James Madison Papers

To James Madison from James McClurg, 31 October 1787

From James McClurg

Richmond Octr. 31. 87.

Dear Sir,

I am to thank you for the favor you did me in inclosing a copy of the new constitution; which has ever since been the principal topic of political conversation in every company. It was at first reciev’d with a prepossession in it’s favor almost enthusiastic, in our towns especially. The circumstances, however, which in this state partic[ularl]y tended to excite Suspicion & jealousy, have caus’d this disposition to subside sooner than it might otherwise have done; & every man’s mind is turn’d to a subtle investigation of the plan. Various indeed are the objections made to it; but those which strike only the most moderate, & most federal, are confin’d chiefly to the Senate. Nor do they object to the equal representation of the States in the Senate, so much as to the additional weight thrown into that branch of the Legislature, by combining it with the Presidt. in the high executive offices of Government. It is supposed that the obligation of a common Interest may connect them in a dangerous Junto; & on this account, they imagine the Senate to be the worst court that could have been contriv’d for the Impeachment of the President. They concieve too that the Senators, in their executive business, may become liable to Impeachment, tho’ they cannot see by what court they can be tried.

I see, in a pamphlet publish’d at Philada. in defence of the Constitution, a serious Objection made to the clause which empowers Congress to regulate the manner, time, & place, of chusing the representatives of the people in the several States.1 This has been reecchoed here; & it has not been easy to find a sufficient reason for it’s Insertion. Some have objected also to the Influence of the Presidt. in the house of representatives as capable of producing his reelection, even when the majority of the constitutional electors are against him.

These are Objections made by Men heartily dispos’d towards an energetic federal government, & concieving that defects in its frame must be equally obnoxious to the people of all the States, they hope to see them amended. For my part, I am so fearful of it’s Loss, that I should be willing to trust the remedy of it’s defects to the reason moderation & experience of the future Congress. By the by, what is to become of the State debts, when all the Sources of revenue in the states are seiz’d by Congress?2 I am with the most sincere regard, Dear Sir, Your friend & Servt.

Jas. McClurg

RC (DLC). Docketed by JM.

1The reference is to Noah Webster’s An Examination into the leading principles of the Federal Constitution proposed by the late Convention held at Philadelphia … (Philadelphia, 1787), reprinted in P. L. Ford, Pamphlets on the Constitution, pp. 25–65; see especially p. 61.

2The Constitution contained no provision for the federal assumption of state debts, though the subject was considered briefly at the convention. McClurg was evidently present when Rufus King first suggested such a proposal on 14 July, but he had long since returned to Virginia when the next discussion of the matter took place on 18 Aug. On that day the convention agreed to John Rutledge’s motion that a grand committee “consider the necessity and expediency of the U- States assuming all the State debts.” The committee reported an assumption provision on 21 Aug., but it was silently dropped the next day (Farrand, Records description begins Max Farrand, ed., The Records of the Federal Convention of 1787 (4 vols.; New Haven, 1911–37). description ends , II, 6, 327–28, 355–56, 377).

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