James Madison Papers

To James Madison from Thomas Jefferson, 19 April 1798

From Thomas Jefferson

Apr. 19. 98.

I wrote you last on the 12th. & then acknoleged your last at hand of the 2d inst. The sensations first occasioned by the late publications have been kept up and increased at this place. A petition from the merchants & traders & others was so industriously pushed as to have obtained a very extensive signature. The same measure is pursuing in New York. As the election of their governor comes on next Tuesday, these impressions will just be in time to affect that. We have no information yet of their effect to the Eastward. In the mean time petitions to Congress against arming from the towns of Massachusets were multiplying. They will no doubt have been immediately checked. The P’s answer to the address of the merchants here you will see in Fenno of yesterday.1 It is a pretty strong declaration that a neutral & pacific conduct on our part is no longer the existing state of things. The vibraters in the H. of R. have chiefly gone over to the war party. Still if our members were all here, it is believed the naval-bill would be thrown out.2 Giles, Clopton & Cabell are gone. The debate commenced yesterday, & tho’ the question will be lost, the effect on the public mind will be victory. For certainly there is nothing new which may render war more palatable to the people. On the contrary the war-members themselves are becoming alarmed at the expences, & whittling down the estimates to the lowest sums. You will see by a report of the Secretary at war3 which I inclose you that he estimates the expences of preparation at seven millions of Dollars; which it is proposed to lower to about 3. millions. If it can be reduced to this, a stoppage of public interest will suffice & is the project of some. This idea has already knocked down the public paper, which can no longer be sold at all. If the expences should exceed 3. M. they will undertake a land tax. Indeed a land tax is the decided resource of many, perhaps of a majority. There is an idea of some of the Connecticut members to raise the whole money wanted by a tax on salt; so much do they dread a land tax. The middle or last of May is still counted on for adjournment.

Colo. Innes is just arrived here, heavily laden with gout & dropsy. It is scarcely thought he can ever get home again.4 The principles likely to be adopted by that board have thrown the administration into deep alarm. It is admitted they will be worse than the English, French & Algerine depredations added together. It is even suggested that, if persevered in, their proceedings will be stopped. These things are not public. Your letter, by occasioning my recurrence to the constitution, has corrected an error under which a former one of mine had been written. I had erroneously concieved that the declaration of war was among the things confided by the constitution to two thirds of the legislature. We are told here that you are probably elected to the state legislature.5 It has given great joy, as we know your presence will be felt any where, and the times do not admit of the inactivity of such talents as yours. I hope therefore it is true, as much good may be done by a proper direction of the local force. Present my friendly salutations to mrs. Madison & to yourself affectionately Adieu.


The inclosed was sealed before I recollected that I have mentioned a petition instead of an address to the President, which is to be corrected. A nomination of Govr. Secretary & three judges to the Missisipi territory is sent in to the Senate, four of whom are agents, or interested in the land speculations of that country, two of them bankrupt speculators, & the 5th. unknown. The Senate demur, and are going into an enquiry. The nomination is George Matthews governor, Millar6 of Connecticut Secretary, Wetmore7 of Mass. Clarke of the Missi. district (a merchant who married a daur. of Adam Hoops) and Tilton8 of N⟨ew⟩ Hampshire judges.

RC (DLC); postscript (DLC: Rives Collection, Madison Papers); FC (DLC: Jefferson Papers). Unsigned. RC franked and addressed by Jefferson to JM “near Orange courthouse.” Postscript written on verso of separate cover; filed with Jefferson to JM, 3 Nov. 1798.

1The president, after thanking the merchants for their support, went on to say that “if the sincere sentiments of my heart towards France, which are now open before the public, had met with a similar disposition in the government of that country, we should still have pursued our neutral, impartial and pacific course. But unhappily, they have met with nothing that I can discern, but a determined, though insidious spirit of hostility. The consequences are not for me to anticipate” (“Address of John Adams to the Merchants, Underwriters, and Traders, of the City of Philadelphia,” 17 Apr. 1798, Philadelphia Gazette of the U.S., 18 Apr. 1798).

2“An Act to provide an additional Armament for the further protection of the trade of the United States,” which became law on 27 Apr., was one of several naval measures passed in the spring of 1798. The law authorized the acquisition of twelve vessels of not more than twenty-two guns each and appropriated funds to man and maintain them (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 , 1:552).

3James McHenry’s report to the House of Representatives of 9 Apr. 1798 recommended the addition to the navy of twenty-six warships of various types, an enlargement of the regular army by one regiment each of infantry, artillery, and cavalry, the establishment of a provisional army of twenty thousand men, the fortification of principal ports, and an increase in the supply of cannon and ordnance (Letter from the Secretary at War, to the Chairman of the Committee, on So Much of the President’s Speech as Relates to the Protection of Commerce, and the Defence of the Country … Committed 11 April, 1798 … Published by Order of the House … [Philadelphia, 1798; Evans description begins Charles Evans, ed., American Bibliography … 1639 … 1820 (12 vols.; Chicago, 1903–34). description ends 34888]).

4Col. James Innes of Virginia, a member of the five-man Anglo-American debt commission, was replaced, on his death in August 1798, by Samuel Sitgreaves. The arbitration proceedings, saddled with British claims nearly twice the annual budget of the U.S., came to an acrimonious and unsuccessful close in July 1799 (Perkins, The First Rapprochement, pp. 53, 117–19).

5JM was not elected to the Virginia General Assembly until the following spring (April 1799).

6Arthur Miller, a Connecticut judge, had business interests in the Mississippi Territory (John Allen to John Adams, 8 Jan. 1798, Adams Papers [MHi microfilm ed.], reel 387).

7William Wetmore (1749–1830) was a Harvard-trained Massachusetts lawyer. In financial straits in 1798, Wetmore asked John Lowell to recommend him for “a Judges place, under the new Government which is soon to be established in Mississippi” (John Langdon Sibley, Biographical Sketches of Graduates of Harvard University [17 vols.; Cambridge, Mass., 1873–1975], 17:447–51).

8Daniel Tilton (d. 1830), a native of New Hampshire, graduated from Harvard College in 1790 and served as one of three judges of the Mississippi Territory, 1798–1802 (Dunbar Rowland, Courts, Judges, and Lawyers of Mississippi, 1798–1935 [Jackson, Miss., 1935], pp. 11–12).

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