Front Page Titles (by Subject) TO JAMES K. TEFFT. mad. mss. - The Writings, vol. 9 (1819-1836)
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TO JAMES K. TEFFT. mad. 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 JAMES K. TEFFT.mad. mss.
Decr. 3, 1830.
I have recd. Sir, your letter of Novr. 17 accompanied by one from the Revd. Mr. Sprague and in compliance with your request,1 I enclose autographs of certain individuals such as you refer to. I would willingly have given with their names, more of their writings, but could not do it without mutilating the sense, or embracing matter of a private nature. There is a difficulty, particularly where the letter does not close on the first or third page. Several other autographs wd. have been added those of Mr. Pat. Henry, George Mason & Geo. Wythe, but I found that their letters on my files, had been taxed to the full in that way.1
I avail myself Sir of your proferred kindness, by asking you to procure for me, if it can be conveniently done, such of the numbers of the “Georgian,” preceding No. 124, Apl. 21, 1828, & succeeding No. 129, Apl. 26, 1828, as contain notes of Majr. Pierce in that Convention; forwarding with them the charge of the Editors, which will be remitted to them. It will be matter of curiosity at least to compare the notes taken on the same subjects by different members of the Body.
If Mr. Sprague be still with you, be pleased to make known to him that his letter was recd. & duly appreciated, and to accept for yourself my respects & salutations.
Autographs sent of J. Adams J. Q. Adams James Monroe Ed. Pendleton R. H. Lee Alexr Hamilton E. Gerry Alb. Gallatin H. Dearborn Henry Lee (Revy officer) Jacob Brown (Majr. General) A. J. Dallas Wm. Eustis William Pinkney (of Maryd) Rob. R. Livingston DeWitt Clinton.
TO REYNOLDS CHAPMAN.mad. mss.
Jany 6, 1831.
I have recd yours, enclosing the manuscript of J. M. Patton, on the subject of which it is intimated that my opinion would be acceptable.
The paper affords sufficient indication of the talents ascribed to the author. Of his honourable principles I believe no one doubts. And with these qualifications for serving his country, it may be well for it that he is making its Institutions & interests objects of systematic attention. It is with pleasure, therefore, that I comply, however imperfectly, with the request in your letter, regretting only that the compliance is so imperfect, and that it may less accord in some respects with the ideas of [Mr. Patton] than might be agreeable to both of us. I am persuaded, nevertheless, that his candor will be equal to my frankness.
For my opinion on a Tariff for the encouragement of domestic manufactures I may refer to my letters to Mr. Cabell in 1828, which will show the ground on which I maintained its constitutionality. It avoids the question quo animo? in using an impost for another purpose than revenue; a question which, tho’ not in such a case within a judicial purview, would be asked & pressed in discussions appealing to public opinion.
If a duty can be constitutionally laid on imports, not for the purpose of revenue, which may be reduced or destroyed by the duty, but as a means of retaliating the commercial regulations of foreign countries, which regulations have for their object, sometimes their sole object, the encouragemt of their manufactures, it would seem strange to infer that an impost for the encouragement of domestic manufactures was unconstitutional because it was not for the purpose of revenue, and the more strange, as an impost for the protection & encouragemt. of national manufactures is of much more general & familiar practice than as a retaliation of the injustice of foreign regulations of commerce. It deserves consideration whether there be not other cases in which an impost not for revenue must be admitted, or necessary interests be provided for by a more strained construction of the specified powers of Congress.
With respect to the existing tariff, however justly it may be complained of in several respects, I cannot but view the evils charged on it as greatly exaggerated. One cause of the excitement is an impression with many, that the whole amount paid by the consumers goes into the pockets of the manufacturers; whilst that is the case so far only as the articles are actually manufactured in the country, which in some instances is in a very inconsiderable proportion; the residue of the amount passing like other taxes into the Public Treasury, and to be replaced if withdrawn by other taxes. The other cause is the unequal operation of the tax resulting from an unequal consumption of the article paying it in different sections; and in some instances, this is doubtless a striking effect of the existing tariff. But, to make a fair estimate of the evil, it must be inquired how far the sections, overburdened in some instances, may not be underburdened in others, so as to diminish if not remove the inequality. Unless a tariff be a compound one, it cannot, in such a country as this, be made equal either between different sections or among different classes of citizens; and as far as a compound tariff can be made to approach equality, it must be by such modifications as will balance inequalities against each other. The consumption of coarse woollens used by the negroes in the South may be greater than in the North, and the tariff on them be disproportionately felt in that section. Before the change in the duties on tea coffee & molasses, the greater consumption elsewhere of these articles, and of the article of sugar, from habit, and a population without slaves, might have gone far towards equalizing the burden; possibly have exceeded that effect.
Be this as it may, I cannot but believe, whatever well-founded complaints may be agst the tariff, that, as a cause of the general sufferings of the country, it has been vastly overrated; that if wholly repealed, the limited relief would be a matter of surprize; and that if the portion only having not revenue, but manufactures for its object, were struck off, the general relief would be little felt.
In looking for the great and radical causes of the pervading embarrassments, they present themselves at once 1. in the fall almost to prostration in the price of land, evidently the effect of the quantity of cheap Western land in the market. 2. in the depreciating effect on the products of land, from the increased products resulting from the rapid increase of population, and the transfer of labour from a less productive to a more productive soil, not in effect more distant from the common markets.
It is not wonderful that the price of Tobo should fall when the export thro’ N. Orleans has for the last three years added an annual average of near thirty thousand Hhds. to the export of the old Tobo States, or that the price of cotton should have felt a like effect from like causes. It has been admitted by the “Southern Review” that the fall of cotton occurred prior even to the tariff of 1824. The prices of both Tobo. & flour have had a greater fall than that of cotton.
To this solution of the problem of the depressed condition of the country may be added the fact not peculiar to Virginia that the fall in the prices of land & its products found the people much in debt, occasioned by the tempting liberality of the banks and the flattering anticipations of crops and prices.
It may not be out of place to observe, that in deciding the general question of a protective policy, the public opinion is in danger of being unduly influenced by the actual state of things, as it may happen to be a period of war or of peace. In the former case, the departure from the “Let alone” theory may be pressed too far. In the latter, the fair exceptions to it may be too much disregarded. The remark will be verified by comparing the public opinion on the subject, during the late war and at the close of it, with the change produced by the subsequent period of peace. It cannot be doubted, that on the return of a state of war, even should the U. S. not be a party, the reasonings agst the protection of certain domestic manufactures would lose much of the public favour; perhaps too much, considering the increased ability of the U. S. to protect their foreign commerce; which would greatly diminish the risks & expence of transportation, though not the war prices in the manufacturing countries.
For my general opinion on the question of Internal Improvements, I may refer to the veto message agst the “Bonus Bill,” at the close of the session of Congs. in March 1817.1 The message denies the constitutionality as well of the appropriating as of the Executing and Jurisdictional branches of the power. And my opinion remains the same, subject, as heretofore, to the exception of particular cases, where a reading of the Constitution, different from mine may have derived from a continued course of practical sanctions an authority sufficient to overrule individual constructions.
It is not to be wondered that doubts & difficulties should occur in expounding the Constitution of the U. States. Hitherto the aim, in well-organized Governments, has been to discriminate & distribute the Legislative, Executive, and Judiciary powers; and these sometimes touch so closely or rather run the one so much into the other, as to make the task difficult, and leave the lines of division obscure. A settled practice, enlightened by occurring cases, and obviously conformable to the public good, can alone remove the obscurity. The case is parallel in new statutes on complex subjects.
In the Constitution of the U. S. where each of these powers is divided, and portions alloted to different Governments, and where a language technically appropriate may be deficient, the wonder wd be far greater if different rules of exposition were not applied to the text by different commentators.
Thus it is found that in the case of the Legislative department particularly, where a division & definition of the powers according to their specific objects is most difficult, the Instrument is read by some as if it were a Constitution for a single Govt with powers co-extensive with the general welfare, and by others interpreted as if it were an ordinary statute, and with the strictness almost of a penal one.
Between these adverse constructions an intermediate course must be the true one, and it is hoped that it will finally if not otherwise settled be prescribed by an amendment of the Constitution. In no case is a satisfactory one more desirable than in that of internal improvements, embracing Roads, Canals, Light Houses, Harbours, Rivers, and other lesser objects.
With respect to Post Roads, the general view taken of them in the manuscript, shows a way of thinking on the subject with which mine substantially accords. Roads, when plainly necessary for the march of troops and for military transportations, must speak for themselves, as occasions arise.
Canals as an Item in the general improvement of the Country have always appeared to me not to be embraced by the authority of Congs. It may be remarked that Mr Hamilton, in his Report on the Bank, when enlarging the range of construction to the utmost of his ingenuity, admitted that Canals were beyond the sphere of Federal Legislation.
Light Houses having a close and obvious relation to navigation and external commerce, and to the safety of public as well as private ships, and having recd a positive sanction and general acquiescence from the commencement of the Federal Government, the constitutionality of them is I presume not now to be shaken if it were ever much contested. It seems, however, that the power is liable to great abuse, and to call for the most careful & responsible scrutiny into every particular case before an application be complied with.
Harbours, within the above character, seem to have a like claim on the Federal authority. But what an interval between such a Harbour as that of N. York or N. Orleans and the mouth of a creek forming an outlet for the trade of a single State or part of a State into a navigable stream; and the principle of which would authorize the improvement of every road leading out of the State towards a destined market.
What again the interval between clearing of its sawyers &c. the Mississippi the commercial highway for half the nation, and removing obstructions by which the navigation of an inconsiderable stream may be extended a few miles only within a single State.
The navigation of the Mississippi is so important in a national view, so essentially belongs to the foreign commerce of many States, and the task of freeing it from obstructions is so much beyond the means of a single State, and beyond a feasible concert of all who are interested in it, that claims on the authority and resources of the nation will continue to be, as they have been irresistible. Those who regard it as a case not brought by these features within the legitimate powers of Congress, must of course oppose the claim, and with it every inferior claim. Those who admit the power as applicable to a case of that description, but disown it in every case not marked by adequate peculiarities, must find, as they can, a line separating this admissible class from the others; a necessity but too often to be encountered in a legislative career.
Perhaps I ought not to omit the remark that altho’ I concur in the defect of powers in Congress on the subject of internal improvements, my abstract opinion has been that in the case of Canals particularly, the power would have been properly vested in Congress. It was more than once proposed in the Convention of 1787, & rejected from an apprehension, chiefly that it might prove an obstacle to the adoption of the Constitution. Such an addition to the Federal powers was thought to be strongly recommended by several considerations. 1. As Congress would possess, exclusively, the sources of Revenue most productive and least unpopular, that body ought to provide & apply the means for the greatest & most costly works. 2. There would be cases where Canals would be highly important in a national view, and not so in a local view. 3. Cases where, tho’ highly important in a national view, they might violate the interest real or supposed of the State through which they would pass; of which an example might now be cited in the Chesapeake & Delaware canal, known to have been viewed in an unfavourable light by the State of Delaware. 4. There might be cases where Canals, or a chain of Canals, would pass through sundry States, and create a channel and outlet for their foreign commerce, forming at the same time a ligament for the Union, and extending the profitable intercourse of its members, and yet be of hopeless attainment if left to the limited faculties and joint exertions of the States possessing the authority.
It cannot be denied, that the abuse to which the exercise of the power in question has appeared to be liable in the hands of Congress, is a heavy weight in the scale opposed to it. But may not the evil have grown, in a great degree, out of a casual redundancy of revenue, and a temporary apathy to a burden bearing indirectly on the people, and mingled, moreover, with the discharge of debts of peculiar sanctity. It might not happen, under ordinary circumstances, that taxes even of the most disguised kind, would escape a wakeful controul on the imposition & application of them. The late reduction of duties on certain imports and the calculated approach of an extinguishment of the public debt, have evidently turned the popular attention to the subject of taxes, in a degree quite new; and it is more likely to increase than to relax. In the event of an amendment of the Constitution, guards might be devised against a misuse of the power without defeating an important exercise of it. If I err or am too sanguine in the views I indulge it must be ascribed to my conviction that canals, railroads, and turnpikes are at once the criteria of a wise policy and causes of national prosperity; that the want of them will be a reproach to our Republican system, if excluding them, and that the exclusion, to a mortifying extent will ensue if the power be not lodged where alone it can have its due effect.
Be assured of my great esteem & accept my cordial salutations.
[1 ]Tefft wrote from Savannah, introduced by William B. Sprague of the same place.
[1 ]In the draft of the letter was the following sentence against which Madison wrote, “extract”:
[1 ]Ante, Vol. VIII., p. 386.