James Madison Papers

To James Madison from James Sullivan, 26 January 1805

From James Sullivan

Boston 26th January 1805


I was lately attempting to furnish documents to prove the falshood of an electioneering report, very effectively circulated in this state, that a citizen in virginia possessed of 500 slaves has 300 votes in the choice of electors:1 but when I turned to the constitution of the united states, I found that the qualification for voters was the same as those for the most numerous branch of the State legislature.2 When I turned to the constitution of Virginia I did not find any qualifications described; but a provision that the qualification should remain as it then was, when the constitution was formed.3 I wish, you would gratify my curiosity, so much, as to inform me how, and where, I can obtain precisely the qualifications of voters in that State. It may be of some important use.

We thank you and your Lady for the notice you were pleased to take of our Son, he has not reached home but we have his letters. I am with great respect Your very humble Servant

Ja Sullivan


1Although the editors have been unable to find an example of the specific wording used by Sullivan, he referred to the issue of the “three-fifths clause” in the U.S. Constitution, which was raised often by Massachusetts Federalists during the 1804 election campaign. One Federalist newspaper charged, “Every planter South of the Potomack, has one vote for himself, and 3 votes in effect for every 5 slaves he keeps in bondage” (Boston Repertory, 6 Nov. 1804). For the resolution of the Massachusetts General Court urging that the Constitution be amended, see Stanley Griswold to JM, 26 Nov. 1804, and n. 2.

2See Article 1, section 2, of the U.S. Constitution.

3For the qualifications for voters in Virginia prior to the 1776 Constitution, which were continued in that document, see Hening, Statutes at Large of Virginia, 8:306–7.

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