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title:“James Madison to Andrew Stevenson”
authors:James Madison
date written:1826-3-25

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last updated:Jan. 22, 2013, 8:01 a.m. UTC
retrieved:Jan. 22, 2018, 12:18 p.m. UTC

Madison, James. "Letter to Andrew Stevenson." The Records of the Federal Convention of 1787. Vol. 3. Ed. Max Farrand. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1911. Print.

James Madison to Andrew Stevenson (March 25, 1826)

Montpellier Mar. 25. 26
Will you pardon me for pointing out an error of fact into which you have fallen, as others have done, by supposing that the term, national applied to the contemplated Government, in the early stage of the Convention, particularly in the propositions of Mr. Randolph, was equivalent to unlimited or consolidated. This was not the case. The term was used, not in contradistinction to a limited, but to a federal Government. As the latter operated within the extent of its authority thro' requisitions on the confederated States, and rested on the sanction of State Legislatures, the Government to take its place, was to operate within the extent of its powers directly &coercively on individuals, and to receive the higher sanction of the people of the States. And there being no technical or appropriate denomination applicable to the new and unique System, the term national was used, with a confidence that it would not be taken in a wrong sense, especially as a right one could be readily suggested if not sufficiently implied by some of the propositions themselves. Certain it is that not more than two or three members of the Body and they rather theoretically than practically, were in favor of an unlimited Govt. founded on a consolidation of the States; and that neither Mr. Randolph, nor any one of his colleagues was of the number. His propositions were the result of a meeting of the whole Deputation, and concurred or acquiesced in unanimously, merely as a general introduction of the business; such as might be expected from the part Virginia had in bringing about the Convention, and as might be detailed, and defined in the progress of the work. The Journal shews that this was done.
I cannot but highly approve the industry with which you have searched for a key to the sense of the Constitution, where alone the true one can be found; in the proceedings of the Convention, the cotemporary expositions, and above all in the ratifying Conventions of the States. If the instrument be interpreted by criticisms which lose sight of the intention of the parties to it, in the fascinating pursuit of objects of public advantage or conveniency, the purest motives can be no security against innovations materially changing the features of the Government.

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