James Madison Papers

To James Madison from Thomas Jefferson, 16 January 1799

From Thomas Jefferson

Philadelphia. Jan. 16. 99.

The forgery lately attempted to be plaid off by mr. H.1 on the house of representatives, of a pretended memorial presented by Logan to the French government, has been so palpably exposed as to have thrown ridicule on the whole of the clamours they endeavored to raise as to that transaction. Still however their majority will pass the bill.2 The real views in the importance they have given to Logan’s enterprise are mistaken by nobody. Mr. Gerry’s communications relative to his transactions after the departure of his collegues, tho’ he has now been returned 5. months, & they have been promised to the house 6. or 7. weeks, are still kept back. In the mean time the paper of this morning promises them from the Paris papers. It is said they leave not a possibility to doubt the sincerity & the anxiety of the French government to avoid the spectacle of a war with us. Notwithstanding this is well understood, the army, & a great addition to our navy are steadily intended. A loan of 5. millions is opened at 8. per cent interest!3 In a rough way we may state future expences thus annually, navy 5½ millions (exclusive of it’s outfit) army (14,000 men) 6½ millions, interest of national debt (I believe) about 4. millions, interest of the new loan 400,000. Which with the expences of government will make an aggregate of about 18,000,000. All our taxes this year have brought in about 10½ millions, to which the direct tax will add 2. millions, leaving a deficit of between 5 & 6. millions. Still no addition to the taxes will be ventured on at this session. It is pretty evident from the proceedings to get at the measure & number of windows in our houses4 that a tax on air & light is meditated, but I suppose not till the next session. The bankrupt bill was yesterday rejected by a majority of three. The determinations of the British commissioners under the treaty (who are 3. against 2. of ours) are so extravagant, that about 3. days ago ours protested & seceded.5 It was said yesterday they had come together again. The demands which will be allowed on the principles of the British majority will amount to from 15. to 20. millions of Dollars. It is not believed that our government will submit to it, & consequently that this must again become a subject of negociation. It is very evident the British are using that part of the treaty merely as a political engine. Notwithstanding the pretensions of the papers of the danger & destruction of Buonaparte, nothing of that is believed. It seems probable that he will establish himself in Egypt, and that that is, at present at least, his ultimate object. Ireland also is considered as more organised in her insurrection and stronger than she has been hitherto.6 As yet no tobacco has come to this market. At New York the new tobo. is at 13. D. Georgia has sent on a greater quantity than had been imagined, and so improved in quality as to take place of that of Maryland & the Carolines. It is at 11. D. while they are about 10. Immense sums of money now go to Virginia. Every stage is loaded. This is partly to pay for last year’s purchases, & partly for the new. In a society of members between whom & yourself is great mutual esteem & respect,7 a most anxious desire is expressed that you would publish your debates of the Convention. That these measures of the army, navy & direct tax will bring about a revulsion of public sentiment is thought certain, & that the constitution will then recieve a different explanation. Could those debates be ready to appear critically, their effect would be decisive. I beg of you to turn this subject in your mind. The arguments against it will be personal; those in favor of it moral; and something is required from you as a set-off against the sin of your retirement. Your favor of Dec. 29. came to hand Jan. 5. seal sound. I pray you always to examine the seals of mine to you, & the strength of the impression. The suspicions against the government on this subject are strong. I wrote you Jan. 5. Accept for yourself & mrs. Madison my affectionate salutations & Adieu.

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

1Robert Goodloe Harper.

2“An act for the punishment of certain crimes therein specified,” or “Logan’s Act,” passed the House on 17 Jan. 1799 by a vote of 58 to 36. The Senate passed it eight days later, 18 to 2, and it was signed into law 30 Jan. (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., 2205–6, 2721; 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 , 1:613).

3On 16 July 1798 the president had signed into law an act to enable the federal government to borrow $5 million. The loan was offered at 8 percent interest despite fears that the rate would be perceived as exorbitant. Support for the loan was great, however, and it was easily subscribed in January 1799 (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 , 1:607; Oliver Wolcott to Stephen Higginson, 21 Nov. 1798, and Higginson to Wolcott, 13 Dec. 1798 and 14 Feb. 1799, Gibbs, Memoirs of the Administrations of Washington and Adams, 2:164–66, 177–80).

4The act to lay and collect a direct tax within the U.S., which was signed into law 14 July 1798, provided for an assessment on dwelling houses, lands, and slaves to the amount of $2 million. An act for the valuation of lands and houses, previously enacted, specified the criteria to be used in assessing property values. For houses, “their situation, their dimensions or area, their number of stories, the number and dimensions of their windows,” and building materials were taken into account. The tax became familiarly known as the “window tax” (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 , 1:586, 597–604).

5Soon after the commission authorized by the Jay treaty to negotiate a settlement on prewar debts began its session in the summer of 1797, it ran into problems from which it never recovered. The personalities of the commission members played a part in the rancorous proceedings, but more important was the size of British claims, a sum equal to almost twice the annual expenditures of the U.S. The commission was suspended at the end of July 1799 (Perkins, The First Rapprochement, pp. 117–19).

6Much of Jefferson’s optimism over the state of the insurrection in Ireland must have come from private sources. Aside from a private letter dated October 1798 that gave details of the uprising in Wexford, newspaper reports reaching Philadelphia in the winter of 1799 from Ireland were uniformly discouraging for adherents of Irish republicanism. A report published on 9 Jan. told of the capture of eight French frigates by a British squadron. Among those on board was the Irish revolutionary Theobald Wolfe Tone (Philadelphia Aurora General Advertiser, 7 and 9 Jan. 1799).

7The organization was probably the American Philosophical Society, of which Jefferson was president (Brant, Madison description begins Irving Brant, James Madison (6 vols.; Indianapolis and New York, 1941–61). description ends , 3:465).

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