Thomas Jefferson Papers

To Thomas Jefferson from James Madison, 22 January 1785

From James Madison

Richmond Jany. 22 1785.

Dear Sir

I have remained here since the adjournment of the Assembly chiefly with a view of gaining from the Office of the Attorney some insight into the juridical course of practice. This has given me an opportunity of forwarding you 6 copies of the revisal with a few of the late newspapers under the cover which incloses this. They will go in a vessel belonging to Mr. Alexander. The gentleman also resides in this State as Tobacco-agent for the Farmers General. He assures me that due care shall be taken of them.

RC (DLC: Madison Papers); endorsed by TJ: “Madison Jas.”; by Madison: “Jany. 22. 1785”; and by W. C. Rives: “Biography”; at foot of endorsement-page there are some calculations in Madison’s hand. Only a fragment of RC remains, consisting of the top part of first page of letter and another leaf showing endorsements. It is obvious that this mutilation was carefully performed by someone who wished to separate the remainder of the letter from the part here printed and that this was done for some undisclosed purpose. For the final sentence as printed above does not complete the line on RC, and whoever made the excision cut the paper so as to leave the remainder of the line on the part cut away. At least three possible explanations suggest themselves. First, Madison, late in life after he had recovered his letters to TJ, mutilated the MS in order to suppress views or comments that he did not wish to hand down to posterity. Second, in view of the endorsement “Biography” in Rives’ hand, Rives excised the remainder of the letter in order to employ it in his biography of Madison. Third, the letter was intercepted by some agent or diplomatic officer of a foreign government to be used for the intelligence it conveyed. The first of these must be given serious consideration in light of the fact that Madison, though in a different manner, did tamper with the text of his letter of 17 Oct. 1784 to TJ in the passages concerning Lafayette. If this explanation is the correct one, it is even possible that the suppressed portion of the letter may again have involved Lafayette—a possibility entitled to consideration because Lafayette was in Richmond for a week during Nov. 1784 and was honored by the General Assembly while there and because Madison makes no mention of this fact in his letter of 9 Jan. 1785 to TJ (but see Madison to TJ, 20 Aug. 1785). The second possibility is unlikely in view of Rives’ regard for documentary evidence and his care in handling manuscripts; this, however, leaves unaccounted for the endorsement “Biography,” though it is possible that this refers only to the text that remained with its reference to Madison’s desire to get “some insight into the juridical course of practice.” The third possibility seems on the whole more plausible than the second and less than the first. Should an undated, unaddressed remnant of a letter in Madison’s hand be discovered with the upper right hand corner of its first page cut something in the manner of an indenture, its identity with the fragment here printed can be established even if internal evidence should not reveal its true nature. The editors incline to the belief that Madison himself mutilated the manuscript and that no such remnant, therefore, will ever be discovered. Entry in SJL under date of 8 June 1785 merely reads: “Received J. Madison’s of Richmd. Jan. 22. inclosing revisal.” Enclosure: Copies of Report of the Committee of Revisors Appointed by the General Assembly of Virginia in mdcclxxvi (Richmond, 1784).

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