James Madison Papers

Jonathan Roberts to James Madison, 15 February 1828

Rusville Rusville Penna. Feby 15th. 1828

My dear Sir

Since your retirement to private life though under the influence of the most vividly kind & respectful feelings towards you I have foreborn to intrude upon you any communication. I could not expect that a citizen who had borne so long and so conspicuous a part in our councils & whose intercourse had been so extensive among men would not have sufficient calls on his attention without any addition from me. A time has arrivd & a circumstance has occurr’d which induces me to trouble you with this address. Your name with that of our revered friend Mr. Monroe was place’d on the Virginia electoral ticket by the convention of delegates held at Richmond on the 8th. ult & I have no knowledge that either of you have intimated subsequently any disinclination for their remaining there. I know no man who is better able than yourself to determine what it is proper for you to permit or to do. I am free however to express my fervent wish that you can find freedom to let public opinion take its course. I recollect to have heard Mr. Monroe remark when he was President elect that he was now much encouraged to believe that sound principles of administration of the Government might be fixed on a valid basis not likely to be interrupted by any serious change. A few short years have shown however how little steadiness there is in human affairs & how far the government at that time was from having assumed so settled a character as not to be hazarded by public excitement. A most dangerous excitement now exists & one intirely artificial & factious—All the bad consequences of a prostration of the present administration may not immediately follow the elevation of a mere military man habituated to the indulgence of the worst passions. Many of them however I verily believe must. The prize sought by its opponents is the offices of the government & I cannot believe that the men of civic habits who are lending themselves to the cause of Jackson will form much of his councils—He is most fond of desperate & bold men. He is exceedingly accessible to flattery from such men & will keep the less warlike spirits at a distance. In all republics there is much of a latent military spirit at least. It coud not have faild to have been conspicuous to your observation in the late war that it is not wanting in this republic. The brave & virtuous General Jessup remarked to me at the close of it that it proved us to be a people essentially military in our inclinations—The citizens of Rome after being nursed to war & spoil for generations did not display a keener appetite for the sudden acquirement of wealth than do the Americans. When we look at our position in regard to Britain & her colonies insular & continental & our delicate relations with her. Her rival in commercial enterprises internal industry & maritime power we must be strongly impressd with the hazard of devolving on a mere inexperienced though successful soldier the trust of our international concerns—Little less hazard would occur to our internal tranquillity—From such anticipations it is that I look with the most anxious solicitude to the hope of retaining the names of James Madison & James Monroe on the Virginia electoral ticket. I can assure you the public so far as it is not deluded by artifice & misrepresentations or led by sinister views or anti[cipations], so look & so hope. Men who by long & eminent services have become entitled to the appellation of fathers of the land may well lend their names to prevent its peace being put in jeopardy internally and externally. To sustain things as they are we risk nothing. Excitement must die away of consequence but who can tell the extent to what things may go if new men are to be brought in by the means now pursuing—The one course is safe & sure to allay excitement, the other is all uncertainty and peril—I recollect when you sent back the Bill with your objections passd by Congress for establishing a fund for internal improvement though I had voted for it with the best motives & clearest convictions I found your reasoning irresistable & I became a convert to your opinion—"That which the constitution does not authorize cannot by compact between a state & the "United states be reconciled to it" I hope it will not be for me to share in settling the construction in relation to this delicate subject nor is it likely I shall as my head is whitened by fifty seven Winters. I cannot however see but that this point must be settled somehow & will at last be settled as the Bank question was by judging what laws are necessary proper to carry into effect the delegated powers of Congress—My hope is that some reasonable & safe construction may be had at no distant time as the longer it be delayed the more danger must occur of an extravagant hope. The Cumberland Road was an opening wedge & the Military roads & surveys are stages of Progress & Subscriptions to a canal constructing by a state differ little from a subscription to the stock of a company the creature of its Laws—From the present executive though perhaps holding opinions on this subject more extended than ours we have little to fear It is Congress who must decide this principle. Serious as it truly is it is of minor consequence to the peace of the land which cannot but be jeopardized in a change of public functionaries upon the ground now advanced & pressd with phrenzied violence

I have become the father of a family. We have had eight children five of whom survive to us. Having this deep pledge in my country’s freedom & peace it is that I am the more anxious that nothing may be wanting to perpetuate those blessings It is not that the man who hopes to leave children behind him though he has a stronger obligation to love his country has the most merit in doing it—He who is actuated by the love of God and man as the work of his creative power to increase the sum of human happiness must ever be in the foremost rank of merit—I pray you therefore to let us have the weight of your name in this solemn & truly alarming crisis—Mrs Roberts desires to be remembered to Mrs Madison and yourself with feelings of affectionate reverence & please to consider me as affording to you with unfeigned sincerity a like homage

Jonathan Roberts

RC (DLC: Rives Collection, Madison Papers).

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