James Madison Papers

From James Madison to William Bradford, 1 December 1773

To William Bradford

Copy (Historical Society of Pennsylvania).

Dec. 1. 1773.

My kind friend

I have had the gratification of receiving both your letters, and the Pamphlets1 sent by Wilkinson. It is a reflection I am naturally led into whenever I write to you that I always have occasion to be returning my thanks for some kindness received without being able to retaliate. Gratitude is the only fund I can pay you out of which I am sensible your generosity accepts as sufficient: but at the same time Friendship likes it not to be behind hand in favours. My Consolation however2 is that if I am in debt, it is to a liberal Benefactor who thinks as little of his friendly offices as I think much of my Deficiencies.

I am glad you have rescued yourself from your anxiety and suspence and have come to a determination to engage in the study of the Law, which I hope you had better reasons for chusing3 than I could suggest. I intend myself to read Law occasionally and have procured books for that purpose so that you need not fear offending me by Allusions to that science. Indeed any of your remarks as you go along would afford me entertainment and instruction. The principles & Modes of Government are too important to be disregarded by an Inquisitive mind and I think are well worthy [of] a critical examination by all students that have health & Leisure. I should be well pleased with a scetch of the plan you have fixed upon for your studies, the books & the order you intend to read them in; and when you have obtained sufficient insight into the Constitution of your Country and can make it an amusement to yourself send me a draught of its Origin & fundamental principals of Legislation; particularly the extent of your religious Toleration. Here allow me to propose the following Queries. Is an Ecclesiastical Establishment absolutely necessary to support civil society in a supream Government? & how far it is hurtful to a dependant State? I do not ask for an immediate answer but mention them as worth attending to in the course of your reading and consulting experienced Lawyers & Politicians upon. When you have satisfied yourself in these points I should listen with pleasure to the Result of your reserches.4

You recommend sending for the Reviews as the best way to know the present State of Literature and the Choicest Books published. This I have done and shall continue to do: but I find them loose in their principals [and] encourage[r]s of free enquiry even such as destroys the most essential Truths, Enemies to serious religion5 & extreamly partial in their Citations, seeking them rather to Justify their censures and Commendations than to give the reader a just specimen of the Authors genius. I can rely with greater confidence on you[r] judgment after you have read the Authors or have known their Character from you[r] judicious friends. I am meditating a Journey to Philada which I hope to accomplish early in the spring if no unforeseen hindrances stop me. I shall bring a brother with me to put to school somewhere there, perhaps at Mr Smith’s.6 I need not say how far the desire of seeing you and others is a powerful Inducement and that my imagination daily anticipates the pleasure of this Tour. who were the authors of the Sermons you sent me? what is the exchange with you now & what is it likely to be in the spring? Write speedily & forgive my troublesome questions, I am Dr Sir, Your &c.

JM Junr.

1Judging from JM’s query at the close of this letter, several of these unidentified pamphlets were anonymously published sermons.

2Bradford used shorthand for the italicized words in this letter.

3In his letter to Bradford, JM may have written “engaging in” because these words appear in the copybook. But Bradford then crossed them out and substituted “chusing.” On the study of law, see above, editorial note on Salkeld, 1771–1774.

4These are JM’s earliest known comments upon a subject which, within a few years, would importantly affect his rise to Virginia-wide, and still later to national, prominence. In 1773 he apparently was beginning to doubt the truth of the axiom that a state church served as an indispensable bulwark of the British Crown, and was already searching for definite evidence that the Anglican establishment in Virginia infringed the rightful liberties of its citizens. Here again, as in his mention of falling prices and politics to Bradford earlier that autumn (25 September 1773), JM apparently could not, or no longer wished to, resist the intrusion of contemporary issues upon his studies. Perhaps, also, this growing interest in the world about him signified that his health had improved.

5These views, so sharply at odds with JM’s later championship of freedom of religion, speech, and the press, may reflect the lingering influence of Dr. Wither-spoon’s teaching. Students’ notes taken between 1772 and 1775 on Witherspoon’s “Moral Philosophy, Rhetoric and Eloquence” lectures, now preserved in the Princeton University Library, include warnings against reading ephemeral works dangerous to sound religion and morality.

6Probably Reverend Robert Smith (1723–1793), a trustee of the College of New Jersey, father of JM’s friend and tutor, Reverend Samuel Stanhope Smith, and head of an excellent preparatory school at Pequea, Lancaster County, Pa. (Sprague, Annals description begins William B. Sprague, Annals of the American Pulpit (9 vols.; New York, 1857–69). description ends , III, 172–75). For reasons unknown, JM’s father finally decided to enroll his son William (1762–1843) in the preparatory school at Princeton.

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