Thomas Jefferson Papers

Thomas Jefferson to James Madison, 29 November 1820

To James Madison

Poplar Forest Nov. 29. 20.

Dear Sir

The inclosed letter from our antient friend Tenche Coxe came unfortunately to Monticello after I had left it and has had a dilatory passage to this place where I recieved it yesterday and obey it’s injunction of immediate transmission to you. we should have recognised1 the stile even without a signature, and altho so written as to be much of it indecypherable. this is a sample of the effects we may expect from the late mischievous law vacating every 4. years nearly all the executive offices of the government. it saps the constitutional and salutary functions of the President, and introduces a principle of intrigue & corruption, which will soon leaven the mass, not only of Senators, but of citizens. it is more baneful than the attempt which failed in the beginning of the government to make all officers irremovable but with the consent of the Senate. this places every 4. years all appointments under their power, and even obliges them to act on every one nominatim. it will keep in constant excitement all the hungry cormorants for office, render them, as well as those in place, sycophants to their Senators, engage these in eternal intrigue to turn out one and put in another, in cabals to swap work, and make of them, what all executive directories become, mere sinks of corruption & faction. this must have been one of the midnight signatures of the President, when he had not time to consider, or even to read the law: and the more fatal as being irrepealable but with the consent of the Senate, which will never be obtained.

F. Gilmer has communicated to me mr Correa’s letter to him of Adieux to his friends here, among whom he names most affectionately mrs Madison and yourself. no foreigner I believe has ever carried with him more friendly regrets.2 he was to sail the next day (Nov. 10.) in the British packet for England, & thence take his passage in Jan. for Brazil. his present views are of course liable to be affected by the events of Portugal, & the possible effects of their example on Brazil.   I expect to return to Monticello about the middle of the ensuing month and salute you with constant affection and respect.

Th: Jefferson

RC (DLC: Madison Papers, Rives Collection). PoC (DLC); edge trimmed; at foot of first page: “Mr Madison.” Enclosure: Tench Coxe to TJ, 11 Nov. 1820.

In congressional debates culminating in the 27 July 1789 “Act for establishing an Executive Department, to be denominated the Department of Foreign Affairs,” then-congressman Madison proposed a clause on 19 May giving the president sole power to remove secretaries of executive departments. Proposals to require that removals have the consent of the senate were discussed at length, but Madison’s idea eventually prevailed (U.S. Statutes at Large description begins Richard Peters, ed., The Public Statutes at Large of the United States … 1789 to March 3, 1845, 1845–67, 8 vols. description ends , 1:28–9; Linda Grant De Pauw and others, eds., Documentary History of the First Federal Congress [1972–2017], vols. 10–11; Madison, Papers, Congress. Ser., 12:55–7). nominatim: “particularly; expressly” (OED description begins James A. H. Murray, J. A. Simpson, E. S. C. Weiner, and others, eds., The Oxford English Dictionary, 2d ed., 1989, 20 vols. description ends ).

1Word interlined in place of “known.”

2Omitted period at right margin editorially supplied.

Index Entries

  • Albion (packet) search
  • An Act for establishing an Executive Department, to be denominated the Department of Foreign Affairs (1789) search
  • An Act to limit the term of office of certain officers therein named, and for other purposes (1820) search
  • Brazil; and J. Corrêa da Serra search
  • Brazil; relations with Portugal search
  • Constitution, U.S.; and appointments search
  • Corrêa da Serra, José; plans to relocate to Brazil search
  • Corrêa da Serra, José; plans to return to Europe search
  • Coxe, Tench; seeks federal appointment search
  • Gilmer, Francis Walker; friendship with J. Corrêa da Serra search
  • Jefferson, Thomas; Opinions on; patronage search
  • Madison, Dolley Payne Todd (James Madison’s wife); greetings sent to search
  • Madison, James (1751–1836); and appointments search
  • Madison, James (1751–1836); and J. Corrêa da Serra search
  • Madison, James (1751–1836); and T. Coxe search
  • Madison, James (1751–1836); as U.S. representative search
  • Madison, James (1751–1836); letters to search
  • Monroe, James; presidency of search
  • patronage; TJ on search
  • Poplar Forest (TJ’s Bedford Co. estate); TJ visits search
  • Portugal; and Brazil search
  • Senate, U.S.; and appointments search