James Madison Papers

To James Madison from Charles Pinckney, 30 September 1799

From Charles Pinckney

(Private & in confidence)

September 30. 1799 In Charleston

Dear Sir

I Will Be obliged to you to favour me with an answer to my last, (if recieved) on the subject of the absolute necessity of your State Legislature passing at their next session an act to declare that the Electors of a President & Vice President shall be elected by joint Ballott by your State Legislature in the manner it is done in this State—this act must Be passed at your next session or it will be too late—the Election comes on you recollect in December 1800 & as the Success of the Republican Interest depends upon this act I am to intreat you not only to use all your own Influence, but to Write to & speak to all your Friends in the republican interest in the state Legislature to have it done. The Constitution of the United States fully warrants it—& remember that Every thing Depends upon it—that Mr Adams carried his Election by One Vote from Virginia & from North Carolina while the republican southern Candidate had not one Vote to the Northward Of Pennsylvania. I therefore Urge you with all the Earnestness I am capable of to have it done at Your next session as a single Vote may be of great Consequence. It is now a proper time to push every measure favourable to the republican interest & to strengthen it’s friends. The increasing & very alarming captures by the British of our Vessels—& their immense British Debts & claims under the 6h Article of the Treaty, amounting it is said, if they were allowed to nearly One half of the Original Debt of the United States & the increase of direct Tax in consequence which must, (if ever they are allowed) Be Quadrupled—render British Influence & Politics every day more unfashionable while the seeming disposition of the French which many think Sincere & I hope is so to negotiate & make reparation to us for the Injuries we have sustained, soften the asperity of feelings towards them. This Government must be republican & the Measure I have urged, being as I well know, the most certain means of promoting it I therefore press it on you & request you to do so on your Friends.

A Decision has lately taken place in Charleston by our Federal Judge which makes great Noise—it is under the 26 Article of the British Treaty. The Prisoners name was Robbins1—at the request of a Number of our Citizens I have examined it & written The Piece inclosed under the Signature of a South Carolina Planter which I request you to have republished in your State papers if you think proper.2 It is of importance & is another of the Effects produced by that Treaty, which taking this, the Claims under that Article on the United States Treasury for British Subjects & the Captures, begins to develope all its consequences. With Regard I am dear sir Yours Truly

Charles Pinckney

Please let me hear from you as soon as you now can. I must Beg you to excuse the Blots &c—the Post goes so quick I have not time to copy it. I send you a second piece I have published this morning under the same signature on the British Captures of our Vessels which are increasing to an immense amount—if you see Mr Jefferson shew it to him. But remember, pass the act. I tell you I know nothing else will do & this is no time for qualms.

RC and enclosures (DLC). RC addressed by Pinckney to JM, “To Be left at Orange Court House Virginia.” Docketed by JM. Misdated 30 Sept. 1789 in Index to the James Madison Papers. For enclosures, see n. 2.

1A sailor named Jonathan Robbins was imprisoned in Charleston, South Carolina, in February 1799 at the request of the British consul, who provided sworn statements that accused the sailor of being a British subject named Thomas Nash, involved in the bloody mutiny of the British frigate Hermione in 1797. Though Robbins admitted to having been present during the mutiny, he insisted that he was a native American from Connecticut who had been impressed into the Royal Navy. He was tried in federal court by Judge Thomas Bee and, under the provisions of article 27 of Jay’s treaty, turned over to British authorities who subsequently court-martialed and executed him. The lack of a jury trial and the seemingly callous action of the court in giving up an alleged American citizen to certain death caused a furor. Jefferson commented that “I think no one circumstance since the establishment of our government has affected the popular mind more” (DeConde, Quasi-War, pp. 204–5; Jefferson to Pinckney, 29 Oct. 1799, Ford, Writings of Jefferson description begins Paul Leicester Ford, ed., The Writings of Thomas Jefferson (10 vols.; New York, 1892–99). description ends , 7:397).

2Pinckney enclosed two letters: one on “The Case of Jonathan Robbins” and the other on neutral trade. Both appeared in the Charleston City Gazette and Daily Advertiser under signature of “A South Carolina Planter,” the first on 6 Sept. 1799, the second on 4 Oct. 1799. The articles are now in JM’s portfolio of newspaper clippings (DLC, series 7, container 2). The piece on Jonathan Robbins was reprinted in the Richmond Va. Argus on 12 Nov. 1799. These two letters, with the addition of another originally printed under the same signature, were published in a pamphlet entitled Three Letters Addressed to the People of the United States … (Charleston, 1799; Evans description begins Charles Evans, ed., American Bibliography … 1639 … 1820 (12 vols.; Chicago, 1903–34). description ends 36122).

Half a century later, in 1849, Francis Wharton asserted that JM attacked the Robbins decision in an article published in the Richmond Examiner. Wharton further claimed that JM’s piece prompted John Marshall to frame a defense of the Robbins proceedings. Most of the issues of the Richmond Examiner for the period of the Robbins controversy are missing, but some of the pieces that appeared in the paper were reprinted in the Philadelphia Aurora General Advertiser. One such article in the latter paper of 5 Nov. 1799, entitled “Thoughts on the Judiciary of the United States” by “Hale,” seems to conform in general outline to the article to which Marshall responded. The editors, however, have found no evidence to attribute this piece to JM, and the stylometric analysis that was used on JM’s Aurora General Advertiser essays provides no clear proof of his authorship (Wharton, State Trials of the United States, p. 404; Johnson et al., Papers of John Marshall, 4:23; Madison’s Aurora General Advertiser Essays, 23 Jan.–23 Feb. 1799).

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