James Madison Papers

From James Madison to Thomas Jefferson, 12 January 1800

To Thomas Jefferson

Richmond Jany. 12. 1800

Dear Sir

My last informed you of the result of the debates on the justifying Report of the Select Committee. I am now able to add that of Mr. Giles’s resolutions. The question on the whole was decided in the affirmative by a little upwards of a hundred against less than fifty. The vote was rather stronger on some of the particular resolutions, for example the instruction for disbanding the army. The alien sedition & Tobacco instructions passed without a count or a division. That relating to the Common law, passed unanimously with an amendment qualifying it in the words of the paragraph in the Justifying Report under which certain defined parts of the C. L. are admitted to be the law of the U. S.1 This amendment was moved by the Minority on the idea that it covers the doctrine they contend for. On our side it is considered as a guarded exposition of the powers expressed in the Constn: and those necessary & proper to carry them into execution. I am not able to say in what manner they misconstrue the definition, unless they apply the term “adopt” to the “Court” which would be equally absurd & unconstitutional. The Judges themselves will hardly contend that they can adopt a law, that is, make that law which before was not law. The difference in the majority on the Report & the resolutions, was occasioned cheifly by the pledge given agst. the former by the members who voted agst. the Resolutions of last year. The resolutions also underwent some improvements which reconciled many to them who were not satisfied with their first tone & form. It is understood that the present assembly is rather stronger on the republican side than the last one: and that a few favorable changes have taken place in the course of the Session. It is proposed to introduce tomorrow a bill for a general ticket in chusing the next Electors.2 I expect to leave this in a week; so that your subsequent favors will find me in Orange. Adieu

Shew this to Mr. Dawson.

RC (DLC). Unsigned. Docketed by Jefferson, “recd Jan. 18.”

1The third article of the instructions, “to oppose the passing of any law founded on, or recognizing the principle lately advanced, ‘that the common law of England is in force under the government of the United States,’” was amended on 11 Jan. 1800 by adding: “excepting from such opposition such particular parts of the common law as may have a sanction from the constitution, so far as they are necessarily comprehended in the technical phrases, which express the powers delegated to the government: and excepting also, such other parts thereof as may be adopted as necessary and proper for carrying into execution the powers expressly delegated” (JHDV description begins Journal of the House of Delegates of the Commonwealth of Virginia, Begun and Held at the Capitol, in the City of Richmond. Volumes in this series are designated by the month in which the session began. description ends , Dec. 1799 [Evans description begins Charles Evans, ed., American Bibliography … 1639 … 1820 (12 vols.; Chicago, 1903–34). description ends 38954], pp. 79, 82).

2The Republicans sought a general-ticket law to change the practice of choosing electors by district, a practice that allowed some districts to return Federalist electors. In order to garner all of Virginia’s electoral votes for Thomas Jefferson, Republicans proposed that the state’s voters choose between a Republican and a Federalist statewide ticket of electors. On 17 Jan. the bill, which required that each district be represented on the ticket, passed the House of Delegates by a narrow margin, 78 to 73 (ibid., p. 91; Beeman, The Old Dominion and the New Nation, p. 212).

Index Entries