James Madison Papers

James Madison to Joseph C. Cabell, 5 January 1829

Montpellier. Jany 5. 1829

Dear Sir

I have recd. yours of Decr. 28 in which you wish me to say something on the agitated subject of the basis of representation in the contemplated Convention for revising the State Constitution. In a case depending so much on local views and feelings, and perhaps on the opinions of leading individuals; and in which a mixture of compromises with abstract principles may be resorted to, your judgment formed on the theatre affording the best means of information, must be more capable of aiding mine, than mine yours.

What occurs to me is that the great principle, "that men cannot be justly bound by laws in making which they have no share," consecrated as it is by our Revolution, and the Bill of Rights, and sanctioned by the examples around us, is so engraven on the public mind here, that it ought to have a preponderating influence in all questions involved in the mode of forming a Convention, and in discharging the trust committed to it when formed. No Government can in this Country be stable that rests exclusively on a minority of the people. An increasing restlessness must be the effect of an increasing proportion of the excluded majority. It is said that West of the Blue Ridge the votes of non-freeholders are often connived at, the candidates finding it unpopular to object to them.

With respect to the slaves, they can not be admitted as persons, into the Representation; and probably will not be allowed any claim, as a privileged property. As the difficulty and disquietudes on that subject, arise mainly from the great inequality of slaves in the geographical division of the Country, it is fortunate that the cause will abate as they become more diffused, which is already taking place; transfers of them from the quarters where they abound, to those where laborers are more wanted, being a matter of course.

Is there then to be no Constitutional provision for the rights of property when added to the personal rights of the holders, against the will of a majority having little or no direct interest in the rights of property? If any such provision be attainable, beyond the moral influence which property adds to political rights, it will be most secure and permanent, if made by a Convention chosen by a general suffrage, and more likely to be so made now than at a future stage of population: If made by a freehold Convention in favor of freeholders, it would be less likely to be acquiesced in permanently.

I recd. your letter when I was much engaged in other matters and am so still in a degree that obliges me to be very brief. I know not however that with more leisure I could do more than add to what I have said, developments and applications, which will readily occur to yourself, should your general view of the the subject accord with mine, which I am sufficiently aware may not be the case.

I am truly sorry for the apathy continuing to prevail at Richmond towards the family of Mr. Jefferson, & the University. I wish the idea of Mr. Garrett could be successfully pressed on the Legislature: but have little hope that it would be listened to even at a more favorable moment: and none that it would be, in the midst of the engrossing subject now before them, to be doubled perhaps by the communication expected from S. Carolina.

I have had interviews with Mr. Trist, in which I have ventured to let him understand, that his salary might run to the end of the year just closed, in consideration of his completing the business carried out by the last meeting of the Visitors, particularly, the job of making & distributing the copies of Mr. Monroe’s paper. By waiving the appointment of a Successor till the July meeting, there will be a convenient saving for the University. Of the Candidates who had come forward for the Vacancy, I have leaned strongly towards Mr. Davis whose residence is sufficiently convenient, and whose talents and dispositions, as brought to my notice in the Convention of Charlottesville, could not fail, I think to make him particularly useful to any Rector, and much so to one not at nor near to the spot. Of Mr. Wertenbaker, I can less judge; but should suppose him inferior in some respects, and superior in none, and more likely to remove from the University, than Mr. Davis from Charlottesville.

With great & cordial esteem

James Madison

Have you noticed the preface to the resolution moved by Mr Grimke in the Legislature of S. C.? You doubtless have the extract published at Washington from the Report of Mr Jefferson on Commerce in 1793. There is an earlier Report on the fisheries (containing analogous views) His letter to Mr. Austin is in the tone of both.

RC (ViU); FC (DLC).

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