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title:“James Madison to J. G. Jackson”
authors:James Madison
date written:1821-12-27

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retrieved:Nov. 25, 2020, 5:47 a.m. UTC

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

James Madison to J. G. Jackson (December 27, 1821)

Montpr. Decr. 27-1821.
With respect to that portion of the mass, which contains the voluminous proceedings of the Convention, it has always been my intention that they should some day or other see the light. But I have always felt at the same time the delicacy attending such a use of them; especially at an early season. In general I have leaned to the expediency of letting the publication be a posthumous one. The result of my latest reflections on the subject, I cannot more conveniently explain, than by the inclosed extract from a letter1confidentially written since the appearance of the proceedings of the Convention as taken from the Notes of Chf: Juste Yates.
Of this work I have not yet seen a copy. From the scraps thrown into the Newspapers I cannot doubt that the prejudices of the author guided his pen, and that he has committed egregious errors at least, in relation to others as well as to myself.
That most of us carried into the Convention a profound impression produced by the experienced inadequacy of the old Confederation, and by the monitory examples of all similar ones ancient & modern, as to the necessity of binding the States together by a strong Constitution, is certain. The necessity of such a Constitution was enforced by the gross and disreputable inequalities which had been prominent in the internal administrations of most of the States. Nor was The recent & alarming insurrection headed by Shays, in Massachusetts without a very sensible effect on the pub: mind. Such indeed was the aspect of things, that in the eyes of all the best friends of liberty a crisis had arrived which was to decide whether the Amn. Experiment was to be a blessing to the world, or to blast for ever the hopes which the republican cause had enspired; and what is not to be overlooked the disposition to give to a new System all the vigour consistent with Republican principles, was not a little stimulated by a backwardness in some quarters towards a Convention for the purpose, which was ascribed to a secret dislike to popular Govt. and a hope that delay would bring it more into disgrace, and pave the way for a form of Govt. more congenial with Monarchical or aristocratical predilections.
This view of the crisis made it natural for many in the Convention to lean more than was perhaps in strictness warranted by a proper distinction between causes temporary as some of them doubtless were, and causes permanently inherent in popular frames of Govt. It is true also, as has been sometimes suggested that in the course of discussions in the Convention, where so much depended on compromise, the patrons of different opinions often set out on negociating grounds more remote from each other, than, the real opinions of either were from the point at which they finally met.
For myself, having from the first moment of maturing a political opinion, down to the present one, never ceased to be a votary of the principle of self-Govt: I was among those most anxious to rescue it from the danger which seemed to threaten it; and with that view was willing to give to a Govt. resting on that foundation, as much energy as would ensure the requisite stability and efficacy. It is possible that in some instances this consideration may have been allowed a weight greater than subsequent reflection within the Convention, or the actual operation of the Govt. would sanction. It may be remarked also that it sometimes happened that opinions as to a particular modification or a particular power of the Govt. had a conditional reference to others which combined therewith would vary the character of the whole.
But whatever might have been the opinions entertained in forming the Constitution, it was the duty of all to support it in its true meaning as understood by the Nation at the time of its ratification. No one felt this obligation more than I have done; and there are few perhaps whose ultimate & deliberate opinions on the merits of the Constitution, accord in a greater degree with that obligation.
[Footnotes as included or written by Farrand]
  • 1 See letter of the of Sepr. 1821. to Ths. Ritchie [CCCXL].
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