James Madison Papers

To James Madison from Mathew Carey, 1 August 1812

From Mathew Carey

Philadelphia, August 1. 1812


I have had considerable hesitation about a second trespass upon your time & attention.1 And nothing but the extreme delicacy & difficulty of the existing state of affairs wd. have induced me.

The press, one of the greatest blessings of mankind, when properly conducted, has for four or five years been the greatest curse & scourge of this Country, particularly of the New England section of it. The American press is incomparably more profligate & abandoned than that of England. Many of Our printers have abandoned all sense of honour, shame, or decency. There is no falsehood too base for them to assert—& such is the awful delusion of the public mind, that the detection of twenty gross & abominable lies, does not prevent credulity from opening wide her ears, for the twenty first.

It is easy to point out an evil—&, in many cases, not very difficult to point out remedies. But it is very frequently extremely difficult to apply those remedies. And I must confess that the present case is to my mind nearly a hopeless one.

The mass of the federalists are as good citizens as ever existed. They are however made tools of by men who have the very worst views. They have been led on step by step, through fraud and misrepresentation, till they have arrived at the verge of civil war, the most horrible of all calamities that ever scourged the human race.

A man of powerful talents, ardent zeal, & pure patriotism, might prevent the catastrophe that now threatens us. A luminous detail of the views & conduct of the leaders of the federal party, from their application to congress respecting the British restrictions on the Colonial Trade, till the present time, could not fail to convert many of the honest men of the one party, & to confirm the wavering of the other—that is, provided it could be forced into circulation.2 So far as respects the latter object, there wd. be no difficulty. But in the prostrate situation of the press, there wd. be difficulty to procure access to the other side.

In the Weekly Register of last Saturday (25th. July), there is an admirable essay on this subject—but it is too concise.3 I send by this day’s mail, a pamphlet, of which I cannot say “materiam superabat opus”;4 for the materials are excellent—but the execution very clumsy. In the hands of a man of talents, this wd. be of infinite service. With respect & esteem, Your obt. hble servt

Mathew Carey5

P S. I wish this, like my former letter, destroyed.

RC (DLC). Docketed by JM.

1The editors have been unable to locate any letters from Carey to JM for several years preceding the date of this one.

2Carey himself undertook this task in 1814, publishing his widely read work The Olive Branch; or, Faults on Both Sides, Federal and Democratic: A Serious Appeal on the Necessity of Mutual Forgiveness and Harmony, to Save Our Common Country from Ruin (Philadelphia, 1814; Shaw and Shoemaker description begins R. R. Shaw and R. H. Shoemaker, comps., American Bibliography: A Preliminary Checklist for 1801–1819 (22 vols.; New York, 1958–66). description ends 31090).

3Carey probably referred to an article entitled “Original Principles,” published on 25 July 1812 (Niles’ Weekly Register 2 [1812]: 346–48). The article faulted the Federalists for claiming that the war was offensive rather than defensive in nature. The author quoted from Federalist petitions against Fox’s blockade of 1806 proclaiming British trade restrictions to be unjust and questioning how “those who felt so much zeal to defend the right of the United States to the carrying trade, affect to believe that we are now engaged in an offensive war, seeing the same nation has assumed to itself, (and actually exercised) the right to regulate the whole foreign commerce of the U. States, by a mere order in council?

4“The workmanship was more beautiful than the material” (Ovid, Metamorphoses, trans. Frank Justus Miller, Loeb Classical Library [2 vols.; London, 1916], 1:61).

5Mathew Carey (1760–1839), Philadelphia writer and publisher, immigrated to the U.S. from Ireland in 1784. In 1802 he accepted a post as director of the Bank of Pennsylvania and, always reluctant to submit to party doctrine, came under fire from his fellow Republicans for defending the First Bank of the United States during the recharter debate of 1810–11. Throughout the War of 1812 he corresponded with JM, urging measures to combat disunionist activity in New England. In defense of his nonpartisan principles and Unionist ideals, in 1814 he wrote and published The Olive Branch, the work for which he is best known. He retired as the country’s foremost publisher in 1822 (Edward C. Carter II, “Mathew Carey and ‘The Olive Branch,’ 1814–1818,” PMHB description begins Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography. description ends 89 [1965]: 399, 400, 401–2, 405, 414).

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