James Madison Papers

To James Madison from Thomas Jefferson, 24 January 1798

From Thomas Jefferson

Philadelphia Jan. 24. 98.

I wrote you last on the 2d. inst.1 on which day I recieved yours of Dec. 25. I have not resumed my pen because there has really been nothing worth writing about but what you would see in the newspapers. There is as yet no certainty what will be the aspect of our affairs with France. Either the Envoys have not written to the government, or their communications are hushed up.2 This last is suspected because so many arrivals have happened from Bordeaux & Havre. The letters from American correspondents in France have been always to Boston: & the experience we had last summer of their adroitness in counterfeiting this kind of intelligence, inspires doubts as to their late paragraphs.3 A letter is certainly recieved here by an individual from Taleyrand,4 which says our envoys have been heard, that their pretensions are high, that possibly no arrangement may take place, but that there will be no declaration of war by France. It is said that Bournonville has written that he has hopes of an accomodation (3. audiences having then, Nov. 3. been had) and to be himself a member of a new diplomatic mission to this country.5 On the whole I am entirely suspended as to what is to be expected. The Representatives have been several days in debate on the bill for foreign intercourse.6 A motion has been made to reduce it to what it was before the extension of 1796. The debate will probably have good effects in several ways on the public mind, but the advocates for the reformation expect to lose the question. They find themselves decieved in the expectation entertained in the beginning of the session, that they had a majority. They now think the majority is on the other side by 2. or 3. and there are moreove[r] 2. or 3 of them absent. Blount’s affair is to come on next. In the mean time the Senate have before them a bill for regulating proceedings in impeachment.7 This will be made the occasion of offering a clause for the introduction of juries into these trials. (Compare the paragraph in the constitution which says that the trial of all crimes, except in cases of impeachment, shall be by jury, with the VIIIth. amendment which says that in all criminal prosecutions, the trial shall be by jury.) There is no expectation of carrying this; because the division in the Senate is of 2. to 1. But it will draw forth the principles of the parties, and concur in accumulating proofs on which side all the sound principles are to be found. Very acrimonious altercations are going on between the Spanish minister & Executive,8 and at the Natchez something worse than mere altercation. If hostilities have not begun there, it has not been for want of endeavors to bring them on by our agents. Marshall of Kentuckey, this day proposed in Senate some amendments to the constitution.9 They were barely read just as we were adjourning, & not a word of explanation given. As far as I caught them in my ear, they went only to modifications of the elections of President & V. President, by authorising voters to add the office for which they name each, & giving to the Senate the decision of a disputed election of President & to the Representatives that of Vice-President. But I am apprehensive I caught the thing imperfectly, & probably incorrectly. Perhaps this occasion may be taken of proposing again the Virginia amendments, as also to condemn elections by the legislatures themselves, to transfer the power of trying impeachments from the Senate to some better constituted court &c. &c.

Good tobo. here is 13. Doll. flour 8.50 Wheat 1.50 but dull, because only the millers buy. The river however is nearly open & the merchants will now come to market & give a spur to the price. But their competition will not be what it has been. Bankruptcies thicken, & the height of them is by no means yet come on. It is thought this winter will be very trying. Friendly salutations to mrs. Madison. Adieu affectionately.

Jan. 25. I inclose Marshall’s propositions.10 They have been this day postponed to the 1st. of June, chiefly by the vote of the Antirepublicans under the acknoleged fear that other amendments would be also proposed, and that this is not the time for agitating the public mind.

RC (DLC); FC (DLC: Jefferson Papers). Unsigned. FC dated 25 Jan. 1798.

1Jefferson referred to his letter to JM of 3 Jan. 1798.

2The American envoys to France sent their first dispatches on 22 Oct. 1797. Because of wartime conditions and fear that their communications would be compromised, however, they took care not to send them directly home; thus, it was not until 4 Mar. 1798 that Secretary of State Pickering received news of the failure of negotiations (DeConde, Quasi-War, pp. 60, 66).

3There were several reports from Boston correspondents reprinted in Philadelphia newspapers in January 1798, all of which took a dim view of the prospects for successful negotiations with France. One, for example, in the Philadelphia Aurora General Advertiser, 22 Jan., reported that the U.S. envoys had been politely received by Talleyrand but would not be received by the French government.

4An extract of Talleyrand’s letter was possibly the one published as from “a gentleman of respectability at Paris, who had resided a long time in America,” dated 24 Oct. 1797 in the Philadelphia Aurora General Advertiser, 5 Jan. 1798.

5Charles François Bournonville had been secretary of the French legation in Philadelphia, 1793–97. Talleyrand sent him back to the U.S. in the spring of 1798. The report appeared in the Philadelphia Gazette, 23 Jan. 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 , 15:210; Bowman, The Struggle for Neutrality, p. 340).

6The foreign intercourse bill provided for the support of the diplomatic establishment for 1798–99. The bill was introduced on a motion by Robert Goodloe Harper 18 Jan. and was immediately challenged by an amendment introduced by John Nicholas. The representative from Virginia proposed to return the diplomatic corps to its pre-1796 footing, an action that would have greatly reduced the number and rank of U.S. diplomats. Nicholas argued that the extension of foreign intercourse provided a field for the corrupting influence of executive patronage (especially where former congressmen were concerned) and involved constitutional questions of checks and balances between the branches of government. The debate continued with scarcely a break through 29 Jan. without issue and was resumed once more on 27 Feb. (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., 848–945, 1083).

7The bill for regulating certain proceedings in cases of impeachment was introduced in the Senate on 22 Jan. by Humphrey Marshall of Kentucky. The bill was reported out of committee on 1 Feb. Henry Tazewell’s attempt to amend an amendment by introducing jury proceedings into the Senate trial was defeated 26 to 3; the bill was defeated 20 Feb. on its third reading (ibid., 491, 495, 508–9).

8The hostile correspondence between Secretary of State Pickering and the Spanish minister to the U.S., Carlos Fernando Martinez de Yrujo, which began in March 1797, reached a climax in November with Yrujo’s bitter personal attack on Pickering. The secretary replied in a report to Congress of 23 Jan. 1798, in which he reviewed Spanish-American relations during the previous year and focused on Spain’s refusal to carry out the provisions of Pinckney’s treaty of 1795, specifically, the running of the boundary line of Spanish Louisiana and the evacuation of Spanish military posts like Natchez. The matter was further complicated by the presence of U.S. troops in defensive positions at Natchez itself (ASP description begins American State Papers: Documents, Legislative and Executive, of the Congress of the United States … (38 vols.; Washington, 1832–61). description ends , Foreign Relations, 2:68–70, 78–103; Clarfield, Timothy Pickering and American Diplomacy, pp. 120–39).

9Humphrey Marshall proposed four amendments to the U.S. Constitution on 24 Jan. The first would have required electors to mark clearly their choice of candidates for the presidency and vice presidency. The other three dealt with electors’ ballots and disputed elections. One of the amendments proposed would have enlarged the power of the Senate by making that body the arbiter in any dispute arising “relative to any vote for President”; another would have empowered the Senate to choose the vice president in the event that none of the candidates received a majority vote. After brief debate, the next day Federalists carried the motion to postpone until June any consideration of the resolution (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., 493–94).

10[Humphrey Marshall], Resolved by the Senate and House … That the Following Articles Be Proposed … as Amendments (Philadelphia, 1798; Evans description begins Charles Evans, ed., American Bibliography … 1639 … 1820 (12 vols.; Chicago, 1903–34). description ends 48657).

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