James Madison Papers

To James Madison from Thomas Jefferson, 4 March 1800

From Thomas Jefferson

Mar. 4. 1800.

I have never written to you since my arrival here for reasons which were explained. Your’s of Dec. 29. Jan. 4. 9. 12. 18. & Feb. 14. have therefore remained unacknoleged. I have at different times inclosed to you such papers as seemed interesting. To-day I forward Bingham’s amendment to the election bill formerly inclosed you,1 mr. Pinkney’s proposed amendmt. to the constn.,2 & the report of the Ways & Means.3 B.’s amendmt. was lost by the usual majority of 2 to 1. A very different one will be proposed containing the true sense of the Minority,4 viz that the two houses, voting by heads, shall decide such questions as the constitution authorises to be raised. This may probably be taken up in the other house under better auspices. For tho’ the federalists have a great majority there, yet they are of a more moderate temper than for some time past. The Senate however seem determined to yeild to nothing which shall give the other house greater weight in the decision on elections than they have. Mr. Pinckney’s motion has been supported, and is likely to have some votes, which were not expected. I rather believe he will withdraw it, and propose the same thing in the form of a bill; it being the opinion of some that such a regulation is not against the present constitution. In this form it will stand a better chance to pass, as a majority only in both houses will be necessary. By putting off building the 74s. & stopping enlistments the loan will be reduced to 3½ millions. But I think it cannot be obtained. For though no new bankruptcies have happened here for some weeks, or in New York yet they continue to happen in Baltimore, & the whole commercial race are lying on their oars, and gathering in their affairs, not knowing what new failures may put their resources to the proof. In this state of things they cannot lend money. Some foreigners have taken asylum among us, with a good deal of money, who may perhaps chuse that deposit. Robbins’s affair has been under agitation for some days. Livingston made an able speech of 2½ hours yesterday. The advocates of the measure feel it’s pressure heavily; & tho’ they may be able to repel L’s motion of censure, I do not believe they can carry Bayard’s of approbation.5 The landing of our envoys at Lisbon, will risk a very dangerous consequence, inasmuch as the news of Truxton’s aggression6 will perhaps arrive at Paris before our commissioners will. Had they gone directly there, they might have been two months ahead of that news. We are entirely without further information from Paris. By letters from Bourdeaux of Dec. 7. tobo. was then from 25. to 27. D. pr. Cwt. yet did Marshal maintain on the non-intercourse bill, that it’s price at other markets had never been affected by that law.7 While the navigating and provision states who are the majority can keep open all the markets, or at least sufficient ones for their objects, the cries of the tobacco makers, who are the minority, and not at all in favor, will hardly be listened to. It is truly the fable of the cat pulling the nuts out of the fire with the monkey’s paw;8 and it shews that G. Mason’s proposition in the convention was wise,9 that on laws regulating commerce two thirds of the votes should be requisite to pass them. However it would have been trampled under foot by a triumphant majority.

Mar. 8. My letter has lain by me till now, waiting mr. Trist’s departure. The question has been decided to-day on Livingston’s motion respecting Robbins. 35 for it, about 60. against it. Livingston, Nicholas & Gallatin distinguished themselves on one side & J. Marshall greatly on the other. Still it is believed they will not push Bayard’s motion of approbation. We have this day also decided in Senate on the motion for overhauling the editor of the Aurora.10 It was carried as usual by about 2. to 1. H. Marshall voting of course with them, as did & frequently does Anderson of Tennissee, who is perfectly at market. It happens that the other party are so strong that they do not think either him or Marshall worth buying. As the conveyance is confidential, I can say something on a subject which to those who do not know my real dispositions respecting it, might seem indelicate. The Feds begin to be very seriously alarmed about their election next fall. Their speeches in private, as well as their public & private demeanor to me indicate it strongly. This seems to be the prospect. Keep out Pensylva., Jersey & N. York, & the rest of the states are about equally divided; and in this estimate it is supposed that N. Carolina & Maryland added together are equally divided. Then the event depends on the 3. middle states beforementd. As to them, Pensylva. passes no law for an election at the present session. They confide that the next election gives a decided majority in the two houses when joined together. Mckain11 therefore intends to call the legislature to meet immediately after the new election to appoint electors themselves. Still you will be sensible there may arise a difficulty between the two houses about voting by heads or by houses. The republican members here from Jersey are entirely confident that their two houses, joined together, have a majority of republicans; their council being republican by 6. or 8. votes, & the lower house federal by only 1. or 2. and they have no doubt the approaching election will be in favor of the republicans. They appoint electors by the two houses voting together. In N. York all depends on the success of the city election which is of 12. members, & of course makes a difference of 24. which is sufficient to make the two houses, joined together, republican in their vote. Govr. Clinton, Genl. Gates, & some other old revolutionary characters have been put on the republican ticket. Burr, Livingston &c. entertain no doubt on the event of that election. Still these are the ideas of the republicans only in these three states, & we must make great allowance for their sanguine views. Upon the whole I consider it as rather more doubtful than the last election; in which I was not decieved in more than a vote or two. If Pensylvania votes, then either Jersey or New York giving a republican vote, decides the election. If Pensylva. does not vote, then New York determines the election. In any event we may say that if the city election of N. York is in favor of the Republican ticket, the issue will be republican; if the federal ticket for the city of N. York prevails, the probabilities will be in favor of a federal issue, because it would then require a republican vote both from Jersey & Pensva. to preponderate against New York, on which we could not count with any confidence. The election of New York being in April it becomes an early & interesting object. It is probable the landing of our envoys in Lisbon will add a month to our session: because all that the Eastern men are anxious about is to get away before the possibility of a treaty’s coming in upon us. You must consider the money you have in mr. Barnes’s hands as wholly at your disposal. I have no note here of the amount of our nail account; but it is small and will be quite as convenient to me to recieve after I go home. Present my respectful salutations to mrs. Madison and be assured of my constant & affectionate esteem.

RC (DLC); FC (DLC: Jefferson Papers). Unsigned.

1Amendment, Proposed by Mr. Bingham, to the Bill, Prescribing the Mode of Deciding Disputed Elections of President and Vice President of the United States (Philadelphia, 1800; Evans description begins Charles Evans, ed., American Bibliography … 1639 … 1820 (12 vols.; Chicago, 1903–34). description ends 38706). The amendment was defeated on 3 Mar. 1800 by a vote of 24 to 4 (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., 65–66).

2On 3 Feb. 1800 Charles Pinckney introduced a motion in the Senate recommending the adoption of a constitutional amendment which would prevent any federal judge from holding another appointment during his continuance in office (ibid., 41–42).

3Report of the Committee of Ways and Means, on the Subject of a Loan … 21st February, 1800 (Philadelphia, 1800; Evans description begins Charles Evans, ed., American Bibliography … 1639 … 1820 (12 vols.; Chicago, 1903–34). description ends 38861).

4See Jefferson to JM, 25 Mar. 1800, and n. 2.

5James Bayard presented a resolution in the House of Representatives on 17 Feb. that found the conduct of the executive department of the U.S. in the Robbins case to be “conformable to the duty of the Government, and to the obligations of good faith stipulated in the 27th article” of Jay’s treaty. On the other hand, Edward Livingston’s motion, proposed on 20 Feb., criticized the president’s action as “a dangerous interference of the Executive with Judicial decisions” and “a sacrifice of the Constitutional independence of the Judicial power.” Livingston’s motion was defeated in the Committee of the Whole on 6 Mar. by a vote of 34 to 58. Two days later the House voted 61 to 35 to uphold this decision. On 10 Mar. Bayard moved that the House be discharged from any further consideration of the subject, including his own resolution. The motion carried by a vote of 62 to 35 (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., 526, 532–33, 595–96, 618–19, 621; see also Charles Pinckney to JM, 30 Sept. 1799, and n. 1).

6On 1 Feb. 1800 Thomas Truxtun, captain of the U.S. frigate Constellation, chased and forced into battle the French frigate La Vengeance off the island of Guadeloupe. After a running engagement that lasted five hours, the French ship surrendered, only to escape moments later when the Constellation’s mainmast collapsed. Truxtun was criticized by Republicans for the heavy toll of casualties as well as the severe damage done his ship in the affair. On 24 Mar. 1800, however, the House of Representatives voted, 87 to 4, to award a gold medal to Truxtun in testimony “of his gallantry and good conduct” (Palmer, Stoddert’s War, pp. 185–87; Philadelphia Gazette, 24 Feb. 1800; 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., 640–42).

7John Marshall spoke in favor of the nonintercourse bill during the long debate in the House on 20 Feb. 1800 (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).

8Jefferson referred to La Fontaine’s fable of the monkey and the cat. The monkey persuaded the cat to pull some chestnuts from the fire so that they might both eat. While the monkey ate his fill, however, the pair was surprised by a maid and the cat went hungry (The Complete Fables of La Fontaine, trans. Norman B. Spector [Evanston, Ill., 1988], pp. 479–81).

9In the Federal Convention of 1787, Charles Pinckney proposed that laws regulating commerce be passed by a two-thirds majority of both houses. George Mason spoke in favor of the proposal. JM spoke against it (Farrand, Records of the Federal Convention, 2:449–52)

10On 26 Feb. 1800 Uriah Tracy proposed a motion in the Senate to authorize the Committee of Privileges to investigate William Duane’s publication, without permission, of a Senate bill in the Philadelphia Aurora General Advertiser of 19 Feb. Duane had taken over as editor of the newspaper after the death of Benjamin Franklin Bache in the yellow fever epidemic of 1798, and he later married Bache’s widow. Tracy also wished the committee to “inquire [into] the origin of sundry assertions in the same paper, respecting the Senate of the United States, and the members thereof, in their official capacity, and why the same were published.” After debate and amendment, the resolution requiring the committee to report “what measures ought to be adopted” passed by a vote of 19 to 8 (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., 63, 68–96, 104–5).

11Thomas McKean, governor of Pennsylvania.

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