Thomas Jefferson Papers

Enclosure: Spencer Roane to Archibald Thweatt, 24 December 1821


Spencer Roane to Archibald Thweatt

Richmond Decr 24th ’21

Dear sir

I have just a moment to acknowledge the receipt of your favour of 22d—The subject of amending the Constitution, in relation to the decisions of the federal Courts, has been taken up in the senate as you will see, on the Mo of Mr Johnson of Kentucky, supported by Barbour. With a View to aid them, or rather to lead, on this important subject, I have prepared some1 amendments to the Constitution to be adopted by our assembly. They are very mild, but go the full length of the wishes of the republicans on this subject. They will be copied by another hand & circulated among the members. I would not wish to injure the great cause, by being known as the author. My name, would damn them, as I beleive, nay hope, with the Tories.—Could you not jog your chesterfield Delegates on the subject, as also Spooner and other good republicans?—Jefferson & Madison hang back too much, in this great crisis.—Jefferson, at least, ought to do, in regard to republicanism & the republicans, what one of the french literati did, in regard to the french Language. Being on his deathbed, and surrounded by his friends, one of them sinned against the purity of that Language, whereupon the sick man corrected him with great Energy. one of his other friends seeming surprised, that he should do this, under his extreem situation, he replied with Encreased Energy, that “he would defend the purity of the french Language, with his last gasp,”and instantly expired!

yours with great truth

Spencer Roane


On 12 Dec. 1821 United States senator Richard M. Johnson proposed amending the constitution as follows: “That, in all controversies where the judicial power of the United States shall be so construed as to extend to any case in law or equity, arising under this Constitution, the laws of the United States, or treaties made, or which shall be made, under their authority, and to which a State shall be a party; and in all controversies in which a State may desire to become a party, in consequence of having the Constitution or laws of such State questioned, the Senate of the United States shall have appellate jurisdiction.” Johnson successfully moved that the proposal be tabled on 18 Mar. 1822 (Annals description begins Annals of the Congress of the United States: The Debates and Proceedings in the Congress of the United States … Compiled from Authentic Materials, Washington, D.C., Gales & Seaton, 1834–56, 42 vols. (All editions are undependable and pagination varies from one printing to another. Citations given below are to the edition mounted on the Library of Congress Digital Collections website and give the date of the debate as well as page numbers.) description ends , 17th Cong., 1st sess., 23, 298). mo: motion.

On 2 Feb. 1822 the Virginia House of Delegates heard and tabled a resolution by Richard Eppes instructing Virginia’s United States senators and requesting its representatives to support five amendments to the constitution collectively designed to protect states’ rights (JHD description begins Journal of the House of Delegates of the Commonwealth of Virginia description ends [1821–22 sess.], 162; Richmond Enquirer, 5 Feb. 1822).

The chesterfield delegates to the Virginia House of Delegates were William R. Johnson and Allen McRae (Leonard, General Assembly description begins Cynthia Miller Leonard, comp., The General Assembly of Virginia, July 30, 1619–January 11, 1978: A Bicentennial Register of Members, 1978 description ends , 308). The poet François de Malherbe reportedly defended the French language on his deathbed (Jean Pierre Niceron, Memoires pour servir a l’Histoire des Hommes Illustres dans la republique des lettres [Paris, 1727–45], 7:45–6).

1Word interlined in place of “5 or 6.”

Index Entries

  • Barbour, James; as U.S. senator search
  • Chesterfield County, Va.; Va. legislators from search
  • Constitution, U.S.; proposed amendments to search
  • Eppes, Richard (of Sussex Co.); as Va. legislator search
  • Johnson, Richard Mentor; as U.S. senator from Ky. search
  • Johnson, William R.; as Va. legislator search
  • judiciary, U.S.; judicial review search
  • Madison, James (1751–1836); political influence of search
  • Malherbe, François de; and French language search
  • McRae, Allen; as Va. legislator search
  • Roane, Spencer; and judicial authority search
  • Roane, Spencer; and Va. politics search
  • Roane, Spencer; letters from, to A. Thweatt search
  • Senate, U.S.; and judicial review search
  • Spooner, Alden B.; as Va. legislator search
  • Thweatt, Archibald; letters to, from S. Roane search
  • Virginia; and states’ rights search
  • Virginia; General Assembly search
  • Virginia; House of Delegates search
  • Virginia; U.S. senators from search