James Madison Papers

To James Madison from Thomas Jefferson, 24 May 1798

From Thomas Jefferson

May. 24. 98.

My last was of the 17th. since which yours of the 13th. is recieved. The Alien bill of the Senate still hangs before them. Some of it’s features have been moderated, which has so much disgusted it’s warmest friends that some of them have declared they will vote against it, so that I think it possible they may reject it. They appear to be waiting for one from the house of repr. worse I think than theirs, which got on to it’s third reading; but in that stage was recommitted by a majority of 2. yesterday. I suppose it will be softened a little on the recommitment.1 The Senate yesterday passed their bill for capturing any French cruisers, who shall have taken our vessels, or who shall be found hovering on our coast for that purpose.2 Sitgreaves’s resolutions proposed to the H. of R. of nearly the same tenor, were yesterday debated but no question taken.3 If these bills pass, and place us in a state of war, it may truly be ascribed to the desertion of our members. Of 14. who are absent, 10 are from the republican side of the house. Had every one been in his place not a single one of the dangerous measures carried or to be carried would have prevailed. Even the provisional army would have been rejected, for it was carried but by a majority of 11. The absentees are Freeman, Skinner, Livingston, S. Smith, Nicholas, Giles, Cabell, Clay, Finlay,4 & Swanwick sick. The news from Amsterdam from our Consul Bourne, which you will see in the papers, has every appearance of truth.5 The war-men however are very unwilling to have it believed. The flame kindled by the late communications, has from the nature of them, and the unparalleled industry of the war party, spread more even in the country than I had expected. Addresses continue to be poured in on us. I mentioned in my last the P’s attack on Monroe. His friends here think that nothing can save him from the impression of that, but his coming into the H. of R.6 taking his stand on an independant theatre, from which his countrymen will see what are his principles. It has been said Cabell will give place to him. On that hypothesis I have counselled him strongly to come to the next session. Such a recruit is immensely wanted here. It is believed we have gained 2. members in the N. York election. Salutations to the family & friendly Adieux to yourself.

Mr. Adams, in a conversation in the State house yard with Blair Mclanachan, declared that such was his want of confidence in the faith of France, that were they to agree to a treaty ever so favourable, he should think it his duty to reject it.

P.M. Sitgreave’s resolns. were moved to be postponed to a very distant day in June. The question was this day lost 51. to 40. Had all been here it would have been carried. Tracey (one of the war-commee. of the Senate) told Anderson7 yesterday that he had drawn a bill for declaring our treaty with France void, & commencing hostilities but the commee. thought the bill now past by the Senate would answer the same end & give less alarm. Stockton told Tazewell yesterday he should be for a Declaration of war before Congress should separate. It is now declared by several Senators that they would not accept any treaty which France could offer.

RC (DLC: Rives Collection, Madison Papers); FC (DLC: Jefferson Papers). Unsigned. RC franked and addressed by Jefferson to JM “near Orange courthouse.”

1An “Act Concerning Aliens,” or the Alien Friends Law, retained many of the features originally proposed by the Senate. While it dropped the requirement that all aliens carry special permits of residence, it allowed the president to expel any alien he deemed suspicious or dangerous. It also required ship captains to notify port authorities of the numbers of aliens brought into the U.S. in their vessels (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 , 1:570–72; Smith, Freedom’s Fetters, pp. 50–55).

2The bill, “An act more effectually to protect the commerce and coasts of the United States,” passed the Senate, 16–7, after motions to strike the preamble and to postpone consideration were defeated by the same margin. It was signed into law on 28 May 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., 562–63; 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 , 1:561).

3On 22 May Samuel Sitgreaves offered four resolutions to the House to authorize commanders of public and private vessels to take or destroy French cruisers found within a certain distance of the U.S. coasts or any found attacking or in possession of a vessel of the U.S. on the high seas (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., 1783).

4William Findley was a Republican congressman from western Pennsylvania.

5A published letter from Sylvanus Bourne, dated 20 Mar. 1798, which appeared under a Boston dateline of 16 May, claimed that “our Envoys had lately had several conferences with the Minister of Foreign Affairs—result not known.” The newspaper reported that in another letter Bourne had stated that “Mr. Gerry had informed him, that the Envoys had had three conferences with the Minister for Foreign Affairs, and that the negociation appeared to be in good train” (Philadelphia Gazette of the U.S., 21 May 1798).

6For Monroe’s objections to standing for Congress and JM’s advice, see Monroe to JM, 8 June 1798, and JM’s reply, 9 June 1798. The question became moot when Samuel Jordan Cabell refused to retire (Ammon, James Monroe, p. 172).

7Joseph Anderson (1757–1837) was an officer in the New Jersey line during the Revolutionary War and had entered the Senate in November 1797 to replace William Blount of Tennessee. After serving several Senate terms, he was appointed comptroller of the U.S. Treasury by JM in 1815, a position he kept until 1836 (John Trotwood Moore and Austin P. Foster, eds., Tennessee: The Volunteer State, 1769–1923 [4 vols.; Chicago, 1923], 2:18–19).

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