From Thomas Jefferson
March 2. 98.
I wrote you last on the 22d. since which I have received yours without date, but probably of about the 18th. or 19th. An arrival to the Eastward brings us some news which you will see detailed in the papers. The new partition of Europe is sketched,1 but how far authentic we know not. It has some probability in it’s form. The French appear busy in their preparations for the invasion of England: nor is there any appearance of movements on the part of Russia & Prussia which might divert them from it.
The late birthnight has certainly sown tares among the exclusive federals.2 It has winnowed the grain from the chaff. The sincerely Adamites did not go. The Washingtonians went religiously, & took the secession of the others in high dudgeon. The one sex threaten to desert the levees, the other the evening-parties. The whigs went in number, to encourage the idea that the birthnights hitherto kept had been for the General & not the President, and of course that time would bring an end to them. Goodhue, Tracy, Sedgwick &c did not attend: but the three Secretaries & Attorney General did. We were surprised at the close of the last week with a symptom of a disposition to repeal the stamp act.3 Petitions for that purpose had come from Rhode island & Virginia, & had been committed to rest with the Ways & Means. Mr. Harper, their chairman, in order to enter on the law for amending it, observed it would be necessary first to put the petitions for repeal out of the way, and moved an immediate decision on them. The Rhode islanders begged & prayed for a postponement, that not expecting that question to be called up they were not at all prepared. But Harper would shew no mercy. Not a moment’s delay should be allowed. It was taken up, and on a question without debate determined in favor of the petitions by a majority of 10. Astonished & confounded, when an order to bring in a bill for repeal was moved, they began in turn to beg for time 3 weeks, one week, 3 days, 1 day. Not a moment would be yeilded. They made three attempts for adjournment. But the majorities appeared to grow. It was decided by a majority of 16. that the bill should be brought in. It was brought in the next day, & on the day after passed, sent up to the Senate, who instantly sent it back rejected by a silent vote of 15. to 12. R. I. & N. Hampshire voted for the repeal in Senate. The act will therefore go into operation July 1. but probably without amendments. However I am persuaded it will be shortlived. It has already excited great commotion in Vermont,4 and grumblings in Connecticut. But they are so priest-ridden that nothing is to be expected from them but the most bigotted passive obedience. No news yet from our commissioners. But their silence is admitted to augur peace. There is no talk yet of the time of adjourning, tho’ admitted we have nothing to do, but what could be done in a fortnight or three weeks. When the spring opens and we hear from our commissioners, we shall probably draw pretty rapidly to conclusion. A friend of mine here wishes to get a copy of Mazzei’s Recherches historiques et politiques.5 Where are they? Salutations & Adieu.
Wheat 1.50. Flour 8.50. Tobo. 13.50
RC (DLC); FC (DLC: Jefferson Papers). Unsigned. RC franked and addressed by Jefferson to JM “near Orange Court house.”
1. The Philadelphia papers of 2 Mar. 1798 carried news of the probable basis of agreement at the conference of Rastatt between France and Austria—an agreement that had already been sketched out in the secret provisions of the Treaty of Campoformio in October 1797. The next day the newspapers published the accord in detail. The most important changes noted were the takeover of the left bank of the Rhine by the French and its organization into départements and the reorganization and secularization of a number of German polities. Also mentioned in newspaper accounts was a letter from Frederick William III of Prussia, in which the new king expressed his desire to maintain a course of neutrality in European affairs (Philadelphia Aurora General Advertiser, 2 and 3 Mar. 1798).
2. “The Birth night ball of last evening was I am told respectably attended, tho by no means equal in splendour & numbers to the last,” wrote Harrison Gray Otis to Sally Foster Otis on 24 Feb. “The President did not attend, & his refusal has given considerable offence, even to some of the federal party” (Morison, Harrison Gray Otis, p. 133).
3. The debate in the House of Representatives over a bill to repeal the stamp-tax act took place on Monday, 26 Feb. The bill was brought in the next day; it was read for the third time and passed 28 Feb. by a vote of 51–42 (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., 1069–83, 1097–98).
4. The Philadelphia Gazette reported on 24 Feb. 1798 that a liberty pole had been erected at Skeensborough, New York, near the Vermont border, in protest over the stamp act.
5. In the spring of 1788 Philip Mazzei sent JM 164 copies of his four-volume work, Recherches historiques et politiques sur les Etats-Unis, which was published in Paris the same year. The author requested that it be distributed in the U.S. JM accordingly arranged with friends and some booksellers—James Rivington of New York was apparently one—to market them. The books did not sell, and no English translation was made until 1976 (Mazzei to JM, 4 Feb. 1788, JM to Jefferson, 10 Aug. 1788, JM to Edmund Randolph, 11 Aug. 1788, and JM to Mazzei, 8 Oct. and 10 Dec. 1788, 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 , 10:467, 11:227, 228, 278, 279 n. 1, 388).