James Madison Papers

From James Madison to Eliza House Trist, 25 March 1788

To Eliza House Trist

Orange March 25 [1788]. The badness of the roads & some other delays retarded the completion of my journey till the day before yesterday. I called at Col Syms in Alexanda. but had not the pleasure of seeing either him or his lady.1 He was not at home though in Town and I was so hurried that I could halt a few minutes only; and she was confined to her chamber by indisposition. I had the satisfaction to find all my friends well on my arrival; and the chagrin to find the County filled with the most absurd and groundless prejudices against the fœderal Constitution. I was therefore obliged at the election which succeeded the day of my arrival to mount for the first time in my life, the rostrum before a large body of the people, and to launch into a harangue of some length in the open air and on a very windy day. What the effect might be I cannot say, but either from that experiment or the exertion of the fœderalists or perhaps both, the misconceptions of the Government were so far corrected that two federalists one of them myself were elected by a majority of nearly 4 to one.2 It is very probable that a very different event would have taken place as to myself if the efforts of my friends had not been seconded by my presence. The elections as yet are not sufficiently known to authorize any judgment on the probable complexion of the Convention. As far as I have heard of them they are not discouraging; but I have heard little from the great district of Country which is said to be most tainted with antifederalism. I am so taken up with company that I cannot at present add more than my sincerest wishes for your happiness. Adieu.

Js. Madison Jr.

RC (owned by Mrs. English Showalter, Roanoke, Va., 1976; microfilm, ViU). A note on the cover reads, “This letter, unfortunately torn was to Genl. James Breckinridge of Bottetourt Co. from President Madison,” and is signed “L. G. Sorrel 1896.” The author of the note, Letitia Gamble Watts (Mrs. Francis Sorrel), was James Breckinridge’s granddaughter. It is unlikely that her grandfather was the recipient, however, for the correspondence between JM and Breckinridge did not begin until much later. On the basis of the format and internal evidence, the editors have determined the recipient to be Eliza House Trist, a choice that is also consistent with the provenance of the letter. In one striking particular the format of this letter is identical to that of others JM wrote to Mrs. Trist during this period: he put the dateline in the space normally occupied by the salutation. For some reason JM always omitted the salutation when writing to her. JM’s mention of Col. and Mrs. Charles Simms (see n. 1) provides another clue. In a letter to Jefferson of 24 July 1786, Mrs. Trist referred to her “friend Mrs. Simms of Alexandria” (Boyd, Papers of Jefferson description begins Julian P. Boyd et al., eds., The Papers of Thomas Jefferson (19 vols. to date; Princeton, 1950—). description ends , X, 166). Fixing Mrs. Trist as the recipient requires an explanation as to how the letter was handed down through the Breckinridge family. Although not direct, a link can be established between the Breckinridges and Mrs. Trist, Her niece, Mary House, married Peachy R. Gilmer. Their daughter, Emma Walker Gilmer, married Cary Breckinridge (son of James Breckinridge), who was the uncle of Letitia Sorrel, the writer of the 1896 note on the letter (Tyler’s Quarterly description begins Tyler’s Quarterly Historical and Genealogical Magazine. description ends , VI [1924–25], 215; Kennedy, Seldens of Virginia, I, 99–100, 455–56). The editors are indebted to Mrs. Showalter, custodian of the family papers in 1976, for information concerning her family.

1Charles Simms (1755–1819) was an officer of the Continental line during the Revolution. In 1779 he married Nancy Douglas, daughter of William Douglas of Trenton, New Jersey. He represented Fairfax County in the House of Delegates in 1785 and in the convention of June 1788 (Mary G. Powell, The History of Old Alexandria, Virginia [Richmond, 1928], pp. 259–60; Swem and Williams, Register description begins Earl G. Swem and John W. Williams, eds., A Register of the General Assembly of Virginia, 1776–1918, and of the Constitutional Conventions (Richmond, 1918). description ends , pp. 21, 243).

2The election took place on 24 Mar. JM led the list of candidates with 202 votes, followed by James Gordon, Jr., with 187, Thomas Barbour with 56, and Charles Porter with 34, “Col Madison addressed himself in a Speech to the people in defence of the new Constitution,” Francis Taylor wrote, “and there appeared much satisfaction after the Election was determined. Very cold. Windy & drifts of snow but not to show on ground” (Vi: Francis Taylor Diary).

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