Thomas Jefferson Papers

James Madison to Thomas Jefferson, 10 December 1820

From James Madison

Montpellier1 Decr 10. 1820

Dear Sir

Yours of Novr 29. came to hand a few days ago. The letter from T.C.2 is returned. I had one from him lately on the same subject; and in consequence reminded the President of his political career; dropping at the same time a few lines in his favor to our Senator Mr Barbour. I sincerely wish something proper in itself could be done for him. He needs it and deserves it.

The law terminating appointments at periods of four years is pregnant with mischiefs such as you describe. It overlooks the important distinction between repealing or modifying the office, and displacing the officer. The former is a Legislative, the latter an Executive function. And even the former, if done with a view of re-establishing the office and letting in a new appointment, would be an indirect violation of the Theory & policy of the Constitution. If the principle of the late Statute be a sound one, nothing is necessary but to limit appointments held during pleasure, to a single year, or the next meeting of Congress, in order to make the pleasure of the Senate a tenure of office, instead of that of the President alone. If the error be not soon corrected, the task will be very difficult: for it is of a nature to take a deep root.

On application thro’ Mr Stephenson, I have obtained from the Legislative files at Richmond, a Copy of Col: Bland’s letter to you, for which I gave you the trouble of a search last fall. The letter being a public, not a private one, was sent to the Legislature, according to the intention of the writer. It contains what I expected to find in it; a proof that I differed from him on the question of ceding the Mississippi to Spain in 1780.

This will wait for your return from Poplar forest; accompanied I hope with evidence of the good effects of the trip on your health.

Affectionately & truly yours

James Madison

RC (DLC: Madison Papers); at foot of text: “Mr Jefferson”; endorsed by TJ as received 22 Dec. 1820 and so recorded in SJL. FC (DLC: Madison Papers, Rives Collection); written in Madison’s hand on verso of reused address cover to him; lacks closing; endorsed by Madison. Enclosure: enclosure to TJ to Madison, 29 Nov. 1820.

Having received his own letter from Tench Coxe (t.c.) dated 12 Nov. 1820, Madison wrote letters of recommendation in his favor to James Monroe and James Barbour on 19 and 25 Nov. 1820, respectively (Madison, Papers, Retirement Ser., 2:142–3, 151–3, 155–6). On 3 Dec. 1820 Andrew Stevenson (stephenson) sent Madison the 22 Nov. 1780 letter from Theodorick Bland to TJ (Madison, Papers, Retirement Ser., 2:165–6; PTJ description begins Julian P. Boyd, Charles T. Cullen, John Catanzariti, Barbara B. Oberg, James P. McClure, and others, eds., The Papers of Thomas Jefferson, 1950– , 43 vols. description ends , 4:136–8).

1Word not in FC.

2FC: “T. Coxe.”

Index Entries

  • An Act to limit the term of office of certain officers therein named, and for other purposes (1820) search
  • Barbour, James; and appointments search
  • Bland, Theodorick (1742–90); as member of Continental Congress search
  • Congress, U.S.; mentioned search
  • Constitution, U.S.; and appointments search
  • Coxe, Tench; seeks federal appointment search
  • Madison, James (1751–1836); and appointments search
  • Madison, James (1751–1836); and T. Coxe search
  • Madison, James (1751–1836); as member of Continental Congress search
  • Madison, James (1751–1836); letters from search
  • Mississippi River; Spanish claims to search
  • Monroe, James; and appointments search
  • Poplar Forest (TJ’s Bedford Co. estate); TJ visits search
  • Senate, U.S.; and appointments search
  • Spain; and U.S. search
  • Stevenson, Andrew; and J. Madison search
  • Virginia; General Assembly search