Many pundits and politicians have described Trump’s actions as unprecedented. Actually, what is unprecedented about the situation is the opposition party’s decision to impeach the president over such actions — something even hyperpartisan Federalists avoided suggesting against Madison (except for some minor grumblings a couple years later over a separate matter).
The founding period serves as a warning that partisan political paranoia may advance the interests of foreign powers. Only France emerged a winner from the Henry-Madison affair after the situation embarrassed Great Britain, the Federalists and Madison. As the French ambassador had hoped, it further soured relations between the United States and England.
What’s more troubling is how these accusations and counter-accusations of foreign collusion brought the Founders dangerously close to criminalizing political dissent. In 1798, Federalists criminalized slander against the president — Federalist John Adams at the time — on the pretext that Democratic-Republican printers would embolden America’s enemies in France. Democratic-Republicans responded in kind when they gained power. The Henry-Madison episode was only one instance in a longer history of accusing political opponents of foreign collusion and criminality.