Thomas Jefferson Papers

James Monroe to Thomas Jefferson, [August 1822?]

From James Monroe

[August 1822?]1

I intended in my late visit to albemarle to have communicated freely2 with you, and mr madison,3 on the subject of internal improvment, in reference to the power of the general govt, especially as to the appropriation of the public money, but circumstances were unfavorable then, to such a communication. my object has been, rather to state, certain facts and considerations, which I was compelled to advert to, in deciding on that great question,4 than to enter on the question itself, for having communicated fully my views to Congress, when that decision was taken,5 I can add nothing on it now, which is6 worthy of attention.7

When I came into this office, rumours were circulated, that I differd in opinion from mr Madison, respecting the right of Congress to adopt and execute such a system of improvment. It was asserted that I thought, that the power, did exist.8 These rumours were circulated, with greater activity, just before the meeting of Congress, and in consequence, I9 bestowed on the subject, all the consideration, which the time & my other engagments permitted, and having made up, a decided opinion, that the power had not been granted, I declar’d it, in the first message to Congress, after my election. From that period, there was cause to apprehend, at every succeeding10 session, that an act would be passd asserting the right, & thus my attention was drawn continually to it. An act finally did pass, which I negativ’d, for the reasons stated, in the message announcing the decision.11

In examining the question, I review’d, what had been previously done, by Congress, and had been sanctiond by my predecessors,12 and particularly by yourself & mr madison, for whose example, as to purity of principle, & strength of judgment, I have always entertaind the highest respect. I examind also the ground, on which the acts, thus sanctiond, rested. my attention was necessarily drawn to the Cumberland road,13 and to several others which had been constructed,14 a bill relating to the former, having brought the subject before me. That road was provided for, by the compact with ohio, by which the expense attending it, was to be defray’d by the appropriation of 120th part of the net proceeds, of the sales of lands, in that state, which might be made after the 30th15 of June 1802., the consent of the States, through which the road should pass, being first obtain’d. The election of Representatives, for the territory was to be made, in october, & the convention to meet on the first monday in novr, of that year, so that the appropriation, would commence its operation, before the compact proposed, was acceded to.16 Nearly 1.500.000 dolrs had been expended on that17 road, when I came into this office, a large portion of which, had been advancd from the Treasury, by anticipation of the fund referrd to, which has not yet been reimbursed, & probably never will be. For the construction of the other roads, the money appropriated, was drawn directly from the Treasury.

The question however turnd, more especially, on the Cumberland road, and on the principle, on which the appropriation was made in its favor. On full consideration,18 I could perceive no difference between the appropriation of money arising from the sale of land, or from direct taxes, imposts, & excises;19 nor could I perceive any difference between an appropriation founded on a compact with a new State, or without such compact.20 The power to admit new States, into the union, involved none, as I presumed, to give them money or land.21 That the unsold land, in a new state, should still belong to the U States, after such admission, would follow of course,22 altho’ it should not be provided for, by compact. Had nothing been said about it, it cannot be presumd that the new State would be [not claimd or?] To be admitted into the union23 on a footing with the original States, the citizens of the new, owning the land which they had bought & paid for,24 is all that they could claim. To prevent all doubt however on this point, it was proper, to specify in the conditions, on which admitted, that the new state should have no right to the unsold land. The US. own land, in most of the original States, as custom house offices, & in some I believe, as post offices. The property is protected by the Laws of the States. The unsold land in the new States would stand on the same ground. To admit them, to the rights of the original states, is an act of great magnanimity, as well as wisdom. To allow25 them rights not belonging to the new States, wod merit a different character. I concluded therefore that the power to admit new states, granted none, to give to such States, the public lands within them.

The money, under any view which may be taken of the subject, arising from the sale of the public lands, is the property of the U States. It is not the Gift of a new State, it [could not prob.?] make any difference.26 nor can any right be deriv’d, from a compact with the new State, as to the mode of disposing of it, and especially in the original States. That right can be derivd from the constitution only, and was the same before the compact that it was after it. The question therefore which occur’d was, what had been done by Congress, and been sanctiond by mr Madison & yourself? a road had been laid out from Cumberland to27 Wheeling, passing through the three States above mentiond, and in the construction of which, the sum above mentiond, had been expended, & in the mode stated.28

the U States therefore did not derive their right to this unsold land, from the compact—nor could they derive the right to appropriate, either the land or money, arising from its sale, either to the construction of a road or to any other purpose within the state, and much less, within an original State from such compact—

Nor would the compact have been onerous, to prohibit the taxation, tho I applaud the policy pursued—the right to pursue it however is derivd from another source—the power granted over the public money, & the national purpose to which applied.

2d Dft (NN: Monroe Papers); fragment consisting of first two pages; undated, but evidently composed after Monroe’s return to Washington in August 1822 from Albemarle County, his first visit since the delivery of the 4 May 1822 veto message alluded to here (Madison, Papers, Retirement Ser., 2:558, 563). 1st Dft (NN: Monroe Papers); incomplete; undated; differs somewhat from 2d Dft, with only the most significant variations noted below; several words illegible; with notes by Monroe at head of third and fourth pages, respectively (one word illegible): “The idea of deriving a right by compact with a new State to lay out our own land or money in [. . .]” and “perpetual quarrel between States & genl govt in abridgment of the rights of the people”; endorsed in an unidentified hand: “1819 Dft of a letter presumed to be to Mr Jefferson.” Not recorded in SJL and probably never received by TJ.

Monroe addressed the issue of internal improvements on 2 Dec. 1817 during his first annual message to congress: “A difference of opinion has existed from the first formation of our constitution, to the present time, among our most enlightened and virtuous citizens, respecting the right of Congress to establish such a system of improvement. Taking into view the trust with which I am now honored, it would be improper, after what has passed, that this discussion should be revived, with an uncertainty of my opinion respecting the right. Disregarding early impressions, I have bestowed on the subject all the deliberation which its great importance, and a just sense of my duty required, and the result is, a settled conviction in my mind, that Congress do not possess the right. It is not contained in any of the specified powers granted to Congress; nor can I consider it incident to, or a necessary mean, viewed on the most liberal scale, for carrying into effect any of the powers which are specifically granted. In communicating this result, I cannot resist the obligation which I feel, to suggest to Congress the propriety of recommending to the states the adoption of an amendment to the Constitution, which shall give to Congress the right in question” (JHR description begins Journal of the House of Representatives of the United States description ends , 11:9–17, quote on p. 15).

In his 4 May 1822 message announcing the decision to veto “An act for the preservation and repair of the Cumberland Road,” Monroe stated that “A power to establish turnpikes, with gates and tolls, and to enforce the collection of tolls by penalties, implies a power to adopt and execute a complete system of internal improvement. A right to impose duties to be paid by all persons, passing a certain road, and on horses and carriages, as is done by this bill, involves the right to take the land from the proprietor, on a valuation, and to pass laws for the protection of the road from injuries; and, if it exist as to one road, it exists as to any other, and to as many roads as Congress may think proper to establish. A right to legislate for one of these purposes, is a right to legislate for the others. It is a complete right of jurisdiction and sovereignty, for all the purposes of internal improvement, and not merely the right of applying money, under the power vested in Congress to make appropriations, under which power, with the consent of the states through which this road passes, the work was originally commenced, and has been so far executed. I am of opinion that Congress do not possess this power—that the states, individually, cannot grant it; for, although they may assent to the appropriation of money within their limits for such purposes, they can grant no power of jurisdiction or sovereignty by special compacts with the United States” (JHR description begins Journal of the House of Representatives of the United States description ends , 15:560–1, quote on p. 560).

compact with ohio: the 30 Apr. 1802 “Act to enable the people of the Eastern division of the territory northwest of the river Ohio to form a constitution and state government, and for the admission of such state into the Union, on an equal footing with the original States, and for other purposes” stipulated that “one twentieth part of the nett proceeds of the lands lying within the said state sold by Congress, from and after the thirtieth day of June next, after deducting all expenses incident to the same, shall be applied to the laying out and making public roads, leading from the navigable waters emptying into the Atlantic, to the Ohio, to the said state, and through the same, such roads to be laid out under the authority of Congress, with the consent of the several states through which the road shall pass” (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 , 2:173–5, quote on p. 175).

11st Dft begins “Dear Sir   Washington.”

2In 1st Dft Monroe here canceled “& fully.”

3Preceding three words not in 1st Dft.

4In 1st Dft Monroe here canceled “of the power of Congress.”

5In 1st Dft text from “communicated fully” to this point instead reads “<bestowed all the reflection I could, on a certain occasion> reflected much, & explaind fully my views in a message to Congress.

6Preceding five words not in 1st Dft.

7In 1st Dft “worthy attention” is interlined in place of “further at this time.”

8Sentence not in 1st Dft.

9In 1st Dft remainder of sentence reads “<paid attention> then <considerd the> bestowed to the subject, all the consideration I could and in my message, brought it into view, with the expression of my opinion that Congress did not possess the power.”

10Word not in 1st Dft.

111st Dft here adds “& which you have seen.”

12Remainder of sentence in 1st Dft reads “& the ground on which they acted <This necessarily carried me back, to the divisions which had existed in our union, from the commenc’ment of the govt, and particularly, to those, which producd the very able report of Mr Madison, as chairman of a committee, in the Assembly of our State, in 1799.>”

13In 1st Dft Monroe here interlined “wh passes through parts of maryld Pena & Virga.”

14Remainder of sentence not in 1st Dft.

152d Dft: “20th.” 1st Dft: “30th.”

16Sentence not in 1st Dft.

17Word interlined in 1st Dft in place of “the construction of this.”

18Text from “For the construction” to this point not in 1st Dft.

19Monroe here interlined and canceled a partially legible passage reading “when brought into the treasury, it would rest on the same grounds & be [. . .].” In 1st Dft text from this point to “an appropriation” instead reads “& of that which arises from imposts or direct taxes, nor in.”

20Preceding three words interlined in place of “directly from the Treasury.” 2d Dft ends here.

21Monroe here canceled “a gift of either, must be gratuitous, and the right to give it, derivd from other sources.”

22Preceding four words interlined in place of “would be a necessary consequence.”

23Sentence to this point interlined in place of “In regarding the conditions on which the new state should be admitted, it would be proper, to provide.”

24Monroe here canceled “as those of the original did.”

25Word interlined in place of “give.”

26Preceding seven words interlined.

27Preceding two words interlined in place of “the seat of the Genl Govt to.”

28Page 3 ends here, leaving some blank space. Final page is oriented upside down with respect to those preceding it.

Index Entries

  • carriages; mentioned search
  • Congress, U.S.; and internal improvements search
  • Congress, U.S.; J. Monroe’s messages to search
  • Constitution, U.S.; mentioned search
  • Constitution, U.S.; proposed amendments to search
  • Cumberland Road; and Ohio search
  • Cumberland Road; J. Monroe on search
  • Highland (J. Monroe’s Albemarle Co. estate); J. Monroe at search
  • horses; mentioned search
  • Madison, James (1751–1836); and internal improvements search
  • Monroe, James (1758–1831); and internal improvements search
  • Monroe, James (1758–1831); and public lands search
  • Monroe, James (1758–1831); letters from search
  • Monroe, James (1758–1831); presidential messages of search
  • Monroe, James (1758–1831); vetoes bills search
  • Ohio; and internal improvements search
  • roads; in U.S. search
  • United States; and public lands search
  • United States; roads in search