Front Page Titles (by Subject) TO GEORGE MASON. va. hist. soc. mss. - The Writings, vol. 9 (1819-1836)
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TO GEORGE MASON. va. hist. soc. mss. - James Madison, The Writings, vol. 9 (1819-1836) 
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. 9.
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TO GEORGE MASON.va. hist. soc. mss.
Montpellier, Dec. 29, 1827.
I am much obliged by your polite attention in sending me the Copies of the Remonstrance in behalf of Religious Liberty which with your letter of the 10th came duly to hand. I had supposed they were to be preserved at the office which printed them and referred Mrs. Cutts to that source. Her failure there occasioned the trouble you so kindly assumed. I wished a few copies on account of applications now & then made to me and I preferred the Edition of which you had sent me a sample, as being in the simplest of forms, and for the further reason that the pamphlet edition had inserted in the caption, the term “toleration” not in the Article declaring the Right. The term being of familiar use in the English Code had been admitted into the original Draught of the Declaration of Rights but on a suggestion from myself was readily exchanged for the phraseology excluding it.1 The Biographical tribute you meditate is justly due to the merits of your ancestor Col. Geo. Mason. It is to be regretted that highly distinguished as he was the memorials of them we record, or perhaps otherwise attainable are more scanty than of many of his contemporaries far inferior to him in intellectual powers and in public services. It would afford me much pleasure to be a tributary to your undertaking; but tho’ I had the advantage of being on the list of his personal friends and in several instances of being associated with him in public life I can add little for the pages of your work.
My first acquaintance of him was in the convention of Va. in 1776 which instructed her delegates to propose in Congress a Declaration of Independence and which formed the Declaration of rights and the Constitution for the State. Being young and inexperienced I had of course but little agency in those proceedings. I retain however a perfect impression that he was a leading champion for the Instruction; that he was the author of the Declaration as originally drawn and with very slight variations adopted; and that he was the Master Builder of the Constitution & its main expositor & supporter throughout the discussions which ended in the establishment. How far he may have approved it in all its features as established I am not able to say; and it is the more difficult now to discern unless the private papers left by him should give the information as at that day no debates were taken down and as the explanatory votes, if such there were, may have occurred in Committee of whole only, and of course not appear in the Journals. I have found among my papers a printed copy of the Constitution in one of its stages, which compared with the Instrument finally adopted, shews some of the changes it underwent, but in no instance at whose suggestion or by whose votes.
I have also a printed copy of a sketched constitution which appears to have been the primitive draft on the subject. It is so different in several respects from the other copy in point & from the Constitution finally passed that it may be more than doubted whether it was from the hand of your grandfather. There is a tradition that it was from that of Meriwether Smith whose surviving papers if to be found among his descendants might throw light on the question. I ought to be less at a loss than I am in speaking of these circumstances having been myself an added member to the committee. But such has been the lapse of time that without any notes of what passed and with the many intervening scenes absorbing my attention my memory can not do justice to my wishes. Your grandfather as the Journals shew was at a later day added to the committee being doubtless absent when it was appointed or he never would have been overlooked.
The public situation on which I had the best opportunity of being acquainted with the genius, the opinions & the public labours of your grandfather was that of our co-service in the Convention of 1787 which formed the Constitution of the U. S. The objections which led him to withhold his name from it have been explained by himself. But none who differed from him on some points will deny that he sustained throughout the proceedings of the body the high character of a powerful Reasoner, a profound Statesman and a devoted Republican.
My private intercourse with him was chiefly on occasional visits to Gunston when journeying to & fro from the North, in which his conversations were always a feast to me. But tho’ in a high degree such, my recollection after so long an interval can not particularize them in a form adapted to biographical use. I hope others of his friends still living who enjoyed much more of his Society will be able to do more justice to the fund of instructive observations & interesting anecdotes for which he was celebrated. . . .
TO JARED SPARKS.mad. mss.
Montpellier, January 5, 1828.
I received two days ago your favor of December 29. That of August 25 came also safe to hand. I did not acknowledge it, because I expected soon to have an occasion for doing it on the receipt of the letters since put into the hands of Col. Storrow. Having heard nothing from him on the subject, I conclude that he retains them for a better conveyance than he had found; although I am not without apprehension of some casualty to the packet on the way.
For a reason formerly glanced at, namely, the advantage of having before me the whole of my correspondence with General Washington, in estimating his purpose as to particular portions of it, I did not make use of the suggested opportunity to Washington by my neighbour Mr. P. P. Barbour. I shall now conform to your last suggestion, and await your return from Europe. In the mean time I thank you for your promise to send me copies of letters from Genl. Washington to me, which are missing on my files. This I hope can be done before your departure.
It would afford me particular pleasure to favour in any way, your interesting objects in visiting Europe, and especially by letters to correspondents who could be of service to you. It happens however that I have not a single one either in Great Britain or Holland. Our Consul Mr. Maury at Liverpool, is an old and intimate friend, and if you intend to take that place in your route to London, and you think it worth while, I shall gladly give you a line of introduction to his hospitality, and such little services as he may be able to render. In France, you will doubtless be able to obtain through Genl. Lafayette alone, every proper key to the documentary treasures attainable there; besides what his own files may furnish.
I have given a hasty look at Genl. Washington’s letters, with an eye to your request for such autographic specimens as might be proper for depositories in Europe. As letters of little significancy in themselves, might not be worthy of such a use, my attention was chiefly directed to those of high character; and I am not sure that there is one such, which is not of too confidential a stamp, or which does not contain personalities too delicate, for the purpose in question. You will be aware also that some of his letters, especially when written in haste, shew specks of inaccuracy which though not derogating at all from the greatness of his character, might disappoint readers abroad accustomed to regard him as a model even in the performances of the pen. It is to be presumed that his correspondence with me, as with a few others, has more references to subjects and occasions involving confidential traits, than his correspondence with those less intimate with him. I will again turn to his letters and see whether there be any free from the objection hinted at.
You wish me to say whether I believe “that at the beginning of the Revolution, or at the assembling of the first Congress, the leaders of that day were resolved on Independence?” I readily express my entire belief that they were not, tho’ I must admit that my means of information were more limited than may have been the case with others still living to answer the enquiry. My first entrance on public life was in May, 1776, when I became a member of the Convention in Virginia, which instructed her delegates in Congress to propose the Declaration of Independence. Previous to that date, I was not in sufficient communication with any under the denomination of leaders, to learn their sentiments or views on the cardinal subject. I can only say therefore, that so far as ever came to my knowledge, no one of them ever avowed, or was understood to entertain a pursuit of independence at the assembling of the first Congress, or for a very considerable period thereafter. It has always been my impression that a re-establishment of the Colonial relations to the parent country previous to the Controversy, was the real object of every class of people, till despair of obtaining it, and the exasperating effects of the war, and the manner of conducting it, prepared the minds of all for the event declared on the 4th of July, 1776, as preferable with all its difficulties and perils, to the alternative of submission to a claim of power, at once external, unlimited, irresponsible, and under every temptation to abuse, from interest, ambition, & revenge. If there were individuals who originally aimed at Independence, their views must have been confined to their own bosoms or to a very confidential circle.
Allow me Sir to express anew, my best wishes for a success in your historical plan commensurate with its extent and importance; and my disposition to contribute such mites towards it as may be in my power.
Do me the favour to say when and from what fort you propose to embark. May I venture to add a request of the result of your inquiry at Philadelphia on the subject of the paper in the hands of Claypole, as far as it may be proper to disclose it, and trust it to the mail.
With great esteem & friendly respects.
[1 ]Ante, Vol. I., p. 32.