James Madison Papers

To James Madison from John Dawson, 23 February 1800

From John Dawson

Philadelphia. February 23. 1800.

Dear Sir!

We have passd another law prohibiting the intercourse with France & her dependencies,1 & fear we shall have a bankrupt system—the bill has gone up to the Senate by the vote of our speaker, where it woud have been rejected on the first reading had not Mr. Pinckney been absent, & Mr. Cocke,2 who is opposed to it, voted in favour of it—on its third reading in our house an equall division took place, & Nicholas & Stone3 voted for it—thus it seems that fate or chance is in its favour.

We have not recievd any accounts from our envoys at Paris tho they are daily expected—it is difficult to say what change the late revolution in that country will produce—however they may have violated the principles of their own constitution & of republicanism, their goverment as it regards foriegn nations is more strong than ever—if they determine to wage the war against the combind powers with vigour, they may be more disposd to accommodate with us.

It seems understood that the legislature of this state will not agree on the mode of choosing the Electors, at least, at this session, & great exertions will be made to obtain majorities in the next legislature, where the choice will probably be made, especially if we can prevail in the senate—the sense of N. York will soon be known, & much, very much depends on the Election in the city—our friends are sanguine, & active—pray how is the general ticket relishd in Virginia? They report that it is universally abhord. You have seen, or heard of a law now before the Senate constituting a tribunal to judge of the qualifications of the electors—it labours, & it cannot be foretold in what form it will come down to us—I wish for your sentiments fully on this subject, which I think highly important, & to which the situation of this state gave birth.4

Present me to your friends & to mine, and accept an assurance of much esteem.

J Dawson.


1“An act further to suspend the commercial intercourse between the United States and France, and the dependencies thereof,” which extended the law then in force until 3 Mar. 1801, passed the House on 20 Feb. 1800 by a vote of 68 to 28 (Annals of Congress description begins Debates and Proceedings in the Congress of the United States … (42 vols.; Washington, 1834–56). description ends , 6th Cong., 1st sess., 531–32).

2William Cocke (1748–1828) had been a senator from Tennessee, 1796–97, and served another term between 1799 and 1805 (Moore and Foster, Tennessee, 2:99–100).

3David Stone (1770–1818), a graduate of Princeton, was a lawyer and representative from North Carolina. He later served as U.S. senator (1800–1807, 1812–14) and governor (1808–10) of his state (Ashe et al., Biographical History of North Carolina, 4:422–29).

4Dawson apparently referred to the protest over the 1796 Pennsylvania electoral vote (see Joseph Jones to JM, ca. 15 Dec. 1796, 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 , 16:428–29 and n. 1). On 23 Jan. 1800 a motion was made in the Senate by James Ross to appoint a committee to consider whether “provisions ought to be made by law for deciding disputed elections of President and Vice President of the United States, and for determining the legality or illegality of the votes given for those officers in the different States.” Though objections were made to the proposed changes as being unconstitutional, a committee was appointed on 24 Jan. The bill passed the Senate on 28 Mar. by a vote of 16 to 12 (Annals of Congress description begins Debates and Proceedings in the Congress of the United States … (42 vols.; Washington, 1834–56). description ends , 6th Cong., 1st sess., 28–33, 126–46).

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