James Madison Papers

James Madison to Francis T. Brooke, 22 February 1828

Montpellier Feby. 22. 1828.

Dear Sir

The mail of last evening brought me your circular communication, by which I am informed of my being nominated by the Convention at Richmond on the 8th. of Jany. one of the Electors recommended for the next appointment of Chief Magistrate of the U. States.

Whilst I express the great respect I feel to be due to my fellow Citizens composing that assembly, I must request that another name be substituted for mine on their Electoral ticket.

After a continuance in Publick Life, with a very brief interval, through a period of more than forty years, and at the age then attained, I considered myself as violating no duty, in allotting for what of life might remain, a retirement from scenes of political agitation & excitement. Adhering to this view of my situation, I have forborne during the existing contest, as I had done during the preceding, to participate in any measures of a party character; and the restraint imposed on myself is necessarily strengthened by an admonishing sense of increasing years. Nor, with these considerations could I fail to combine, a recollection of the public relations in which I had stood to the distinguished Individuals now dividing the favour of their country, and the proofs given to both, of the high estimation in which they were held by me.

In offering this explanation, I hope I may be pardoned for not suppressing a wish, which must be deeply & extensively felt, that the discussions incident to the depending contest, may be conducted in a spirit and manner, neither unfavorable to a dispassionate result, nor unworthy of the great & advancing cause of Representative Government.

And in the further hope that it will not be deemed an abuse of the occasion, the last probably that will ever occur to me, I venture to express a flattering confidence that in the midst of political conflicts and party excitements, it will ever be kept in mind, that the compound and peculiarly modified polity, under which the blessings of public Liberty, of individual Security, of internal tranquility & of general prosperity have been enjoyed in a degree & for a period having no example ancient or modern, reposes on an equilibrium of powers as constitutionally divided between the Govt. of the whole & the Govt. of its parts; that the equilibrium must be equally disturbed by an assumption by either of the Govts. of powers belonging to the other; and that the entire System necessarily has for its basis, an equal & uniform validity & operation of the Acts of the Union throughout all the States composing it. An operation on some & an exemption of others would form the latter into a priviledged Class, an aristocratic order; and a power in any, by virtue of an asserted Sovereignty, to defeat the operation altogether, would introduce with a Polish veto, the anarchy & fatal ills inseparable from it Whilst none will deny that the doctrine of passive obedience & non resistance is a heresy in the case of States constitutionally united, as it is within States individually considered, all must admit that an abuse of power justifying resistance, ought to be of an extreme character, and without a hope of regular & peaceable remedy. In the case of a union of States, a rupture of the Constitutional compact is the more to be deprecated, as a reunion must be more uncertain, than a re-establishment of Social order in a single State. A Civil war, however calamitous will find a more attractive principle in the mass of Citizens, than a federal war, so to speak, can find in the distinct communities which are parties to it; especially where these communities may be inspired by their physical strength with a feeling of self sufficiency for a separate & independent existence; and more especially still, should any of the parties have been seduced or have unhappily rushed into a connection with foreign powers. From the geographical relation & other causes peculiar to the States of N. America, a dissolution of their Constitutional connection, portends consequences which all who love their Country & cherish the principles & forms of Republican Govt. might contemplate with feelings of the most afflicting kind.

Draft (DLC). The last paragraph is marked "omitted."

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