James Madison Papers
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To James Madison from Henry Lee, 5 August 1824

From Henry Lee

Fredericksburg 5th. August 1824

Sir,

As the reputed authour of a rejected address which was reported to the Jackson Convention in this town, I take the liberty of forwarding for your perusal a correct copy of it1—a step that seems proper as parts of your publick conduct, & points of the constitution, are touched upon in the paper.2 As the paper was prepared at the request of the committee & its tone attempered by the wishes of members of the committee, the writer is only accountable for the want of force or elegance that may appear in its execution.

As your letter of the 25th June was recd. just as I was beginning a journey to Westmoreland, the completion of which was succeeded by a severe disease, I have not had it in my power sooner to declare to you, that I can neither conceal nor express the satisfaction it afforded me. Remarks from you upon subjects connected with the interest of human liberty and with the constitution of this country especially, possess intrinsically a value which no authority or accident can add to—and whether they tend to confirm or to correct any of my own immature opinions, command my earnest attention and my warmest thanks.

You are good enough to say that you think the prospectus assigns to the press a remedial power over the spirit of party, greater than can be reasonably attributed to it; and in order to illustrate your opinion, you specify occasions for parties in this country, such as are permanent, such as are transient, and such as are peculiar. It is not however on the causes of party, but on “the capacity of the nation for the formation of parties,” that I expect the press to operate. This is a political faculty existing independently of the circumstances by which it may be affected, and its actual strength is the measure of liberty in each state in which it is found. The influence of the press instead of being employed in fruitless endeavours to remove or to medicate the causes which excite it, should, it seems to me, be exerted to invigorate the faculty itself—to regulate its sensibility and direct its action, by the rules of constitutional experience & the principles of political philosophy.

In this way the good of society may be placed fairly in the keeping of its discretion, and the liberty of the state be made the assurance of its duration.

Having thus far trespassed on your attention, I will venture frankly to confess, that having for some years been inclined to literary occupations, I have proposed to my ambition the task of writing biographies of the great men of my native state, and that as those of Washington & Henry are already completed, I intended to confine my labours to those of Mr. Jefferson, yourself, Mr. Monroe & Mr Marshall. The Strength of my ambition to perform this honourable &, if successful, glorious enterprise, is I am conscious, the only qualification which can entitle me to your encouragement. Should it appear to your reflection possible to entrust me with such materials, as would enable me to hand you down fairly & distinctly to future ages, and with you, your humble biographer, I hope you will not decline without some reflection a proposition, which it cost much to induce me to risque, and which may lead to a work that if properly executed, would make your memory as illustrious as your life has been distinguished and useful. To the undertaking I should be willing to devote at least 10 years of my life, and on your subject should labour with peculiar pleasure as in portraying a sage of my Country, I should know that I was commemorating my fathers friend. With perfect respect I am Sir yr. most humble sert.

H. Lee

RC (DLC). Docketed by JM.

1A convention met at Fredericksburg, Virginia, on 31 July and 1 Aug. 1824 to nominate Virginia electors for the Andrew Jackson and John C. Calhoun ticket for president and vice president, respectively. The proceedings were published in the Richmond Enquirer, 3 Aug. 1824. Of the “rejected address,” the newspaper had this to say: “The first address that was presented, is too long, and too full of rant and fustion, for publication in our columns. The Convention were wise enough to throw it aside.” This address, entitled “To the People of Virginia,” was published in the Fredericksburg Virginia Herald, 4 Aug. 1824.

2In his address Lee argued that Calhoun should not be attacked for his position in favor of a national bank and internal improvements, since he was merely following in the footsteps of JM, Jefferson, and Monroe. They “have again and again approved bills of appropriation for objects of internal improvement,” he wrote. “It is true Mr. Madison rejected the bill setting aside the bonus of the United States Bank, as a fund for internal improvement. But it is to be remembered, that it was not presented for his signature until the last moment of the session, when from the multitude of bills pressing on his attention, one suggesting important constitutional considerations, could not receive that full deliberation, without which so jealous a guardian of the constitution, as Mr. Madison, could never have given it his sanction. It is to be observed too, that his argument on rejecting the bill, bears marks of haste, as it exhibits but little of his usual accuracy. Indeed, his leading objection—that the consent of the States can confer on the general government no power of appropriation which is not granted by the constitution, and of course is so far futile and supererogatory, although in itself a firm and just position—was in this case misapplied” (Fredericksburg Virginia Herald, 4 Aug. 1824).

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