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James Madison on Jay’s Treaty, Revolution in the Netherlands, and Virginia Politics
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the arrival of the Treaty has not added a particle to the public knowledge of its contents... Amsterdam with all that country have bowed to the standard of Liberty...nothing remains in the way of a quiet & compleat establishment of a third Republic on the rights of man....

I see by the newspapers that your constituents have been so uncivil to the hired preachers and prophets of a change in the public mind of Virginia as to adhere by an unanimous vote to their former representative....

Two Democratic-Republican Congressmen from Virginia share criticism of Jay’s Treaty, admiration for the spread of the French Revolution to the Netherlands, and updates on recent elections.

JAMES MADISON. Autograph Letter Signed, to William Branch Giles, April 3, 1795, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. 2 pp., 8¼ x 12¾ in.

Inventory #25368       Price: $7,500

Complete Transcript

            Philada Apl 3, 95.

Dear Sir

            I have not forgotten my promise to drop you a few lines on the arrival of the Treaty in case it shd happen during my stay here; but have hitherto omitted to write because the arrival of the Treaty has not added a particle to the public knowledge of its contents. You will have known that the Senate are to meet for the purpose of receiving the communication on the 8th of June. I am chiefly induced to take my pen at present by the pleasure of mentioning the accts just recd from Holland. Amsterdam with all that country have bowed to the standard of Liberty. The Stadtholder has resigned & fled. A Revolutionary system is commenced in form, and nothing remains in the way of a quiet & compleat establishment of a third Republic on the rights of man. It appears that 12 sail of the line with 1000 other vessels & immense stores of every kind, are at the disposal of the conquerers; who have declared that the people shall be free to establish a Govt for themselves, that property shall be safe; and what will be peculiarly grateful to the Dutch sensibility that assignats shall not be forced on it. It appears also that steps are taken by the present authority of Holland that will immediately reduce G. B. to the dilemma of combating the revolutionary powers there, or giving up the war on those of France. None ought to wish so much as herself that the latter may be embraced as the only safe & prudent course. There are many interesting details for which I must refer to the newspapers which will everywhere repeat them. <2>

            I was not able within the necessary period to do fully what I had undertaken with your privity. By abandoning the latter part, and abridging the former of what you saw, something will probably appear, of which copies will be forwarded to you. They must be ready or nearly so by this time.[1]

            I have been detained here by bad roads & weather. I hope to be on the road by monday or tuesday next. I see by the newspapers that your constituents have been so uncivil to the hired preachers and prophets of a change in the public mind of Virginia as to adhere by an unanimous vote to their former representative. I am truly sorry for the loss of Mr. Walker. Of Mr. V. report gives us more than hopes.

                                                                        Very sincerely I am Dear Sir

                                                                        Yr friend & Servt

                                                                        J Madison Jr


[Address:] William B. Giles Esqr / Richmond

[Docketing:] John Madison’s / letter / 3rd April 1795

Historical Background

In this fascinating letter, Madison reflects on Jay’s Treaty, formally called the Treaty of Amity, Commerce, and Navigation, Between His Britannic Majesty and the United States of America. The treaty was signed in London on November 19, 1794, but it was not submitted to the Senate until June 1795. The debate over the treaty led to the formation of the Democratic-Republican Party and the First Party System.

Madison led the opposition, fearing that closer ties with Great Britain would promote aristocracy and undermine republicanism. Alexander Hamilton, no longer Secretary of the Treasury, led the Federalist movement to have the treaty approved. Madison argued that the treaty could not take effect unless it was also approved by the U.S. House of Representatives, since it regulated commerce and exercised legislative powers granted to Congress as a whole. Despite his popular title as the “Father of the Constitution,” Madison lost this debate, and the House left ratification to the Senate. On June 24, 1795, the Senate ratified the treaty by the minimum required two-thirds vote, 20 to 10.

Madison also reflects on changes in the Netherlands. William V (1748-1806), Prince of Orange and the last stadtholder of the Dutch Republic, had recently fled and was living in exile in England. He was unpopular in the United States because of his (pro-British) neutrality during the American Revolution. In January, 1795, French armies and exiled Dutch revolutionaries overthrew the Dutch Republic. The new Batavian Republic became a client state incorporated by Napoleon Bonaparte into the French Empire in 1806.

Like most Democratic-Republicans, Madison and Giles rejoiced at the accomplishments of the French Revolution. In his April 12 response to this letter, Giles wrote, “The extention of government upon its only solid and durable foundation, ‘the rights of man,’ is a circumstance peculiarly interresting to the whole human race, and in this great revolution in the condition of man, my sympathy has been particularly excited from an attachment to the nation which has been the means of effecting it.” (William Branch Giles to James Madison, April 12, 1795)

Madison obliquely congratulates Giles on his reelection by rejoicing that “your constituents… adhere by an unanimous vote to their former representative” and is pleased that Virginia voters had rejected the counsels of “hired preachers and prophets of a change in the public mind of Virginia.” Giles had been most vocal in Congress in proposing an amendment to the naturalization process that forced applicants to renounce foreign titles as a condition of citizenship and in defending democratic societies or clubs, which Federalists viewed as subversive. Giles disgusted Abigail Adams, who wrote to her husband, “I See by the papers the judicious Motion of Giles as it is an other Bone to pick; and brought forward with no other view or design, but to render himself popular with the Sans Culotts I cannot help despiseing and abhoring a Man, who is governd by Such base and Sordid motives. Giles’ face was allways my aversion and his Heart I detest, for I believe it desperately wicked.” (Abigail Adams to John Adams, January 16, 1795)

Madison is hopeful that Abraham B. Venable (1758-1811) will also be reelected. Democratic-Republican Venable gained a large victory over two competitors in the spring 1795 elections. However, Democratic-Republican Samuel Jordan Cabell (1756-1818) defeated fellow Democratic-Republican Francis Walker (1764-1806), though both Madison and Jefferson preferred Walker to Cabell.

James Madison (1751-1836) was born in Port Conway, Virginia, and graduated from Princeton University in 1771. He entered politics in 1776 and represented Virginia in the Congress of the Confederation from 1781 to 1783 and again from 1786 to 1787. Madison played a major role in the 1787 Constitutional Convention, for which he later became known as the “Father of the Constitution.” He authored the Federalist Papers along with Alexander Hamilton and John Jay. Madison helped found Thomas Jefferson’s Democratic-Republican party in opposition to Hamilton’s financial proposals. Madison represented Virginia in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1789 to 1797. Madison’s served as Jefferson’s Secretary of State (1801-1809), and then succeeded him to the Presidency for two terms (1809-1817). Madison’s administration saw the culmination of Anglo-American tensions that resulted in the War of 1812, which officially began on June 18, 1812, and concluded with the Treaty of Ghent on December 24, 1814. The last years of Madison’s second term saw the transition to the Era of Good Feelings, as the Federalist party declined. When he left office, Madison retired to Montpelier, his tobacco plantation in Virginia. He also assisted Thomas Jefferson in the establishment of the University of Virginia, where Madison succeeded Jefferson as rector when Jefferson died.

William Branch Giles (1762-1830) was born in Virginia and graduated from Princeton University in 1781. He studied law with George Wythe and at the College of William and Mary, gaining admission to the bar in 1786. First elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1790 to fill a seat vacated by the death of a member, Giles served until 1798 and again from 1801 to 1803. He was a Democratic-Republican and strongly supported fellow Virginians Thomas Jefferson and James Madison. From 1804 to 1815, he represented Virginia in the U.S. Senate. He was the governor of Virginia from 1827 to 1830.


Fine, with repaired paper loss to a blank area of the integral address leaf.

[1] In April 1795, Madison authored an anonymous pamphlet, Political Observations, “extorted by the entreaties of some friends,” just at the close of the Congressional session. It includes the statement, “Of all the enemies to public liberty war is, perhaps, the most to be dreaded, because it comprises and develops the germ of every other.”

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