James Madison Papers

To James Madison from Thomas Jefferson, 3 January 1798

From Thomas Jefferson

Jany. 3. 1798.

Dear Sir

Your’s of Dec. 25. came to hand yesterday. I shall observe your directions with respect to the post day. I have spoken with the Depy. Post. M. Genl.1 on the subject of our Fredericksburg post. He never knew before that the Fredsbg. printer had taken the contract of the rider.2 He will be glad if either in your neighborhood or ours some good person will undertake to ride from April next. The price given this year is 330. D. & it will go to the lowest bidder who can be depended on. I understand (tho not from him) that Wyatt3 will be changed; and in general they determine that printers shall not be postmasters or riders.4 Before the receipt of your letter, I had informed Colo. Monroe of the paper you had put into my hands for him. The draught was accepted & paiment will be made at the proper term. Genl Van Cortlandt lodging in the same house with me, I had shewn him Bailey’s note, & he said he would let him know that I was the holder of it. All the nails you desire can be furnished from Monticello. I will give directions accordingly by my letter of this day. But as we can furnish the whole demand at any time in 3. weeks, and I presume you will not want them till your walls are done, I shall only direct that they go about them whenever they receive notice from you that you will soon want them. If you can give the second notification one month before your actual want, they will be in readiness. Our weather here has been as with you, cold & dry. The thermometer has been at 8°. The river closed here the first week of December, which has caught a vast number of vessels destined for departure. It deadens also the demand for wheat. The price at New York is 1.75 & of flour 8.50 to 9. Tobacco 11. to 12 D. There need be no doubt of greater prices. The bankruptcies here continue;5 the prison is full of the most reputable merchants, & it is understood that the scene is not yet got to it’s height. Prices have fallen greatly. The market is cheaper than it has been for 4. years. Labour & house rent much reduced. Dry goods somewhat. It is expected that they will fall till they get nearly to old prices. Money scarce beyond all example.

The Representatives have rejected the President’s proposition for enabling him to prorogue them. A law is past putting off the Stamp act till July next.6 The land tax will not be brought on.7 The Secretary of the Treasury says he has money enough. No doubt these two measures may be taken up more boldly at the next session when most of the elections will be over. It is imagined the Stamp act will be extended or attempted on every possible object. A bill has past the Repr. to suspend for 3. years the law arresting the currency of foreign coins.8 The Senate propose an amendment continuing the currency of the foreign gold only. Very possibly the bill may be lost. The object of opposing the bill is to make the French crowns a subject of speculation (for it seems they fell on the President’s proclamation to a Dollar in most of the states) and to force bank paper (for want of other medium), through all the states generally. Tenche Coxe is displaced, & no reason even spoken of. It is therefore understood to be for his activity during the late election.9 It is said that the people from hence quite to the Eastern extremity are beginning to be sensible that their government has been playing a foul game. In Vermont Chipman10 was elected Senator by a majority of one against the republican candidate. In Maryland Loyd11 by a majority of one against Winder12 the republican candidate. Tichenor13 chosen Governor of Vermont by a very small majority. The house of Representatives of this state is become republican by a firm majority of 6.14 Two counties it is said have come over generally to the republican side. It is thought the republicans have also a majority in the N. York H. of representatives. Hard elections are expected there between Jay & Livingston,15 & here between Ross & Mckean.16 In the H. of Representatives of Congress the Republican interest has at present on strong questions a majority of about half a dozen as is conjectured & there are as many of their firmest men absent; not one of the Antirepublicans is from his post. The bill for permitting private vessels to arm, was put off to the 1st. Monday in February by a sudden vote & a majority of 5.17 It was considered as an index of their dispositions on that subject, tho’ some voted both ways on other ground. It is most evident that the Antireps wish to get rid off [sic] Blount’s impeachment. Many metaphysical niceties are handing about in conversation to shew that it cannot be sustained. To shew the contrary it is evident must be the task of the Republicans, or of no body. Monroe’s book is considered as masterly by all those who are not opposed in principle, and it is deemed unanswerable. An answer however is commenced in Fenno’s paper of yesterday under the signature of Scipio.18 The real author not yet conjectured. As I take these papers merely to preserve them, I will forward them to you, as you can easily return them to me on my arrival at home; for I shall not see you on my way, as I mean to go by the Eastern shore & Petersburg. Perhaps the paragraphs in some of these abominable papers may draw from you now & then a squib. A pamphlet of Fauchet’s appeared yesterday.19 I send you a copy under another cover. A handbill is just arrived here from N. Y. where they learn from a vessel which left Havre about the 9th. of Nov. that the emperor had signed the definitive articles,20 given up Mantua, evacuated Mentz,21 agreed to give passage to the French troops into Hanover, and that the Portuguese Ambassador had been ordered to quit Paris22 on account of the seisure of fort St. Julian’s by the English, supposed with the connivance of Portugal. Tho’ this is ordinary mercantile news, it looks like truth. The latest official intelligence from Paris is from Taleyrand Perigord to the French Consul here (Letombe) dated Sep. 28. saying that our envoys were arrived & would find every disposition on the part of his government to accommodate with us.23 My affectionate respects to mrs. Madison; to yourself health & friendship. Adieu

RC (DLC); FC (DLC: Jefferson Papers). Unsigned.

1Charles Burrall, the assistant postmaster general in Philadelphia, supervised the postal routes, negotiated contracts for carrying the mail, and ruled on the fitness of deputy postmasters to hold office (Letter from the Assistant Post-Master-General,… 26th March, 1798 [Philadelphia, 1798; Evans description begins Charles Evans, ed., American Bibliography … 1639 … 1820 (12 vols.; Chicago, 1903–34). description ends 34903]; Leonard D. White, The Federalists: A Study in Administrative History, 1789–1801 [1948; paper ed., New York, 1965], p. 180).

2Timothy Green was the publisher of the Fredericksburg Va. Herald. One of the advantages Green enjoyed by controlling the post rider was the free delivery of his newspaper (Prince, Federalists and the Origins of the U.S. Civil Service, p. 211).

3William Wiatt was the Fredericksburg postmaster.

4Printers derived great advantages from holding the office of postmaster, so much so that Republicans accused the Federalists of establishing a “Court Press” through post office patronage. Despite Jefferson’s understanding, newspaper editors continued to double as postmasters (ibid., pp. 208–12).

5A rash of bankruptcies in 1796–97, tied to the feverish land speculation of the 1790s, culminated in the fall of Robert Morris and his huge credit network in February 1798. William Hindman wrote Rufus King, 21 Aug. 1797, that “most of the great Land Speculators are Bankrupt.” And Benjamin Rush wrote in his diary in December of that year: “The Jail was crowded with persons sent there for debt. The notes of persons of the first credit formerly were protested and laid over in the Banks” (Thomas M. Doerflinger, A Vigorous Spirit of Enterprise: Merchants and Economic Development in Revolutionary Philadelphia [Chapel Hill, N.C., 1986], pp. 324–26; C. R. King, Life and Correspondence of Rufus King, 2:213; Corner, Autobiography of Benjamin Rush, p. 239).

6The stamp duty passed 3 July 1797 in the first session of the Fifth Congress. Scheduled to take effect 1 Jan. 1798, it was postponed until 1 July 1798 because the machinery to produce the stamps could not be acquired in time. The bill passed the House 13 Dec. and the Senate the next day (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., 478, 676, 692–93, 701–2, 715; 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 , 1:536).

7A direct tax on land had been proposed as early as 17 Apr. 1794 by a special House committee and was rejected at that time. A detailed proposal was reported by Secretary of the Treasury Oliver Wolcott in December 1796. Congress, however, did not enact a direct tax on land, houses, and slaves until defense appropriations in the wake of the XYZ affair of 1798 made further revenue measures imperative (ASP description begins American State Papers: Documents, Legislative and Executive, of the Congress of the United States … (38 vols.; Washington, 1832–61). description ends , Finance, 1:276, 439; 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 , 1:597–604).

8“An Act supplementary to the act intituled ‘An act regulating Foreign Coins, and for other purposes’” passed the House 24 Dec.; the Senate amendments were agreed to on 23 Jan. 1798 (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., 758, 903; 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 , 1:539).

9Tench Coxe had served as assistant secretary of the treasury (1790–92) and commissioner of the revenue in the Treasury Department (1792–97). Coxe’s “Federalist” essays, published in November 1796 in the midst of the presidential election, included scathing attacks on John Adams; his dismissal on 23 Dec. 1797 was seen as Federalist retribution (Cooke, Tench Coxe, pp. 286–310).

10Nathaniel Chipman, Continental army veteran and prominent jurist, represented Vermont as a Federalist senator, 1797–1803 (Fischer, Revolution of American Conservatism, p. 240).

11James Lloyd served in the Senate until his resignation in 1800. “He is as strictly government as it is possible [to be],” wrote Senator Uriah Forrest to James McHenry. And he was characterized by William Hindman as “inferior to no Man in Federalism & real Love to his Country.” Lloyd wrote the sedition bill and introduced it into the Senate in June 1798 (Risjord, Chesapeake Politics, pp. 531–32; C. R. King, Life and Correspondence of Rufus King, 2:314).

12William Winder, Jr. (d. 1808), a brother-in-law of Gov. John Henry, was defeated in the contest for U.S. senator by one vote (Papenfuse et al., Biographical Dictionary of the Maryland Legislature, 2:903–4; William Hindman to Rufus King, 12 Apr. 1798, C. R. King, Life and Correspondence of Rufus King, 2:314).

13Isaac Tichenor, Federalist senator from Vermont, resigned his seat when elected governor in 1797 (Fischer, Revolution of American Conservatism, p. 241).

14Although Republican strength in Pennsylvania was growing, the elections in the fall of 1797 returned Federalist majorities to the House and Senate of that state. In the first party-line vote of the session, the Republicans lost by a margin of sixteen votes (Tinkcom, Republicans and Federalists in Pennsylvania, pp. 175–80, 206).

15New York Republicans nominated Robert R. Livingston in March 1798 to run against incumbent governor John Jay. In April, news of the XYZ affair ruined what little hope Republicans had for victory; when the votes were tallied in June, Jay had won reelection by a large majority (Dangerfield, Chancellor Robert R. Livingston, pp. 275–76).

16That Jefferson could have so positively identified the candidates in the 1799 election for the Pennsylvania governorship is puzzling, since the Republican choice was not made until March 1799. In the bitter contest, Thomas McKean defeated James Ross by a substantial margin (Tinkcom, Republicans and Federalists in Pennsylvania, pp. 219–41).

17The debate over the postponement of consideration of the bill on the protection of commerce took place 26 Dec. On John Nicholas’s motion, the postponement was carried, 40–37; despite Federalist arguments, reconsideration of that vote failed, 44–38 (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., 764–74).

18These fifteen essays attacking Monroe’s recently published book, A View of the Conduct of the Executive, ran in the Philadelphia Gazette of the U.S. from 2 to 27 Jan. 1798. Attributed to Uriah Tracy, they were collected and published as a pamphlet (Scipio’s Reflections on Monroe’s View of the Conduct of the Executive [Boston, 1798; Evans description begins Charles Evans, ed., American Bibliography … 1639 … 1820 (12 vols.; Chicago, 1903–34). description ends 34676]; Oliver Wolcott to George Washington, 30 Jan. 1798, Gibbs, Memoirs of the Administrations of Washington and Adams, 2:12).

19Jean Antoine Joseph Fauchet, A Sketch of the Present State of Our Political Relations with the United States of North-America (Philadelphia, 1797; Evans description begins Charles Evans, ed., American Bibliography … 1639 … 1820 (12 vols.; Chicago, 1903–34). description ends 32115). The pamphlet was first published in Paris in September 1797 by the former French minister to the U.S. While Fauchet acknowledged French grievances against the U.S., he argued that the interests of France required better relations with that nation. He ended with a plea for a successful end to the upcoming negotiations.

20The Treaty of Campoformio between Austria and France was signed 17 Oct. 1797. News of the agreement along with an unofficial text of the public articles of the treaty appeared in the Philadelphia Aurora General Advertiser of 5 Jan. 1798 under a N.Y. Argus dateline of 3 Jan. For the text of the treaty, see de Clercq, Recueil des traités de la France, 1:335–44.

21Mainz (Mayence) was desired by France as part of the left bank of the Rhine (Guglielmo Ferrero, The Gamble: Bonaparte in Italy, 1796–1797 [London, 1961], pp. 268–69).

22According to an arrêté of the Directory, d’Araujo d’Azevedo, the Portuguese minister to France, was expelled because Portugal had turned over its forts and other military posts to the British army (“Arrêté du Directoire Exécutif du 5 brumaire an VI [26 Oct. 1797],” in de Clercq, Recueil des traités de la France, 1:344–45).

23Notice of Talleyrand’s letter to Philippe-André-Joseph de Létombe of 29 Sept. 1797 was published in the Philadelphia Claypoole’s Am. Daily Advertiser on 2 Jan. 1798.

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