James Madison Papers

To James Madison from Thomas Jefferson, 12 February 1799

From Thomas Jefferson

Feb. 12. 99

I wrote you last on the 5th. which acknoleged yours of Jan. 25. the last at hand. Yesterday the bill for 6. 74s. & 6. 18s. passed the H. of R. by 54. against 42. and the bill for a new organisation of the army (into regiments of about 1000.) passed the Senate. The bill continuing the suspension of intercourse with France and her dependencies has passed both houses. But the Senate struck out the clauses permitting the President to extend it to other powers. Toussaint’s clause however was retained. Even South Carolinians in the H. of R. voted for it. We may expect therefore black crews, & supercargoes & missionaries thence into the Southern states; and when that leven begins to work, I would gladly compound with a great part of our Northern country, if they would honestly stand neuter. If this combustion can be introduced among us under any veil whatever, we have to fear it. We shall this day pass the retaliation bill. It recites & is expressly founded on the French arret of Oct. 29. 98. communicated to us by the President.1 It came out from Sedgwick & Stockton in debate that they had had it from the Secy. of state that he had recieved a letter from mr. King informing him of the suspension of that arret.2 Yet tho’ they knew we were legislating on it, the P. has not communicated it; and the retaliators insist on passing the bill.3 It is now acknoleged on all hand, denied on none, & declared by the insurance companies that during the last 6. months the British depredns. have far exceeded the French. King has been appointed to enter into a treaty with Russia at London;4 & Phocion Smith5 was yesterday confirmed by the Senate as Envoy extray. & M. P. to Constantinople to make a like treaty with the Turks. To chuse the moment of a coalition between the Turks, Russians & English against France,6 to unite us by treaty with that body as openly as they dare to propose, cannot be misconstrued. I send you under a separate cover the French originals of Gerry’s communcns.,7 one of G. N’s pamphlets,8 and the Treasury statements of exports & imports of the last year.9 Adieu affectionately

P. S. No letter you could write after your reciept of this would find me here.10

P.M. The vessel called the Retaliation, formerly French property taken by us, armed & sent to cruise on them, retaken by them & carried into Guadaloupe, arrived here this morning with her own capt. crew &c. They say that new commrs. from France arrived at Guadaloupe, sent Victor Hughes11 home in irons, liberated this crew, said to the capt that they found him to be an officer of the US. bearing their commission, possessed of a vessel called the Retaliation then in their port; that they should not enquire into any preceding fact, but that he was free with his vessel & crew to depart: that as to differences with the US. commrs. were coming out from France to settle them; in the mean time no injury should be done to us or our citizens. This was known to every Senator when we met; the Retaliation bill came on, on it’s passage, and was passed with only 2. dissenting voices, 2 or 3. who would have dissented happening to be absent.

RC (DLC: Rives Collection, Madison Papers); FC (DLC: Jefferson Papers). Unsigned. RC franked and addressed by Jefferson to JM “near Orange courthouse.” Second postscript not on FC (see n. 10).

1The arrêt of 29 Oct. 1798 decreed that “any person a native of countries connected in friendship, alliance, or neutral who bears a commission from the enemies of France, or who belongs to the crew of armed ships or other vessels” would be considered a pirate and dealt with accordingly. Notice of the arrêt was given in the Philadelphia Gazette of the U.S., 29 Jan. 1799. President Adams submitted the document to Congress on 28 Jan., which ordered it published as a Message from the President … Accompanying an Extract of a Letter from the Minister Plenipotentiary … And an Edict (or Arrete) of the Executive Directory of the French Republic, of the 29th of October, 1798 (Philadelphia, 1799; Evans description begins Charles Evans, ed., American Bibliography … 1639 … 1820 (12 vols.; Chicago, 1903–34). description ends 36545). It was printed in the Philadelphia Aurora General Advertiser on 30 Jan. 1799.

2“Annexed I send you a copy of a Note from Lord Grenville respecting the French arrété transmitted to you with my number 9 [16 Nov. 1798]. A late French paper contains a second arrété, which suspends the execution of the first” (Rufus King to the secretary of state, 28 Nov. 1798, C. R. King, Life and Correspondence of Rufus King, 2:471).

3“An Act vesting the power of retaliation, in certain cases, in the President of the United States” was signed into law 3 Mar. 1799. The act empowered the president to “cause the most rigorous retaliation to be executed on any such citizens of the French Republic” captured under the laws of the U.S. in retaliation for acts of impressment, violence, murder, or unusually severe imprisonment ordered by any agent of the French Directory (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 , 1:743).

4Adams nominated Rufus King on 6 Feb. 1799 to be minister plenipotentiary to negotiate “a treaty of amity and commerce” between the U.S. and Russia. The Senate agreed to the choice the next day (Senate Exec. Proceedings description begins Journal of the Executive Proceedings of the Senate of the United States of America (3 vols.; Washington, 1828). description ends , 1:310).

5William Loughton Smith, the U.S. minister to Portugal, was nominated by the president on 8 Feb. 1799 to negotiate a treaty of amity and commerce with Turkey. He was confirmed by the Senate on 11 Feb. by a vote of 16 to 12. Jefferson referred to Smith as “Phocion” because the latter had written a series of articles under that pseudonym in 1796 attacking Jefferson’s pretensions to the presidency (ibid., 1:311–12; Rogers, Evolution of a Federalist, p. 292; see also PJM description begins Robert J. Brugger et al., eds., The Papers of James Madison: Secretary of State Series (1 vol. to date; Charlottesville, Va., 1986—). description ends , 16:409 and n. 1).

6By the end of March 1799 the Second Coalition was complete, allying Great Britain, Russia, Turkey, and Austria against France (Lefebvre, French Revolution, 2:231–34).

7The pamphlet was entitled French Originals of All the Documents, Translations of Which Accompanied the Message of the President of the United States, of the 18th January, 1799, relative to the Affairs of the United States with the French Republic (Philadelphia, 1799; Evans description begins Charles Evans, ed., American Bibliography … 1639 … 1820 (12 vols.; Chicago, 1903–34). description ends 36517). JM’s copy, uncut, is in the Madison Collection, Rare Book Department, University of Virginia Library.

8For George Nicholas’s pamphlet, see Hubbard Taylor to JM, 3 Jan. 1799, and n. 1. The pamphlet was reprinted in Philadelphia in 1799 (Evans description begins Charles Evans, ed., American Bibliography … 1639 … 1820 (12 vols.; Chicago, 1903–34). description ends 35973).

9The two statements were published as Letter from the Secretary of the Treasury, Transmitting a Statement of Goods, Wares and Merchandize Exported from the United States during One Year, prior to the First Day of October, 1798 (Philadelphia, 1799; Evans description begins Charles Evans, ed., American Bibliography … 1639 … 1820 (12 vols.; Chicago, 1903–34). description ends 36537) and Letter from the Secretary of the Treasury, Transmitting Two Statements; One Exhibiting the Value or Quantities of the Goods, Wares and Merchandize, Imported into the United States, in Ships or Vessels of the Said United States, for One Year prior to the First of October 1797—and the Other Exhibiting, in Like Manner, the Importations in Ships or Vessels of Foreign Nations, during the Same Period (Philadelphia, 1799; Evans description begins Charles Evans, ed., American Bibliography … 1639 … 1820 (12 vols.; Chicago, 1903–34). description ends 36540). JM’s copy of the first pamphlet is in the Madison Collection, Rare Book Department, University of Virginia Library.

10FC ends here, with Jefferson’s note: “added same P. S as to Colo. Monroe about the vessel […]” (see Jefferson to Monroe, 11 Feb. 1799, Ford, Writings of Jefferson description begins Paul Leicester Ford, ed., The Writings of Thomas Jefferson (10 vols.; New York, 1892–99). description ends , 7:347).

11Victor Hugues (1762–1826) was a French merchant resident in Saint-Domingue who had lost a fortune in the destruction of Port-au-Prince. Returning to France, he was sent to Guadeloupe to recapture the island from the British, which he did in 1794. He governed there as agent until the arrival of Desfourneaux in November 1798 (Auguste Lacour, Histoire de la Guadeloupe [4 vols.; Basse-Terre, Guadeloupe, 1857], 2:280, 305–41, 472, 476, 3:3).

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