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Mandeville, LA – In this Project ’76 Webisode, we learn the chain of events that led James Madison & Thomas Jefferson to the conclusion that the Constitution was in peril and the Revolution undone by Congress’s actions over Aliens and sedition, requested by President John Adams. Madison wrote to Jefferson about the newly proposed Alien & Sedition Acts.
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“May 20, 1798, Dear Sir,
The Alien bill proposed in the Senate is a monster that must forever disgrace its parents. I should not have supposed it possible that such an one could have been engendered in either House, & still persuade myself, that it cannot possibly be fathered by both. It is truly to be deplored that a standing army should be let in upon us by the absence of a few sound votes. It may however all be for the best. These addresses to the feelings of the people from their enemies may have more effect in opening their eyes, than all the arguments addressed to their understandings by their friends.
The President, also, seems to be co-operating for the same purpose. Every answer he gives to his addressers unmasks more and more his principles & views. His language to the young men at Pha. is the most abominable & degrading that could fall from the lips of the first magistrate of an independent people, & particularly from a Revolutionary patriot. It throws some light on his meaning when he remarked to me, “that there was not a single principle the same in the American & French Revolutions;” & on my alluding to the contrary sentiment of his predecessor expressed to Adêt on the presentment of the Colours, added, “that it was false let who would express it.”
The abolition of Royalty was it seems not one of his Revolutionary principles. Whether he always made this profession is best known to those, who knew him in the year 1776.—The turn of the elections in N. Y. is a proof that the late occurrences have increased the noise only & not the number of the Tory party. Besides the intrinsic value of the acquisition, it will encourage the hopes & exertions in other States. You will see by the Newspapers the turn which a Townmeeting took in Fredericksbg. I forgot to acknowledge the pamphlet containing the last Despatch from the Envoys recd with your letter of the 10th. It is evidently more in the forensic than Diplomatic stile, and more likely in some of its reasonings to satisfy an American Jury than the French Government. The defence of the provision article is the most shallow that has appeared on that subject. In some instances the reasoning is good, but so tedious and tautologous as to insult the understanding as well as patience of the Directory, if really intended for them, and not for the partial ear of the American public. The want of rain begins to be severely felt, and every appearance indicates a continuance of it. Since the 10th of April there has fallen but one inch of water, except a very partial shower of less than ½ an inch.
Madison fired another letter off to Jefferson a few weeks later after having conversed with James Monroe about the Alien & Sedition Acts. You can almost hear the anger in his written words and the dislike of President John Adams.
The answers of Mr. Adams to his addressers form the most grotesque scene in the tragicomedy acting by the Govermt. They present not only the grossest contradictions to the maxims measures & language of his predecessor and the real principles & interests of his Constituents, but to himself
“June 10, 1798.
Dear Sir, I have duly received your favor of the 31 Ult: & am glad to find mine are recd as regularly as yours. The law for capturing French privateers may certainly be deemed a formal commencement of hostilities, and renders all hope of peace vain, unless a progress in amicable arrangements at Paris not to be expected, should have secured it agst the designs of our Govermt. If the Bill suspending commerce with the French Dominions passes, as it doubtless will, the French Government will be confirmed in their suspicion begotten by the British Treaty, of our coalition in the project of starving their people, and the effect of the measure will be to feed the English at the expence of the farmers of this Country. Already flour is down, I hear, at 4 dollars a barrel. How far the views of the Govt will be answd by annihilating the ability to pay a land tax at the very moment of imposing it, will be best explained by the experimt. Looking beyond the present moment it may be questioned whether the interest of G. B. will be as much advanced by the sacrifice of our trade with her enemies as may be intended. The use of her manufactures here depends on our means of payment, & then on the sale of our produce to the markets of her enemies. There is too much passion, it seems in our Councils to calculate consequences of any sort. The only hope is that its violence by defeating itself may save the Country. The answers of Mr. Adams to his addressers form the most grotesque scene in the tragicomedy acting by the Govermt. They present not only the grossest contradictions to the maxims measures & language of his predecessor and the real principles & interests of his Constituents, but to himself. He is verifying compleatly the last feature in the character drawn of him by Dr. F., however his title may stand to the two first, “Always an honest man, often a wise one, but sometimes wholly out of his senses.” I thank you for the offspring of the Senatorial Muse, which shall be taken care of. It is truly an unique. It is not even prose run mad. Monroe is much at a loss what course to take in consequence of the wicked assault on him by Mr. A. and I am as much so as to the advice that ought to be given him.
It deserves consideration perhaps that if the least occasion be furnished for reviving Governmental attention to him, the spirit of party revenge may be wreaked thro’ the forms of the Constitution. A majority in the H. of R. & ⅔ of the Senate seem to be ripe for everything. A temperate & dignified animadversion on the proceeding, published with his name, as an appeal to the candor & justice of his fellow Citizens agst the wanton & unmanly treatment, might perhaps be of use. But it wd be difficult to execute it in a manner to do justice to himself, & inflict it on his adversary, without clashing with the temper of the moment. Hoping for the pleasure of congratulating you soon, on your release from your painful situation, I close with the most affectionate assurance that I am yours.”
For the year that was 1798 this is Madison’ LAST correspondence. The next thing that appears in his written works is the Kentucky Resolutions which are offered alongside Jefferson’s “Virginia Resolutions”. These Resolutions comprise what we call today “The Virginia & Kentucky Resolutions on nullification and interposition.” You can HEAR them being debated in my Docudromedy “What Lincoln Killed-EPISODE I“