From James Madison
Richmond Jany. 4. 1800
My last covered a copy of the Report on the Resolutions of last year. I now inclose a copy of certain resolutions moved by Mr. Giles, to which he means to add an instruction on the subject of the intercource law which has been so injurious to the price of our Tobo. It is not improbable that the Resolutions when taken up, may undergo some mollifications in the spirit & air of them. The Report has been under debate for two days. The attacks on it have turned chiefly on an alledged inconsistency between the comment now made, and the arguments of the last Session; and on the right of the Legislature to interfere in any manner with denunciations of the measures of the Genl. Govt. The first attack has been parried by an amendment admitting that different constructions may have been entertained of the term “States” as “parties” &c but that the sense relied on in the report must be concurred in by all. It is in fact concurred in by both parties. On examination of the debates of the last Session, it appears that both were equally inaccurate & inconsistent in the grounds formerly taken by them. The attack on the right of the Legislature to interfere by declarations of opinion will form a material point in the discussion. It is not yet known how far the opposition to the Report will be carried into detail. The part relating to the Common law it is said will certainly be combated. You will perceive from this view of the matter, that it is not possible to guess how long, we shall be employed on it. There will in the event be a Considerable majority for the Report in the House of Delegates, and a pretty sure one in the Senate.—Can you send me a copy of Priestly’s letters last published. Adieu.
Js. M. Jr
RC (DLC: Madison Papers); endorsed by TJ as received 11 Jan. and so recorded in SJL. Enclosure: see note to Madison to TJ, 29 Dec. 1799.
Debate on Madison’s report on the Virginia Resolutions of 1798 was over the sense in which “the states are parties to the Constitution or compact,” as expressed in the third of the resolutions, which held that the federal government derived its powers “from the compact, to which the states are parties” (Madison, Papers description begins William T. Hutchinson, Robert A. Rutland, J. C. A. Stagg, and others, eds., The Papers of James Madison, Chicago and Charlottesville, 1962–, 27 vols. description ends , 17:305, 308). For a reference to the arguments of the last session, see same, 300–1. The “states,” Madison wrote, could have different meanings: “it sometimes means the separate sections of territory occupied by the political societies within each; sometimes the particular governments, established by those societies; sometimes those societies as organized into those particular governments; and lastly, it means the people composing those political societies, in their highest sovereign capacity.” In the 24 Dec. report he continued: “In the present instance the fact itself shews that the sense last mentioned, must be that intended by the General Assembly: because in that sense, the constitution was submitted to the ‘States.’” In the report as printed with an amendment on 7 Jan. in the House journal, the passage was altered to read: “In the present instance whatever different constructions of the term ‘States,’ in the resolution may have been entertained, all will at least concur in that last mentioned; because in that sense, the Constitution was submitted to the ‘States’” (Report of the Committee to Whom was Committed the Proceedings of Sundry of the Other States …, 5; JHD description begins Journal of the House of Delegates of the Commonwealth of Virginia (cited by session and date of publication) description ends , Dec. 1799–Jan. 1800, 40, 54–5). Right of the legislature to interfere: before passage of the report a substitute resolution, noting the impropriety of the Resolutions of 1798 and calling protests by the state against particular acts of Congress an unauthorized assumption of power, was defeated (JHD description begins Journal of the House of Delegates of the Commonwealth of Virginia (cited by session and date of publication) description ends , Dec. 1799–Jan. 1800, 71–2).