James Madison Papers

James Madison to Jacob Engelbrecht, 4 July 1827

Montpellier July 4. 1827

Dear Sir

Though the request your letter makes be a little singular, a compliance with it seems due to the motives which prompted it; and a short autographic extract is accordingly subjoined.


"In Europe, charters of liberty have been granted by Power. America has set an example of Charters of power, granted by Liberty. This revolution in the practice of the world may, with an honest praise, be pronounced the most triumphant Epoch in its history, and the most consoling presage of its happiness, We look back, already, with astonish<ment> at the daring outrages committed by despotism on the reason and the rights of man; we look forward, with joy, to the period, when it shall be despoiled of all its usurpations, and bound forever in the chains, with which it had loaded its miserable victims.

In proportion to the value of this revolution; in proportion to the importance of Instruments, every word of which decides a question power and liberty; in proportion to the solemnity of Acts proclaiming the will, and authenticated by the Seal of the people, ought to be the vigilance with which they are guarded by every citizen in private life, and the circumspection, with which they are executed by every Citizen in public trust.

As compacts, charters of Government are superior in obligation, to all others, because they give effect to all others: As trusts, none can be more sacred, because they are bound on the conscience by the religious sanctions of an oath: As metes and bounds <on go>vernment, they transcend all other land marks, because every public usurpation <and en>croachment on the private right, not of one, but of all.

The Citizens of the United States have peculiar motives to support the energy of Constitutional Charters.

Having originated the experiment, their merit will be estimated by its success.

Being Republicans, they must be anxious to establish the efficacy of popular Charters, in defending liberty against power, and power against licenciousness; and in keeping every portion of power within its proper limits" With friendly respects

James Madison

RC (Jacob E. Engelbrecht, 3720-39th Street, N.W., Washington 16, D. C.); FC, instead of the extract, gives "See Freeman’s National Gazette p. 9th" (DLC).

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