James Madison Papers

To James Madison from Thomas Jefferson, 22 November 1799

From Thomas Jefferson

Monticello Nov. 22. 99.

Dear Sir

I have never answered your letter by mr. Polk, because I intended to have paid you a visit. This has been postponed by various circumstances till yesterday, being the day fixed for the departure of my daur. Eppes, my horses were ready for me to have set out to see you. An accident postponed her departure to this day & my visit also. But Colo. Monroe dined with us yesterday, and on my asking his commands for you, he entered into the subject of the visit, and dissuaded it entirely,1 founding the motives on the espionage of the little wretch in Charlottesville, who would make it a subject of some political slander, & perhaps of some political injury.2 I have yeilded to his representations, & therefore shall not have the pleasure of seeing you till my return from Philadelphia. I regret it sincerely, not only on motives of affection but of affairs. Some late circumstances change considerably the aspect of our situation, and must affect the line of conduct to be observed. I regret it the more too, because from the commencement of the ensuing session, I shall trust the post offices with nothing confidential, persuaded that during the ensuing twelve-month they will lend their inquisitorial aid to furnish matter for new slanders. I shall send you as usual printed communications, without saying any thing confidential on them. You will of course understand the cause.

In your new station let me recommend to you the jury system:3 as also the restoration of juries to the court of Chancery, which a law not long sinc[e] repealed because ‘the trial by jury is troublesome & expensive.’ If the reason be good they should go through with it, & abolish it at common law also. If P. Carr is elected in the room of W. N.4 he will undertake the proposing this business and only need your support. If he be not elected, I hope you will get it done otherwise. My best respects to mrs. Madison, and affectionate salutations to yourself

Th: Jefferson

RC (DLC: Rives Collection, Madison Papers).

2The “little wretch in Charlottesville” was Col. John Nicholas, the Federalist Albemarle County clerk (not to be confused with his cousin, the Republican congressman John Nicholas). Nicholas returned the antipathy, calling Jefferson “one of the most artful, intriguing, industrious and double-faced politicians in all America” (Nicholas to George Washington, 22 Feb. 1798, quoted in Manning J. Dauer, “The Two John Nicholases,” American Historical Review, 45 [1940]: 352).

3Jefferson’s concern that the Federalists were using the judicial system as a political instrument led him to a consideration of jury selection. His 1798 petition to the Virginia General Assembly—requesting that jurors be popularly elected in local districts and then chosen by lot for service in particular cases—aroused little response. Jefferson drew JM’s attention to the subject in this letter and suggested that a bill be presented in the legislature. A bill was drawn up by St. George Tucker and came under consideration in that session, but as JM noted, “subjects, deemed more immediately interesting, diminished so much the attention of some whose agency in carrying it thro’ was essential, that the bill was never introduced” (Jefferson to JM, 26 Oct. 1798, and enclosure; JM to Jefferson, 31 Oct. 1798 and 14 Feb. 1800). Jefferson was not alone in his concern for jury reform (see Cullen, St. George Tucker and Law in Virginia, pp. 113–15).

4Wilson Cary Nicholas was elected to the House of Delegates for the 1799–1800 session, but the Virginia legislature voted to send him to the U.S. Senate as a replacement for Henry Tazewell, who had died the previous January. Nicholas’s place in the House of Delegates was taken not by Jefferson’s nephew Peter Carr but by William Woods, a Baptist minister (Swem and Williams, Register description begins Earl G. Swem and John W. Williams, eds., A Register of the General Assembly of Virginia, 1776–1918, and of the Constitutional Conventions (Richmond, 1918). description ends , pp. 52–54; Thomas Mann Randolph to JM, 28 Dec. 1799).

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