James Madison Papers

To James Madison from Joseph Spencer, 28 February 1788

From Joseph Spencer

Orange County Febry. 28th 1788

D Sir

The Federal Constitution, has it Enimyes in Orange as well as in other parts, Col. Thos. Barber offers as a Candedit for our March Election, he is as grate an Enimy to it as he posabley can be, & if not as grate as any it has, as grate as his abiliteys will alow him to be, which if our County men admired his Politickes no more then I do, the Constitution would have but Little to fear from that Quarter, but his unwared Labours Riding his Carquits & the Instrements he makes use of to Obtain his Election, misrepresents things in such Horred carrecters that the weker clas of the people are much predegessed agains it by which meens he has many which as yet, appears grately in favour of him, amoungs his Friends appears, in a General way the Baptus’s, the Prechers of that Society are much alarm’d fearing Relegious liberty is not Sufficiently secur’d thay pretend to other objections but that I think is the principle objection, could that be Removed by sum one Caperble of the Task I think thay would become friends to it, that body of people has become Very formible in pint of Elections, as I can think of no Gentln. of my Acquaintance so Suitible to the task as your Self I have taken the liberty to Request it of you, Several of your Conections in Orange Joines me in oppinion, thinking it would Answer a Valuable purpus for I am Cartain that pople Relye much on your integerity & Candure, Mr. Leeland & Mr. Bledsoe and Sanders1 are the most publick men of that Society in Orange, therefore as Mr. Leeland Lyes in your Way home from Fredricksburg to Orange would advise you’l call on him & Spend a few Howers in his Company, in Clos’d youl Receive his Objections which was Sent by me to, Barber, a Coppy I tooke,2 this copy was first Design’d for Capt Walker,3 but as I hoped youl be in this state in a few days thought proper to Send it to you, by which means youl be made Acquainted with their objections & have time to Consider them should you think it an Object worth yr. Attention, my fears are that Except you & yr. friends do Exerte yr. Selves Very much youl not obtain yr. Election in Orange Such are the predegeses of the people for in short there is nothing so Vile, but what the Constitution is Charged with, hope to See you in Orange in a few days4 I am with the Gratest Respect yr. most obedt h Sarve

Joseph Spencer5

RC and enclosure (DLC). After his signature Spencer added the date of 26 Feb. 1788, but the editors have accepted the date given by Spencer at the beginning of the letter. Addressed by Spencer “to the care of Mr. F Murey [Maury] in Fredricksburg.” Docketed by JM, “Feby. 26. 1788.” For enclosure, see n. 2 below.

1Nathaniel Saunders (d. 1808), one of the first Baptist preachers in Orange County (Semple, History of the Rise and Progress of the Baptists in Virginia [rev. ed., 1894], pp. 234–35).

2At the end of the enclosure Spencer wrote, “Revd. John Leeland’s Objections to the Federal Constitution Sent to Col. Thos. Barber by his Request, a Coppy taken by Jos. Spencer, entended for the Consideration of Capt Jas. Walker Culpeper.” It is printed in Documentary History of the Constitution, IV, 526–29, and in Butterfield, “Elder John Leland,” Proceedings of the American Antiquarian Society, n.s., LXII (1952), 187–88. Leland believed the new plan of government was insufficiently republican and was particularly critical of the omission of a bill of rights and a specific guarantee of religious liberty. On 7 Mar. 1788 the Virginia Baptist General Committee discussed the Constitution and agreed unanimously that it did not make “sufficient provision for the secure enjoyment of religious liberty” (Semple, History of the Rise and Progress of the Baptists in Virginia [rev. ed., 1894], p. 102).

3James Walker, a candidate for the convention in Culpeper County (Andrew Shepherd to JM, 22 Dec. 1787 and n. 3).

4JM left New York on 3 or 4 Mar., stopped at Mount Vernon on 18 Mar., and resumed his homeward journey two days later, taking the stage to Fredericksburg. He arrived in Orange on 23 Mar. (Fitzpatrick, Washington Diaries, III, 313; Vi: Francis Taylor Diary). Although accounts of JM’s famous meeting with Leland are fanciful, the tradition is strong that such a meeting did in fact occur, probably on 22 Mar. According to this tradition JM persuaded Leland to change his mind on the Constitution and thereby gained Baptist support on election day. The election took place on 24 Mar. with the following results recorded by Francis Taylor: JM 202, Gordon 187, Barbour 56, and Porter 34 (Butterfield, “Elder John Leland,” Proceedings of the American Antiquarian Society, n.s., LXII [1952], 188–92).

5The writer’s identity is uncertain. A Joseph Spencer (d. 1829) organized a company of Orange County militiamen at the outbreak of the Revolution, was commissioned a captain in the Continental line on 8 May 1776, and resigned his commission on 14 Nov. 1777 (JCSV description begins H. R. McIlwaine et al., eds., Journals of the Council of the State of Virginia (4 vols. to date; Richmond, 1931——). description ends , I, 62; II, 454; Heitman, Historical Register Continental description begins F. B. Heitman, Historical Register of Officers of the Continental Army during the War of the Revolution (Washington, 1914). description ends , p. 511). Perhaps this was the Joseph Spencer who as a dissenting minister was jailed for preaching in Orange County in 1773 (see Lewis Peyton Little, Imprisoned Preachers and Religious Liberty in Virginia [Lynchburg, Va., 1938], pp. 380–83).

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