James Madison Papers

To James Madison from Thomas Jefferson, 18 February 1801

From Thomas Jefferson

Washington Feb. 18. 1801.

Notwithstanding the suspected infidelity of the post, I must hazard this communication. The Minority in the H. of R. after seeing the impossibility of electing B. the certainty that a legislative usurpation would be resisted by arms, and a recourse to a Convention to reorganise & amend the government, held a consultation on this dilemma, Whether it would be better for them to come over in a body, and go with the tide of the times, or by a negative conduct suffer the election to be made by a bare majority, keeping their body entire & unbroken, to act in phalanx on such ground of opposition as circumstances shall offer? We know their determination on this question only by their vote of yesterday. Morris of V.1 withdrew, which made Lyon’s vote that of his state. The 4 Maryland Federalists put in 4. blanks which made the positive tickets of their collegues the vote of the state. S. Carolina & Delaware put in blanks. So there were 10. states for one candidate, 4. for another & 2. blanks. We consider this therefore as a declaration of war, on the part of this band. But their conduct appears to have brought over to us the whole body of Federalists, who being alarmed with the danger of a dissolution of the government, had been made most anxiously to wish the very administration they had opposed, & to view it when obtained as a child of their own. They see too their quondam leaders separated fairly from them, & themselves aggregated under other banners. Even Hamilton & Higginson2 have been zealous partisans for us. This circumstance, with the unbounded confidence which will attach to the new ministry as soon as known, will start us on high ground. Mr. A. embarrasses us. He keeps the offices of State & War vacant, has named Bayard M. P. to France,3 and has called an unorganised Senate on the 4th. of March. As you do not like to be here on that day, I wish you could come within a day or two after. I think that between that & the middle of the month we can so far put things under way, as that we may go home to make arrangements for our final removal. Come to Conrad’s4 where I will bespeak lodgings for you. Yesterday mr. A. nominated Bayard to be M. P. of the US. to the French republic: to-day Theophilus Parsons Atty. Genl of the US. in the room of C. Lee, who with Keith Taylor cum multis aliis5 are appointed judges under the new system.6 H. G. Otis is nominated a district attorney. A vessel has been waiting for some time in readiness to carry the new minister to France. My affectionate salutations to mrs. Madison & yourself. Adieu.

RC (DLC: Rives Collection, Madison Papers); FC (DLC: Jefferson Papers). Unsigned. RC franked and addressed by Jefferson to JM “near Orange court house.”

1Lewis Morris of Vermont.

2Stephen Higginson was a prominent Boston merchant and Federalist.

3James A. Bayard’s appointment as U.S. minister to France was confirmed by the Senate on 19 Feb., but he declined the office, noting that by accepting the appointment he “would be under the administration of Mr. Jefferson and having been in the number of those who withdrew themselves from the opposition to his election it is impossible for me to take an office the tenure of which would be at his pleasure.” Bayard, the sole elector of the state of Delaware, cast a blank vote in the last ballot that elected Jefferson (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 , 1:382; Bayard to John Adams, 19 Feb. 1801, Elizabeth Donnan, ed., “Papers of James A. Bayard, 1796–1815,” Annual Report of the American Historical Association for the Year 1913 [2 vols.; Washington, 1915], 2:130).

4In November 1800 Conrad and M’Munn opened two “houses of entertainment” in Washington, D.C., one for the “accomodation of boarders.” The boardinghouse was situated in a range of buildings on New Jersey Avenue, two hundred paces from the Capitol (Washington National Intelligencer, 5 Dec. 1800).

5Cum multis aliis: with many others.

6Pursuant to the passage of the Judiciary Act of 1801, President Adams, on 18 Feb., sent a large number of judicial nominations to the Senate. George Keith Taylor, a Virginia lawyer and prominent Federalist, was nominated a judge of the fourth circuit court of the U.S., along with Charles Lee, former U.S. attorney general, and Philip B. Key of Maryland. Although Lee declined the position, the nominations of Taylor and Key were approved on 26 Feb. (Tyler, Encyclopedia of Virginia Biography, 2:361; 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 , 1:381, 385).

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