James Madison Papers

To James Madison from John Dawson, 10 December 1797

From John Dawson

Phia. Decemr. 10. 1797.

Dear Sir!

Since my return to this place I have delayd to write to you from a hope that I shoud have it in my power to communicate something new or interesting.

In congress we move on very harmoniously & do very little.1 The report of the committee on Blounts affair2 producd some long faces, & shewd that it was not a French plot with Mr. Jefferson at the bottom, as has been industriously circulated in the eastern states. The papers are now in the press, & when acted on will probably cause some agi[ta]tion. Hammond, the former minister to this country, has arrivd in the packet at Newyork—for what purpose is not known—some suppose to displace Liston—this I doubt.3

Our commrs. have been well recievd at Paris4 & there is reason to believe that matters will be adjusted with the F. republic. Altho singular in the opinion, I cannot help thinking that the late change in that country,5 will prove fortunate to the United States. The present Directory, & both councils, having purgd. their country of priests, emigrants, & royalists will probably feel friendly towards republicks, especially if thereby they strengthen themselves & the principles which they support—add to this, the continuance of the war, which now seems certain—it is likely that Russia & Turkey will become parties & opponents.6 The defection of several of the German states from the empire,7 and the discontented Poles,8 will add to the strength of France, while the rapidly encreasing debt, & the ruind commerce of England must destroy her. Present me to your lady & the family. I have recievd from Mr. Tazewell three letters, & deliverd them agreeably to their directions. With much esteem Your friend & Sert

J Dawson

At night.

I have reason to suspect that the account of Hammonds arrival is not true.

RC (DLC). Docketed by JM.

1Congress had convened on 13 Nov. 1797, but both Federalists and Republicans agreed with Harrison Gray Otis that “Congress will do no business of an important nature untill some intelligence is received respecting the probable issue of the negotiation with France” (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., 624; Otis to Sally Foster Otis, 3 Dec. 1797, in Morison, Harrison Gray Otis, 1:76).

2The committee report on the Blount affair was read in the House of Representatives on 4 and 5 Dec. It consisted of correspondence, depositions, and other evidence the committee had gathered in the course of their summer-long investigation and was presented “without anticipating, by their own inferences or observations, the judgment of the House on the whole matter.” Six hundred copies of the report, which formed the basis for the articles of impeachment later drawn up by the House, were ordered printed (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., 672–79; Report of the Committee of the House of Representatives of the United States, Appointed to Prepare and Report Articles of Impeachment against William Blount [Philadelphia, 1798; Evans description begins Charles Evans, ed., American Bibliography … 1639 … 1820 (12 vols.; Chicago, 1903–34). description ends 34785]).

3The report of Hammond’s arrival was published in the Philadelphia Aurora General Advertiser, 9 Dec. 1797. As Dawson noted in his postscript, the account was inaccurate.

4Reports of the arrival of the U.S. envoys in Paris were published from time to time during the early winter of 1797, but none reflected Dawson’s optimism (see the extract of a letter from an American in Paris: “Our commissioners had arrived there [Paris], & were received coldly,” ibid., 23 Nov. and 6 Dec. 1797).

5The coup of 18 Fructidor Year V (4 Sept. 1797) resulted in the expulsion of two of the five directors and 177 deputies of the legislative councils. The measures taken against these “royalists” as well as actions against émigrés, priests, and forty-two newspapers were designed to counter the legislative victories of the right in the April 1797 elections. The result of the coup, however, was an end to constitutional government and a return to dictatorship (Scott and Rothaus, Historical Dictionary of the French Revolution, 1:265–68; Lefebvre, The Thermidorians and the Directory, pp. 336–38).

6Although it seemed likely that traditional enemies Russia and Turkey would align themselves on opposite sides of the war in the early fall of 1797, by October the diplomatic situation was shifting. The Treaty of Campoformio between Austria and France, signed in October 1797, was seen as a threat by the Ottoman Empire because the French gained territories in the eastern Mediterranean. And the invasion of Egypt by Napoleon in the summer of 1798 pushed the sultan into the arms of Russia and Great Britain; the three countries concluded defensive alliances in January 1799 (Shaw, Between Old and New, pp. 252–67).

7Dawson’s source was probably an item in the Philadelphia Aurora General Advertiser of 6 Dec. 1797 stating that “the Cis-Rhenans Republic is organizing.” A proposed Cisrhenane Republic was to be made up of a number of feudal states west of the Rhine River that had formerly been part of the Holy Roman Empire. The movement was launched in September 1797 by a small number of local sympathizers of the French Revolution and led by French general Lazare Hoche with the support of the French government. The death of Hoche that same month blocked the plan’s progress and the coup of 18 Fructidor changed French policy to one of annexing the territories outright (Scott and Rothaus, Historical Dictionary of the French Revolution, 1:188–90).

8News reports of Polish uprisings in Galicia and Transylvania published in the Philadelphia Aurora General Advertiser of 8 Dec. were without basis in fact. However, conspiracies throughout former Polish territories were common, and discontent was rife. The most obvious Polish contribution to the French cause was the formation of Polish legions in 1797 that fought alongside the French armies in Italy and Germany (Jerzy Skowronek, “The Direction of Political Change in the Era of National Insurrection, 1795–1864,” in A Republic of Nobles: Studies in Polish History to 1864, ed. and trans. J. K. Fedorowicz [London, 1982], pp. 262–81).

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