James Madison Papers

Mathew Carey to James Madison, 9 March 1829

Philada March 9. 1829

Dear Sir,

I take the liberty to submit the annexed circular to your consideration, with a hope that you may find leisure to furnish me with some materials for the plan it unfolds.

There is a wonderful change in the spirit of the nation since the revolution. We have become a sordid people. Money & office are our Gods. It is desirable to erect a mound against the further progress of this miserable spirit—And such a publication, extensively circulated, would have a tendency to produce that effect. So much in human affairs depends on individual exertion, that the infusing a Roman spirit into half a dozen leading individuals might ultimately inspire a whole community with it. Yours, very respectfully

Mathew Carey


Philadelphia, Feb. 9, 1829.


It is self evident, that as man is an imitative animal, the dissemination of striking instances of the social virtues, charity, generosity, liberality, gratitude, heroism, public spirit, &c. cannot fail to have a salutary tendency, by exciting a spirit of emulation, and approximating the human character to that standard of perfection at which it is frequently exhibited in history, not merely among foreign nations, and in remote ages, but in the United States, during "the times that tried men’s souls," when country was every thing, and self and sordid interest, comparatively nothing—an object that must be deeply interesting to all good men. It may, therefore, be regarded as a duty which we owe to society, to diffuse, as generally as possible, the knowledge of such virtues—which is the more necessary, as almost every instance of vice, or crime, that occurs in this country, throughout its wide extent, and, in addition, the atrocities of Europe, are collected in most of our newspapers, and widely circulated; and the more heinous, the more secure of publication, and the more eagerly read—thus producing, to a certain degree, an infectious moral atmosphere. Under these circumstances, the best interests of society require a constant effort at counteraction, by disseminating, as far as practicable, the antidote pari passu with the poison.

Under these impressions, I have judged that I could not employ some of my leisure hours to more advantage, than by collecting facts falling within the above description of the social virtues. I have already published two series, of three numbers each. But from the difficulty of procuring materials, notwithstanding they abound throughout the country, and the indifference unfortunately displayed on the subject, by those capable of furnishing them, the publications have been, "like Angels’ visits, few and far between."

The importance I attach to this object, induces me to make an attempt to resume the publication, and to continue it periodically; for which purpose I request you will be so kind, not only to furnish such communications as may be suitable for my purpose, but to urge your friends to pursue the same course. I would not confine them altogether to this country, but shall occasionally insert a few of foreign occurrence. The former, however, will have a decided preference. To enable you to form an opinion of the plan, I enclose a copy of one of the former numbers.

That these essays will have a favourable effect, I fondly hope—whether to the extent of my wishes, is a matter of uncertainty. We are told by high authority, that no good effort is wholly lost—and I therefore cherish the idea that some of the noble and beneficent actions which I thus record, may, even during the very short period of life that remains to a man in his seventieth year—but, at all events, when I am laid in the grave—produce that "divine spark" of emulation, which is the parent of nearly all the goodness displayed in this world, and without a portion of which, man is little more than a sordid, selfish, worthless animal. Yours, truly,

Mathew Carey.

RC and enclosure (DLC). RC docketed by JM. The enclosure is Carey’s circular letter of 9 Feb. 1829.

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