James Madison Papers

Notes for Speech in Congress: The Contested Georgia Election, [ca. 19 March] 1792

Notes for Speech in Congress
The Contested Georgia Election

Editorial Note

The election of General Anthony Wayne to the House of Representatives from a Georgia congressional district was disputed by his opponent, James Jackson, who petitioned the House on 14 November 1791 to declare him the legally elected winner of the election. Jackson’s petition alleged irregularities and also claimed that Wayne was not a legal resident of Georgia at the time of the election and hence was ineligible to serve on any count. The trial of the articles in Jackson’s petition began on 12 March 1792. A resolution that Wayne “was not duly elected a Member of this House” won unanimous approval on 16 March, and on 19 March a resolution declaring that Jackson was “entitled to a seat in this House” was introduced (Annals of Congress description begins Debates and Proceedings in the Congress of the United States, 1789–1824 (42 vols.; Washington, 1834–56). description ends , 2d Cong., 1st sess., 472, 475; Matthew St. Clair Clarke and David A. Hall, comps., Cases of Contested Elections in Congress from the Year 1789 to 1834, Inclusive [Washington, 1834], pp. 47–68).

[ca. 19 March 1792]

It appears that Petr. has the greatest no. of legal votes—if not elected—Why?

Note Lex Parl.1 not law—unity there plurality here—positive regulations.

1. Is the election avoided in toto by error in part.

No because then the smallest part may viciate

2. Are we to require majority of Counties to be sound?

—they wd. be unequal

3. or a majority of rightful electors whether voting or not in whole district

—This unsafe to representation

—unreasonable, non voters being neutrals

4. or a majority of votes given whether legally or illegally.

—this inadmissable.

—favorable to the petitioner

5. It follows—that we must be governed by the majr. number of legal votes legally given


1. The petitioner be disqualified by law—or

2. hath disqualified himself by some illegal proceeding in the case—


the illegal proceedings agst. him (even if in every County) wd. not do it, if majy. of sound vote

see Dougs. vol: 3. p. 1222


vol. 2. 203

sd. has not petitioned.

—has petid.

—if not, right of election & people not to be affectd. by act of party.

Dougls. vol. 1. p. 136–188.

sd. not returned & can not be put into return.

—Dougs. vol. 2. p. 25—form of altering returns.

sd. if admitted final agst all objection—no.

—Dougs. vol: [1] p. 74

—Blackstone3 p. 63.

—only do what return sd. have done—

—want of reciprocity—

—Elections sd. be favd. so as to prevent failure or chasm

distance of States another reason—

Morpeth4 Vol. 1. p. 74

Sitting member decld not duly returned—

The Petitionr to be so

Liberty given to the ejected member & others to question Petitioners election within 14 days see W. & Luttrel5 p. 63.

Vol. 1. p. 89.

2 Sittg Members and also 2 petitioners decd, not duly elected.

Vol. 1. p. 131—188

Agremt. of parties cannot alter right of election

Vol. 2. p. 203–4

Bribery by sitting member

Petitioner must still prove majority of unbribed votes in his favor—vol. 3. p. 122. p. 75–6

Vol. 2. p. 25

Form of order for amending the return.

Ms (DLC). Written on a folded sheet. JM’s arithmetical calculations at top and bottom of recto omitted. Conjectured date based on a comparison with JM’s House speech of 19 Mar. 1792.

1Lex parliamentaria: parliamentary rule.

2Sylvester Douglas, Baron Glenbervie, The History of the Cases of Controverted Elections, Which Were Tried and Determined during the First [and Second] Session[s] of the Fourteenth Parliament of Great Britain. XV. [and XVI.] Geo. III. (4 vols.; London, 1775–77). Subsequent citations in these notes which give a volume number refer to this work.

3An Interesting Appendix to Sir William Blackstone’s Commentaries on the Laws of England (Philadelphia, 1773; Evans description begins Charles Evans, ed., American Bibliography … 1639 … 1820 (12 vols.; Chicago, 1903–34). Roger P. Bristol, ed., Supplement to Charles Evans’ American Bibliography (Charlottesville, Va., 1970). description ends 12684). This work included Blackstone’s The Case of the Late Election for the County of Middlesex, Considered on the Principles of the Constitution and the Authorities of Law, first published in London in 1769.

4JM referred to an English disputed election at Morpeth, Northumberland, in which a mob in 1774 had coerced the bailiffs in charge of the polls to certify the election of two candidates who had received the fewest votes in a field of four. The defrauded candidates petitioned the House of Commons, which appointed a committee of inquiry and ultimately seated the petitioners.

5JM referred to the disputed Middlesex election of 1769 involving John Wilkes and Col. Henry Lawes Luttrell described in Blackstone (see n. 3).

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