Front Page Titles (by Subject) 1831 - TO REYNOLDS CHAPMAN. mad. mss. - The Writings, vol. 9 (1819-1836)
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1831 - TO REYNOLDS CHAPMAN. 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 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.
TO CHARLES J. INGERSOLL.mad. mss.
Montpellier, Feby. 2, 1831.
I have recd. your letter of Jany. 21, asking—
1. Is there any State power to make Banks?
2. Is the Federal power as it has been exercised, or as proposed to be exercised by President Jackson preferable?
The evil which produced the prohibitory clause in the Constitution of the U. S. was the practice of the States in making bills of credit, and in some instances appraised property, “a legal tender.” If the notes of the State Banks therefore, whether chartered or unchartered be made a legal tender, they are prohibited; if not made a legal tender, they do not fall within the prohibitory clause. The No. of the “Federalist” [No. XLIV.] referred to was written with that view of the subject; and this, with probably other contemporary expositions, and the uninterrupted practice of the States in creating and permitting Banks, without making their notes a legal tender, would seem to be a bar to the question, if it were not inexpedient now to agitate it.
A virtual and incidental enforcement of the depreciated notes of the State Banks, by their crowding out a sound medium, tho’ a great evil, was not foreseen; and if it had been apprehended, it is questionable whether the Constitution of the U. S. which had so many obstacles to encounter would have ventured to guard against it by an additional obstacle. A virtual and it is hoped an adequate remedy, may hereafter be found in the refusal of State paper, when debased, in any of the Federal transactions; and in the controul of the Federal Bank, this being itself controuled from suspending its specie payments by the public authority.
On the other question I readily decide against the project recommended by the President. Reasons more than sufficient appear to have been presented to the public in the Reviews and other comments which it has called forth. How far a hint for it may have been taken from Mr. Jefferson I know not. The kindred ideas of the latter may be seen in his Memoirs &c. vol. 4. page 196, 207, 526 and his view of the State Banks vol. 4, p. 199 & 220.1
There are sundry statutes of Virga. prohibiting the circulation of notes payable to bearer, whether issued by individuals, or unchartered banks.
These observations little new or important as they may be, would have been more promptly furnished, but for an indisposition in which your letter found me, and which has not yet entirely left me. I hope this will find you in good health, and you have my best wishes for its continuance, and the addition of every other blessing.
TO THEODORE SEDGWICK, JR.mad. mss.
Montpr, Feby 12, 1831.
I have recd your letter of Jany 27, wch was retarded a few days, by going in the first instance to Richmond.
You ask “whether Mr. Livingston (formerly Governor of N. Jersey) took an active part in the debates (of the Fedl. Convention in 1787) and whether he was considered as having a leaning towards the federal party & principles;” adding “that you will be obliged by any further information it may be in my power to give you.”
Mr. Livingston did not take his seat in the Convention till some progress had been made in the task committed to it; and he did not take an active part in its debates; but he was placed on important committees, where it may be presumed he had an agency and a due influence. He was personally unknown to many, perhaps most of the members; but there was a predisposition in all to manifest the respect due to the celebrity of his name.
I am at a loss for a precise answer to the question whether he had a leaning to the federal party and principles. Presuming that by the party alluded to, is meant those in the Convention who favored a more enlarged in contradistinction to those who favored a more restricted grant of powers to the Fedl. Govt. I can only refer to the recorded votes which are now before the public; and these being by States, not by heads, individual opinions are not disclosed by them. The votes of N. Jersey corresponded generally with the plan offered by Mr. Patterson; but the main object of that being to secure to the smaller States an equality with the larger in the structure of the Govt in opposition to the outline previously introduced, which had reversed the object, it is difficult to say what was the degree of power to which there might be an abstract leaning. The two subjects, the structure of the Govt. and the quantum of power entrusted to it, were more or less inseparable in the minds of all, as depending a good deal the one on the other. After the compromise which gave the small States an equality in one branch of the Legislature, and the large States an inequality in the other branch, the abstract leaning of opinions would better appear. With those however who did not enter into debate, and whose votes could not be distinguished from those of their State colleagues, their opinions could only be known among themselves or to their particular friends.
I know not sir that I can give you any of the further information you wish that is not attainable with more authenticity & particularity from other sources. My acquaintance with Govr. Livingston was limited to an exchange of the common civilities, & these to the period of the Convention. In my youth I passed several years in the College of N. Jersey, of which he was a Trustee, and where his two sons, William & the late member of the Supreme Court of the U. S. were fellow students. I recollect to have seen him there in his capacity of Trustee, and to have heard him always spoken of as among the distinguished lawyers, and as conspicuous among the literary patriots of N. J. I recollect, particularly, that he was understood to be one of the authors of a work entitled “The Independent Reflector,” and that some of the papers in it ascribed to him, being admired for the energy & eloquence of their composition, furnished occasionally to the students orations for the Rostrum, which were alternately borrowed from books & composed by themselves.
I regret sir that I have not been able to make a more important contribution for the biographical memoir you meditate. Wishing you all the success in other researches, which the object of them merits, I tender you my respectful and friendly salutations.
TO C. E. HAYNES.1
Montpellier, Feb. 25, 1831.
I have received the copy of Judge Clayton’s Review of the “Report of the Committee of Ways and Means,” for which the envelope informs me that I am indebted to your politeness.
A perusal of the review has left an impression highly favourable to the talents of the author and to the accomplishments of his pen. But I cannot concur in his views and reasonings on some of the material points in discussion; and I must be permitted to think he has done injustice in the remark, “that I seem to have surrendered all my early opinions at discretion.”
I am far from regarding a change of opinions, under the lights of experience and the results of improved reflection, as exposed to censure; and still farther from the vanity of supposing myself less in need of that privilege than others. But I had indulged the belief that there were few, if any, of my contemporaries, through the long period and varied scenes of my political life, to whom a mutability of opinion was less applicable, on the great constitutional questions which have agitated the public mind.
The case to which the Judge more especially referred was, doubtless, that of the Bank, which I had originally opposed as unauthorized by the Constitution, and to which I at length gave my official assent. But even here the inconsistency is apparent only, not real; inasmuch as my abstract opinion of the text of the Constitution is not changed, and the assent was given in pursuance of my early and unchanged opinion, that, in the case of a Constitution as of a law, a course of authoritative expositions sufficiently deliberate, uniform, and settled, was an evidence of the public will necessarily overruling individual opinions. It cannot be less necessary that the meaning of a Constitution should be freed from uncertainty, than that the law should be so. That cases may occur which transcend all authority of precedents must be admitted, but they form exceptions which will speak for themselves and must justify themselves.
I do not forget that the chain of sanctions to the bank power has been considered as broken by a veto of Vice President Clinton to a bill establishing a bank. But it is believed to be quite certain, that the equality of votes which referred the question to his casting vote was occasioned by a union of some, who disapproved the plan of the bank only, with those who denied its constitutionality; and that, on a naked question of constitutionality, a majority of the Senate would have added another sanction, as at a later period was done, to the validity of such an institution.
If this explanation should be found obtrusive, I hope you will recollect that you have been accessory to it, and that it will not prevent an acceptance of the respectful salutations which are cordially offered.
TO JAMES ROBERTSON.mad. mss.
Mar. 27, 1831.
I have recd. your letter of the 8th but it was not until the 23d. inst.
The veil which was originally over the draft of the resolutions offered in 1798 to the Virga. Assembly having been long since removed, I may say, in answer to your enquiries, that it was penned by me; and that as it went from me, the 3d Resolution contained the word “alone,” which was stricken out by the House of Delegates.1 Why the alteration was made, I have no particular knowledge, not being a member at the time. I always viewed it as an error. The term was meant to confine the meaning of “parties to the constitutional compact,” to the States in the capacity in which they formed the compact, in exclusion of the State Govts. which did not form it. And the use of the term “States” throughout in the plural number distinguished between the rights belonging to them in their collective, from those belonging to them in their individual capacities.
With respect to the terms following the term “unconstitutional”—viz. “not law, but null void and of no force or effect” which were stricken out of the 7th. Resoln. my memory cannot positively decide whether they were or were not in the original draft, and no copy of it appears to have been retained.2 On the presumption that they were in the draft as it went from me, I am confident that they must have been regarded only as giving accumulated emphasis to the declaration, that the alien & sedition acts had in the opinion of the Assembly violated the Constitution of the U. S. and not that the addition of them could annul the acts or sanction a resistance of them. The Resolution was expressly declaratory, and proceeding from the Legislature only which was not even a party to the Constitution, could be declaratory of opinion only.
It may not be out of place here to remark that if the insertion of those terms in the draft could have the effect of showing an inconsistency in its author; the striking them out wd. be a protest agst. the doctrine which has claimed the authority of Virginia in its support.
If the 3d. Resolution be in any degree open to misconstruction on this point, the language and scope of the 7th ought to controul it; and if a more explicit guard against misconstruction was not provided, it is explained in this as in other cases of omission, by the entire absence of apprehension that it could be necessary. Who could, at that day, have foressen some of the comments on the Constitution advanced at the present?
The task you have in hand is an interesting one, the more so as there is certainly room for a more precise & regular history of the Articles of Confederation & of the Constitution of the U. S. than has yet appeared. I am not acquainted with Pitkin’s work, and it was not within the scope of Marshall’s Life of Washington to introduce more of Constitutional History than was involved in his main subject. The Journals of the State Legislatures, with the Journal & debates of the State Conventions, and the Journal and other printed accounts of the proceedings of the federal Convention of 1787, are of course the primary sources of information. Some sketches of what passed in that Convention have found their way to the public, particularly those of Judge Yates and of Mr. Luther Martin. But the Judge tho’ a highly respectable man, was a zealous partizan, and has committed gross errors in his desultory notes. He left the Convention also before it had reached the stages of its deliberations in which the character of the body and the views of individuals were sufficiently developed. Mr. Martin who was also present but a part of the time betrays, in his communication to the Legislature of Maryland, feelings which had a discolouring effect on his statements. As it has become known that I was at much pains to preserve an account of what passed in the Convention, I ought perhaps to observe, that I have thought it becoming in several views that a publication of it should be at least of a posthumous date.
I know not that I could refer you to any other appropriate sources of information wch. will not have occurred to you, or not fall within your obvious researches. The period which your plan embraces abounds with materials in pamphlets & in newspaper essays not published in that form. You would doubtless find it worth while to turn your attention to the Collections of the Historical Societies now in print in some of the States. The library of Phila. is probably rich in pertinent materials. Its catalogue alone might point to such as are otherwise attainable. Although I might with little risk leave it to your own inference, I take the liberty of noting that this hasty compliance with your request is not for the public eye; adding only my sincere wishes for the success of the undertaking which led to it, and the offer of my friendly respects & salutations.
TO JARED SPARKS.1mad. mss.
Montpellier, April 8, 1831.
I have duly received your letter of March 30. In answer to your enquiries “respecting the part acted by Gouverneur Morris (whose life, you observe, you are writing) in the Federal Convention of 1787, and the political doctrines maintained by him,” it may be justly said that he was an able, an eloquent, and an active member, and shared largely in the discussions succeeding the 1st of July, previous to which, with the exception of a few of the early days, he was absent.
Whether he accorded precisely “with the political doctrines of Hamilton” I cannot say. He certainly did not “incline to the Democratic side,” and was very frank in avowing his opinions when most at variance with those prevailing in the Convention. He did not propose any outline of a Constitution, as was done by Hamilton; but he contended for certain articles, (a Senate for life, particularly,) which he held essential to the stability and energy of a Government capable of protecting the rights of property against the spirit of Democracy. He wished to make the weight of wealth to balance that of numbers, which he pronounced to be the only effectual security to each against the encroachments of the other.
The finish given to the style and arrangement of the Constitution fairly belongs to the pen of Mr. Morris; the task having been probably handed over to him by the Chairman of the Committee, himself a highly respectable member, with the ready concurrence of the others. A better choice could not have been made, as the performance of the task proved. It is true that the state of the materials, consisting of a reported draught in detail, and subsequent resolutions accurately penned, and falling easily in their proper places, was a good preparation for the symmetry and phraseology of the instrument; but there was sufficient room for the talents and taste stamped by the author on the face of it. The alterations made by the Committee are not recollected. They were not such as to impair the merit of the composition. Those, verbal and others, made in the Convention, may be gathered from the Journal, and will be found also [to leave] that merit altogether unimpaired.
The anecdote you mention may not be without a foundation, but not in the extent supposed. It is certain that the return of Mr. Morris to the Convention was at a critical stage of its proceedings. The knot felt as the Gordian one was the question between the larger and smaller States on the rule of voting in the Senatorial branch of the Legislature; the latter claiming, the former opposing, the rule of equality. Great zeal and pertinacity had been shewn on both sides; and an equal division of the votes on the question had been reiterated and prolonged till it had become not only distressing but seriously alarming. It was during that period of gloom that Dr Franklin made the proposition for a religious service in the Convention, an account of which was so erroneously given, with every semblance of authenticity, through the National Intelligencer, several years ago. The crisis was not over when Mr. Morris is said to have had an interview and conversation with General Washington and Mr. R. Morris, such as may well have occurred; but it appears that on the day of his re-entering the Convention a proposition had been made from another quarter to refer the knotty question to a committee with a view to some compromise; the indications being manifest that sundry members from the larger States were relaxing in their opposition, and that some ground of compromise was contemplated, such as finally took place, and as may be seen in the printed Journal. Mr. Morris was in the deputation from the large State of Pennsylvania, and combated the compromise throughout. The tradition is, however, correct that on the day of his resuming his seat he entered with anxious feelings into the debate, and in one of his speeches painted the consequences of an abortive result to the Convention in all the deep colours suited to the occasion. But it is not believed that any material influence on the turn which things took could be ascribed to his efforts; for, besides the mingling with them some of his most disrelished ideas, the topics of his eloquent appeals to the members had been exhausted during his absence, and their minds were too much made up to be susceptible of new impressions.
It is but due to Mr. Morris to remark, that to the brilliancy and fertility of his genius he added, what is too rare, a candid surrender of his opinions when the lights of discussion satisfied him that they had been too hastily formed, and a readiness to aid in making the best of measures in which he had been overruled.
In making this hastened communication, I have more confidence in the discretion with which it will be used, than in its fulfilment of your anticipations. I hope it will at least be accepted as a proof of my respect for your object, and of the sincerity with which I tender you a reassurance of the cordial esteem and good wishes in which Mrs. Madison always joins me.
I take for granted you have at command all the printed works of Mr. Morris. I recollect that there can be found among my pamphlets a small one by him, intended to prevent the threatened repeal of the law of Pennsylvania which had been passed as necessary to support the Bank of N. America, and when the repeal was viewed as a formidable blow to the establishment. Should a copy be needed, I will hunt it up and forward it.
TO J. K. PAULDING.mad. mss.
Montpr., Apl—, 1831.
I have recd your letter of the 6th inst; and feel myself very safe in joining your other friends in their advice on the Biographical undertaking you meditate. The plan you adopt is a valuable improvement on the prevailing examples, which have too much usurped the functions of the historian; and by omitting the private features of character, and anecdotes, which as condiments, always add flavour, and sometimes nutrition to the repast, have forfeited much of the due attraction. The more historical mode has been recommended, probably by the more ready command of materials, such as abound in the contributions of the Press, & in the public archives. In a task properly biographical, the difficulty lies in the evanescent or inaccessible information which it particularly requires. Autographic memorials are rare, and usually deficient on essential points, if not otherwise faulty; and at the late periods of life the most knowing witnesses may have descended to the tomb, or their memories become no longer faithful depositories. Where oral tradition is the resort, all know the uncertainties, and inaccuracies which beset it.
I ought certainly to be flattered by finding my name on the list of subjects you have selected; and particularly so, as I can say with perfect sincerity, there is no one, to whose justice, judgment, and every other requisite, I could more willingly confide, whatever of posthumous pretension, my career thro’ an eventful period, may have, to a conservative notice. Yet I feel the awkwardness of attempting “a sketch of the principal incidents of my life,” such as the partiality of your friendship has prompted you to request. Towards a compliance with your object I may avail myself of a paper, tho’ too meagre even for the name of a sketch, wch. was very reluctantly but unavoidably drawn up a few years ago for an absortive biography. Whether I shall be able to give it any amplification, is too uncertain to admit a promise.1 My life has been so much of a public one, that any review of it must mainly consist, of the agency which was my lot in public transactions; and of that agency the portions probably the most acceptable to general curiosity, are to be found in my manuscript preservations of some of those transactions, and in the epistolary communications to confidential friends made at the time & on the spot, whilst I was a member of Political Bodies, General or Local. My judgment has accorded with my inclination that any publicity, of which selections from this miscellany may be thought worthy, should await a posthumous date. The printed effusions of my pen are either known or of but little bulk.
For portraits of the several characters you allude to, I know not that I can furnish your canvas with any important materials not equally within your reach, as I am sure that you do not need if I could supply any aid to your pencil in the use of them. Everything relating to Washington is already known to the world, or will soon be made known thro’ Mr. Sparks; with the exception of some of those inside views of character and scenes of domestic life which are apart from ordinary opportunities of observation. And it may be presumed that interesting lights will be let in even on those exceptions through the private correspondences in the hands of Mr. Sparks.
Of Franklin I had no personal knowledge till we served together in the Federal Convention of 1787, and the part he took there has found its way to the public, with the exception of a few anecdotes which belong to the unveiled part of the proceedings of that Assembly. He has written his own life, and no man had a finer one to write, or a better title to be himself the writer. There is eno’ of blank however for a succeeding pen.
With Mr. Jefferson I was not acquainted till we met as members of the first Revolutionary Legislature of Virginia, in 1776. I had of course no personal knowledge of his early life. Of his public career, the records of his Country give ample information and of the general features of his character with much of his private habits, and of his peculiar opinions, his writings before the world to which additions are not improbable, are equally explanatory. The obituary Eulogiums, multiplied by the Epoch & other coincidences of his death, are a field where some things not unworthy of notice may perhaps be gleaned. It may on the whole be truly said of him, that he was greatly eminent for the comprehensiveness & fertility of his genius, for the vast extent & rich variety of his acquirements; and particularly distinguished by the philosophic impress left on every subject which he touched. Nor was he less distinguished for an early & uniform devotion to the cause of liberty, and systematic preference of a form of Govt. squared in the strictest degree to the equal rights of man. In the social & domestic spheres, he was a model of the virtues & manners which most adorn them.
In relation to Mr. John Adams, I had no personal knowledge of him, till he became V. President of the U. S. and then saw no side of his private character which was not visible to all; whilst my chief knowledge of his public Character & career was acquired by means now accessible, or becoming so to all. His private papers are said to be voluminous; and when opened to public view, will doubtless be of much avail to a biographer. His official correspondence during the Revolutionary period, just published will be found interesting both in a historical & biographical view. That he had a mind rich in ideas of his own, as well as its learned store; with an ardent love of Country, and the merit of being a colossal champion of its Independence, must be allowed by those most offended by the alloy in his Republicanism, and the fervors and flights originating in his moral temperament.
Of Mr. Hamilton, I ought perhaps to speak with some restraint, though my feelings assure me, that no recollection of political collisions, could control the justice due to his memory. That he possessed intellectual powers of the first order, and the moral qualifications of integrity & honor in a captivating degree, has been decreed to him by a suffrage now universal. If his Theory of Govt deviated from the Republican Standard, he had the candor to avow it, and the greater merit of co-operating faithfully in maturing & supporting a system which was not his choice. The criticism to which his share in the administration of it, was most liable was, that it had the aspect of an effort to give to the instrument a constructive & practical bearing not warranted by its true & intended character. It is said that his private files have been opened to a friend who is charged with the task you contemplate. If he be not a Citizen of N. York, it is probable that in collecting private materials from other sources your opportunities may be more than equal to his.
I will, on this occasion take the liberty to correct a statement of Mr. H. which contradicts mine on the same subject; and which as mine, if erroneous could not be ascribed to a lapse of memory, might otherwise be an impeachment of my veracity. I allude to the discrepancy between the memorandum given by Mr. H. to Mr. Benson, distributing the Nos. of the “Federalist” to the respective writers, and the distribution communicated by me at an early day to a particular friend, & finally to Mr. Gideon for his Edition of the Work at Washington a few years ago.1
The reality of errors in the statement of Mr. H. appears from an internal evidence in some of the papers. Take for an example No. 49, which contains a Eulogy on Mr. Jn, marking more of the warm feelings of personal friendship in the writer, than at any time belonged to Mr. Hamilton. But there is proof of another sort in No. 64, ascribed in the memorandum to Mr. H. That it was written by Mr. Jay, is shewn by a passage in his Life by Delaplaine, obviously derived directly or indirectly from Mr. Jay himself. There is a like proof that N. 54, ascribed to Mr. Jay, was not written by him. Nor is it difficult to account for errors in the memorandum, if recurrence be had to the moment at which a promise of such a one was fulfilled; to the lumping manner in which it was made out; and to the period of time, not less than NA years, between the date of the “Federalist,” and that of the memorandum; And as a proof of the fallibility to which the memory of Mr. H. was occasionally subject, a case may be referred to so decisive as to dispense with every other. In the year  Mr. H., in a letter answering an inquiry of Col. Pickering concerning the plan of Govt. which he had espoused in the Convention of 1787, states that at the close of the Convention he put into my hands a draught of a Constitution; and in that draught he had proposed a “President for three years.” [See the letter in Niles’s Register.1 ] Now the fact is that in that plan, the original of which I ascertained several years ago to be among his papers, the tenure of office for the President is not 3 years, but during good behaviour. The error is the more remarkable, as the letter apologizes, according to my recollection, for its being not a prompt one; and as it is so much at variance with the known cast of Mr. H’s political tenets, that it must have astonished his political & most of all his intimate friends. I shd. do injustice nevertheless to myself as well as to Mr. H. if I did not express my perfect confidence that the misstatement was involuntary, and that he was incapable of any that was not so.
I am sorry sir that I could not make a better contribution to your fund of biographical matter. Accept it as an evidence at least of my respect for your wishes; & with it the cordial remembrances & regards in which Mrs. M. joins me as I do her in the request to be favorably presented to Mrs. Paulding.
Much curiosity & some comment have been excited by the marvellous [similarity] in a Plan of Govt proposed by Chs. Pinckney in the Convn of 1787, as published in the Journals with the text of the Constitution as finally agreed to. I find among my pamphlets a copy of a small one entitled “Observations on the Plan of Govt. submitted to the Fedl Convention in Phila on the 28th of May by Mr. C. P. a Delegate from S. C. delivered at different times in the Convention.”
My Copy is so defaced & mutilated that it is impossible to make out eno’ of the Plan as referred to in the Observation, for a due comparison of it, with that presented in the Journal. The pamphlet was printed in N. Y. by Francis Childs. The year is effaced: It must have been not very long after the close of the Convention, and with the sanction at least of Mr. P. himself. It has occurred that a copy may be attainable at the Printing office if still kept up, or examined in some of the Libraries, or Historical Collections in the City. When you can snatch a moment in y walks with other views; for a call at such places, you will promote an object of some little interest as well as delicacy, by ascertaining whether the article in question can he met with. I have among my manuscript papers, Lights on the subject. The pamphlet of Mr. P. could not fail to add to them.
TO JAMES MONROE.monroe mss.
Montpellier, April 21, 1831.
I have duly recd yours of [April 11.]1 I considered the advertisement of your estate in Loudon as an omen that your friends in Virginia were to lose you. It is impossible to gainsay the motives to which you yielded in making N. Y. your residence, tho’ I fear you will find its climate unsuited to your period of life and the state of your health. I just observe and with much pleasure, that the sum voted by Congress, however short of just calculations, escapes the loppings to which it was exposed from the accounting process at Washington, and that you are so far relieved from the vexations involved in it. The result will I hope spare you at least the sacrifice of an untimely sale of your valuable property; and I would fain flatter myself, that with an encouraging improvement of your health you might be brought to reconsider the arrangement which fixes you elsewhere. The effect of this in closing the prospect of our ever meeting again afflicts me deeply, certainly not less so, than it can you. The pain I feel at the idea, associated as it is with a recollection of the long, close, and uninterrupted friendship which united us, amounts to a pang which I cannot well express, and which makes me seek for an alleviation in the possibility that you may be brought back to us in the wonted degree of intercourse. This is a happiness my feelings covet, notwithstanding the short period I could expect to enjoy it; being now, tho’ in comfortable health, a decad beyond the canonical three score & ten, an epoch which you have but just passed. As you propose to make a visit to Loudon previous to the notified sale, if the state of your health permit; why not, with the like permission, extend the trip to this quarter. The journey, at a rate of your own choice, might co-operate in the reestablishment of your health, whilst it would be a peculiar gratification to your friends, and perhaps enable you to join your colleagues at the University, once more at least. It is much to be desired that you should continue as long as possible a member of the Board, and I hope you will not send in your resignation in case you find your cough and weakness giving way to the influence of the season, & the innate strength of your Constitution. I will not despair of your being able to keep up your connexion with Virginia by retaining Oak hill and making it not less than an occasional residence. Whatever may be the turn of things, be assured of the unchangeable interest felt by Mrs. M. as well as myself, in your welfare, and in that of all who are dearest to you.
In explanation of my microscopic writing, I must remark that the older I grow the more my stiffening fingers make smaller letters, as my feet take shorter steps; the progress in both cases being at the same time more fatiguing as well as more slow.
TO JARED SPARKS.mad. mss.
June 1, 1831.
I have duly recd yours of 24th Ult, and inclose the little pamphlet by Govr. Morris which it refers to. Unless it is to be printed entire in the vols. you are preparing, I shd. wish to replace it in the collection from which it is taken. Of the other unofficial writings by him, I have but the single recollection that he was a writer for the Newspapers in 1780 (being then a member of Congs) on our public affairs, chiefly I believe, on the currency & resources of the U. S. It was about the time that the scale of 1 for 40, was applied to the 200,000,000 of dolrs which had been emitted; and his publications were probably occasioned by the crisis, but of the precise scope of them, I cannot speak. I became a member of Congr. in March of that year, just after the fate of the old Emissions had been decided on; and the subject so far deprived of its interest. In the Phila. newspapers of that period, the writings in question might probably be found, and verified by the style if not the name of the Author. Whether Mr. M. wrote a pamphlet about Deane is a point on wch. I can give no answer.
May I ask of you to let me know the result of your correspondence with Charleston on the subject of Mr. Pinckney’s draft of a Constn. for the U. S. as soon as it is ascertained.
It is quite certain that since the death of Col. Few I have been the only living signer of the Constn. of the U. S. Of the members who were present & did not sign, & of those who were present part of the time, but had left the Convention, it is equally certain, that not one has remained since the death of Mr. Lansing who disappeared so mysteriously not very long ago. I happen also to be the sole survivor of those who were members of the Revoly Congs. prior to the close of the war; as I had been for some years, of the members of the Convention in 1776 which formed the first Constn. for Virga Having outlived so many of my cotemporaries, I ought not to forget that I may be thought to have outlived myself.
With cordl. esteem & all good wishes.
I had not known that the papers of Mr. Hamilton had passed into the hands of Mr. Bayless. Col. Pickering was the last reported selection for the trust.
TO TENCH RINGGOLD.mad. mss.
Montpellier, July 12, 1831.
I recd. in the due times your two favors of July 7, & 8,1 the first giving the earliest, the last the fullest account that reached me of the death of our excellent friend; and I cannot acknowledge these communications, without adding the thanks which I owe in common with those to whom he was most dear, for the devoted kindness on your part, during the lingering illness which he could not survive.
I need not say to you who so well know, how highly I rated the comprehensiveness & character of his mind; the purity & nobleness of his principles; the importance of his patriotic services; and the many private virtues of which his whole life was a model, nor how deeply therefore I must sympathize, on his loss, with those who feel it most. A close friendship, continued thro’ so long a period & such diversified scenes, had grown into an affection very imperfectly expressed by that term; and I value accordingly the manifestation in his last hours that the reciprocity never abated.
I have heard nothing of the state of his affairs, as they descend to those most interested in it, not even as to the result of the advertisement relating to his property in Loudon. I have indulged a hope, but it is too much mingled with my wishes to be relied on, that the last act of Congs might produce a surplus of a consoling amount.
I have written not only in haste, but with Rheumatic fingers, a part of the effect of a general attack, which occasions the date from home, instead of the University, where the Board of Visitors is now in Session.
Mrs. M. joins me in the offer of sincere regards & a return of your good wishes.
TO MATTHEW CAREY.mad. mss.
Montpellier, July 27, 1831.
I have recd. your favor of the 21st, with your commencing address to the Citizens of S. Carolina. The strange doctrines and misconceptions prevailing in that quarter are much to be deplored; and the tendency of them the more to be dreaded, as they are patronized by Statesmen of shining talents, and patriotic reputations. To trace the great causes of this state of things out of which these unhappy aberrations have sprung, in the effect of markets glutted with the products of the land, and with the land itself; to appeal to the nature of the Constitutional compact, as precluding a right in any one of the parties to renounce it at will, by giving to all an equal right to judge of its obligations; and, as the obligations are mutual, a right to enforce correlative with a right to dissolve them; to make manifest the impossibility as well as injustice, of executing the laws of the Union, particularly the laws of commerce, if even a single State be exempt from their operation; to lay open the effects of a withdrawal of a Single State from the Union on the practical conditions & relations of the others; thrown apart by the intervention of a foreign nation; to expose the obvious, inevitable & disastrous consequences of a separation of the States, whether into alien confederacies or individual nations; these are topics which present a task well worthy the best efforts of the best friends of their country, and I hope you will have all the success, which your extensive information and disinterested views merit. If the States cannot live together in harmony, under the auspices of such a Government as exists, and in the midst of blessings, such as have been the fruits of it, what is the prospect threatened by the abolition of a Common Government, with all the rivalships collisions and animosities, inseparable from such an event. The entanglements & conflicts of commercial regulations, especially as affecting the inland and other non-importing States, & a protection of fugitive slaves, substituted for the present obligatory surrender of them, would of themselves quickly kindle the passions which are the forerunners of war.
My health has not been good for several years, and is at present much crippled by Rheumatism; This with my great age warns me to be as little as possible before the public; and to give way to others who with the same love of their Country, are more able to be useful to it.
TO JARED SPARKS.1
Montpellier, November 25, 1831.
I have received your favor of the 14th instant. The simple question is, whether the draught sent by Mr. Pinckney to Mr. Adams, and printed in the Journal of the Convention, could be the same with that presented by him to the Convention on the 29th day of May, 1787; and I regret to say that the evidence that that was not the case is irresistible. Take, as a sufficient example, the important article constituting the House of Representatives, which, in the draught sent to Mr. Adams, besides being too minute in its details to be a possible anticipation of the result of the discussion, &c., of the Convention on that subject, makes the House of Representatives the choice of the people. Now, the known opinion of Mr. Pinckney was, that that branch of Congress ought to be chosen by the State Legislatures, and not immediately by the people. Accordingly, on the 6th day of June, not many days after presenting his draught, Mr. Pinckney, agreeably to previous notice, moved that, as an amendment to the Resolution of Mr. Randolph, the term “people” should be struck out and the word “Legislatures” inserted; so as to read, “Resolved, That the members of the first branch of the National Legislature ought to be elected by the Legislatures of the several States.” But what decides the point is the following extract from him to me, dated March 28, 1789:
“Are you not, to use a full expression, abundantly convinced that the theoretic nonsense of an election of the members of Congress by the people, in the first instance, is clearly and practically wrong; that it will, in the end, be the means of bringing our Councils into contempt, and that the Legislatures are the only proper judges of who ought to be elected?”1
Other proofs against the identity of the two draughts may be found in Article VIII of the Draught, which, whilst it specifies the functions of the President, contains no provision for the election of any such officer, nor, indeed, for the appointment of any Executive Magistracy, notwithstanding the evident purpose of the author to provide an entire plan of a Federal Government.
Again, in several instances where the Draught corresponds with the Constitution, it is at variance with the ideas of Mr. Pinckney, as decidedly expressed in his votes on the Journal of the Convention. Thus, in Article VIII of the Draught, provision is made for removing the President by impeachment, when it appears that in the Convention, July 20, he was opposed to any impeachability of the Executive Magistrate. In Article III, it is required that all money-bills shall originate in the first branch of the Legislature; and yet he voted, on the 8th August, for striking out that provision in the Draught reported by the Committee on the 6th. In Article V, members of each House are made ineligible, as well as incapable, of holding any office under the Union, &c., as was the case at one stage of the Constitution; a disqualification disapproved and opposed by him August 14th.
Further discrepancies might be found in the observations of Mr. Pinckney, printed in a pamphlet by Francis Childs, in New York, shortly after the close of the Convention. I have a copy, too mutilated for use, but it may probably be preserved in some of your historical respositories.
It is probable that in some instances, where the Committee which reported the Draught of Augt 6th might be supposed to have borrowed from Mr. Pinckney’s Draught, they followed details previously settled by the Convention, and ascertainable, perhaps, by the Journal. Still there may have been room for a passing respect for Mr. Pinckney’s plan by adopting, in some cases, his arrangement; in others, his language. A certain analogy of outlines may be well accounted for. All who regard the objects of the Convention to be a real and regular Government, as contradistinguished from the old Federal system, looked to a division of it into Legislative, Executive, and Judiciary branches, and of course would accommodate their plans to their organization. This was the view of the subject generallytaken and familiar in conversation, when Mr. Pinckney was preparing his plan. I lodged in the same house with him, and he was fond of conversing on the subject. As you will have less occasion than you expected to speak of the Convention of 1787, may it not be best to say nothing of this delicate topic relating to Mr. Pinckney, on which you cannot use all the lights that exist and that may be added?
My letter of April 8th was meant merely for your own information and to have its effect on your own view of things. I see nothing in it, however, unfit for the press, unless it be thought that the friends of Mr. Morris will not consider the credit given him a balance for the merit withdrawn, and ascribe the latter to some prejudice on my part.
TO R. R. GURLEY.mad. mss.
Montpellier, Decr. 28, 1831.
I received in due time your letter of the 21 ulto. and with due sensibility to the subject of it. Such, however, has been the effect of a painful Rheumatism on my general condition as well as in disqualifying my fingers for the use of the pen, that I could not do justice “to the principles and measures of the Colonization Society in all the great & various relations they sustain to our own Country & to Africa.” If my views of them could have the value which your partiality supposes I may observe in brief that the Society had always my good wishes tho’ with hopes of its success less sanguine than were entertained by others found to have been the better judges, and that I feel the greatest pleasure at the progress already made by the Society and the encouragement to encounter the remaining difficulties afforded by the earlier and greater ones already overcome. Many circumstances at the present moment seem to concur in brightening the prospects of the Society and cherishing the hope that the time will come when the dreadful calamity which has so long afflicted our Country and filled so many with despair, will be gradually removed, & by means consistent with justice, peace, and the general satisfaction; thus giving to our Country the full enjoyment of the blessings of liberty and to the world the full benefit of its great example. I have never considered the main difficulty of the great work as lying in the deficiency of emancipations, but in an inadequacy of asylums for such a growing mass of population, and in the great expence of removing it to its new home. The spirit of private manumission as the laws may permit and the exiles may consent, is increasing and will increase, and there are sufficient indications that the public authorities in slaveholding States are looking forward to interpositions in different forms that must have a powerful effect.
With respect to the new abode for the emigrants all agree that the choice made by the Society is rendered peculiarly appropriate by considerations which need not be repeated, and if other situations should not be found as eligible receptacles for a portion of them, the prospect in Africa seems to be expanding in a highly encouraging degree.
In contemplating the pecuniary resources needed for the removal of such a number to so great a distance my thoughts & hopes have long been turned to the rich fund presented in the Western lands of the Nation which will soon entirely cease to be under a pledge for another object. The great one in question is truly of a national character and it is known that distinguished patriots not dwelling in slaveholding States have viewed the object in that light and would be willing to let the National domain be a resource in effectuating it.
Should it be remarked that the States tho’ all may be interested in relieving our Country from the colored population are not equally so, it is but fair to recollect that the sections most to be benefited are those whose cessions created the fund to be disposed of.
I am aware of the Constitutional obstacle which has presented itself but if the general will be reconciled to an application of the territorial fund to the removal of the colored population, a grant to Congress of the necessary authority could be carried with little delay through the forms of the Constitution.1
Sincerely wishing increasing success to the labors of the Society I pray you to be assured of my esteem, & to accept my friendly salutations.
TO N. P. TRIST.mad. mss.
. . . . . . . . . . . .
Other, and some not very candid attempts, are made to stamp my political career with discrediting inconsistencies. One of these is a charge that I have on some occasions, represented the supreme Court of the U. S. as the judge in the last Resort, on the boundary of jurisdiction between the several States & the U. S. and on other occasions have assigned this last resort to the parties to the Constitution. It is the more extraordinary that such a charge should have been hazarded; since besides the obvious explanation, that the last resort means in one case, the last within the purview & forms of the Constitution; and in the other, the last resort of all, from the Constitution itself, to the parties who made it, the distinction is presented & dwelt on both in the report on the Virga Resolutions and in the letter to Mr. Everett, the very documents appealed to in proof of the inconsistency. The distinction between these ultimate resorts is in fact the same, within the several States. The Judiciary there may in the course of its functions be the last resort within the provisions & forms of the Constitution; and the people, the parties to the Constitution, the last in cases ultra-constitutional, and therefore requiring their interposition.
It will not escape notice that the Judicial authority of the U. S. when overruling that of a State, is complained of as subjecting a Sovereign State, with all its rights & duties, to the will of a Court composed of not more than seven individuals. This is far from a true state of the case. The question wd. be between a single State, and the authority of a tribunal representing as many States as compose the Union.
Another circumstance to be noted is that the Nullifiers in stating their doctrine omit the particular form in which it is to be carried into execution; thereby confounding it with the extreme cases of oppression which justify a resort to the original right of resistance, a right belonging to every community, under every form of Government, consolidated as well as Federal. To view the doctrine in its true character, it must be recollected that it asserts, a right in a single State, to stop the execution of a Federal law, altho’ in effect stopping the law everywhere, until a Convention of the States could be brought about by a process requiring an uncertain time; and finally in the Convention when formed a vote of 7 States, if in favor of the veto, to give it a prevalence over the vast majority of 17 States. For this preposterous & anarchical pretension there is not a shadow of countenance in the Constitn. and well that there is not; for it is certain that with such a deadly poison in it, no Constn could be sure of lasting a year; there having scarcely been a year, since ours was formed, without a discontent in some one or other of the States which might have availed itself of the nullifying prerogative. Yet this has boldly sought a sanction under the name of Mr. Jefferson, because, in his letter to Majr Cartwright, he held out a Convention of the States, as, with us, a peaceable remedy in cases to be decided in Europe by intestine wars. Who can believe that Mr. J. referred to a Convention summoned at the pleasure of a single State, with an interregnum during its deliberations; and, above all with a rule of decision subjecting nearly ¾ to ¼. No man’s creed was more opposed to such an inversion of the Repubn order of things.
There can be no objection to the reference made to the weakening effect of age on the judgment, in accounting for changes of opinion. But inconsistency at least may be charged on those who lay such stress on the effect of age in one case, and place such peculiar confidence, where that ground of distrust would be so much stronger. What was the comparative age of Mr. Jefferson, when he wrote the letter to Mr. Giles, a few months before his death; in which his language, tho’ admitting a construction not irreconcilable with his former opinions is held, in its assumed meaning, to outweigh on the tariff question, opinions deliberately formed in the vigour of life, reiterated in official reasonings & reports; and deriving the most cogent sanction from his Presidential Messages, and private correspondences. What again the age of Genl Sumter, at which the concurrence of his opinion is so triumphantly hailed? That his judgment may be as sound as his services have been splendid, may be admitted; but had his opinion been the reverse of what it proved to be, the question is justified by the distrust of opinions, at an age very far short of his, whether his venerable years would have escaped a different use of them.
But I find that by a sweeping charge, my inconsistency is extended “to my opinions on almost every important question which has divided the public into parties.” In supporting this charge, an appeal is made to “Yates’s Secret Debates in the Federal Convention of 1787,” as proving that I originally entertained opinions adverse to the rights of the States; and to the writings of Col. Taylor, of Caroline; as proving that I was in that Convention “an advocate for a Consolidated national Government.”
Of the Debates, it is certain that they abound in errors, some of them very material in relation to myself. Of the passages quoted, it may be remarked that they do not warrant the inference drawn from them. They import “that I was disposed to give Congress a power to repeal State laws,” and “that the States ought to be placed under the controul of the Genl Gt at least as much as they were formerly when under the British King & Parliament.”
The obvious necessity of a controul on the laws of the States, so far as they might violate the Constn & laws of the U. S. left no option but as to the mode. The modes presenting themselves were 1. A Veto on the passage of the State Laws. 2. A Congressional repeal of them. 3. A Judicial annulment of them. The first tho’ extensively favored at the outset, was found on discussion, liable to insuperable objections arising from the extent of Country and the multiplicity of State laws. The second was not free from such as gave a preference to the third as now provided by the Constitution. The opinion that the States ought to be placed not less under the Govt of the U. S. than they were under that of G. B., can provoke no censure from those who approve the Constitution as it stands with powers exceeding those ever allowed by the colonies to G. B. particularly the vital power of taxation, which is so indefinitely vested in Congs and to the claim of which by G. B. a bloody war, and final separation was preferred.
The author of the “Secret Debates,” tho’ highly respectable in his general character, was the representative of the portion of the State of New York, which was strenuously opposed to the object of the Convention, and was himself a zealous partisan. His notes carry on their face proofs that they were taken in a very desultory manner, by which parts of sentences explaining or qualifying other parts, might often escape the ear. He left the Convention also on the 5th of July before it had reached the midway of its Session, and before the opinions of the members were fully developed into their matured & practical shapes. Nor did he conceal the feelings of discontent & disgust which he carried away with him. These considerations may account for errors; some of which are self-condemned. Who can believe that so crude and untenable a statement could have been intentionally made on the floor of the Convention, as “that the several States were political Societies, varying from the lowest corporations, to the highest sovereigns,” or “that the States had vested all the essential rights of Government in the old Congress.”
On recurring to the writings of Col. Taylor1 it will be seen that he founds his imputation agst myself and Govr. Randolph, of favoring a Consolidated National Governmt on the Resolutions introduced into the Convention by the latter in behalf of the Virga. Delegates, from a consultation among whom they were the result. The Resolutions imported that a Govt., consisting of a National Legislre., Executive & Judiciary, ought to be substituted for the existing Congs. Assuming for the term national a meaning co-extensive with a single Consolidated Govt. he filled a number of pages, in deriving from that source a support of his imputation. The whole course of proceedings on those Resolutions ought to have satisfied him that the term National as contradistinguished from Federal, was not meant to express more than that the powers to be vested in the new Govt were to operate as in a Natl Govt. directly on the people, and not as in the old Confedcy. on the States only. The extent of the powers to be vested, also tho’ expressed in loose terms, evidently had reference to limitations & definitions to be made in the progress of the work, distinguishing it from a plenary & Consolidated Govt.
It ought to have occurred that the Govt of the U. S. being a novelty & a compound, had no technical terms or phrases appropriate to it, and that old terms were to be used in new senses, explained by the context or by the facts of the case.
Some exulting inferences have been drawn from the change noted in the Journal of the Convention of the word national into “United States.” The change may be accounted for by a desire to avoid a misconception of the former, the latter being preferred as a familiar caption. That the change could have no effect on the real character of the Govt was & is obvious; this being necessarily deduced from the actual structure of the Gov. and the quantum of its powers.
The general charge which the zeal of party has brought agst. me, “of a change of opinion in almost every important question which has divided parties in this Country,” has not a little surprized me. For, altho’ far from regarding a change of opinion under the lights of experience and the results of improved reflection as exposed to censure, and still farther from the vanity of supposing myself less in need than others, of that privilege, I had indulged the belief that there were few, if any of my contemporaries thro’ the long period & varied services, of my political life, to whom a mutability of opinion on great Constitutional questions was less applicable.
Beginning with the great question growing out of the terms “Common Defence & General Welfare,” my early opinion expressed in the Federalist, limiting the Phrase to the specified powers, has been adhered to on every occasion wch. has called for a test of it.
As to the power in relation to roads & canals, my opinion, without any previous variance from it, was formally announced in the veto on the bonus bill in 1817, and no proof of a subsequent change has been given.
On the subject of the Tariff for the encouragemt of manufactures, my opinion in favor of its constitutionality has been invariable from the first session of Congs under the new Constn of the U. S. to the explicit & public maintenance of it in my letters to Mr. Cabell in 1828.
It will not be contended that any change has been manifested in my opinion of the unconstitutionality of the alien & Sedition laws.
With respect to the supremacy of the Judicial power on questions occurring in the course of its functions, concerning the boundary of Jurisdiction between the U. S. & individual States, my opinion in favor of it was as the 41 No of the Federalist shews, of the earliest date; and I have never ceased to think that this supremacy was a vital principle of the Constitution as it is a prominent feature in its text. A supremacy of the Constitution & laws of the Union, without a supremacy in the exposition & execution of them, would be as much a mockery as a scabbard put into the hand of a Soldier without a sword in it. I have never been able to see, that without such a view of the subject the Constitution itself could be the supreme law of the land; or that the uniformity of the Federal Authority throughout the parties to it could be preserved; or that without this uniformity, anarchy & disunion could be prevented.
On the subject of the Bank alone is there a color for the charge of mutability on a Constitutional question. But here the inconsistency is apparent, not real, since the change, was in conformity to an early & unchanged opinion, that in the case of a Constitution as of a law, a course of authoritative, deliberate, and continued decisions, such as the Bank could plead was an evidence of the Public Judgment, necessarily superseding individual opinions. There has been a fallacy in this case as indeed in others in confounding a question whether precedents could expound a Constitution, with a question whether they could alter a Const. This distinction is too obvious to need elucidation. None will deny that precedents of a certain description fix the interpretation of a law. Yet who will pretend that they can repeal or alter a law?
Another error has been in ascribing to the intention of the Convention which formed the Constitution, an undue ascendency in expounding it. Apart from the difficulty of verifying that intention it is clear, that if the meaning of the Constitution is to be sought out of itself, it is not in the proceedings of the Body that proposed it, but in those of the State Conventions which gave it all the validity & authority it possesses.
[1 ]Ante, Vol. VIII., p. 386.
[1 ]The reference is to the edition of 1830.
[1 ]From the Works of Madison (Cong. Ed.).
[1 ]“That this Assembly doth explicitly and peremptorily declare that it views the powers of the Federal Government as resulting from the compact to which the states [alone] are parties,” &c. Ante, Vol. VI., p. 326.
[2 ]Ibid., p. 331.
[1 ]From the Works of Madison (Cong. Ed.).
[1 ]The paper to which he refers he probably destroyed. It is not among his MSS.
[1 ]See ante, Vol. VIII., 408 et seq.; also The Authorship of the Federalist, by Edward Gaylord Bourne, Am. Hist. Rev., ii., 443.
[1 ]The letter is in The Works of Hamilton (Lodge), Federal Edition, x., 446.
[1 ]This appears to have been drafted by Madison as a postscript to his letter to Paulding, but it may have been sent separately. On June 6, 1831, he wrote Paulding again.
[1 ]Monroe’s letter is in the Writings of Monroe (Hamilton), vii., 231. He died July 4.
[1 ]Madison wrote the dates of Ringgold’s letters incorrectly. The first was dated July 4, “Monday afternoon 50 minutes past 4 o’clock,” and informed Madison of Monroe’s death “exactly at half-past 3 o’clock p.m.” Alexander Hamilton, Jr., under date New York, June 30, had informed him that Monroe’s death was inevitable. He replied to Hamilton July 9.
[1 ]From the Works of Madison (Cong. Ed.)
Charleston, March 28, 1789.
. . . I shall begin by saying what I am sure you will believe, that I am much pleased to find you in the federal Legislature.—I did expect you would have been in the Senate & think your State was blind to it’s interests in not placing you there, but where you are may in the event prove the most important situation—for as most of the acts which are to affect the Revenue of the Union must originate with your house, and as they are the most numerous body, a greater scope will be afforded for the display of legislative talents than in the other branch, whose radical defect is the smallness of their numbers & whose doors must be always shut during their most interesting deliberations.
It will be some time perhaps before I hear of you, but when you write, answer me candidly as I am sure you will the following Queries, without suffering any little disappointment to yourself to warp your opinion.
Are you not, to use a full expression, abundantly convinced that the theoretical nonsense of an election of the members of Congress by the people in the first instance, is clearly and practically wrong —that it will in the end be the means of bringing our councils into contempt and that the legislature are the only proper judges of who ought to be elected?
Are you not fully convinced that the Senate ought at least to be double their number to make them of consequence & to prevent their falling into the same comparative state of insignificance that the State Senates have, merely from their smallness?
Do you not suppose that giving to the federal Judicial retrospective jurisdiction in any case whatever, from the difficulty of determining to what periods to look back from its being an ex post facto provision, & from the confusion & opposition it will give rise to, will be the surest & speediest mode to subvert our present system & give its adversaries the majority?
Do not suffer these and other queries I may hereafter put to you to startle your opinion with respect to my principles —I am more than ever a friend to the federal constitution,—not I trust from that fondness which men sometimes feel for a performance in which they have been concerned but from a conviction of its intrinsic worth—from a conviction that on its efficacy our political welfare depends,—my wish is to see it divested of those improprieties which I am sure will sooner or later subvert, or what is worse bring it into contempt. . . .
Pinckney to Madison.—Mad. MSS.
[1 ]To E. D. White, a Representative from Louisiana, Madison wrote February 14, 1832, that error had been made “in ascribing to him the opinion that Congs. possesses Constitutional powers to appropriate public funds to aid this redeeming project of colonizing the Coloured people.” He wished the powers of Congress to be enlarged on this subject.—Mad. MSS.
[1 ]See “New Views,” written after the Journal of Conn was printed.—Madison’s Note.