Front Page Titles (by Subject) INTRODUCTION JAMES MADISON. - The Writings, vol. 1 (1769-1783)
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INTRODUCTION JAMES MADISON. - James Madison, The Writings, vol. 1 (1769-1783) 
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. 1.
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The life-sized marble medallion bust of James Madison was made in Philadelphia in 1792, when Madison was forty-one years of age, by the Italian sculptor, Giuseppe Ceracchi. It hung on the walls of Montpelier until after Madison’s death and was considered by his contemporaries to be the most faithful of the likenesses of him. It was purchased from Mrs. Madison’s estate by the late J. C. McGuire, Esq., of Washington, and purchased from the McGuire estate for the Department of State by Secretary Thomas F. Bayard.
The Knickerbocker Press, New York
BECAUSE OF HIS EMINENT SERVICES TO AMERICAN HISTORY AND BECAUSE HE IS MY FRIEND I DEDICATE THESE VOLUMES TO WORTHINGTON CHAUNCEY FORD
editor of “the writings of george washington”
James Madison’s family traditions were wholly colonial and extended back to the first settlement of Virginia. With the mother country he had no living connection, and only one member of the family, his second cousin, Rev. James Madison, received any part of his education there. England was not, therefore, home to the Madisons as it was to many other Virginia families, and there were no divisions of the house and consequent heartburnings when the separation came, but all of them embraced the patriot cause in the beginning and without hesitation. From the shores of Chesapeake Bay, where James Madison’s direct ancestor, John Madison, received a patent for lands in 1653, the family pushed its way inland towards the Blue Ridge mountains, and his grandfather, Ambrose, occupied the tract in Orange County where his father, James, and himself spent their entire lives. He was thus completely a Virginian, and his life was well rooted, as George Eliot has expressed it, in a spot of his native land, where it received “the love of tender kinship for the face of earth.” During the eighty-four years of his life he was never continuously absent from Montpelier for a twelvemonth.
The Virginia convention of 1776 was composed chiefly of men past the middle period of life; but there was a small circle of young members who afterwards rose to eminence, among whom was Madison, then but twenty-three years old. He was known personally to few of his colleagues and was mastered by a shrinking modesty, which kept him in the background; but he had the reputation of being a scholar and was put on the committee to draw up the Declaration of Rights. He made one motion in the convention, offering a substitute to the clause relating to religious freedom.1 It was not accepted as he presented it, but a modification, eliminating a chief objection to the clause as originally presented by the committee, was adopted. If Madison’s clause had been taken as he wrote it, there would have been no occasion for the subsequent struggle for complete religious freedom in Virginia, for it was so sweeping that any further progressive action would have been redundant. The offering of this amendment was Madison’s first important public act, and his belief that it was right was the strongest belief he had at that time.
He was then a profoundly religious man, and his family surroundings were Episcopalian. When he returned home after his graduation from Princeton in 1772, he plunged into religious studies, wrote commentaries on the gospels, and acquired an extensive knowledge of theological literature. His education at a Presbyterian college, the love of liberty which was a passion with the young Americans of his school, the ill-repute surrounding the clergy of the English church in Virginia, the persecution which he saw visited upon the Baptists in his section of the State—all combined to make him champion the cause of absolute religious freedom and separation of church from state. Beginning with the convention of 1776 he fought for this step by step, until it was finally secured by Jefferson’s bill, which Madison introduced in the legislature, but which need never have been written had Madison’s amendment to the Bill of Rights been accepted. Madison was a strong man who walked through life alone and did not disclose his inner thoughts on vital personal questions. What his religion was has thus always been a matter of dispute. To Episcopal clergymen his course did not render him popular, and, although he attended their church, he was not a communicant. Agnostics often claim him as having been one of them, chiefly because he was a friend of Jefferson’s and is supposed to have been influenced by him; but he made his religious studies, took his first radical stand for disestablishment, and had probably formed his religious views before he knew Jefferson. Non-Episcopal clergymen, although not claiming him as a member of any of their sects, have written of him gratefully. Undoubtedly, he sympathized with them, and he had warm friends among them. He believed in the existence of sects and used to quote Voltaire’s aphorism, “If one religion only were allowed in England, the government would possibly become arbitrary; if there were but two, the people would cut each other’s throats; but as there are such a multitude, they all live happy and in peace.”1
As Madison was an advanced thinker on religious subjects, so was he beyond his time as an economic reasoner. In his correspondence with Jefferson he always met the daring speculations of that philosopher with views and conclusions carefully matured. Twenty years before Malthus published his Essay on the Principles of Population Madison reached substantially the same conclusions, as his writings show. He welcomed Malthus’s work when it appeared, as he had done Adam Smith’s.
On the subject of slavery he and his friends stood together in a frank admission that it was a crushing public and private evil, and he earnestly desired to find a means by which his State and himself might escape from it. On his return to Montpelier from Congress in December, 1783, he took up the study of law, having for one object, as he wrote, to gain a subsistence, depending “as little as possible upon the labor of slaves.” September 8, 1783, he wrote to his father that he was unwilling to punish a runaway negro simply “for coveting that liberty for which we have paid the price of so much blood and have proclaimed so often to be the right and worthy the pursuit of every human being.” In the convention that framed the Constitution Madison and George Mason worked together in opposition to the pro-slavery labors of South Carolina and other Southern States. In the first Congress under the Constitution “The Humane, or Abolitionary Society” of Virginia, composed chiefly, if not wholly, of Quakers, requested him, as “a friend to general liberty,” to introduce their memorial against the slave trade and asked his judgment on a proposition to petition the Virginia Legislature for a law declaring all slave children born after the passage of the act free at the age of eighteen for the women and twenty-one for the men.1 This was similar to the scheme of emancipation which Jefferson entertained, but which he did not bring forward, because “the public mind would not yet bear the proposition.” It never became able to bear an emancipation proposition, and Madison lived and died a humane slaveholder opposed to the institution of slavery.
When Madison went into the Continental Congress, March 20, 1780, he was probably the youngest member, and he looked younger than he was; but he had conquered his modesty and was able to speak his views when occasion required. The most important subject before the Congress was that of meeting the public expenses. Paper money was piled upon paper money; commerce had fled; there was hardly any specie to be had; the States found it difficult and were often disinclined to raise respectable revenue by taxation. Madison led the fighting for a funding of the debt, the prohibition of further paper emissions, and an adequate continental revenue by a five per cent. tax on all imports. The day that he made one of his strongest speeches in favor of the last-named proposition news was received that the Virginia Legislature, which had previously agreed to it, had withdrawn its assent. Nevertheless, he did not lessen his labors, but took the extraordinary course of disregarding the Legislature’s instructions. In this matter he acted from a national standpoint, for Virginia’s interest was the same as that of the other States.
In advocating an insistence upon the right of America to the free navigation of the Mississippi River from the source to the sea, he stood for a measure more vital to Virginia than it was to any other State. The first elaborate state paper to come from his pen was the instruction to Jay at Madrid on this subject, and it is not too much to say that no member of the Congress could have prepared the instruction so well.
Madison’s service in Congress at this time and later laid bare before him all the insufficiencies of the Articles of Confederation, and it was his fortune to participate in each successive step that led to the formation of the Constitution. When he went into the convention he was better equipped for the work that lay before it than any other delegate. After his election he arranged the notes which he had gathered laboriously in the course of years of experience and study. These notes covered the governments of the world, ancient and modern, as they furnished illustrations likely to affect the forming of a new government for America, and they also contained a carefully arranged description of the weakness and vices of the existing government. He had one primal object before him—to evolve a scheme for a stronger government which would remedy the defects of the Articles of Confederation and which the people would accept. He was without pride of personal opinion and was always willing to compromise when by doing so his main object would not be lost. As the Constitution was not written by any one member of the convention, so was it not wholly satisfactory to any one member. Madison had no cut-and-dried constitution in his pocket when he went to Philadelphia; but, keeping the general principles of the Virginia plan before him, he set himself to the task of accomplishing a result. He was more continuously in his place than any other member and spoke frequently and always temperately and to the point. When a division of sentiment among the members was so pronounced as to make any conclusion seem improbable, he was patient and hopeful, and returned to the subject when all were in better humor. As the days wore on he came to be recognized as the leading man in the convention, and when the Constitution was finally sent to the people for their judgment, it was generally known that Madison, more than any one else, had wrought it into shape.
Eight States had ratified the Constitution when the Virginia convention met to consider it, and the ratification of nine States was necessary to put it into effect. It was confidently believed, therefore, that its fate would be decided by Virginia’s action. When it first reached the State, it was generally approved; but as each man began to study it many found objections to it, and the preponderance of influential men was on the side of its rejection. When the convention met, George Mason and Patrick Henry led the opposition, and Madison, George Nicholas, and Edmund Randolph led the forces in favor of ratification. Madison was fresh from the convention that framed the Constitution; he had recently written his numbers in the Federalist; he could speak readily, and there was hardly an argument against the Constitution for which he did not have the best answer ready prepared. The chief fighting was waged between him and Henry. Madison was constantly on his feet, and during four days he spoke thirty-five times. Henry was supposed to be invincible before a Virginia assemblage and was unquestionably the most powerful man before the people in the State. Madison beat him, and his victory was the greatest triumph of his life. Quick upon the heels of each other had followed his success in the convention that framed the Constitution, his success in conjunction with Hamilton and Jay in turning the growing sentiment against the Constitution by the publication of the Federalist, and the crowning success of carrying the ratification in Virginia. This may be said to have marked the culmination of that part of his career which was unquestionably the greatest. The rest was made up of earnest work and high honors, but the achievements winning for him a great place in history were those of the period before the government under the Constitution went into operation.
In the first House of Representatives he was a leader, but he soon became the leader of a party. He and Hamilton had frequently co-operated before the Constitution was formed, and they stood together as the two most effective champions of ratification the Constitution had; but they naturally fell apart after the government was established and parties, as exponents of different habits of thought, were formed. Their surroundings and training had been dissimilar, and they did not agree in disposition. If Hamilton’s theory of government was the more scientific, Madison’s had a broader basis of popular desire; at any rate, they were different. The two men could not be coadjutors without one or the other changing his views. It is therefore as unjust to accuse Madison of having deserted Hamilton as it would be to accuse Hamilton of having deserted Madison. They were active opponents in their views as to how the Constitution should be interpreted in the conduct of the government, and, being earnest and positive, they drifted into distrust and injustice toward each other, as political opponents nearly always do.
The parties were divided to a great extent on sectional lines, and Madison was a Southerner and a Virginian. The narrow sectionalism that then prevailed needs no explanation. There was no national feeling overspreading the continent, nor could it be forced into being. The States were jealous of each other, and the Articles of Confederation had really been as strong a scheme of national government as the people would stand at the time. So cultured a man as Edmund Randolph wrote some years after the Constitution had been in operation, “you see I am not yet really an American.” Madison was biased in his political actions by a preference for the welfare of Virginia over that of any other State. Washington alone of the active statesmen of that day manifested a wholly unprejudiced national spirit. The interests of the North and the South were opposed, and Madison bent his energies to keep in control the interests of the South. He never liked New England men, and all of his intimate friends were Virginians. He was as much of a Southerner as John Adams was a New Englander, and more need not be said.
Few sympathizers with the Federalist party of a hundred years ago can now be found to defend the Alien and Sedition Laws which wrecked that party. They were conceived in a spirit of intolerance and had all the ingredients in them of tyranny and oppression. In opposing them many Republicans went to the opposite extreme and uttered sentiments which they lived to regret. Madison wrote the Virginia resolutions of 1798, and, while they are not necessarily Calhounism, he lived long enough to be obliged to defend them against the charge that they contained the germs of nullification.1
When Madison became Secretary of State he and his chief determined upon the inauguration of what they hoped to make a new American policy in international intercourse. “If a treaty is proposed,” wrote Robert R. Livingston to him July 1, 1801, “that is not to be supported by arms, but by commercial exclusions, that shall not refer to the present war, and shall be open to all nations that choose to adopt it, I think it cannot fail to meet with sufficient support to establish a new law of nations, and that our administration will have the glory of saying, in the words of the prophet, ‘a new Law I give unto you, that you love one another.’ ”1 Madison was not an enthusiast and did not share Livingston’s extravagant hopes; but he had been an advocate of commercial retaliation as the most effective weapon to employ against Great Britain from the time of the first Congress, when he introduced his tonnage bill. He saw his policy carried to the extreme of an absolute refusal to trade at all with a country with which we were not yet at war, and he saw it fail miserably of its purpose. When he stepped from the office of Secretary of State up to that of the Presidency, he was warned in the beginning that a continuance of the embargo would wreck the administration that continued it. Furthermore, he was told that perseverance in it would produce in New England “open and effectual resistance to the laws of the Union.”2 At no time after the adoption of the Constitution were the dangers from without and within so menacing. With fluctuations of false hopes the inevitable came; the cherished “American Policy” was thrown to the winds, and Madison found himself at the head of a nation at war. He was a rounded-out statesman of wide experience and ripe knowledge, but of martial spirit he had none. He was a man of peace and of books. His physique was weak, and he cared nothing for manly sports. Nowhere in the record of his life is there a hint that he ever had a quarrel which approached culmination in a personal encounter. His blood flowed temperately, and he hated war, and his incapacity as a war President was painfully manifest.
The country was not united, and he had not force enough to unite it. A treasonable faction was breeding in New England, and he knew not how to crush it. A vigorous leader of men and of popular forces was what the occasion demanded, and Madison did not meet the requirements. Such success as the war achieved owed nothing to him. An honorable peace and a reaction of prosperity and calm gave him an opportunity to conclude his administration creditably, and he retired from public life with a great reputation; but he had really won it before he became President.1
In private life he set an example of beautiful simplicity and purity. No breath of scandal was ever raised against him. No man ever accused him of untruth or meanness. He was gentle and sympathetic towards all who approached him. He was generous in giving and dispensed a free hospitality. While he never introduced a jest into a public speech and rarely into a letter, he had a rich fund of humor, and his good stories went from mouth to mouth among his friends. His household was one of rare happiness and innocence, and perhaps the highest tribute to his private worth was paid by the hundred slaves who stood around the grave at his funeral and gave an extraordinary exhibition of the genuineness of their grief.1
* * *
During the closing years of his life Madison occupied himself in arranging his papers and especially those relating to the framing of the Constitution. He bequeathed them to his wife,2 intending that she should immediately publish the debates in the Congress of 1782, 1783, and 1787, the debates in the constitutional convention, the proceedings of the Congresses of 1776, and a limited number of letters, as he had arranged them. Through St. George Tucker she offered the work to the Harpers and through her son to other publishers,3 but was unable to come to a satisfactory agreement with any of them. Francis Preston Blair, the publisher of the Congresssional Globe, offered to publish the work, but doubted whether much profit would accrue and suggested that her best plan would be to fix a sum to cover the profit she expected and offer the manuscript to Congress at that price. He promised to assist her in securing the appropriation.1 She had, however, already offered the papers to the government in her letter of November 15, 1836, to President Jackson. A copy of this letter was laid before Congress in a special message dated December 6, 1836. Madison’s neighbor and friend, James Barbour, acted as her agent and told her that $100,000, the sum she at first said she expected, was out of the question,2 but that she could get $30,000 for the papers. This amount was appropriated by Act of March 3, 1837.3 July 9, 1838, Congress authorized the publication of the papers.4 Henry D. Gilpin, of Pennsylvania, then Solicitor of the Treasury, was selected as the editor, and the work was published in three volumes in Washington in 1840 under the title of The Madison Papers. May 31, 1848, Mrs. Madison being then, through domestic misfortunes, in distressed circumstances, Congress appropriated $25,000 to purchase all the remaining manuscripts of Madison’s in her hands.5 This, with the first purchase, forms the magnificent collection of Madison’s writings now deposited in the Department of State. August 18, 1856,6 Congress authorized the printing of the papers of the second purchase, and a part of them appeared as The Works of James Madison, published in four volumes in Washington in 1865.
Mr. J. C. McGuire, of Washington, a family connection of the Madisons, who amassed in the course of his life an extraordinary collection of Madisoniana, printed in 1859 (Washington) “exclusively for private distribution” a limited edition in one volume of Madison’s letters under the title Selections from the Private Correspondence of James Madison from 1812 to 1836. It contained about one hundred letters.
The originals of a few of the letters printed in The Madison Papers have been withheld from the editor, and he has been obliged to reproduce them as they were printed, in the first volume of this edition, indicating their source as he has that of every other paper appearing in these volumes. These sources are widely scattered and embrace various public, private, and official depositories, which have been generously opened to the editor.
But two lives of Madison have been published: one a large fragment in three volumes, entitled History of the Life and Times of James Madison, by William C. Rives, the first volume of which was published in 1859 (Boston, Little, Brown & Co.), and the third in 1868; the other by S. H. Gay, in the American Statesman Series (Boston, 1884). Of Rives’s work it must be said that it is a misfortune it was never finished. It embraces only that part of Madison’s career preceding the administration of John Adams. It is redundant and heavy, and the stilted style betrays the diplomatic rather than literary training of the author. But it is a painstaking work, executed conscientiously and after an exhaustive and able study of the sources of material, printed and unprinted. The standpoint is uncritical, and Mr. Rives shows an extreme partiality for the subject of his work.
None of these remarks is applicable to Mr. Gay’s short Life. With ample unused material available, his study does not seem to have gone beyond the printed resources of any good public library, and his attitude towards Madison and all public men of his school is extremely unsympathetic. It is enough to say of his work that it is wholly inadequate to its subject.
Falls Church, Va.,
[1 ]His amendment may be seen on pp. 40, 41.
[1 ]Rives’s Life and Times of James Madison, ii., 220.
[1 ]Department of State, Madison MSS.
[1 ]It is a fact worth noticing in passing that Edward Livingston, who opposed bitterly the Alien and Sedition Laws and championed the Virginia and Kentucky resolutions in the House of Representatives, wrote Jackson’s proclamation against the nullifiers thirty years later, and that the Union party of South Carolina frequently appealed to the Virginia resolutions as offering sound doctrine in their opposition to Calhoun’s creed.
[1 ]Department of State, Madison MSS.
[1 ]At a dinner party in Washington in March, 1829, Henry Clay and his political opponent Samuel Harrison Smith, of the National Intelligencer, were analyzing the characters of Jefferson and Madison. “Mr. Clay preferred Madison and pronounced him after Washington our greatest statesman and first political writer. He thought Jefferson had the most genius—Madison the most judgment and common sense—Jefferson a visionary and theorist, often betrayed by his enthusiasm into rash imprudent and impracticable measures—Madison cool, dispassionate safe.”—From a private letter of Mrs. Smith’s to her son among the family papers of J. Henley Smith, Esq., of Washington.
[1 ]See the testimony of an eye-witness, James Barbour, in his Eulogium, Washington, 1836.
[2 ]See his will, dated April 15, 1835.
[3 ]St. George Tucker and Mrs. Madison, August 23, 1836. N. Y. Public Library (Lenox) MSS.
[1 ]Francis Preston Blair to Mrs. Madison Nov. 26, 1836. N. Y. Public Library (Lenox) MSS.
[2 ]James Barbour to Mrs. Madison, December 22, 1836. N. Y. Public Library (Lenox) MSS.
[3 ]Stats. at Large, v., 171.
[4 ]Ibid., 300.
[5 ]Ibid., ix., 235.
[6 ]Ibid., 117.