James Madison Papers

From James Madison to Jonathan Dayton, [17] March 1812

To Jonathan Dayton

March [17]1 1812

In the latter end of the year 1808, & Spring of 1809, two anonymous letters were addressed, one to the then Secy. of State,2 the other to the P. of the U. S.3 They related to a projected severance of the Union, brought to the knowledge of the writer, which was to be undertaken in case of a rupture with G. B. under the managemt. of men of high standing; but was obviated for the time by the accomodation settled with Mr. Erskine. The writer justly estimating the importance of bringing to pub: view the guilty associates, signified his intention to resume his disclosures, shd. a future occasion call for them; and to give such evidences of their machinations as wd. be conclusive. Such an occasion is formed by existing circumstances. The British designs agst our Union, have been happily dectected [sic] & exposed: But no evidence is produced, having like effect as to domestic plotters;4 who in the event of war, may be expected to avail themselves of that advantage, in seizing any favorable moment for renewing their suspended machinations. As the motives to the communications & purposes alluded to are doubtless unchanged & as the want of name & dates to the letters conveying them, is supplied by the handwriting, & post marks,5 this note may recall the subject to the writer, at a moment singularly critical. A Come. of investigation, under the title of Come. of For. relations, having been appd. by the H. of Reps. any name & proofs, or the sources of them may be either pointed out to that body, or otherwise made known as may be thought proper.

Draft (DLC). Headed “addressed to Genl. J. Dayton.”

1JM placed an asterisk here and at the foot of the page, possibly at a later date, wrote “Mar. 17.”

2“Quintus” to JM, 9 Dec. 1808. The author outlined a New England–led conspiracy, in the event of war with Great Britain, to form a new confederacy to which the Middle Atlantic states would also be asked to adhere. “Quintus” assured JM that the plot was headed by “men of the highest standing, & first respectability & influence in society,” adding that “if it were necessary I could mention to you many names who stand ready for the signal, to appear openly in it’s behalf, & to exert themselves to execute it” (NjP).

3“Cyrus” to JM, 29 May 1809 (PJM-PS description begins Robert A. Rutland et al., eds., The Papers of James Madison: Presidential Series (4 vols. to date; Charlottesville, Va., 1984–). description ends , 1:210–11 and n. 1).

4In a private note written on the evening of 15 Mar. 1812, Massachusetts representative Ezekiel Bacon informed Albert Gallatin that he had received assurances “in the most positive terms, that no party or individuals of a party in this Country were in the remotest degree privy to the objects of [John Henry’s] mission.” Fearing that the Federalists would “be able to exonerate themselves from the charge of the intrigue which is at least impliedly brought against them by the President’s message,” Bacon suggested that “the President himself (if he can do it with truth) should take occasion to place that paragraph in his message on a footing somewhat different from what it now stands upon.” Bacon added that Henry had also broadcast information about “the sum which was paid by the Govt. for his information” (reproduced in Papers of Gallatin [microfilm ed.], reel 24).

5Both the “Cyrus” and “Quintus” letters were addressed to JM from Elizabethtown, New Jersey, where Dayton had long resided.

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