James Madison Papers

To James Madison from Hugh Henry Brackenridge, 31 May 1805

From Hugh Henry Brackenridge

Carlisle May 31. 1805.


You will perhaps recollect that a Number of years ago, I published a bagatelle under the title of Modern Chivalry,1 and some continuation of it has been made by me occasionally Since. I inclose the last part2 thrown out as a Jeu de Espirit, which you may thing [sic] to be beneath my Station but Dulce est desipere in loco.3 My mind has been always playful under even Circumstances that gave pain.

The bearer Captain Richard Parker4 of the quarter master dipartment, or keeper of military Stores at this place has business to transact with the Secretary at the war, and wishes me to mention him where it may be of use to him, as to what I know of his Conduct & character. I am not acquainted with the Secretary at war but immediately told him I would give him a packet for you, and make honourable mention of him, which you would take the trouble I flattered myself, to Communicate to the Secretary. It is that he is well behaved, and attentive in business, and well respected in the Community. This is his reputation, and I have formed the like Opinion from my Own Observation during the four years I have resided at this place.

We are like to have revolutionary times in this State, I wish the burning may not reach the federal Govermt.5

It is a Crisis of great moment to the Cause of liberty, which depends On the preservation of our Constitutions. I am with friendship Yours,

H H Brackenridge

RC (DLC). Docketed by JM.

1Scottish-born Hugh Henry Brackenridge (1748–1816) was JM’s classmate at the College of New Jersey, where he and Philip Freneau wrote the 1771 commencement poem. Following graduation Brackenridge became a schoolmaster, published various plays and sermons, and served as an army chaplain under Washington before founding The United States Magazine in Philadelphia in 1779. The magazine lasted a year, after which Brackenridge studied law under Samuel Chase in Annapolis and was admitted to the Philadelphia bar in 1780. That same year he moved to Pittsburgh, where he established a law practice, was active in politics, and published occasional works that were mainly political in nature. In 1799 he was appointed to the Pennsylvania supreme court, and in 1801 he moved to Carlisle, where he continued to write legal and political works. An initial supporter of the federal Constitution, Brackenridge over time came to oppose both the Washington and Jefferson administrations. His best-known work is Modern Chivalry, a satirical novel attacking ignorance and democracy, that was published in numerous editions between 1792 and 1819 (Hugh Henry Brackenridge, Modern Chivalry, ed. Claude M. Newlin [New York, 1937], ix–xii, xiv–xix, xxiii–xxviii).

2The enclosure was probably Modern Chivalry, Part II, Volume II, published at Carlisle in 1805, a continuation of Part II, Volume I, that had been published in 1804 (ibid., xxv–xxvii).

3Dulce est desipere in loco: It is sweet to be foolish at the right time, Hor. Odes 4.12.28 (Horace: The Odes and Epodes, Loeb Classical Library [1914; reprint, Cambridge, Mass., 1978], 332–33).

4Maj. Richard Parker (1763–1814) was the keeper of military stores at Carlisle, Pennsylvania, until his death (Kline’s Weekly Carlisle Gazette, 29 Apr. 1814; William Henry Egle, Pennsylvania Genealogies; Scotch-Irish and German [Harrisburg, Pa., 1886], 514).

5Over the course of the preceding several years, Pennsylvania Republicans had split into two camps, the more radical of which controlled the legislature and set up a candidate to oppose Gov. Thomas McKean in the 1805 election. They also demanded a new constitution and a change in the judiciary. Brackenridge opposed them (Higginbotham, Keystone in the Democratic Arch, 67, 75, 77–89).

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