James Madison Papers

To James Madison from John Dawson, 7 January 1799

From John Dawson

Philadelphia January 7th. 1799.

Dear Sir!

I have recievd your two favours of the 16 & 28 of december, & their enclosures,1 to which I paid immediate attention.

You observe how slowly we move on in congress—the criminal absense of nine of our members, while they are on the floor to a man, has prevented our attempting any thing, & it is matter of astonishment that they have not effected every thing—a declaration of war might be obtaind on any day.2

We are engagd in some triffling business, & propose in a day or two to bring forward motions for the repeal of the alien & sedition laws,3 on which we shall have majorities, provided our members come in—a proposition woud have been made long since for bringing up Lyon, but for the apprehension that a rejection of it, which we knew woud take place, woud be considerd as a precedent—it shall be made.

The President has not communicated to us the despatches, relative to French affairs, which he promisd at the first of the session—which is good reason to conclude that they favour peace—at all events he seems resolvd to exercise the executive influence. With much Esteem, Yrs.

J Dawson


1Letters and enclosures not found.

2The Philadelphia Aurora General Advertiser of 8 Jan. 1799 carried a news report of a “Tory caucus” held to discuss a declaration of war. And Jefferson noted in his political diary on 10 Jan. 1800 that sometime “during the XYZ Congress the Federal members held the largest caucus they ever had,” at which they debated the question of declaring war on France. On the question being taken, he noted several days later, “there wanted but 5. votes to produce a declaration of war” (Ford, Writings of Jefferson description begins Paul Leicester Ford, ed., The Writings of Thomas Jefferson (10 vols.; New York, 1892–99). description ends , 1:282–83).

3Although petitions against the Alien and Sedition Laws were read in the House of Representatives in January and February 1799 and committed to a select committee, debate on the repeal of the laws did not take place until 25 Feb. 1799 (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., 2884–2906, 2955, 2957, 2985–3017).

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