Thomas Jefferson Papers

Nathaniel Macon to Thomas Jefferson, 2 February 1822

From Nathaniel Macon

Washington 2 Feby 1822


Your letter of the 23. of last november was received soon after my arrival at this place. The answer has been delayed, under the belief, that the meeting of Congress, would add greatly to the number of your correspondents, & that it would be more acceptable, to wait till you had got clear of them

The plan of the federal court, seems to be to keep pace with Congress, The decisions do not go beyond, the system of internal improvements, which has often been before the national Legislature & received the sanction of both branches. As Congress attempt to get power by stretching the constitution to fit its views, it is to be expected, if other departments do not check the attempt, that each of them, will use the same means to obtain power, & thus destroy any check, that was intended by the division of power into three distinct & separate bodies; The Legislative, Executive & Judicial; The great principle of the American governments is election for short periods;1 yet in most of them, it has been departed from in the Judiciary; this is attempting to mix principles, which cannot be united, that is to make men by the tenure of office, independent & upright, who are not so from nature or principle; The tenure of good behavior is a violation of the elective principle, it remains to be determined whether governments uniting two opposite principles will go on smoothly; Again in many of them, a check is intended by having two branches in the legislature, generally elected by the same electors, some requiring one qualification & some another for the elector, but not one of them, seem to me, to have followed the law of nature, in the requisites for the electors or elected, in some advances have been made toward it; That two branches are necessary in the legislature is not doubted, & that they ought to be elected for short periods, and that the executive should not be elected for a longer period than the legislature, & that Judges, ought not to hold their office during good behavior, but for a fixed time; but with great deference to the opinions of others; a plan will be stated, which has not that I know of2 been tried, it is this, Let the most numerous branch of the legislature be elected by all free whites of the age of 21. years, except paupers, Lunatics, & those who have committed crime, & every elector be eligeble, let the other branch be elected by the same sort of people above a given age; every elector as in the other case to be eligeble, The age for this branch ought not to be less than 30 years, perhaps forty would be better; The right to vote for both branches would depend on age & moral character; The object to let every man have a part in the Government, & one branch at an age beyond youthful heat; Pardon my troubling you, with my3 crude thoughts on this great subject, it is more pleasing to communicate them, than the doings of others, which have not been approved, I fear we are approaching the state, the Israelites were in a few years after the death of Joshua

This letter is much longer than I expected when I begun, yet was I to follow my feelings, it would be longer; I know you do not wish to encrease the number of your correspondents, & I would be the last man in the world to give you trouble, but while I live, I shall remain

Your friend

Nathl Macon

RC (DLC); addressed: “Mr Jefferson Monticello”; endorsed by TJ as received 7 Feb. 1822 and so recorded in SJL.

In the Bible, the generation of Israelites who lived after the death of joshua turned away from God and instead followed the deities of their neighbors (Judges 2.8–13).

A missing letter from Macon to TJ of 13 Feb. 1822 is recorded in SJL as received six days later from Washington (address cover only in DLC; with Dft of TJ to Lewis E. Beck, 16 July 1824, on verso; addressed: “Mr Thomas Jefferson Monticello near Milton Virginia”).

1Preceding three words interlined.

2Manuscript: “off.”

3Word interlined.

Index Entries

  • Bible; Judges referenced search
  • Congress, U.S.; and electoral qualifications search
  • Congress, U.S.; and judicial review search
  • Congress, U.S.; and term limits search
  • Constitution, U.S.; and judicial review search
  • Joshua (Old Testament military leader) search
  • judiciary, U.S.; judicial review search
  • Macon, Nathaniel; and separation of powers search
  • Macon, Nathaniel; letter from accounted for search
  • Macon, Nathaniel; letters from search
  • Senate, U.S.; and term limits search
  • Senate, U.S.; popular election of search
  • Supreme Court, U.S.; and term limits search
  • United States; elections in search