James Carey and John Markland, was changed to Carey’s Daily Advertiser in July 1797 when Carey became the sole proprietor (ibid., 2:901, 924; see also Madison in the Fourth Congress, 7 Dec. 1795–3 Mar. 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 , 16:154–58; and Jefferson to Peregrine Fitzhugh, 4 June 1797, Ford, Writings of Jefferson description begins Paul Leicester Ford, ed., The Writings of Thomas Jefferson (10 vols.; New York, 1892–99). description ends , 7:134–35).

9Dickinson’s “Fabius” letters first appeared in the Philadelphia New World, beginning 10 Apr. 1797. The fifteen essays argued that it was in the interest of the U.S. to support France in its European wars. The letters were published in 1797 together with those Dickinson had written under the same pseudonym in 1788, under the title The Letters of Fabius in 1788, on the Federal Constitution; and in 1797, on the Present Situation of Public Affairs (Wilmington, Del., 1797; Evans description begins Charles Evans, ed., American Bibliography … 1639 … 1820 (12 vols.; Chicago, 1903–34). description ends 32042). JM’s copy is in the Madison Collection, Rare Book Division, Library of Congress (Milton E. Flower, John Dickinson: Conservative Revolutionary [Charlottesville, Va., 1983], pp. 277–79).

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