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MADISON. - Harriet Martineau, Retrospect of Western Travel, vol. 2 
Retrospect of Western Travel in Three Vols (London: Saunders and Otley, 1838). Vol. 2.
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“For, neither by Reason, nor by her experience, is it impossible? that a Commonwealth should he immortal: seeing the people, being the materials, never dies; and the form, which is motion, must, without opposition, be endless. The bowl which is thrown from your hand, if there be no rub, no impediment, shall never cease; for which cause the glorious luminaries, that lire the bowls of God, were once thrown for ever.”—Harrington's Oceana.
While I was at Washington, I received a kind invitation from Mr. and Mrs. Madison, to visit them at their seat, Montpelier, Virginia. I was happy to avail myself of it. and paid the visit on my way down to Richmond. At six o'clock, in the morning of the 18th of February, my party arrived at Orange Court House, five, miles from Montpelier; and while two proceeded to Charlottesville, where we were to join them in three or four days, a friend and I stopped, first to rest for a few hours, and then to proceed to Mr. Madison's. After some sleep, and breakfast at noon, we took a carriage for the five miles of extremely bad road we had to travel. The people at the inn overcharged us for this carriage, and did not mention that Mr. Madison had desired that a messenger should be sent over for his carriage, as soon as we should arrive. This was the only occasion but one. in our journey of 10.000 miles in the United Slates, that we were overcharged: while. I suspect, the undercharges, where any literary reputation is in the case, are more numerous than can be reckoned.
It was a sweet day of early spring. The patches of snow that were left under the fences and on the rising grounds were melting fast. The road was one continued slough, up to the very portico of the house. The dwelling stands on a gentle eminence, and is neat and even handsome in its exterior, with a flight of steps leading up to the portico. A lawn and wood, which must be pleasant in summer, stretch behind; and from the front there is a noble object on the horizon,—the mountain-chain which traverses the State, and makes it eminent for its scenery. The shifting lights upon these blue mountains were a delightful refreshment to the eye after so many weeks of city life as we had passed.
We were warmly welcomed by Mrs. Madison and a niece, a young lady who was on a visit to her; and when I left my room I was conducted to the apartment of Mr. Madison. He had. the preceding season, suffered so severely from rheumatism, that, during this winter, he confined himself to one room, rising after breakfast, before nine o'clock, and sitting in his easy chair till ten at night. He appeared perfectly well during my visit, and was a wonderful man of eighty-three. Me complained of one ear being deaf, and that his sight, which had never been perfect, prevented his reading much, so that his studies “lay in a nutshell:” but he could hear Mrs. Madison read; and I did not perceive that he lost any part of the conversation. He was in his chair, with a pillow behind him, when I first saw him; his little person wrapped in a black silk gown; a warm grey and white cap upon his head, which his lady took care should always sit becomingly; and grey worsted gloves, his hands having been rheumatic. His voice was clear and strong, and his manner of speaking particularly lively,— often playful. Except that the face was smaller, and of course older, the likeness to the common engraving of him was perfect. He seemed not to have lost any teeth, and the form of the face was therefore preserved, without any striking marks of age. It was an uncommonly pleasant countenance.
His relish for conversation could never have been keener. I was in perpetual fear of his being exhausted; and at the end of every few hours I left my seat by the arm of his chair, and went to the sofa by Mrs. Madison, on the other side of the room: but he was sure to follow, and sit down between us; so that when I found the only effect of my moving was to deprive him of the comfort of his chair, I returned to my station, and never left it but for food and sleep,—glad enough to make the most of my means of intercourse with one whose political philosophy I deeply venerated. There is, no need to add another to the many eulogies of Madison: I will only mention that the finest of his characteristics appeared to me to be his inexhaustible faith,—faith that a well-founded Commonwealth may, as our motto declares, be immortal; not only because the people, its constituency, never dies; but because the principles of justice in which such a Commonwealth originates never die out of the people's heart and mind. This faith shone brightly through the whole of Mr. Madison's conversation, except on one subject. With regard to slavery he owned himself to be almost in despair. He had been quite so till the institution of the Colonization Society. How such a mind as his could derive any alleviation to its anxiety from that source is surprising. I think it must have been from his overflowing faith; for the facts were before him that in eighteen years the Colonization Society had removed only between two and three thousand persons, while the annual increase of the slave population in the United States was upwards of sixty thousand.
He talked more on the subject of slavery than on any other, acknowledging without limitation or hesitation all the evils with which it has ever been charged. He told me that the black population in Virginia increases far faster than the white; and that the licentiousness only stops short of the destruction of the race; every slave girl being expected to be a mother by the time she is fifteen. He assumed from this, I could not make out why, that the negroes must go somewhere; and pointed out how the free States discourage the settlement of blacks; how Canada disagrees with them; how Hayti shuts them out; so that Africa is their only refuge. He did not assign any reason why they should not remain where they are when freed. He found, by the last returns from his estates, that one-third of his own slaves were under five years of age. He had parted with some of his best land to feed the increasing numbers, and had yet been obliged to sell a dozen of his slaves the preceding week. He observed that the whole bible is against negro slavery; but that the clergy do not preach this; and the people do not see it. He became animated in describing what I have elsewhere related* of the cagerness of the clergy of the four denominations to catch converts among the slaves, and the effect of religious teaching of this kind upon those who, having no rights, can have no duties. He thought the condition of slaves much improved in his time, and, of course, their intellects. This remark was, I think, intended to apply to Virginia alone; for it is certainly not applicable to the south-western States. He accounted for his selling his slaves by mentioning their horror of going to Liberia, a horror which he admitted to be prevalent among the blacks, and which appears to me decisive as to the unnaturalness of the scheme. The willing mind is the first requisite to the emigrant's success. Mr. Madison complained of the difficulty and risk of throwing an additional population into the colony, at the rate of two or three cargoes a year, complained of it because he believed it was the fault of the residents, who were bent upon trading with the interior for luxuries, instead of raising food for the new comers. This again seems fatal to the scheme; since the compulsory direction of industry, if it could be enforced, would be almost as bad as slavery at home; and there are no means of preventing the emigrants being wholly idle, if they are nor allowed to work in their own way for their own objects. Mr. Madison admitted the great and various difficulties attending the scheme; and recurred to the expression that he was only “less in despair than formerly about slavery.” He spoke with deep feeling of the sufferings of ladies under the system, declaring that he pitied them even their negroes; and that the saddest slavery of all was that of conscientious Southern women. They cannot trust their slaves in the smallest particulars, and have to superintend the execution of all their own orders: and they know that their estates are surrounded by vicious free blacks, who induce thievery among the negroes, and keep the minds of the owners in a state of perpetual suspicion, fear, and anger.
Mr. Madison spoke strongly of the helplessness of all countries cursed with a servile population, in a conflict with a people wholly free; ridiculed the idea of the Southern States being able to maintain a rising against the North: and wondered that all thinkers were not agreed in a thing so plain. He believed that Congress has power to prohibit the internal slave-trade. He mentioned the astonishment of some strangers, who had an idea that slaves were always whipped all day long, at seeing his negroes go to church one Sunday. They were gaily dressed, the women in bright-coloured calicoes; and when a sprinkling of rain came, up went a dozen umbrellas. The astonished strangers veered round to the conclusion that slaves were very happy; but were told of the degradation of their minds,—of their carelessness of each other in their nearest relations, and their cruelty to brutes.
Mrs. Madison's son by a former marriage joined us before dinner. We dined in the next room to Mr. Madison, and found him eager for conversation again as soon as we had risen from table. Mrs. M. is celebrated throughout the country for the grace and dignity with which she discharged the arduous duties which devolve upon the President's lady. For a term of eight years she administered the hospitalities of the White House with such discretion, impartiality, and kindliness, that it is believed she gratified every one, and offended nobody. She is a strong-minded woman, fully capable of entering into her husband's occupations and cares; and there is little doubt that he owed much to her intellectual companionship, as well as to her ability in sustaining the outward dignity of his office. When I was her guest, she was in excellent health and lively spirits; and I trust that though she has since lost the great object of her life, she may yet find interests enough to occupy and cheer many years of an honoured old age.
Mr. Madison expressed his regret at the death of Mr. Malthus, whose works he had studied which close attention. He mentioned that Franklin and two others had anticipated Malthus in comparing the rates of increase of population and food; but that Malthus had been the first to draw out the doctrine;—with an attempt at too much precision, however, in determining the ratio of the increase of food. He laughed at Godwin's methods of accounting for the enormous increase of population in America by referring it to immigration, and having recourse to any supposition rather than the obvious one of an abundance of food. He declared himself very curious on the subject of the size of the Roman farms, and that he had asked many friends where the mistake lies in the accounts which have come down to us. Some Roman farms are represented as consisting of an acre and a quarter; the produce of which would be eaten up by a pair of oxen. The estate of Cincinnatus being three times this size, he could scarcely plough, after having lost half of it by being surety. Either there must be some great mistake about out notion of the measurement of Roman farms, or there must have been commons for grazing, and woods for fuel; the importation of grain from Sicily and other places not having taken place till long after. He asked by what influence our corn laws, so injurious to all, and so obviously so to the many, were kept up, and whether it was possible that they should continue long. He declared himself in favour of free-trade, though believing that the freedom cannot be complete in any one country till universal peace shall afford opportunity for universal agreement.
He expressed himself strongly in favour of arrangements for the security of literary property all over the would, and wished that English authors should be protected from piracy in the United States, without delay. He believed that the utterance of the national mind in America would be through small literature, rather than large, enduring works. After the schools and pulpits of the Union are all supplied, there will remain an immense number of educated sons of men of small property, who will have things to say; and all who can write, will. He thought it of the utmost importance to the country, and to human beings everywhere, that the brain and the hands should be trained together; and that no distinction in this respect should be made between men and women. He remembered an interesting conversation on this subject with Mr. Owen, from whom he learned with satisfaction that well educated women in this settlement turned with case and pleasure from playing the harp to milking the cows.
The active old man, who declared himself cripped with rheumatism, had breakfasted, risen and was dressed before we sat down to breakfast. He talked a good deal about the American Presidents, and some living politicians, for two hours, when his letters and newspapers were brought in. He gaily threw them aside, saying he could read the newspapers every day, and must make the most of his time with us, if we would go away so soon as we talked of. He asked me, smiling, if I thought it too vast and anti-republican a privilege for the ex-Presidents to have their letters and newspapers free, considering that this was the only worldly benefit they carried away from their office.
I will not repeat his luminous history of the Nullification struggle; nor yet his exposition, simple and full, of the intricate questions involved in the anomalous institution of the American Senate,—about its power of sanctioning appointments to office, and whether its sanction necessary to removal from office; to which increase of power he was decidedly oppose. This part of his conversation, though very instructive to me at the time, would be uninteresting to the English reader, in this connexion.
He declared himself perfectly satisfied that there is in the United States a far more ample and equal prevision for pastors, and of religious instruction for the people, than could have been secured by a religious establishment of any kind; and that one of the greatest services which his country will be here-afier perceived to have rendered to the world, will be the having proved that religion is the more cared for, the more unreservedly it is committed to the a flections of the people. He quoted the remark of Voltaire, that if there were only one religion in a country, it would be a pure despotism; if two, they would be deadly enemies; but half a hundred subsist in fine harmony. He observed that this was the case in America; and that so true and pregnant a remark as this ought to be accepted as an atonement for many that would die of untruth. He went on to notice the remarkable fact that creeds which oppose each other, and which in concatenation would seem to be most demoralizing, do, by virtue of some one common principle, agree in causing the moral elevation of those who hold them. He instanced Philosophical Necessity, as held by Hume, Kaimes, Edwards, and Priestley. He told me how he had once been prejudiced against Priestley, and how surprised he was, when he first met the philosopher at Philadelphia, to find him absolutely mild and candid.
The whole of this day was spent like the last, except that we went over the house, looking at the busts, and prints which gave nil English air to the dwelling,—otherwise wholly Virginian. During all our conversations, one or another slave was perpetually coming to Mrs. Madison for the great bunch of keys; two or throes more lounged about in the room, leaning against the door-posts or the corner of the sofa; and the attendance of others was no less indefatigable in my own apartment.
The next morning, we found our host in fine spirits. He described, with much vivacity, the variety of visits from strangers that he was subject to, saying that some were taxes and others bounties. He laughed about the ludicrous effect sometimes produced by an utter failure of sympathy in matters of grave pursuit; and told us of a ride he took with a young English geologist who was on a visit to him, and who spurred up to him in a lit of transport, holding a stone almost into his eyes, and exclaiming, “Graywacke, sir! graywacke, graywacke!” the host all the time being quite unable to understand or sympathize with this vehement rapture.
I glanced at the newspapers when they came in; and found them full of the subject of the quarrel with France,—the great topic of the day. Mr. Madison gave me an account of the relations of the two countries, and of the grounds of his apprehensions that this quarrel might, in spite of its absurdity, issue in a war. This is all over now; but some of his observations remain. He said it would be an afflicting sight if the two representative governments which are in the van of the world should go to war; it would squint towards a confirmation of what is said of the restlessness of popular governments. If the people, who pay for war, are eager for it, it is quite a different thing from potentates being so, who are at no cost He mentioned that George the Fourth, as Prince Regent, was u large gainer in the last war, from his share of the Droits of the Admiralty, amounting to 1,000,000/. per annum:—a pretty premium, Mr. Madison observed, to pay a king for going to war. He told me about the formation of the philosophical and humane agreement between Franklin and Frederick of Prussia, that merchant ships, unarmed, should go about their business as freely in the war as in peace. The Salem merchants, who were formerly in favour of war, and who suffered from captures in the course of it were, on the present occasion, petitioning against war, and for reprisals.
Franklin was near seventy when Mr. Madison first knew him. He went to the Hall of Congress in a sedan, and sat all the time, writing what he had to say, and getting it read, because he could not stand. He was soon afterwards bedridden, when Madison was his frequent visitor. He had much self-command: and when seized by severe pain, soon roused himself to converse, almost as if it did not exist. One of the most striking points about him was his dislike of argument. He would listen to his adversary, and then overthrow him with an anecdote.
After avowing a very unfashionable admiration of Darwin's poetry. and declaring that the splendour of the diction put his imagination into a very gay state; Mr. Madison went into a speculation about what would eventually become of all existing languages and their literature; declaring that he had little hope of the stability of languages when terms of even classical derivation are perpetually changing their meanings with time. Then, by some channel, now forgotten, we got round to the less agreeable subject of national debts and taxation, when, as might be expected, Mr. Madison expressed his horror of the machinery necessary under a system of indirect levy, and his attachment to a plan of moderate expenditure, provided for by direct taxation. He remarked upon Pitt's success in obtaining revenue when every other man would rather have surrendered his plans than used the means he employed. He observed that King, Lords, and Commons, might constitute a government which would work a long while in a kingdom no bigger than Great Britain; but that it would soon become an absolute government in a country as large as Russia, from the magnitude of its executive power: and that it was a common but serious mistake to suppose that a country must be small to be a republic; since a republican form. with a federal head, can be extended almost without limits, without losing its proportions.—becoming all the while less, instead of more, subject to change. In a small republic there is much noise from the fury of parries; while in a spreading, but simply working republic, like that of the union, the silent influence of the federal head keeps down more quarrels than ever appear.
We were compelled to leave Montpelier while our intercourse was thus in full flow. Mr. Madison would not say farewell seriously: he was so confident that we should visit him again on our return from the South and West. I need not say that we earnestly wished to do so: but we never saw him again: not having an opportunity in the summer to diverge from our route so as to approach his residence. We heard excellent reports of him, from time to time: of his vigour and cheerfulness, and of his application to political and literary pursuits. In the spring of the following year, however, he declined, and died on the 28th of June, 1836.
I have written of him under a strong desire to say nothing that he would have objected to have repeated, suppressing whatever he dropped relating to private persons, or to public men yet living, while attempting to afford what gratification I could to the strong interest felt in England about this virtuous statesman. It is something that, living under institutions framed by the few for the subordination of the many, the English feel the interest they do about such men as Jefferson and Madison,—men inspired by the true religion of statesmanship, faith in men, and in the principles on which they combine in an agreement to do as they would be done by. This political religion religion resembles personal piety in its effect of sustaining the spirit through difficulty and change, and leaving no cause for repentance, or even solicitude, when, at the close of life, all things reveal their values to the meditative sage. Madision reposed cheerfully, gaily, to the last, on his faith in the people's power of wise self-government. As for Jefferson, he has left, in his last letter to Madison a few sentences which we may be thankful for, as golden links added to the chain by which the glorious memories of these two good men are indissolubly connected:—
“The friendship which has subsisted between us, now half a century, and the harmony of our political principles and pursuits, have been sources of constant happiness to me through that long period. It has been a great solace to me to believe that you are engaged in vindicating to posterity the course we have pursued for preserving to them, in all their purity, the blessings of self-government, which we had assisted too in acquiring for them. If ever the earth has beheld a system of administration conducted with a single and steadfast eye to the general interest and happiness of those committed to it.—one which, protected by truth, can never know reproach, it is that to which our lives have been devoted. To myself, you have been a pillar of support through life. Take care of me when dead, and be assured that I shall leave with you my last affections.”*
“Society in America,” Vol. ii., p. 160.
Jefferson's Memeir and Correspondence, vol. iv., p. 428.— Date, February 17th, 1826.