James Madison Papers

To James Madison from James Lovell, 5 May 1809

From James Lovell

Boston May 5th: 1809


As the fiercest Tyrant and the mildest philosopher possess equally the power of self-examination, so the whole human race may be allowed to search after the source of Life & of Morals.

Such search, conducted by Reason, and proceeding downwards from the branching-ends of both those Trees, will assuredly find only the single common tap-root to be Self-Love.

As no President of these United States has ever yet seen my name enlisted in a public address or petition, so no One of them has been without some private written testimony of my individual Respect for himself as well as for his Station.

Self-love, I think, naturally guards us against admitting Ingratitude as an inmate: And, the present address to you is, Sir, not so much to shield myself from being suspected of that vice, as to exhibit my own Self-Pride.

In my inferior executive-place of Naval-Officer, an unpleasant-contingency thrust me into a double capacity from Janry. 17th. to the last of February. In that Period, I had experience of a Distrust-in-my-character manifested by the Secretary of the Treasury, through the “Superintendant” of the collection of the revenue;1 and by the Secretary of War, through the “Successor” of Collector-Lincoln.2

Acting now in my single Commission, with Confidence during your “Pleasure,” and knowing the harmonic Genius of Eustis and the correct Reputation of Duvall,3 I shall “wait the great teacher—Death,” who will place the latter limit to my actions; and I shall also commit the remaining part of the line of my Character to Time who fixed the former.

Commentators ought to take the whole into their Estimates-for-judging me after I have subscribed myself Sir Your known Friend and obedient Substitute as

James Lovell4
Naval Officer

RC (DLC). Docketed by JM.

1Probably Jonathan Jackson, the federal supervisor of internal revenue for Massachusetts (ASP description begins American State Papers: Documents, Legislative and Executive, of the Congress of the United States … (38 vols.; Washington, 1832–61). description ends , Miscellaneous, 1:280).

2In the closing weeks of his administration, Jefferson had appointed his secretary of war, Henry Dearborn, to succeed Benjamin Lincoln as collector of customs for Boston. Lovell performed the infirm Lincoln’s duties during the last months before Dearborn’s controversial appointment took effect (Malone, Jefferson and His Time, 5:660).

3Gabriel Duvall was comptroller of the treasury from 1802 to 1811, when JM appointed him an associate justice of the U.S. Supreme Court.

4Lovell had served with JM as a delegate in the Continental Congress (PJM description begins William T. Hutchinson et al., eds., The Papers of James Madison (1st ser., vols. 1–10, Chicago, 1962–77, vols. 11–, Charlottesville, Va., 1977—). description ends , 2:108 n. 6). He had been naval officer (a post in the customs service) for Boston since 1789.

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