James Madison Papers

James Madison to Edward Everett, 5 January 1832

Montpellier Jany. 5th. 1831.

Dear Sir

I have received your letter of the 23d Decr. and am glad that the precaution of sending you a copy of my letter of the 14th of Novr. saved me from the appearance of inattention to which the miscarriage of the original exposed me.

I wish I could abridge your researches into the period between 1783. 87. by referring to particular documents and publications throwing light upon it; but my memory is in adequate to the task; and if my files contain any hints that might be pertinent, my Rheumatism, besides its general effect has disabled my hands and fingers from examining them. In general, it will occur to all that beyond the aid to be derived from the several histories embracing that period, the information must in a great degree be gleaned from the wide field of discussion in Newspapers & Pamphlets on the necessity of some material reform in the federal system; from the journals of Congress of that date; and from a review of the laws of the several States ineffectually cooperating or vexatiously clashing in vain efforts for a remedy. After the Constitution of the U.S. had been laid before the public, the discussions in various forms throw much light on the state of things during the preceding period, added to which the debates in the State conventions may doubtless be usefully consulted. These references I am sensible are too vague to be of specific or hasty use.

I well recollect tho’ I cannot particularly describe an important document which was circularly addressed about the year 84 to the consideration of the several states by the most distinguished Citizens of Boston. It painted the deplorable condition of our commerce, & pressed on the States the necessity of a concurrence in simultaneous laws as a substitute, for the want of a common authority to counteract the monopolizing measures of foreign Countries. Several of the States complied, Virginia among the rest; but, the jealousies and discords among others soon proved the inefficacy of the experiment. If my memory does not err; such were the irritations in some of them, particularly Connecticut, that a law regulating her commerce was so framed as to give a preference even to her commerce with G. Britain over that with her neighbors. Such a law would be a striking evidence of the State of feeling and confusion produced among the States, by the want of an authority capable of harmonizing their interests. If the law is to be found, it will probably not be in recent collections of the statutes which generally omit expired ones.

I have no reason to suppose that I could suggest any topics relating to the constitutionality or policy of our commercial laws which have not already occurred to you. my views of both were sketched in two letters to Mr Cabell several years ago, & I have not been led to change them by any of the opposing arguments which I have seen.

With respect to those who contend that no impost is constitutional which has not revenue alone for its object, and those who contend for the universality of free trade, I have always supposed that they might be well met, by the case of our navigation law which is not objected to. It lays a duty, not for revenue but for the discouragement of foreign navigation, and excludes the foreign competition prescribed by the principle of "Laisser nous faire." These exceptions could only be vindicated by the necessity of protecting our navigation, itself necessary to our national wants & independance: and the principle of them, must be equally or proportionably applicable to other objects connected with the vital interests of the Nation. Even our coasting trade must be laid fully open to foreign vessels as well as our own according to the free trade principle: as, foreigners might in some instances be the cheaper carriers.

If these observations contain inaccuracies of any sort; it may be an apology that they are dictated to another pen, my fingers refusing the use of my own.

I thank you for the paper containing the extract from the life of Gouvr. Morris & reassure you of my high esteem & Cordial regards.

James Madison

RC (MHi).

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