James Madison Papers

To James Madison from Jean-Baptiste Say, 16 June 1814

From Jean-Baptiste Say

Rue des fossés Saint Jacques No. 13
Paris le 16 juin 1814.


Cherchant à obtenir les suffrages des hommes les plus eclairés et les plus recommandables de l’ancien et du nouveau monde, je vous prie d’agréer avec bienveuillance l’hommage que je vous fais du mon nouveau Traité d’Economie politique.1 Les amis du bien public et d’un Systeme libéral qui Se rencontrent dans notre vieille Europe, composent une phalange bien peu nombreuse, bien clair-semée et bien timide. Dans vos contrées ils gouvernent les nations. Nous savons quelque fois dire ce qu’il convient de faire; vous savez l’executer.

Si nous sommes trop persecutés, Monsieur, nous irons chercher un azyle dans votre hemisphère et nous y trouverons des peuples qui prospèrent sans écouter des conseils haineux, Sans Suivre une politique etroite et des principes exclusifs. Je mettrai, Monsieur, votre Suffrage parmi mes plus beaux titres de gloire et je vous prie en attendant de me compter parmi les plus Sinceres partisans que vous ayez en Europe.

J.B. Say2


Seeking to obtain the good opinions of the most enlightened and respectable men of the old and the new worlds, begs JM to accept the respects with which Say offers his new treatise on political economy. In Europe, friends of the public good and of a liberal system are few, widely scattered, and fearful. In the new world, they govern nations. Europeans sometimes know how to say what should be done; Americans know how to do it. If Say and other Europeans are persecuted too much, they will seek asylum in the western hemisphere, and find there peoples who prosper without listening to hateful advice, without following a narrow policy and elitist principles. Will consider JM’s approbation as one of Say’s greatest claims to fame, and begs JM to count him among JM’s most sincere partisans in Europe.

RC (DLC: Rives Collection, Madison Papers). Docketed by JM.

1Say sent a copy of the second edition of his Traité déconomie politique, ou, simple exposition de la manière dont se forment, se distribuent, et se consomment les richesses (2 vols.; Paris, 1814).

2Jean-Baptiste Say (1767–1832), a native of Lyon, France, spent two years in England before joining a Paris insurance company run by future revolutionary Etienne Clavière, who loaned Say a copy of Adam Smith’s Wealth of Nations. From 1794 to 1799, Say served as editor of the journal Décade philosophique, littéraire et politique, which managed to critique the revolutionary government without falling afoul of it. Following Napoleon’s ascension Say became a member of the Tribunate, or lower house of the French legislature, but was purged from that body in 1802 for advocating stricter control of government spending. The next year he published his Traité, popularizing Smith’s ideas in Europe and articulating the rudiments of what came to be known as “Say’s Law,” which in simplified form, states that over time, supply creates demand. Perhaps because of its democratic emphases, Napoleon disliked the book and would not allow it to be reprinted. Say thereupon went into cotton manufacturing but sold his business in 1813 and republished his Traité in 1814 after Napoleon’s abdication. He corresponded with Thomas Jefferson that year about the possibility of emigrating to the United States but remained in France as circumstances there improved for him with the restoration of Louis XVIII. Having become the country’s best-known writer on economics, Say was appointed in 1820 to teach “industrial economy” at the Conservatory of Arts and Trades. The year before his death, he was named professor of political economy at the College of France. His work became highly influential in the United States, where the fourth edition of his Traité, translated into English, was reprinted twenty-eight times by 1881 (R. R. Palmer, J.-B. Say: An Economist in Troubled Times [Princeton, 1997], 3–5, 10, 17–19, 27, 46–47, 49–51, 54–59, 66, 75, 81–89, 117–18).

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