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To James Madison from James Monroe, 16 November 1820

From James Monroe

Washington Novr 16. 1820

Dear Sir

You will receive by this mail a copy of the message1 in which I have endeavourd, to place our institutions in a just light, comparatively with those of Europe, without looking at the latter, or even glancing at them by any remark. The state of our finances is I presume more favorable, than was generally supposd. It seems probable that it will improve in future, the quantity of goods which flowed in immediately after the peace, having been in a great measure exhausted, new supplies will be called for.

The contest for the chair, and the result, indicate a disposition to revive the Missouri question, in the temper displayd in the last Session.2 The clause in the constitution of that State, authorising an inhibition of free negroes from emigrating into it, is understood to be that which will more particularly be laid hold of. Unfavorable presages are form’d of the result. It is undoubtedly much to be regretted that the State furnished any pretext for such a proceeding. It is urgd by some favorable to the immediate admission of the State into the union, that as the Constitution repealed all parts of State constitutions, repugnant to it, then in force, so it will nullify any part of the constitution of a new State, which may be admitted, it being necessary, that the incorporation should be complete in every article & clause, & the same, as to the new as well as to the original States, & not a compact, or treaty, between separate communities, as it would otherwise be: that Congress in its legislative character can make no compact, which would deprive the Supreme court of its right to declare, such article in the constitution of the new State void: that if however it Had such right, a declaration by Congress disapproving that clause & protesting against it, would deprive it of such sanction & leave it subject to the decision of the court.

Mr Correa has saild, without giving the names of the judges whom he denounced, as having disgracd their commissions, in a letter to the Secretary of State, before his visit last summer to Virga., or of the officers, as having servd on board Artigan privateers.3 His tone having alterd, on his visit here, after his return from Virga., it was inferrd, that he had made those denunciations, and demanded the inst[it]ution of a board, to liquidate claims, against the UStates, for prizes made by Artigan privateers, without a due knowledge of the subject, & that the change was imputable to the light which he derivd from his friends in that visit. Apprehending however that his application, had been made known to the minister of Spain, & might be the ground of a similar demand, by way of sett off against our claims on Spain, securd by two treaties, Mr Adams wrote & requested to be furnished with the names of the judges & officers denouncd by him, making at the same time a protestation against his claim of indemnity, as being contrary to sound principles, & to the usage of civilized nations. The letter was in a style very conciliatory, to which however he gave no answer.

Mr Coxe’s letter4 shall be returnd as soon as receivd from the Secry of the Navy. With our best regards to Mrs Madison, I am sincerely your friend

James Monroe

RC (DLC: Rives Collection, Madison Papers). Docketed by JM and marked by him, probably at a later time: “Missouri question.”

1Monroe enclosed Message from the President of the United States to Both Houses of Congress, at the Commencement of the Second Session of the Sixteenth Congress. Nov. 15, 1820 (Washington, 1820; Shoemaker 3902). The message is printed in Hamilton, Writings of James Monroe description begins Stanislaus Murray Hamilton, ed., The Writings of James Monroe … (7 vols.; 1898–1903; reprint, New York, 1969). description ends , 6:155–58.

2John W. Taylor (1784–1854), a New York lawyer and member of the U.S. House of Representatives, 1813–33, was elected Speaker on 15 Nov. 1820 in a contentious election on the twenty-second ballot (Annals of Congress description begins Debates and Proceedings in the Congress of the United States … (42 vols.; Washington, 1834–56). description ends , 16th Cong., 2d sess., 437–38).

3The “Artigan privateers” were corsairs who carried commissions issued by Gen. José Gervasio Artigas of the Banda Oriental (present-day Uruguay) enabling them legally to attack both Portuguese and Spanish ships (Peter Earle, The Pirate Wars [London, 2003], 213–14). Many of these privateers were outfitted in U.S. ports, particularly Baltimore, where the thriving business was encouraged, or at least winked at by government officials, much to the bitterness of the Portuguese minister, José Corrèa de Serra. Monroe’s insistence that Portuguese claims against the United States for seizures by privateers be settled in court rather than by a commission led to angry exchanges between Corrèa de Serra and the Monroe administration (Ammon, James Monroe description begins Harry Ammon, James Monroe: The Quest for National Identity (New York, 1971). description ends , 436–37).

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