James Madison Papers

To James Madison from Thomas Jefferson, 5 April 1798

From Thomas Jefferson

Philadelphia Apr. 5. 98.

I wrote you last on the 29th. ult. since which I have no letter from you. These acknolegements regularly made and attended to will shew whether any of my letters are intercepted, and the impression of my seal on wax (which shall be constant hereafter) will discover whether they are opened by the way. The nature of some of my communications furnishes ground of inquietude for their safe conveyance.1 The bill for the federal buildings labors hard in Senate, tho’ to lessen opposition the Maryland Senator2 himself proposed to reduce the 200,000 D. to one third of that sum. Sedgwick & Hillhouse violently opposed it. I conjecture that the votes will be either 13 for & 15 against it, or 14 & 14. Every member declares he means to go there, but tho’ charged with an intention to come away again not one of them disavowed it. This will engender incurable distrust. The debate on mr. Sprigg’s resolutions has been interrupted by a motion to call for papers. This was carried by a great majority. In this case, there appeared a separate squad, to wit the Pinckney interest, which is a distinct thing, and will be seen sometimes to lurch the President. It is in truth the Hamilton party, whereof P. is only made the stalking horse. The papers have been sent in & read, & it is now under debate in both houses whether they shall be published. I write in the morning, & if determined in the course of the day in favor of publication, I will add in the evening a general idea of their character. Private letters from France3 by a late vessel which sailed from Havre Feb. 5. assure us that France classing us in her measures with the Swedes & Danes, has no more notion of declaring war against us than them. You will see a letter in Bache’s paper of yesterday4 which came addressed to me. Still the fate of Sprigg’s resolutions seems in perfect equilibrio. You will see in Fenno two numbers of a paper signed Marcellus.5 They promise much mischief, and are ascribed, without any difference of opinion, to Hamilton. You must, my dear Sir, take up your pen against this champion. You know the ingenuity of his talents, & there is not a person but yourself who can foil him. For heaven’s sake then, take up your pen, and do not desert the public cause altogether.

Thursday evening. The Senate have to-day voted the publication of the communications from our envoys. The House of Repr. decided against the publication by a majority of 75. to 24. The Senate adjourned over tomorrow (good Friday) to Saturday morning: but as the papers cannot be printed within that time, perhaps the vote of the H. of R. may induce the Senate to reconsider theirs. For this reason I think it my duty to be silent on them. Adieu.

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

1Republicans complained that the postal service delayed, and in some cases suppressed, Republican newspapers and political literature. And some insisted that postmasters deliberately opened and destroyed personal letters of administration opponents. Jefferson’s fears were valid; a paraphrase of a part of his letter to JM of 26 Apr. 1798 was printed in the Philadelphia Gazette of the U.S., 4 June 1798 (Prince, Federalists and the Origins of the U.S. Civil Service, pp. 187–88, 190; Smith, Freedom’s Fetters, p. 192 n. 16; for JM’s complaints, see his letter to Jefferson, 25 Jan. 1799).

2It is uncertain whether Jefferson was referring to John Eager Howard or to James Lloyd.

3These letters were brought in the brig James, which arrived in New York on 28 Mar. from Le Havre, France (see the reports and extract of a letter reprinted from New York papers in the Philadelphia Aurora General Advertiser, 31 Mar., and “a translation of a letter from a well informed merchant in France,” 3 Apr. 1798).

4Jefferson received a number of letters from correspondents in France on 30 Mar., including William Short, Charles Louis Clérisseau, Claude Adam de La Motte, and “M. Bougens” (Jefferson’s Epistolary Record [DLC: Jefferson Papers]). It was probably a portion of one of those letters that appeared as a “translation of a letter from a well-informed Merchant in France to his friend in this city” in the Philadelphia Aurora General Advertiser of 3 Apr. 1798.

5The two “Marcellus” essays sought to acquaint the people of the U.S., poised as they were on the brink of war, “with the motives and objects” of their country and those of France in the conflict. No conclusive evidence has been found that Hamilton was the author of these essays, which were printed in the Philadelphia Gazette of the U.S. on 31 Mar. 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 , 21:387).

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