James Madison Papers

From James Madison to Thomas Jefferson, 29 December 1798

To Thomas Jefferson

Decr. 29. 1798

Dear Sir

I inclose a draught on Genl. Moylan out of which you will be pleased to pay yourself the price of the Nails £48–11.3. Va. Cy. to let Barnes have as much as will discharge the balance I owe him, & to let what may remain lie till I write you again.

The P.’s speech corresponds pretty much with the idea of it which was preconceived. It is the old song with no other variation of the tune than the spirit of the moment was thought to exact. It is evident also that he rises in his pitch as the Ecchoes of the S. & H. of R. embolden him, & particularly that he seizes with avidity that of the latter flattering his vigilance & firmness agst. illusory attempts on him, without noticing, as he was equally invited, the allusion to his pacific professions.1 The Senate as usual perform their part with alacrity in counteracting peace by dextrous provocations to the pride & irritability of the French Govt.2 It is pretty clear that their answer was cooked in the same shop, with the Speech. The finesse of the former calculated to impose on the public mind here, & the virulence of the latter still more calculated to draw from France the war, which can not be safely de[c]lared on this side, taste strongly of the genius of that subtle partizan of England3 who has contributed so much to the public misfortunes. It is not difficult to see how A. could be made a puppet thro’ the instrumentality of creatures around him, nor how the Senate could be managed by similar artifice.4 I have not seen the Result of the discussions at Richmond on the Alien & Sedition laws.5 It is to be feared their zeal may forget some considerations which ought to temper their proceedings. Have you ever considered thoroughly the distinction between the power of the State, & that of the Legislature, on questions relating to the federal pact. On the supposition that the former is clearly the ultimate Judge of infractions, it does not follow that the latter is the legitimate organ especially as a Convention was the organ by which the Compact was made. This was a reason of great weight for using general expressions that would leave to other States a choice of all the modes possible of concurring in the substance, and would shield the Genl. Assembly agst. the charge of Usurpation in the very act of protesting agst the usurpations of Congress. I have not forgot my promise of McGeehee’s6 prices, but cd. not conveniently copy them for the present mail. Always affly. Yrs.

Js. Madison Jr

RC (DLC). Docketed by Jefferson, “recd Jan. 5.”

1The reply of the House of Representatives to the president, given on 14 Dec. 1798, called on him to neither “change or relax our measures of defence,” adding that “the policy of extending and invigorating those measures, demands our sedulous attention.” The “allusion to his pacific professions” was a passage in which the House stated the hope that Adams would “make known to the world, that justice on the part of France will annihilate every obstacle to the restoration of a friendly intercourse, and that the Executive authority of this country will respect the sacred rights of embassy.” Adams replied that “while those who direct the affairs of France persist in the enforcement of decrees so hostile to our essential rights, their conduct forbids us to confide in any of their professions of amity.… Whether negotiations with France are resumed or not, vigorous preparations for war will be alike indispensable” (Annals of Congress description begins Debates and Proceedings in the Congress of the United States … (42 vols.; Washington, 1834–56). description ends , 5th Cong., 3d sess., 2438–39, 2442).

2The Senate answered the president’s address on 11 Dec. 1798, concluding that “there has nothing yet been discovered in the conduct of France which can justify a relaxation of the means of defence adopted during the last session of Congress” (ibid., 2192–93).

3JM originally wrote “that subtle & malignant partizan of England.” Probably at a later time “& malignant” was crossed out, and someone, possibly John C. Payne, circled “that subtle partizan of England” and interlined “blank.”

4At a later time someone circled the preceding sentence, apparently with the intention of omitting it from a printed copy. The influence of Alexander Hamilton on Adams’s cabinet members and Federalist members of Congress was extensive and is evident in some of the early speeches and policies of the Adams administration. The president’s speech of 8 Dec. 1798, however, ran counter to the advice of his cabinet (Dauer, The Adams Federalists, pp. 125–29, 145–46, 178–80, 225–26).

5JM’s resolutions against the Alien and Sedition Acts did not pass the Virginia House of Delegates until 21 Dec. 1798 (Virginia Resolutions, 21 Dec. 1798, Editorial Note).

6JM possibly referred to a member of the McGee family of Louisa County, Virginia (see Monroe to JM, 9 Sept. 1800, and n. 1; JM to Monroe, 7 Nov. 1800).

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