James Madison Papers

Nicholas P. Trist to James Madison, 28 November 1832

Washington, Nov. 28. ’32

dear Sir,

I have already delayed several days longer than I intended, the acknowledgment of the receipt of the books, and of the gratification of receiving a letter written with your own hand, which the transmission of the Cholera Report through you has afforded me. I now snatch a moment for the purpose, while waiting for a document which I am to copy.

The copy of L’s book, I had no idea of your returning. Thinking it might perhaps be important for you to receive one and to have it at hand, I purchased two. The second I merely dipped into, and after ascertaining its character, laid it by, intending to analyse it at an early day, and then to apply to yourself & Mr Gallatin for references to the sources of such information as I might discover the necessity of, to doing full justice to the subject. This early day, however, has not yet arrived; although I have been repeatedly urged to undertake the task by Mr. Coolidge, and Mr. Davis. I need not say to you that want of affection for the cause of truth in its connexion with Mr. Jefferson’s fame has not been among the causes of this delay. Tracey calls the half century immediately preceding the publication of one of his works, "les cinquante prodigieuses années." The last twelve-month among ourselves, may well be called la prodigieuse années. Scarcely a minute in it, but has been big with the fate of our Union. If I had had a thousand heads, & a corresponding number of hands, the occasions for applying them to some purpose of pressing importance would not have been wanting. Besides the time consumed in my unexpected journey to Boston, (which prevented me from having the pleasure of seeing you, as I had intended) and that lost during the reign of Cholera (for then it was my duty to abstain from all mental labor, and from every thing calculated to disturb the equilibrium of the machine) there have been sufficient reasons, therefore, for the delay on my part which has by this time, I suppose, led Mr. Davis to commence the task. He will do so under my perfect confidence in its being performed by him at least as well as it would have been by me.

Have you noticed in the Enquirer the communications of "A friend to Truth"? They will probably appear in pamphlet, a copy of which will be sent you: not in the expectation that you will read it, but that you may by a glance see what it is. The merest accident in the world threw the Charleston Mercury, containing the correspondence between Calhoun & Reynolds into my hands. Had I been a believer in special Providences, I should have considered this accident to be one: for my attention had previously happened to be attracted to the subject, and I saw at once that it afforded an opportunity of pinning this most reckless and unprincipled of men (a mixture of Catiline & Titus Oates) to the earth with his own spear. The charge of inconsistency, as sustained by quotations from his former and his present writings, he and others of his cooperators laughed at. Admit the inconsistency, what then? His and their views are different now from what they were then. This is all that it amounts to. But here was an opportunity for exposing to the broadest light their falsehood—the flagitious devices to which they have resorted to madden their fellow-citizens. This opportunity, I determined, should not be lost. I have expressed myself strongly—but not more so than the facts justified, nor more so than was useful for the purpose of attracting public attention. T. R—e, although begged not to do so, has in several places sought to mollify my language by substituting words which are out of keeping with the general tone, and therefore have a ridiculous air.

We have this moment received here, the Ordinance reported in the S. C. Convention, which will be adopted. It goes the whole length of the theory. You will probably see it in the next Enquirer. My hopes, although far from being unalloyed, are much better than they were some weeeks ago. At all events, I consider the fate of the Protective System sealed—It must & will be given up. Indeed my visit to New England satisfied me that the people there (I strongly distinguish them from their politicians) are dispassionate, candid and patriotic; and that they would do any thing in reason, make any sacrifice, to preserve the Union: and this, not because they think it peculiarly valuable to themselves--their honest opinion is the reverse of this--but because they deem it incalculably valuable to all. If the measure were made sufficiently gradual to make it what justice, naked justice, requires it should be made, I believe that a very large majority of the people of the Union would be in favor of a return to the Free Trade System.

I have been running on, at the risk of trying your eyes, with merely a general idea of the subject on which I was writing, and no precise idea of the matter I am about to send you. Besides my public duties, I have, however, several things on hand which must be done now or never, and which I think it of considerable importance to do. You must therefore make every allowance that is necessary to excuse me for sending you such a scrawl: accepting with it, the assurance of my warm affection, of which Mrs. Madison must take a full share, and of an esteem which rises the higher, the more I see of the world. What a Scene! Particularly on this theatre. How soon would I fly from it, were I in independent circumstances. The behaviour of Congress, (in the Senate even) last Session, beggars all description. Out of doors, a thousand dirty intrigues, forming every hour. Within doors the most blind, reckless, insane opposition. The supporters of the administration were of course far from faultless; but the conduct of the opponents & denouncers, was in every particular outrageous, and passing all imagination.

There is but one remedy for all this; and that remedy, unfortunately, is not at hand. An honest, independent Press. The intelligence of the sound mass is fully sufficient for the perpetuation of this Union, and the rapid improvement of our institutions. All that it requires is, "true facts." Had I a million of dollars to apply to this object, I am satisfied I could establish a press here, and collect men who would effect it. This unfortunately is but a dream; and the people must continue to be imposed on, and to have their honest purposes & their sound hearts perverted to the ends of selfish intriguers, by means of presses in the hands of venal, necessitous men. If I possibly can, I shall enjoy, about Xmas, the pleasure of seeing you at least once more; and I trust I shall find you at least as free from suffering as you now are. It was some consolation to see from your hand, that there was less rheumatism in your joints than when I last saw or heard from you. I write from the P’s house; else, my letter would be the bearer to Mrs. Madison & yourself of Mrs. T’s affection. Adieu

N. P. T.

My second copy of Lee was borrowed, and it is doubtful if it be not lost: as you have sent the other, I will therefore keep it. It is plain, from L’s book, and other signs, that if misrepresentation can effect the object, posterity will be as much imposed upon in relation to the early history of our government as the South Carolinians have been by Mr. C. in relation to the nature of the tariff of 1816. Among the future occupations of my leisure hours, which I have thought of, is a documentary compilation of extracts from speeches, newspaper editorials & discussions (connected by explanatory remarks) of the periods immediately preceding and succeeding the present Constitution. Such a compilation would, I believe, readily find a publisher; and it would be among the materials of which the leisure and ability which are to come after us, are to construct the true history of our nation and our men. Perhaps, at some leisure moment, you may make for me a memorandum (a naked mem. is all I wish you to trouble yourself with) indicating the sources to which I may resort, and such of the points requiring such illustration, as may occur to you.

RC (ViHi: Nicholas P. Trist Album Book).

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