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title:“James Madison to W. A. Duer”
authors:James Madison
date written:1835-6-5

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retrieved:April 1, 2023, 5:25 a.m. UTC

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

James Madison to W. A. Duer (June 5, 1835)

Montpellier, June 5th, 1835.
I have received your letter of April 25th, and with the aid of a friend and amanuensis, have made out the following answer:
On the subject of Mr. Pinckney's proposed plan of a Constitution, it is to be observed that the plan printed in the Journal was not the document actually presented by him to the Convention. That document was no otherwise noticed in the proceedings of the Convention than by a reference of it, with Mr. Randolph's plan, to a committee of the whole, and afterwards to a committee of detail, with others; and not being found among the papers left with President Washington, and finally deposited in the Department of State, Mr. Adams, charged with the publication of them, obtained from Mr. Pinckney the document in the printed Journals as a copy supplying the place of the missing one. In this there must be error, there being sufficient evidence, even on the face of the Journals, that the copy sent to Mr. Adams could not be the same with the document laid before the Convention. Take, for example, the article constituting the House of Representatives the corner-stone of the fabric, the identity, even verbal, of which, with the adopted Constitution, has attracted so much notice. In the first place, the details and phraseology of the Constitution appear to have been anticipated. In the next place, it appears that within a few days after Mr. Pinckney presented his plan to the Convention, he moved to strike out from the resolution of Mr. Randolph the provision for the election of the House of Representatives by the people, and to refer the choice of that House to the Legislatures of the States, and to this preference it appears he adhered in the subsequent proceedings of the Convention.1 Other discrepancies will be found in a source also within your reach, in a pamphlet1 published by Mr. Pinckney soon after the close of the Convention, in which he refers to parts of his plan which are at variance with the document in the printed Journal. A friend who had examined and compared the two documents has pointed out the discrepancies noted below.2 Further evidence3 on this subject, not within your own reach, must await a future, perhaps a posthumous disclosure.
One conjecture explaining the phenomenon has been, that Mr. Pinckney interwove with the draught sent to Mr. Adams passages as agreed to in the Convention in the progress of the work, and which, after a lapse of more than thirty years, were not separated by his recollection.
The resolutions of Mr. Randolph, the basis on which the deliberations of the Convention proceeded, were the result of a consultation among the Virginia Deputies, who thought it possible that, as Virginia had taken so leading a part4 in reference to the Federal Convention, some initiative propositions might be expected from them. They were understood not to commit any of the members absolutely or definitively on the tenor of them. The resolutions will be seen to present the characteristic provisions and features of a Government as complete (in some respects, perhaps, more so) as the plan of Mr. Pinckney, though without being thrown into a formal shape. The moment, indeed, a real Constitution was looked for as a substitute for the Confederacy, the distribution of the Government into the usual departments became a matter of course with all who speculated on the prospective change, and the form of general resolutions was adopted as the most convenient for discussion. It may be observed, that in reference to the powers to be given to the General Government the resolutions comprehended as well the powers contained in the articles of Confederation, without enumerating them, as others not overlooked in the resolutions, but left to be developed and defined by the Convention.
With regard to the plan proposed by Mr. Hamilton, I may say to you, that a Constitution such as you describe was never proposed in the Convention, but was communicated to me by him at the close of it. It corresponds with the outline published in the Journal. The original draught being in possession of his family and their property, I have considered any publicity of it as lying with them.
Mr. Yates's notes, as you observe, are very inaccurate; they are, also, in some respects, grossly erroneous. The desultory manner in which he took them, catching sometimes but half the language, may, in part, account for it. Though said to be a respectable and honorable man, he brought with him to the Convention the strongest prejudices against the existence and object of the body, in which he was strengthened by the course taken in its deliberations. He left the Convention, also, long before the opinions and views of many members were finally developed into their practical application. The passion and prejudice of Mr. L. Martin betrayed in his published letter could not fail to discolour his representations. He also left the Convention before the completion of their work. I have heard, but will not vouch for the fact, that he became sensible of, and admitted his error. Certain it is, that he joined the party who favored the Constitution in its most liberal construction.
[Footnotes as included or written by Farrand]
  • 1 Observations on the plan of Government submitted to the Federal Convention on the 28th of May, 1787, by C. Pinckney, &c. See Select Tracts, Vol. II, in the Library of the Historical Society of New York.
  • 2 Discrepancies noted between the plan of Mr. C. Pinckney as furnished by him to Mr. Adams, and the plan presented to the Convention as described in his pamphlet.

    The pamphlet refers to the following provisions which are not found in the plan furnished to Mr. Adams as forming a part of the plan presented to the Convention: 1. The Executive term of service 7 years. 2. A council of revision. 3. A power to convene and prorogue the Legislature. 4. For the junction or division of States. 5. For enforcing the attendance of members of the Legislature. 6. For securing exclusive right of authors and discoverers.

    The plan, according to the pamphlet, provided for the appointment of all officers, except judges and ministers, by the Executive, omitting the consent of the Senate required in the plan sent to Mr. Adams. Article numbered 9, according to the pamphlet, refers the decision of disputes between the States to the mode prescribed under the Confederation. Article numbered 7, in the plan sent to Mr. Adams, gives to the senate the regulating of the mode. There is no numerical correspondence between the articles as placed in the plan sent to Mr. Adams, and as noted in the pamphlet, and the latter refers numerically to more than are contained in the former.

    It is remarkable, that although the plan furnished to Mr. Adams enumerates, with such close resemblance to the language of the Constitution as adopted, the following provisions, and among them the fundamental article relating to the constitution of the House of Representatives, they are unnoticed in his observations on the plan of Government submitted by him to the Convention, while minor provisions, as that enforcing the attendance of members of the Legislature are commented on. I cite the following, though others might be added: 3. To subdue a rebellion in any State on application of its Legislature. 2. To provide such dock-yards and arsenals, and erect such fortifications, as may be necessary for the U. States, and to exercise exclusive jurisdiction therein. 4. To establish post and military roads. 5. To declare the punishment of treason, which shall consist only in levying war against the United States, or any of them, or in adhering to their enemies. No person shall be convicted of treason but by the testimony of two witnesses. 6. No tax shall be laid on articles exported from the States.

    1. Election by the people of the House of Representatives. [Not improbably unnoticed, because the plan presented by him to the Convention contained his favourite mode of electing the House of Representatives by the State Legislatures, so essentially different from that of an election by the people, as in the Constitution recommended for adoption.]
    2. The Executive veto on the laws. See the succeeding numbers as above.

  • 3 Alluding particularly to the debates in the Convention and the letter of Mr. Pinckney of March 28th, 1789, to Mr. Madison. (This note not included in the letter sent to Mr. Duer.)
  • 4 Virginia proposed, in 1786, the Convention at Annapolis, which recommended the Convention at Philadelphia, of 1787, and was the first of the States that acted on, and complied with, the recommendation from Annapolis. (This note not included in the letter sent to Mr. Duer.)
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