James Madison Papers

William Cabell Rives to James Madison, 31 December 1828

Washington Dec. 31st 1828.

Dear sir,

Major Hamilton arrived here yesterday, & I had the pleasure, to-day, of placing in his hands the letter for him, which you committed to my care. Since the receipt of your obliging letter of 20th instant, for which I take this occasion to make you my acknowledgments, I have read, with equal pleasure & instruction, your two letters, recently published in the National Intelligencer, on the powers of Congress for the protection of domestic industry, & the cases in which it may be expedient to exercise them. On the question of constitutional power, they are to my mind perfectly satisfactory & conclusive. I cannot doubt that they will do much good by assisting to restore the reign of reason & true patriotism, & by recalling the public mind, in our own State especially, from those delusions which certain individuals, profiting of the popular discontent against the actual administration of the government, have been able to create, with regard to the fundamental principles of the government itself.

While most persons admit that in the exercise of the powers to lay & collect duties, & to regulate commerce with foreign nations, it is allowable to regard & provide for the interests of domestic industry, so far as they are incidentally & collaterally involved with the objects of revenue & foreign trade, yet it is contended that these interests can never, legitimately, be made the direct & main, much less the sole object, of calling these powers into action; & in this distinction, it is said, consists the difference between the early legislation of congress, & the system now avowed & pursued. But if I have not misapprehended the reasoning of your letter, it proves that the encouragement of domestic industry may be, & indeed ordinarily is, the direct & sole end of regulating the trade with foreign nations. Regulations of the foreign trade of a country are never, I presume, ultimate objects in themselves. They are resorted to only for the sake of some beneficial, or at least defensive operation, which they are supposed to have in favour of the internal resources & pursuits of the nation adopting them. The practical result of this view, if I am right in it, (and I take the liberty of asking your correction, if I am not), is this--that while congress have no general or substantive power to encourage domestic industry, eo nomine, yet they have power to do it to all the extent, to which that effect can be produced thro’ the instrumentality of regulating the foreign trade of the country, & in cases, too, where the encouragement of that industry may be the sole motive of the commercial regulation.

The public attention has recently been attracted to a very interesting paper under the signature of Judge Pendleton, which has derived great additional interest from the suggestion, with which its republication has been accompanied, that yourself & Mr. Jefferson were associated in it’s preparation. There is a passage in it, which tho’ hypothetical in it’s terms, seems to be founded upon historical references, which I am at a loss to understand. The passage to which I allude forms a part of the enclosed paragraph of a news-paper copy, & is in the following words--"if instead of leaving it to the respective states to encourage their agriculture or manufactures, as their local interest may dictate, the General government may by bounties, or protecting duties, tax the one to promote the other &c". This language seems to imply that a question had then arisen as to the constitutional competency of Congress to encourage domestic industry by protecting duties. I was not aware that this question had been made so early. Does the allusion refer to the doctrines contained in Mr. Hamilton’s Report on manufactures, or to discussions which took place in Congress. Your intimate & prominent connection with the transactions of the times will, no doubt, enable you to answer the enquiry, without the trouble of research, & I shall be laid under additional obligations to your kindness if, at some moment of perfect leisure, you will give me the information. Our proceedings here afford nothing of sufficient interest, at present, to merit your attention; & I have only, therefore, after tendering to Mrs. Madison & yourself, on the eve of a new year, the wishes & felicitations which belong to the season, to beg you to accept the renewed assurances of my profound consideration & respect.

W C Rives.


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