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Editor of
The Writings of James Madison

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Copyright, 1902, by

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Published, November, igoi

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•-• •••


^KJEARLT a generation has passed since you and
I as boys used to settle the affairs of state, which
your father with the assistafice of mine was trying to
solve. The f-iendship we formed then time has deep-
ened. On my part it is based not only upon our
youthful association, hut upon an understanding of your
character and of the purpose you have set before your-
self of striving to mitigate some of the evils in govern-
ment which have developed since the Constitution left
the hands of Madison and his coadjutors. And so I
dedicate this book to you as a token of my friendship
and as a tribute to your work.



I. The Amendment to the Bill of Rights

II. Princeton .....

III. Family Influences ....

IV. Virginia Finances . .' .
V. Federal Finances .

VI. The Surrender of the "Back Lands '

VII. The Mississippi Question

VIII. Virginia Emancipationists

IX. Religious Liberty

X. How the Annapolis Convention was Called

XI. The Annapolis Convention /.

XII. Preparing for the Great Convention

XIII. The Great Convention I

XIV. The Great Convention II
XV. Forming the Lines

XVI. Madison's Triumph

XVII. New York and Virginia .

XVIII. The Leader of the House

XIX. " Funding and Assumption " .

XX. The Struggle for the Capital .

XXI. The Implied Powers

XXII. Madison as a Partisan

XXIII. The Jay Treaty .

XXIV. The National Gazette
XXV. Dolly Payne .

XXVI. The Virginia Resolutions

XXVII. The Madison Doctrine and Nullification
XXVIII. The Secretary of State .

XXIX. Louisiana . . . . .





• 19

. 24

. 32

• 44

• 54


• 77


. 87.

• 95









. 189

, 201

• 213












The Battle of the Diplomats


The Declaration of War


The War President


The Gloomy Federalists


Peace ....


The Retired Statesman .


Private Life at Montpelier


The End







The house of burgesses of Virginia held its last ses-
sion May 6, 1776, when forty-five members, as-
sembling at Williamsburg, declared that the ancient
constitution of the colony had been subverted by the
King and Parliament of Great Britain. Accordingly,
they disbanded, and the last official evidence of the sub-
jection of Virginia to Great Britain disappeared. An-
other body met on the same day to inaugurate the new-
era of independence. Public opinion had unwilHngly
reached the point of desiring separation. It was domi-
nated by the wealthy and educated men, and was in con-
sequence conservative, and clung to the hope of an amic-
able settlement of differences ; but events forced the peo-
ple into a position of irrevocable rebellion. The final
circumstances were: September i, 1775, Lord Dunmore,
the royal governor, seized the printing-press of John Holt
because of his seditious articles; October 26, George
Nicholas fired the first shot of the Revolution at one of
Dunmore' s tenders sent to destroy the town of Hampton ;
November 7, Dunmore issued his infamous proclamation,
urging "all indented servants, negroes or others," to
secure their freedom by joining in the forcible reduction
of the colony; December 8, Leslie's attack on Woodford
near Norfollc was repulsed; January i, 1776, Norfolk,
the largest city in Virginia, was bombarded and burned.



Added to the grievances which had gone before, these
made reconciHation an impossibihty, and the Virginians
who still adhered to the crown were an unimportant

There was no doubt, therefore, that the convention of
May, 1776, which was held, at the invitation of the Con-
tinental Congress, to institute a new government, would
do so. The elections of the delegates were spirited,*
but the rivalry between the candidates was rather per-
sonal than political, and there was no party in the field
opposed to independence. The result of the elections
was an assemblage, not of young or untried men, but of
the ablest, most experienced, and most trusted men in
the colony. In organizing, Edmund Pendleton, who
had been president of the Convention of the year before,
after Peyton Randolph's death, was chosen to preside
over the new Convention. He was fifty-two years old,
and had held offices of trust for more than twenty years,
being at different times justice of the peace for Caroline
County, a member of the House of Burgesses, president
of the Caroline Court, county lieutenant, member ~ of the
Continental Congress of 1775, and president of the Com-
mittee of Safety. These distinctions he had attained,
as he says in a brief autobiography^! "without classical
education, without patrimony, without what is called
the influence of family connection, and without solicita-
tion." His remarkable charm of manner and easy and
graceful eloquence made him a model presiding officer.
Before the convention met he was a Whig, and was sus-
pected of British proclivities, but in reality his attitude
was merely that of the most conservative wing of the
patriot party. "When the dispute with Great Britain
arose, " he says, "a redress of grievances and not a revo-
lution of government was my wish. In this I was firm
but temperate; and whilst I was endeavoring to raise

*Kate Mason Roland's "Life, Correspondence and Speeches of
George Mason," I, 222.

t MS. in the possession of Erasmus Taylor, Esq., of Orange County,


the spirits of the timid to a general united opposition, by
stating to the uninformed the real merits of the dispute,
I opposed and endeavoured to moderate the violent and
fiery who v^/^ere for plunging us into rash measures, and
had the happiness to find a majority of the pubHc bodies
confirmed my sentiments, which, I believe, was the cor-
ner-stone of our success."

The master spirit of the Convention was George Mason,
of Gunston Hall, also a man past the meridian of life, and
also untouched by radicalism. Unlike Pendleton, he
avoided public office whenever he could, and had per-
formed his first official service in 1775, when he took
Washington's place in the Colonial Convention, upon
Washington's appointment to the command of the Con-
tinental Army. He was a sound scholar, especially in
the legislative and political history of England, and until
the Revolution his sympathies were those of an English-
man, and liberty meant to him English liberty. He was
free from personal ambition, strong and immovable in
his convictions, forceful and uncompromising in debate.
His personal influence with men of consequence was prob-
ably as great as that of any man in Virginia, and the chief
work of the Convention fell to his hands. Patrick Henry
resigned his mihtary command in disgust just in time to
be elected a member, but the Convention was a body with
constructive work before it, and Henry's genius lay not
in that direction. The power he exerted in the proceed-
ings of the Convention was not as great as that which had
swept people along with him before, or which he exer-
cised afterwards upon successive legislatures of the State.

According to Edmund Randolph, Vv^ho was one of the
few young members, those of the Convention who were
most in the public eye, beside Mason, Pendleton and
Henry, were James Mercer, Robert Carter Nicholas,
Richard Bland, Thomas Ludwell Lee, Richard Henry
Lee, George Wythe, John Blair, and, younger than any
of them, and one of the youngest of all the members,
James Madison, Jr., of Orange County. "Until the meet-


ing of this Convention,"* says Randolph, "he was un-
known at the metropohs. He was educated at Princeton
College in New Jersey, and had been laborious in his
studies which ranged beyond strict academic limits, but
were of that elementary cast, subservient in their general
principles to any science which he might choose to culti-
vate in detail. As a classical scholar he was mature, as
a student of belles lettres, his fancy animated his
judgment ; and his judgment, without damping his fancy,
excluded by the soundness of criticism, ever}^ propensity
to tinsel and glitter. . . . His diffidence went
hand in hand with his morals, which repelled vice,
howsoever fashionable. In Convention debate, his
lips were never unsealed except to some member,
who happened to sit near him; and he who had
once partaken of the rich banquet of his remarks, did not
fail to wish daily to sit within the reach of his conversa-
tion. It could not be otherwise; for although his age
and the deference which in fewer circles had been paid
to him, were apt to tincture him with pedantry he de-
livered himself without affectation upon Grecian, Roman
and English history, from a well digested fund, a sure
presage of eminence. A very sensible foreigner observed
of him, that he never uttered anything which was not
appropriate, and not connected with some general prin-
ciple of importance. Even when he commented upon
the dignity with which Pendleton filled the chair, it was
in that philosophic spirit, which looks for personal dig-
nity in officers of a republic as well as of a monarchy.
While he thrilled with the ecstasies of Henry's eloquence,
and extolled his skiU in commanding the audience, he
detected what might be faulty in his reasoning. Madi-
son was enviable in being among the few young men
who were not inflated by early flattery and could con-
tent themselves with throwing out in social discourse
jewels which the artifice of a barren mind would have
treasured up for gaudy occasions."

* MS. History of Virginia, in Virginia Historical Society at Richmond.


When Madison was elected to the Convention he was
twenty-five years of age, and he looked younger than he
really was. He was five feet six and a quarter inches tall,*
and his body was thin and delicate. His pale face was
lighted up by a pair of hazel eyes which were ready to
reflect a quiet humour, but his features were irregular
and not handsome, and his countenance bespoke the
suffering of bad health. His hair was light, combed
back and gathered in a small queue behind, tied with a
plain ribbon. He was clothed so soberly that he looked
more like a dissenting divine than the heir of a planter
of large estate, and before his election his neighbours de-
clared he was more of a minister than a statesman. This
was the first large assemblage of men in which he had
ever taken part, and he shrank timidly from observation,
and rose only once to offer a motion, which, however, he
did not support with a speech. Randolph's statement
that he was one of the delegates most in the public eye is
doubtless an exaggeration. He was known as the son of
James Madison, lieutenant of Orange County, and prob-
ably the most influential man in it, but his own reputa-
tion was merely that of a precocious young scholar who
had showm zeal for the Revolutionary cause. He met
the great men of the Convention for the first time, and
did not pretend to rank w4th them.

The great question before the Convention was an-
nounced by the president, when he said that the time
had come when it was necessary to decide whether the
present condition of public affairs could be continued.
On May 15 the answer came in a clarion note, and the
Convention instructed the delegates of Virginia in the
Continental Congress, "to propose to that respectable
body to declare the united colonies free and independent
states, absolved from all allegiance to or dependence
upon the crown or Parliament of Great Britain, and that
they give the assent of this colony to such Declaration,
and to whatever measures may be thought proper and

* Randall's "Jefferson," III, 262.


necessary by the Congress for forming alliances, and a
confederation of the colonies." It was also resolved
that a committee be appointed to prepare a Declaration
of Rights and Plan of Government for the colony. Who
drew up the instructions is not known. It was an im-
pression of Madison's, expressed many years afterwards,
that they originated in a letter from Thomas Jefferson,
then in Philadelphia, to George Wythe; but Edmund
Randolph declared they were drafted by Pendleton and
proposed by Nelson. The point is not important, as
the people had resolved on independence, and resolutions
to that effect would have been offered by one delegate
or another. Charles Patterson and John Cabell, the
delegates from Buckingham County, had these orders
from their constituents: "We instruct you to cause a
total and final separation from Great Britain to take
place as soon as possible; and a constitution to be es-
tablished, with a full representation and free and fre-
quent elections." The inhabitants of Augusta and
Transylvania and on the rivers Watauga and Holstein
sent similar messages,* and those parts of the colony
which made no specific expressions fully expected the
action that was taken. On the same day with the
passage of the resolutions thirty-two members were ap-
pointed a committee to prepare a Declaration of Rights
and Plan of Government. In the first list Madison's
name did not appear, for he did not take his seat till the
1 6th, but on that day, upon special motion, he was added.
Two days later. May i8, George Mason arrived, and he
too was added to the committee, and became virtually
its head, and wrote the Declaration of Rights which
preceded the Constitution and was an enunciation of
the principles upon which it was based. These princi-
ples were Enghsh, — those of ]\Iagna Charta, the Petition
of Rights, the Acts of the Long ParHament, and the
doctrines of the Revolution of 1688 as expounded by

* Bancroft's " History of the United States, " VIII, 376.


Locke * But the constitution of society in Virginia
was also English, and some of the members of the com-
mittee had an abiding fear of the common people and
a deep-rooted beHef in the superior rights of an upper
class. The first clause of the Declaration of Rights,
proclaiming the equal rights of all men to freedom and
independence, met with strenuous opposition, and called
forth numerous amendments from aristocratic members,
Robert Carter Nicholas, especially, expressing the fear
that it might prove the forerunner of civil convulsions.
A number of the suggestions offered to other points in
the Declaration were absorbed by Mason, and their best
features were embodied in his final draft. On Monday,
May 27, Archibald Gary, chairman of the committee,
reported the Declaration to the Convention; it was dis-
cussed in committee of the whole, several amendments
were accepted, and June 12 it was adopted by a unani-
mous vote. It declared that all men were born equally
free, and with inherent rights of which they could not
divest their posterity — life, liberty, the means of acquir-
ing property and pursuing happiness ; that all power was
vested in and derived from the people ; that government
was instituted for the benefit of the people, and when it
failed to fulfil this purpose the people had a right to
change it; that no offices should be hereditary; that
the legislative and executive powers should be distinct
from the judicative, and for the two former there should
be frequent elections; that elections ought to be free;
that there should be no arbitrary power of suspending
laws, nor excessive bail ; that no man should be deprived
of his liberty except by law, and trial by jury should be
preserved ; that there should be freedom of the press ; that
standing armies should be avoided, and the military
subordinated to the civil power; and that there should
be free exercise of religion. Such was the Declaration

* See Rives' " Life and Times of James Madison, "I, ixg ct seq.; also
Henry's " Life, Correspondence and Speeches of Patrick Henry, " I, 405,
et seq.


which preceded the Declaration of Independence by
nearly a month, and which contained within it all the
general principles of the Declaration of Independence.
It has stood at the head of the five Constitutions that
Virginia has had, and either in form or in substance was
embodied in the first Constitutions of New York, Pennsyl-
vania, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Maryland, Dela-
ware and North Carolina, of the original States, while it
has since been incorporated into the Constitution of
every State of the Union.

The Declaration of Rights having been agreed to, the
Convention proceeded to construct the Constitution
itself, and on June 29 it was finally agreed upon. The
preamble was taken from a plan of government which
Jefferson sent Pendleton by Wythe, who was rettirning
from Philadelphia, and a few of the other features of
Jefferson's plan were included. The chief draftsman
of the Constitution was, however, Mason; Madison had
no hand in it, nor did he approve of all its provisions, or
of the method of its adoption.

The last section of the Bill of Rights, relating to re-
ligious liberty, read as follows:

"Sec. 16. That reHgion, or the duty which we owe
to our Creator, and the manner of discharging it, can be
directed only by reason and conviction, and therefore
ah men are equally entitled to the free exercise of religion,
according to the dictates of conscience ; and that it is the
mutual duty of all to practise Christian forbearance,
and charity towards each other. "

This was the result of a compromise, and differed
materiaUy from the clause as first introduced by Mason.
It then read: "That Religion, or the duty which we
owe to our Creator, and the manner of discharging it,
can be directed only by reason and conviction, not by
force or violence; and therefore, that all men should
enjoy the fullest toleration in the exercise of religion,
according to the dictates of conscience, unpunished,
and unrestrained by the magistrates, unless under colour


of religion any man disturb the peace, the happiness,
or safety of society. And that it is the mutual duty of all
to practise Christian forbearance, love and charity to-
wards each other."

The single occasion when Madison's voice was heard
in the Convention was when he offered this amendment :

" That Religion, or the dut}^ we owe to our Creator, and
the manner of discharging it, being under the direction
of reason and conviction only, not of violence or com-
pulsion, all men are equally entitled to the full and free
exercise of it, according to the dictates of conscience;
and therefore that no man or class of men, ought, on
account of religion, to be invested with peculiar emolu-
ments or privileges, nor subjected to any penalties or
disabilities, unless under colour of religion, the preserva-
tion of equal liberty and the existence of the state be
manifestly endangered."

This was the day of an established church, and in Vir-
ginia dissenters were suffered to exist only by favour,
and were often persecuted. The section of the Declara-
tion of Rights, as it was adopted, declared the persecu-
tions unjust, but took no ground inconsistent with the
existence of a state church. It was preferable to the
original draft, which used the word toleration, thus leav-
ing room for the imphcation of permission of free exercise
of religion, instead of proclaiming it as a right. Madison's
amendment, as he offered it, not only proclaimed this
right, but made a state church or any state interference
with religious matters an impossibility. The bill for
assessments for support of teachers of the Christian
religion, which was aftenvards introduced in the As-
sembly, and which he and his friends defeated in 1786,
would have been in direct conflict with the proposed
declaration that "no man or class of men, ought, on
account of religion, to be invested with pecuHar emolu-
ments or privileges," and if Madison's amendment had
been adopted the long struggle over this and kindred
measures would not have occurred. Nor would there


have been occasion for the famous bill for religious free-
dom which Jefferson wrote, and which Madison finally
carried through the Assembly ten years afte his amend-
ment to the Declaration of Rights had been shorn of its
far-reaching power. The pith of Jefferson's bill was:
"That no man should be compelled to fi^equent or sup-
port any religious worship, place or ministry, nor shall
be enforced, restrained, molested, or burdened in his
body or goods, nor shall otherwise suffer on account of
his religious opinion or belief, " and this was hardly more
than Madison had said.

The proposed amendment was an expression of what
was at the time he offered it the strongest sentiment
James Madison possessed, and it came from a man who
was deeply religious. After finishing his course at
Princeton he returned to the plantation in Virginia
much enfeebled by overstudy and not expecting a long
life. His mind was charged with religious inquiry and
his mental life was solitary. The consequent intro-
spection in which he indulged was tinctured by the
Presbyterianism under which he had lived at Princeton.
Writing, November 9, 1772, to his college friend, William
Bradford, afterwards Attorney-General of the United
States, concerning expectations of happiness and pros-
perity in life, which he said were natural to all men, he
remarked that they were harmless provided they Vv'ere
not allowed "to intercept our views toward a future
state." We must, he added, always keep a watch on
ourselves, lest while building ideal monuments of re-
nown and bliss on earth, "we neglect to have our names
enrolled in the annals of Heaven." He would have
Bradford season his other studies with "a little divinity
now and then, which, like the philosopher's stone in the
hands of a good man, will turn them and every lawful
acquirement into the nature of itself, and make them
more precious than fine gold. "

All of his family surroundings were strongly religious.
His father was vestryman of St. Thomas' parish and a


lay delegate to the Episcopal Convention of 1776; his
mother was a pious communicant; his second cousin
and friend of the same name, James Madison, who became
president of William and Mary College in 1777 and after-
wards Bishop of Virginia, had recently returned from
England, a consecrated Episcopal clergyman. His tutor
before he went to Princeton was an Episcopal clergy-
man. Rev. Thomas Martin, who lived in his father's
house, and for whom Madison had a high regard. But
at Princeton he breathed another atmosphere, and he
saw in New Jersey and Pennsylvania a greater degree
of religious freedom than existed in Virginia. Especially
in the section of the State where he lived he saw greater
persecution of dissenters than existed in other portions
of the State. Nevertheless, the dissenters were rapidly
increasing in numbers about him, daily growing stronger
as the established church grew weaker. That such should
be the result was only natural, for the Episcopal Church
in Virginia was steeped in scandal. Quarrels, contests
of authority, expulsions and general demoralization
existed. The livings were so poor that only the lower
order of ministers came from England or Scotland to
fill them. Without instancing the scores of individual
cases in proof of the bad condition, it will be sufficient
to quote the sweeping condemnation of Bishop Meade:
"At no time from its first establishment was the moral
and religious condition of the church in Virginia even
tolerably good."* Madison's contempt for the church
as a state institution knew no bounds. Writing to
Bradford, January 24, 1774, he said: "If the Church
of England had been the established and general re-
ligion in all the northern colonies as it has been among
us here, and uninterrupted tranquillity had prevailed

Online LibraryGaillard HuntThe life of James Madison → online text (page 1 of 33)