James Madison Papers

To James Madison from Thomas Jefferson, 3 January 1799

From Thomas Jefferson

Philadelphia Jan. 3. 99.

I have suffered the post hour to come so nearly on me that I must huddle over what I have more than appears in the public papers. I arrived here on Christmas day, not a single bill or other article of business having yet been brought into Senate. The P’s speech, so unlike himself in point of moderation, is supposed to have been written by the military conclave, & particularly Hamilton. When the Senate gratuitously hint Logan to him, you see him in his reply come out in his genuine colours.1 The debates on that subject & Logan’s declaration you will see in the papers.2 The republican spirit is supposed to be gaining ground in this state & Massachusets. The taxgatherer has already excited discontent. Gerry’s correspondence with Taleyrand, promised by the Presidt. at the opening of the session is still kept back.3 It is known to shew France in a very conciliatory attitude, and to contradict some executive assertions. Therefore it is supposed they will get their war measures well taken before they will produce this damper. Vans Murray writes them that the French government is sincere in their overtures for reconciliation & have agreed, if these fail, to admit the mediation offered by the Dutch govmt.4 In the mean time the raising the army is to go on, & it is said they propose to build twelve 74s. Insurance is now higher in all the commercial towns against British than French capture. The impresment of seamen from one of our armed vessels by a British man of war has occasioned mr. Pickering to bristle up it is said.5 But this cannot proceed to any effect. The capture by the French of the Retaliation6 (an armed vessel we had taken from them) will probably be played off to the best advantage. Lyon is re-elected.7 His majority is great. Reports vary from 600. to 900. Logan was elected into the Pensylva. legislature against F. A. Mulenburg by 1256. to 769. Livermore has been reelected in N. Hampshire by a majority of 1. in the lower & 2. in the upper house.8 Genl. Knox has become bankrupt for 400,000 D. & has resigned his military commission. He took in Genl. Lincoln for 150,000 D. which breaks him. Colo. Jackson9 also sunk with him. It seems generally admitted that several cases of the yellow fever still exist in the city, and the apprehension is that it will reappear early in the spring. You promised me a copy of McGee’s bill of prices. Be so good as to send it on to me here. Tell mrs. Madison her friend Made. d’Yrujo is as well as one can be so near to a formidable crisis. Present my friendly respects to her and accept yourself my sincere & affectionate salutations. Adieu.

I omitted to mention that a petition has been presented to the President signed by several thousand persons in Vermont, praying a remitment of Lyon’s fine.10 He asked the bearer of the petition if Lyon himself had petitioned, and being answered in the negative, said, ‘penitence must precede pardon.’

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

1John Adams’s speech on the opening of Congress, 8 Dec. 1798, left open the possibility of further negotiation with France. “It has been received here,” wrote Abigail Adams, “with more applause & approbation than any speech which the President has ever before deliverd, and what is very surprizing and remarkable, the answer to it by the House past unanimously.” Judging from the “cold and Languid” reply of the Senate and the reaction of the cabinet, Hamilton and his wing of the Federalist party did not approve of the speech. In his reply to the Senate of 12 Dec., Adams wrote in reference to George Logan’s private peace mission of 1798: “Although the officious interference of individuals, without public character or authority, is not entitled to any credit, yet it deserves to be considered, whether that temerity and impertinence of individuals affecting to interfere in public affairs, between France and the United States, whether by their secret correspondence or otherwise, and intended to impose upon the people, and separate them from their Government, ought not to be inquired into and corrected” (Mitchell, New Letters of Abigail Adams, pp. 220–21; DeConde, Quasi-War, pp. 168–70; 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., 2193).

2On 26 Dec. Roger Griswold presented a resolution in the House of Representatives to make it a crime to “usurp the Executive authority of this Government, by commencing or carrying on any correspondence with the Governments of any foreign Prince or State, relating to controversies or disputes which do or shall exist between such Prince or State and the United States.” The debate on this question, which was stimulated by the Logan mission, ran for several days; on 28 Dec. the resolution passed, 65 to 23, and a committee was appointed to bring in a bill. George Logan’s “declaration” was an address to the citizens of the U.S. that comprised a “short statement of facts” about his travels to France and his conversations with French officials (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., 2488–89, 2493–2546; the debates were carried in the Philadelphia Aurora General Advertiser, 31 Dec. 1798 and 1–5 and 8 Jan. 1799; Logan’s address was published 3 Jan. in the same paper).

3Adams in his address to Congress on 8 Dec. promised that “the course of the transactions in relation to the United States and France, which have come to my knowledge during your recess, will be made the subject of a future communication.” But it was not until 18 Jan. that Elbridge Gerry’s diplomatic correspondence was released to Congress. That same day the House ordered it to be printed (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., 2421, 2725; the correspondence was printed in the Philadelphia Aurora General Advertiser, 24–26 and 28–31 Jan. 1799).

4How Jefferson received this information is unknown. William Vans Murray, U.S. minister to the Netherlands, had written privately in the summer of 1798 to Timothy Pickering and to President Adams that, as he put it in his letter to Adams of 20 Aug. 1798, the Dutch minister in Paris had “made a verbal application to know if his government could not be instrumental in acting as the intermediary between the United States and France, now that all diplomatic communication had ended.” These letters, however, were not received by the administration until the end of January. Several letters in the Murray-Pickering correspondence for this period are undocketed, so it seems possible that the administration received news of the Dutch mediation sometime in the fall of 1798. That still does not explain how Jefferson came into possession of such closely held intelligence (Murray to Pickering, 7 Aug. 1798 [received 28 Jan. 1799], 18 Aug. 1798 [received 24 Jan. 1799], and 23 Aug. 1798 [receipt unknown], Frederick S. Allis, Jr., ed., The Timothy Pickering Papers [MHi microfilm ed.; 69 reels; Boston, 1969], reel 23; Murray to John Adams, 20 Aug. 1798 [received 21 Jan. 1799], C. F. Adams, Works of John Adams, 8:688).

5On 16 Nov. 1798, off the coast of Cuba, a British naval squadron detained the U.S. navy ship Baltimore and impressed five sailors from her crew. Secretary of State Pickering protested the incident to the British minister, Robert Liston, and instructed the U.S. minister to Great Britain, Rufus King, to demand an explanation from the British government (Palmer, Stoddert’s War, pp. 61–64).

6For a description of the action in which the Retaliation was taken, see ibid., pp. 67–71; see also Jefferson to JM, 12 Feb. 1799.

7Matthew Lyon, who conducted his campaign for reelection from the jail in Vergennes, Vermont, received a majority of nearly six hundred votes in the congressional election (Smith, Freedom’s Fetters, p. 241).

8The reelection of Samuel Livermore to the U.S. Senate by such a small margin was owing to a split among New Hampshire Federalists, not to strong Republican competition (Lynn Warren Turner, The Ninth State: New Hampshire’s Formative Years [Chapel Hill, N.C., 1983], pp. 162–63).

9Henry Jackson (1747–1809) was a veteran officer of the Continental army and major general of the Massachusetts militia (Boston Columbian Centinel, 7 Jan. 1809; Heitman, Historical Register Continental, p. 239).

10The “Petition from the Freemen of the Western District of Vermont” is found in the Philadelphia Aurora General Advertiser, 14 Jan. 1799. The bearer of the petition, the Reverend John C. Ogden, was jailed in Litchfield, Connecticut, on a charge of debt as he passed through the town on his return to Vermont (Smith, Freedom’s Fetters, p. 242).

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