James Madison Papers

From James Madison to Henry Lee, 15 April 1792

To Henry Lee

Philadelphia April 15th 1792

My Dear sir

I have already acquainted you with the nominations of the President for General Officers. They have all been confirmed by the Senate except Wilkinson who I am told will be tomorrow. The Commander in chief it is said went through the Senate rather against the bristles.1 The appointment is well relished of course by some, but does not escape already considerable criticism. I am glad to find by your letter of the 4th which did not come to hand till yesterday that your inclinations & your anticipations so well coincided as they related to yourself. With respect to mine, the latter are as little disappointed by the event as yours, though that is not the case as to the former. The disappointment however would be more regreted, if your present station were less important, and particularly to our own country at the present moment.

Your remarks on the augmented duties are solid & weighty, but they will not prevail against the aversion to other taxes, and the collateral views to be answered by duties on imported manufactures. The worst is that many of the new duties are made permanent, for which an advantage is taken of the pretexts blended with the original cause.

You will see by the Paper republished from New York that the scene there is become more & more gloomy. The[re] are reports which make it much worse. Speculating & Banking are as much execrated in that City, as they were idolized a few weeks ago. The language will probably soon become general. Several failures have taken place here, notwithstanding the incessant & elaborate efforts to parry such a catastrophe as New York exhibits. It is thought however that an earthquake though much slighter will be inevitable within the present Month. The train of circumstances which has led to these evils are obvious—and reflections must soon force themselves on the public mind, from which it has hitherto been diverted by a fallacious prosperity, and uncontradicted declamation in the gazette.

You know already that the President has exerted his power of checking the unconstitutional career of Congress. The judges have also called the attention of the Pu[b]lic to Legislative fallibility, by pronouncing a law providing for Invalid Pensioners, unconstitutional & void—perhaps they may be wrong in the exertion of their power—but such an evidence of its existence gives inquietude to those who do not wish congress to be controuled or doubted whilst its proceedings correspond with their views.2 I suspect also that the inquietude is increased by the relation of such a power to the Bank Law, in the Public contemplation, if not in their own.

Nothing done since my last on the farther assumption or the Rept. on the Public debt. Yrs Most affly.

Js Madison jr

Tr (DLC). Markings by John C. Payne on outer cover indicate this transcript was the last of “Copies of letters of J. Madison to Genl. Henry Lee from Nov. 9. 1786 to April 15th. 1792.”

1The Senate confirmed the appointment of Anthony Wayne as a major general to succeed Arthur St. Clair on 11 Apr. (Senate Exec. Proceedings description begins Journal of the Executive Proceedings of the Senate of the United States of America (3 vols.; Washington, 1828). description ends , I, 119).

2This case, which caused a legal sensation at the time, concerned “an invalid Officer”—William Hayburn—who asked the U.S. circuit court to order that he “be put on the pension list, pursuant to a late law of Congress.” The court, however, “refused to take cognizance of his case … and looked on the law which imposes that duty, as an unconstitutional one, inasmuch as it directs the Secretary of War to state the mistakes of the Judges to Congress for their revision: they could not therefore accede to a regulation tending to render the Judiciary subject to the Legislature” (Philadelphia Independent Gazetteer, 21 Apr. 1792). “The late decision of the Judges of the United States, in the circuit court of Pennsylvania, declaring an act of the present session of Congress unconstitutional, must be [a] matter of high gratification to every republican and friend of liberty” (National Gazette, 16 Apr. 1792). The matter was reported as Hayburn’s Case, 2 Dallas description begins A. J. Dallas, Reports of Cases Ruled and Adjudged in the Several Courts of the United States, and of Pennsylvania (4 vols.; Philadelphia, 1790–99). description ends 409, with concurring opinions from the New York and North Carolina circuit courts (Charles C. Haines, The American Doctrine of Judicial Supremacy [Berkeley, Calif., 1932], pp. 173–75).

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