From the Reverend James Madison
Aug. 1. 1787. Williamsb.
We are here, & I beleive every where, all Impatience to know Something of your conventional Deliberations. If you cannot tell us what you are doing, you might at least give us some Information of what you are not doing. This wd. afford a Clue for political Conjecture, and perhaps be sufficient to satisfy present Impatience. I hope you have already discoverd the Means of preserving the American Empire united—& that the Scheme of a Disunion has been found pregnant with the greatest Evils. But we are not at this Distance able to judge with any Accuracy upon subjects so truely important & interesting as those wch. must engage you at present. We can only hope, that you will all resemble Cæsar, at least in one particular, “nil actum reputans si quid superesset agendum”;1 & that your Exertions will be commensurate to the great Expectations wch. have been formed. It is probable my Observations upon Mr. A’s Book must have appeared to you to be hasty & undigested. I wish to know what you think of it. Congress, I find, by a late Ordinance establishing temporary Govts. in the new States, have adopted the Adamic Idea.2 Would not the other States be wise to wait for the Issue of the Experiment wch. will there be made. We shall then have two important Expts. going on at the same Time—The Results of wch. may be the best Guide.
If you be not better or too much engaged I beg you wh. is the principal Object of this Letter to favour me with a few Lines & to beleive me to be most sincerely Dr Col. Yr. Friend
Pray remember me to Mr Blair The Govr. & M’Clurg.
RC (DLC). Docketed by JM.
1. “Thinking nothing done while anything remained to do.” The quotation, “nil actum credens, cum quid superesset agendum,” is from Marcus Annaeus Lucanus, Pharsalia, bk. II, line 657 (Lucan, The Civil War, bks. I–X, Loeb Classical Library [London, 1928], pp. 105–6).
2. The Northwest Ordinance provided for a governor with substantial powers, including an absolute veto over acts of the legislature; an elected house of representatives; and a “legislative council” of five members, appointed by Congress on the recommendation of the house of representatives (JCC description begins Worthington C. Ford et al., eds., Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789 (34 vols.; Washington, 1904–37). description ends , XXXII, 335–39). The Williamsburg clergyman believed this plan corresponded to John Adams’s scheme of balanced government under the direction of a strong executive, discussed in his Defence of the Constitutions of Government (Reverend James Madison to JM, 11 June 1787 and nn. 2, 3). In the conclusion to this work Adams himself remarked that the Northwest Ordinance, along with the Constitution, was an acknowledgment of the principles he had “attempted to defend” (C. F. Adams, Works of John Adams, VI, 219).