Thomas Jefferson Papers
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To Thomas Jefferson from James Madison, 23 May 1789

From James Madison

New York May 23. 1789.

Dear Sir

This will I expect be handed you by a young gentleman, Mr. Colden, the son of an amiable lady of that name within the circle of my acquaintance in this place. I need not apprize you that the family, of which Governour Colden is the ancestor, is a respectable one. The young gentleman has been in Scotland for some years, pursuing his education, and with the approbation of his friends proposes to visit France before he returns to his native country. Such countenance and attentions as it may be convenient for you to shew him, will I have reason to believe be well placed, and will add to the many obligations under which I lie.

My last inclosed copies of the President’s inauguration Speech and the answer of the House of the Representatives. I now add the answer of the Senate. It will not have escaped you that the former was addressed with a truly republican simplicity to G. W. Presidt. of the U.S. The latter follows the example, with the1 omission of the personal name, but without any other than the constitutional title. The proceeding on this point was in the House of Representatives spontaneous. The imitation by the Senate was extorted.2 The question became a serious one between the two houses. J. Adams espoused the cause of titles with great earnestness. His friend R. H. Lee altho elected as a republican enemy to an aristocratic constitution was a most zealous second. The projected title was—His Highness the President of the U.S. and protector of their liberties. Had the project succeeded it would have subjected the President to a severe dilemma and given a deep wound to our infant government.

It is with much pleasure I inform you that Moustier begins to make himself acceptable and with still more that Madam Brehan begins to be viewed in the light which I hope she merits and which was so little the case when I wrote by Mr.3. Morris.

The collection bill is not yet passed. The duties have been settled in the House of Representatives and are before the Senate. They produced a good deal of discussion and called forth in some degree our local feelings. But the experiment has been favorable to our character for moderation, and in general the temper of the Congress seems to be propitious. I do not enter farther at present into the account of their proceedings, because I expect this will go by the way of Scotland, and be long on the way, being intended principally as a letter of introduction, and because I have received notice of a conveyance in a few days, which will be more direct and convenient.—With my best wishes I am Dear Sir Yrs. affectly.,

Js. Madison Jr

RC (DLC: Madison Papers); partly in code; addressed: “Mr. Jefferson Paris. Mr. Colden”; endorsed. Recorded in SJL as received 28 July 1789. The enclosed answer of the senate was reported on 7 May 1789 and the vice-president was directed to “affix his signature to the address in behalf of the Senate”; on the 18th the Senate, “at a quarter after 11 o’clock,” waited on the president “at his own house, when the Vice President, in their name,” delivered the address, to which Washington responded (JS, 1st. sess., 22–3, 26–7).

The amiable lady was Henrietta Maria Bethune Colden, “a Scotch lady of the Isle of Man,” widow of Richard Nicolls Colden (d. 1777), grandson of Cadwallader Colden (1687–1762), and son of Alexander Colden (1716–1774). Richard Nicolls Colden was graduated at King’s College (Columbia) in the class of 1766, became an ensign in the 42d Royal Highlanders, married Henrietta while his regiment was stationed on the Isle of Man, left the army about 1771–1772, returned to New York with his family, and was made Surveyor of Customs, an office he held until his death in 1777. Two of his uncles (Cadwallader and David Colden) were ardent Loyalists, the former suffering imprisonment and the latter being attainted of treason and having his property confiscated. Besides his widow, he left two sons, Alexander and Cadwallader R. Colden (Edwin R. Purple, “Notes on Colden Genealogy,” N.Y. Geneal. & Biog. Rec., iv [1873], p. 171). Brant, Madison, iii, 343, quotes a letter from Samuel Latham Mitchill of 3 Jan. 1802 reading as follows: “‘While Congress sat in New York it was reported that [Madison] was fascinated by the celebrated Mrs. Colden, of our city, she who was so noted for her masculine understanding and activity, as well as for feminine graces and accomplishments.’” It was the elder of the sons, Alexander, to whom Madison gave the letter.—It is clear that when TJ heard the letter that Dugald Stewart read to him from Mrs. Colden, he was similarly impressed by the lady’s “masculine understanding” (see TJ to Dugald Stewart, 21 June 1789). Within a few months when TJ unexpectedly found himself in New York, he, too, fell under the spell of that obviously interesting lady.

1Madison here wrote, and then deleted: “single.”

2This and subsequent words in italics are written in code and were decoded interlineally by TJ; his decoding has been verified by the Editors, employing Code No. 9.

3TJ decoded this as “master,” a permissible alternative for the code symbol employed.

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