James Madison Papers

To James Madison from George Joy, 17 April 1817

From George Joy

New Engd Coffee House
17th Apl. 1817

Dear Sir,

The Speech of Mr. Monroe reached town yesterday,1 and is in the Chronicle of this morning. I suppose it is an Error of the Press that states the Commencement of the Revolution almost 40 years ago, and that it should be almost two & forty, contemplating the 19th Inst.2—it is more than 40 since the declaration of Independence.

But the felicitation that follows in this Paragraph is so much at variance with the numerous and just Complaints of our Citizens—Complaints unredressed for the Invasion of Principles unrestored, that I cannot subscribe to it.3 If our Citizens individually have been happy, and the Nation prosperous—(our Merchants, and even our Seamen I presume are Citizens)—we have made greivous Complaints not only to no purpose but without Cause.

In the next paragraph, without remarking on the tautology of States, or on the increase of territory by treaty, which last I greatly approve, and greatly wonder has not been extended, and passing by another verbal Criticism to which it is obnoxious; I cannot but remark on two prominent objects, or rather two parts of the same object, which are placed in a view the wider from my expectations (at least the last of them) as they appear contrary to the Expressions I have seen of your feelings on the Subject. Is it “by a wise partition of power, a just proportion of the Sovereignty” that is practically found to be enjoyed by the States in their separate Capacity? for if it be, it follows naturally enough that there has been “infused into the national Government sufficient power for national purposes,”4 and the provision for amending the Constitution is a dead Letter—the Opposition given to the general Govt: by our pious Cheifs of Massachusetts was only a wholesome exercise of State prerogative, and that preparing to be fulminated from Hartford was no more.5

And why is it said with peculiar satisfaction that there has been no capital punishment for high treason? A better cause of satisfaction would have been that no one had deserved it.6 But where there have been many Convictions for the Offence—many technical acquitals in the face of palpable evidence of guilt; and where the President has found practices so nearly approaching to, and having all the effect of it, as to call for an amendment of the Law; there is little Loyalty to boast of: and this, to a cursory reader, appears to be the object of the writer.

For me however, I think the Amendments hitherto made in the Constitution are Bagatelles in Comparison with those yet required—the first of them indeed, after those recommended at the time of the adoption ought not to have been made at all; and on that of the first sessions of the 8th Congress there was a great oversight that will one day require amendment upon amendment,7 and the sooner it is made the better.

If ever Compact contained a provision that was wisely founded; it is that in the Constitution, whereby not only the various Interests of the Community are made to co-operate for the common benefit, but a mode is pointed out to remove the obstructions which might otherwise impede the march of mind, and shatter the machine in it’s progress from generation to generation. I do not say that Changes should be made from slight or transient Causes; but if sufficient cause has not appeared in America, in the Efforts to clog and counteract the most important movements of the general Government, then say I—(I who would not have voted for the war)—the obstructions thrown in the way of that vigorous prosecution of it, which, when once it was declared should have been the motto of every man in the union, have been magnified in their passage hither, like the velocity of Dr: Hooke, by the Squares of the distances they have travelled.8

But the Object, you will say, was to reconcile parties—à la bonne heure9—’tis, in the abstract, an Object worthy of Mr: Monroe, and what I should expect from him. I do hope that I can look with as favorable an Eye, upon faults, that are not likely to be repeated, as most of my neighbours—nay I think the forgiveness of injuries, between generous minds, one of the best securities against repetition—to bury them in oblivion, however, is not the best policy; still less to assert in effect that they have never happened: it is in the Calm of Peace that measures should be adopted to prevent their recurrence, and you will perceive I am far from thinking “we have no essential improvement to make.”10

What is to become of the national University?11 Have we not men among us, occupying high places in the synagogue; that secretly oppose the measure from the dread of eclipse. The facility of intercourse, by the Improvement of Roads & Canals, is undoubtedly most desirable in the view in which it is seen by Mr: Monroe; but can the Congregation of Students from the different parts of the Union, whither they are to return at stated periods be less so? This is one mode, certainly not the least important, of “promoting intelligence among the people as the best means of preserving our liberties;” and as Genl: Washington has said, in his sterling way of saying things, “In proportion as the Government partakes of public opinion, that opinion should be enlightened.”12

The residence of Mr: Adams13 at Washington will be favorable to the foundation of such an establishment. I rejoice that he is to be associated in the Labours of the Executive—as my friends say the appointment does honor to Mr: Monroe. Mr: A. accepts it, and will say so by this Conveyance of which I have just informed him—to save it myself, I must close this immediately with my best wishes for your health and happiness in your retirement; being on all occasions very truly, and very respectfully, Dear sir, Your friend & Servt:

G. Joy14

RC (DLC: Rives Collection, Madison Papers). At the foot of the RC: “per Schooner Woodburn via Baltimore.” Addressed by Joy to JM at Washington and franked. Cover bears note: “L’pool, 25 April, 1817 / Recd. & ford. by Yours most respectfully Jno. S. Carter & Co.” Postmarked at Boston on 26 June. Marked “p Plato.” Cover docketed by JM.

1For President James Monroe’s first inaugural address, 4 Mar. 1817, see Hamilton, Writings of James Monroe description begins Stanislaus Murray Hamilton, ed., The Writings of James Monroe.… (7 vols.; 1898–1903; reprint, New York, 1969). description ends (1969 reprint), 6:6–14.

2Joy referred here to the battles of Lexington and Concord on 19 Apr. 1775.

3Monroe wrote: “To whatever object we turn our attention, whether it relates to our foreign or our domestic concerns, we find abundant cause to felicitate ourselves in the excellence of our institutions. During a period fraught with difficulties and marked by very extraordinary events, the United States have flourished beyond example. Their citizens, individually, have been happy and the Nation prosperous” (Hamilton, Writings of James Monroe description begins Stanislaus Murray Hamilton, ed., The Writings of James Monroe.… (7 vols.; 1898–1903; reprint, New York, 1969). description ends [1969 reprint], 6:7).

4Joy referred to the following passage in Monroe’s address: “How remedy the defects of the first instrument of our Union, by diffusing into the National Government sufficient power for national purposes, without impairing the just rights of the States or affecting those of individuals?” (ibid., 6:9).

5The Hartford Convention was a meeting of twenty-six New England Federalists who gathered in December 1814 to discuss and recommend measures to redress northern grievances, including seven proposed constitutional amendments, two of which would have apportioned national representation and direct taxation according to the free white population, and established presidential term limits. Popular perception of the convention then and afterward was that the delegates advocated disunion (James M. Banner Jr., To the Hartford Convention: The Federalists and the Origins of Party Politics in Massachusetts, 1789–1815 [New York, 1970], 320–46).

6Monroe wrote: “and I add, with peculiar satisfaction, that there has been no example of a capital punishment being inflicted on any one for the crime of high treason” (Hamilton, Writings of James Monroe description begins Stanislaus Murray Hamilton, ed., The Writings of James Monroe.… (7 vols.; 1898–1903; reprint, New York, 1969). description ends [1969 reprint], 6:7).

7The Eleventh Amendment forbids suits in federal court “commenced or prosecuted against one of the United States by Citizens of another State, or by Citizens or Subjects of any Foreign State.” The Twelfth Amendment mandated separate electoral college ballots for president and vice-president.

8Robert Hooke (1635–1703) was a British natural philosopher and inventor whose scientific work spanned an extraordinary range and included observations in astronomy, meteorology, and physics.

9À la bonne heure: a fine idea.

10Joy referred here to Monroe’s assertion that “the heart of every citizen must expand with joy, when he reflects how near our Government has approached to perfection; that, in respect to it, we have no essential improvement to make” (Hamilton, Writings of James Monroe description begins Stanislaus Murray Hamilton, ed., The Writings of James Monroe.… (7 vols.; 1898–1903; reprint, New York, 1969). description ends [1969 reprint], 6:14).

11In his annual message to Congress, 3 Dec. 1816, JM had renewed his recommendation for the “establishment of a university within this District [Columbia] on a scale and for objects worthy of the American nation” (Madison, Writings [Hunt ed.] description begins Gaillard Hunt, ed., The Writings of James Madison (9 vols.; New York, 1900–1910). description ends , 8:379).

12Joy paraphrased a sentence from George Washington’s Farewell Address: “In proportion as the structure of a government gives force to public opinion, it is essential that public opinion should be enlightened” (John C. Fitzpatrick, ed., The Writings of George Washington, from the Original Manuscript Sources, 1745–1799 [39 vols.; Washington, 1931–44], 35:230).

13John Quincy Adams (1767–1848), lawyer, politician, diplomat, and future president, had been appointed secretary of state by President Monroe in March 1817. Adams, who was serving as U.S. minister to Great Britain at the time, took up his duties in September.

14George Joy (ca. 1761–ca. 1853) was the son of a Massachusetts Loyalist who took his family to Great Britain at the outbreak of the American Revolution. Joy remained in London, where he wrote newspaper essays, pamphlets, and letters to American and British politicians in support of American neutral rights. He wrote frequently and at length to JM (PJM-PS description begins Robert A. Rutland et al., eds., The Papers of James Madison: Presidential Series (6 vols. to date; Charlottesville, Va., 1984—). description ends , 1:30–31, Editorial Note; Passport of George Joy, 25 May 1797 [NGvP: Cedar Swamp Historical Society Collection]; Times [London], 7 Feb. 1853).

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