James Madison Papers

Levett Harris to James Madison, 21 March 1826

Philadelphia 21. March 1826.

Dear Sir,

A passage in your letter of the 24. Ultimo, received in due time, pained me as I read it, and seems, upon reflection, to impose upon me the duty of sending to you a more full development of the circumstances out of which has arisen my present disagreeable attitude towards Mr. Todd.

You observe "It is his (Mr Todd’s) wish, I trust, to give to the transaction, so unfortunate in its origin, and, I must add, not otherwise in its progress, the best issue of which it may now be susceptible"

I hope that my jealous solicitude to maintain unimpaired your kind feelings towards me, has led me into a mistake, when I construed the words underlined, as conveying a distinct reproach. That the transaction has itself been unfortunate, owing to Mr Todd’s inability to meet an engagement, after two years of credit is obvious: but why it should be characterized as unfortunate in its origin, unless in his having me as a creditor, I am somewhat at a loss to perceive:–And to deem it unfortunate in its progress, implies some blame of my proceedings, while I feel perfectly conscious of having extended towards him, every conceivable indulgence, except that of wholly abandoning the debt.

On the inclosed paper, will be found exact Copies of three letters received by me, about their respective dates, from Mr Todd. They contain his own, original and later, views and feelings upon the subject; and they are submitted to You, as the most apposite vindications that I can offer, in reference to the origin, and part of the subsequent progress of the transactions.

I left the Country for Europe in the Spring of 1823, shortly after the Schuylkill navigation stock was transferred to Mr Todd, and having diposited his promissory note for $5520, payable in two years from the 1st. of April 1823, in the hands of my bankers, Messrs. Hale & Davidson, for custody and, in case of my continued absence, for collection. After my return, in the fall and during the winter of 1824, I had repeated conversations with Mr Todd as to his note, and was always and explicitly assured that it would be punctually paid at maturity. Such indeed was his language, that I could not with any propriety entertain a doubt but that the money would, at the appointed moment, be in the Bank of the United States, where it was made payable. The Note remained with Messr. Hale & Davidson, was presented by them, and by them was, in their formal routine, protested. That I was shocked at so unexpected a termination to my confidence in the protestations and character of Mr Todd, it is hardly necesary to say: That I was in some degree provoked, was the natural effect of finding myself thus deceived, in a matter of much importance, producing a vexatious, though temporary embarrassment.

I wrote to Mr Todd a frank disclosure of my distinct remembrances as to the mode in which he had induced me to make the loan, and of my sentiments as to his having, not only without warning me but with the strongest assurances to the contrary, broken his engagement (Copies of my Communications to Mr Todd are also added). He replied to me by the letters herewith sent, dated the 6th. and 17th. of April 1825, manifesting not merely a past inattention to my claim upon him, but, as I thought and still think, a total want of candor.

I could not submit to be further lulled by hollow professions: and accordingly, Mr Todd was apprized by me that legal redress would be sought unless prompt efforts for payment were made. He affected to be in daily expectation of funds. I delayed: and being under any circumstances, averse to wound his feelings, but more especially the feelings of his family and friends, I avoided the ordinary course of proceeding. He was waited upon by a gentleman of the bar of high respectability, Mr Benjamin Tilghman, with whom he was personlly acquainted, and who put the matter in a course of legal determination without the intervention of any process whatever, relying solely upon the understanding that he would not quit this City unless it were agreed that he might do so. Again delay was accorded. Mr Todd went to New York and there stayed for some time; declaring his design and expectation to be to raise the necessary sum. He returned, and, still bent upon procrastinating, pretended to have a defence to my demand, and insinuated that he was disposed to resist it. Considerable time was allowed to elapse: until he was at last definitively told that judgment would be obtained.

Since his Confession of judgment, nothing has been done to compel him to pay the amount: and your letters have induced me, without hesitation, to authorize his going beyond the sphere within which alone that judgment can be made available by execution. Why Mr Todd has continued here, I know not. He has never, in any manner, deigned to notice the extent of my forbearance, nor my communications to him, wherein I released him from any obligation to remain in this place and wished him to return home and avail himself of Your protection and advice. He lives in a secluded manner, unseen by his former companions, apparently without occupation and making not the slightest effort to do me common justice.

I appeal thus to You, my dear Sir, what am I to do? Has Mr Todd been unfortunate in the origin or in the progress of this transaction? Has he not rather reason to rejoice in both? Would any other man have thus patiently borne with such unmerited treatment, and with the deprivation of so large a sum? Could any one with a proper respect for his own rights and duties, have dealt with such a debtor more kindly–more delicately?

If there be within your own Contemplation any course of action which You would wish me to pursue in this business, I assure you most sincerely that its suggestion will be received as a favor. In Your Counsel, as in Your character, I can never cease devotedly to confide; and I shall always be ready to conform to whatever may, upon consideration appear right to you. I thus beg leave to renew to You the sentiments of my most respectful consideration.

Levett Harris

RC (ViU).

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