James Madison Papers

From James Madison to Thomas Jefferson, 7 February 1812

To Thomas Jefferson

Washington Feby. 7. 1812

Dear Sir

I have recd. several letters from you which not requiring special answers, I now beg leave to acknowledge in the lump. I have delayed it in the hope that I might add something on our public affairs not uninteresting. If there be any thing at present of this character it will be found in the inclosed paper from N. York.1 We have no late official information from Europe; but all that we see from G. B. indicates an adherence to her mad policy towards the U. S. The Newspapers give you a Sufficient insight into the measures of Congress. With a view to enable the Executive to step at once into Canada they have provided after two months delay, for a regular force requiring 12 to raise it, and after 3 months for a volunteer force, on terms not likely to raise it at all for that object.2 The mixture of good & bad, avowed & disguised motives accounting for these things is curious eno’, but not to be explained in the compass of a letter. Among other jobbs on my hands is the case of Wilkinsons. His defence fills 6 or 700 pages of the most collossal paper.3 The minutes of the Court, oral written & printed testimony, are all in proportion. A month has not yet carried me thro’ the whole.

We have had of late a hard winter & much Ice which still lies on the water in view. The re-iterations of Earthquakes continue to be reported from various quarters. They have slightly reached the State of N. Y. and been severely felt W. and S. Westwardly. There was one here this morning at 5 or 6 minutes after 4 oC. It was rather stronger than any preceding one, & lasted several minutes, with sinister tho very slight repetitions throughout the succeeding hour. Be assured of my best affections

James Madison

RC (DLC). Docketed by Jefferson as received on 15 Feb. 1812.

1JM may have enclosed a newspaper containing the address delivered by Gov. Daniel D. Tompkins to the New York legislature on 28 Jan. 1812. The address was reprinted in the National Intelligencer on 6 Feb. 1812. Its contents were “not uninteresting” inasmuch as Tompkins, who had not hitherto been noted for his independence from the Clintonian wing of the New York Republican party, announced both his support for the administration’s foreign policy and his opposition to the efforts of the Federalists, assisted by some Clintonians, in New York to obtain a legislative charter for a proposed Bank of America intended to absorb the capital released on the financial markets by the recent dissolution of the Bank of the United States (see Ray W. Irwin, Daniel D. Tompkins: Governor of New York and Vice President of the United States [New York, 1968], pp. 111–17).

2On 26 Dec. 1811 the chairman of the House select committee on foreign relations introduced a bill authorizing the president to organize and accept the services of up to 50,000 volunteers as recommended in the resolutions accompanying the committee’s 29 Nov. 1811 report to the House. After lengthy and complicated debate centering around the issues of whether the president could commission the officers, whether the force could be used beyond the limits of the U.S., and whether the volunteers were exempt from militia duty before being called into service, the House passed the bill on 17 Jan. 1812. A Senate committee, however, chaired by Nicholas Gilman of New Hampshire, whom Lucy Payne Washington described to her sister as “that poison white eyed old Gilman … a heady dissenter,” amended the House bill by stipulating that the officers were to be “appointed in the manner prescribed by law in the several states and territories” and by reducing the appropriation for the force from three million to one million dollars. JM signed the bill on 6 Feb., but he was never convinced that its provisions were workable, and later in the session he succeeded in having them amended (Annals of Congress description begins Debates and Proceedings in the Congress of the United States … (42 vols.; Washington, 1834–56). description ends , 12th Cong., 1st sess., 101, 106, 111–12, 312, 314, 316, 318, 377, 583, 589, 618–19, 664, 698, 728–32, 732–49, 750–64, 765–80, 781–94, 796–800, 800–801, 1567, 1573, 1574, 1580, 1584, 1586; Lucy Payne Washington to Anna Payne Cutts, 14 Jan. 1812 [Ms in the possession of Mr. and Mrs. George B. Cutts]; U.S. Statutes at Large description begins The Public Statutes at Large of the United States of America … (17 vols.; Boston, 1848–73). description ends , 2:676–77, 785–86).

3The court-martial had acquitted Wilkinson of all charges and specifications against him, and JM was to complete his reading of the testimony within the week. In the concluding paragraph of its lengthy findings the court declared that “on the whole … from a comparison of all the testimony, General Wilkinson appears to have performed his various and complicated duties with zeal and fidelity, and merits the approbation of his country.” On 14 Feb. 1812 JM drafted the following paragraph, which he appended to the findings: “I have examined & considered the foregoing proceedings of the General Court Martial held at Frederick-town for the trial of Brigadier General James Wilkinson. And although I have observed in those proceedings with regret that there are instances in the conduct of the Court as well as of the Officer on trial which are evidently and justly objectionable, his acquittal of the several charges exhibited agst. him is approved, and his sword is accordingly ordered to be restored” (PHi: Daniel Parker Papers; DNA: RG 153, Records relating to the 1811 and 1815 Courts-Martial of Maj. Gen. James A. Wilkinson). The National Intelligencer published the court’s findings and JM’s approval of the verdict on 25 Feb. 1812.

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