James Madison Papers

To James Madison from Edmund Pendleton, [8 October] 1787

From Edmund Pendleton

[Edmundsbury, 8 October 1787]

… A Republic was inevitably the American form, and its Natural danger Pop. Tumults & Convulsions. With these in view I read over the Constitution accurately; do not find a Trait of any Violation of the great Principles of the form, all Power being derived mediately or immediately from the People. No Title or Powers that are either hereditary or of long duration so as to become Inveterate; and the Laws & not the arbitrary will of any man, or body of men made the rule of Government. The People, the Origin of Power, cannot act personally, & can only exercise their Power by representation. The great bodies of both Federal & State Legislatures are to consist of their immediate choice, and from that choice all other Powers are derived; the secretions required in the choice of the Federal Senate and President, seem admirably contrived to prevent Popular Tumults, as well as to preserve that Equilibrium to be expected from the Ballancing Power of the three branches. In the President’s Power of Negation to the laws, the modification strikes out a happy medium between an Absolute Negative in a single person, & having no stop, or cheque upon laws too harshly, or the Offspring of Party or Faction such as upon a re-consideration, are approved by ⅔rds of Each House, ought to pass independent of any other power.

The President is indeed to be a great man, but it is only in shew to represent the Federal dignity & Power, having no latent Prerogatives, nor any Powers but such as are defined and given him by law. He is to be Commander-in-Chief of the Army & Navy, but Congress are to raise & provide for them, & that not for above two years at a time. He is to nominate all officers, but Congress must first creat[e] the offices & fix the Emoluments, and may discontinue them at pleasure & he must have the consent of ⅔rds of the Senate to his nomination. Above all his tenure of Office is short, & the Danger of Impeachment a powerful restraint against abuse of Office. A Political Head and that adorned with powder’d hair, seems as necessary & useful in Governments as that member so adorned in the natural body, and I have observed in the history of the United Netherlands, that their affairs always succeeded best, when they allowed their Stadtholder to exercise his Constitutional powers.…

Printed extract (Stan. V. Henkels Catalogue No. 694 [1892]). Following the last sentence of the quoted excerpt, the catalogue notes that Pendleton “continues on, commenting on all the important points in that great masterwork of the founders of this great republic.” The letter also contained a “criticism on the clause exempting vessels bound to or from a State from being obliged to enter &c in another” (JM to Pendelton, 28 Oct. 1787). The list probably kept by Peter Force (DLC: Madison Miscellany) notes that this letter consisted of four pages and calendars it as follows: “The results of the Philadelphia Convention. The two Virginia dissenters to the plan adopted. Pendleton’s review of the proposed Constitution.”

Index Entries