James Madison Papers

Draft Veto of the Bank Bill, 21 February 1791

Draft Veto of the Bank Bill

Feby. 21. 1791. Copy of a paper made out & sent to the President at his request, to be ready in case his judgment should finally decide agst. the Bill for incorporating a National Bank, the Bill being then before him.1

Gentlemen of the Senate

Having carefully examined and maturely considered the Bill entitled “An Act   I am compelled by the conviction of my judgment and the duty of my Station to return the Bill to the House in which it originated with the following objections:

(if to the Constitutionality)

I object to the Bill because it is an essential principle of the Government that powers not delegated by the Constitution cannot be rightfully exercised; because the power proposed by the Bill to be exercised is not expressly delegated; and because I cannot satisfy myself that it results from any express power by fair and safe rules of implication.

(if to the merits alone or in addition)

I object to the Bill because it appears to be unequal between the public and the Institution in favor of the institution; imposing no conditions on the latter equivalent to the stipulations assumed by the former. (Quer. if this be within the intimation of the President.) I object to the Bill because it is in all cases the duty of the Government to dispense its benefits to individuals with as impartial a hand as the public interest will permit; and the Bill is in this respect unequal to individuals holding different denominations of public Stock and willing to become subscribers. This objection lies with particular force against the early day appointed for opening subscriptions, which if these should be filled as quickly as may happen, amounts to an exclusion of those remote from the Government, in favor of those near enough to take advantage of the opportunity.2

FC (MB); Tr (DLC: James K. Polk Papers). JM docketed the FC: “paper made out Feby. 21. 1791. at the request of the President; whilst the Bank Bill was before him.” The Tr is docketed: “Copied by me 18 Oct. 1848 / J Knox Walker.” Walker, James K. Polk’s private secretary, made his copy from the FC at the time President Polk was preparing a veto message on an internal improvements bill. No doubt it was at this time that the FC was separated from the main body of JM’s papers, which had recently been turned over to the federal government (Allan Nevins, ed., Polk: The Diary of a President, 1845–1849 [New York, 1929], pp. 348–49; Rives, Life of Madison, III, 171 n.).

1In a memorandum written after his retirement from public life, JM recalled the circumstances of this draft. President Washington, he then wrote, “held several free conversations with me on the Subject, in which he listened favorably as I thought to my views of it, but certainly without committing himself in any manner whatever.” At the time JM drafted the proposed veto message, Washington had already received opinions from Attorney General Randolph and Secretary of State Jefferson advising the president not to approve the bill, but Washington had not yet received Secretary of the Treasury Hamilton’s opinion urging acceptance of the measure (Fleet, “Madison’s ‘Detatched Memoranda,’” WMQ description begins William and Mary Quarterly. description ends , 3d ser., III [1946], 542–43; Matthew St. Clair Clarke and David A. Hall, comps., Legislative and Documentary History of the Bank of the United States … [Washington, 1832], pp. 89–91, 91–94, 95–112; 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 , XIX, 275–80; Syrett and Cooke, Papers of Hamilton description begins Harold C. Syrett and Jacob E. Cooke, eds., The Papers of Alexander Hamilton (26 vols.; New York, 1961–79). description ends , VIII, 62–134). Kenneth R. Bowling argues that the constitutional scruples of JM, Jefferson, and other southerners masked a deeper fear that the bank bill might prevent the eventual location of the capital on the banks of the Potomac (“The Bank Bill, the Capital City and President Washington,” Capitol Studies, I [1972], 59–71).

2This objection was remedied in the supplementary bank bill (U.S. Statutes at Large description begins The Public Statutes at Large of the United States of America … (17 vols.; Boston, 1848–73). description ends , I, 196–97). See also JM’s speech of 8 Feb. 1791 and n. 5.

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