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TO THOMAS JEFFERSON. mad. mss. - James Madison, The Writings, vol. 6 (1790-1802) 
The Writings of James Madison, comprising his Public Papers and his Private Correspondence, including his numerous letters and documents now for the first time printed, ed. Gaillard Hunt (New York: G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 1900). Vol. 6.
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TO THOMAS JEFFERSON.mad. mss.
Orange June 13, 93.
. . . . . . . . .
I observe that the newspapers continue to criticise the President’s proclamation, and I find that some of the criticisms excite the attention of dispassionate & judicious individuals here.1 I have heard it remarked marked by such, with some surprise that the P. should have declared the U. S. to be neutral in the unqualified terms used, when we were so notoriously & unequivocally under eventual engagements to defend the American possessions of F. I have heard it remarked also that the impartiality enjoined on the people was as little reconcileable with their moral obligations, as the unconditional neutrality proclaimed by the Government is with the express articles of the Treaty. It has been asked also whether the authority of the Executive extended by any part of the Constitution to a declaration of the Disposition of the U. S. on the subject of war & peace? I have been mortified that on these points I could offer no bona fide explanations that ought to be satisfactory. On the last point I must own my surprise that such a prerogative should have been exercised. Perhaps I may have not attended to some parts of the Constitution with sufficient care, or may have misapprehended its meaning. But, as I have always supposed & still conceive a proclamation on the subject could not properly go beyond a declaration of the fact that the U. S. were at war or peace, and an injunction of a suitable conduct on the Citizens. The right to decide the question whether the duty & interest of the U. S. require war or peace under any given circumstances, and whether their disposition be towards the one or the other seems to be essentially & exclusively involved in the right vested in the Legislature, of declaring war in time of peace; and in the P. & S. of making peace in time of war. Did no such view of the subject present itself in the discussions of the Cabinet? I am extremely afraid that the P. may not be sufficiently aware of the snares that may be laid for his good intentions by men whose politics at bottom are very different from his own. An assumption of prerogatives not clearly found in the Constitution & having the appearance of being copied from a Monarchical model, will beget animadversion equally mortifying to him & disadvantageous to the Government. Whilst animadversions of this sort can be plausibly ascribed to the spirit of party, the force of them may not be felt. But all his real friends will be anxious that his public conduct may bear the strictest scrutiny of future times as well as of the present day; and all such friends of the Constitution would be doubly pained at infractions of it under auspices that may consecrate the evil till it be incurable.
It will not be in my power to take the step with the Friend of our Friend which you recommend.1 It is probable too that it would be either unnecessary or without effect. If the complexion of the former be such as is presumed, he will fairly state the truth & that alone is wanted. If as I deem not impossible, his complexion be a little different from the general belief, there would be more harm than good in the attempt. The great danger of misconstruing the sentiment of Virginia with regard to Liberty & France is from the heretical tone of conversation in the Towns on the post roads. The voice of the Country is universally and warmly right. If the popular disposition could be collected & carried into effect, a most important use might be made of it in obtaining contributions of the necessaries called for by the danger of famine in France. Unfortunately the disaffection of the Towns which alone could give effect to a plan for the purpose, locks up the public gratitude & beneficence. . . .
[1 ]Madison’s partisanship saw wrong where none existed. The proclamation said the “duty and interest of the United States” required impartial conduct towards the belligerents and declared it to be “the disposition of the United States” to observe such conduct.
[1 ]“Have you time & the means of impressing Wilson Nicholas (who will be much with E. R.), with the necessity of giving him a strong & perfect understanding of the public mind?”—Jefferson to Madison, June 2, 1793. Jefferson’s Writings (Ford), vi., 278.