James Madison Papers

To James Madison from John Adams, 17 November 1812

From John Adams

Quincy November 17th. 1812.

Dear Sir,

My Election to the Presidents office, was but by a majority of one or at most two votes. Mr Jeffersons was by no majority of the people and by a majority of one only in the house after thirty or 40 votes had been equally divided between him and Mr Burr. Mr Jeffersons second election was by a great majority and his third would have been by a greater still if he had not declined. Your Election was I believe by as great a majority as his second.1 I have entertained hopes that no such meager Elections as mine and Mr Jeffersons first, would ever have been seen again, Indeed I wished, hoped, and expected that your second Election would have been more unanimous than any since Washingtons. I still am confident that your re-Election is certain but by all appearances it will be by a smaller majority than your first. There is a strange appearance at present I know not how to describe it. The light souls of all parties seem to have mutually transmigrated out of and into one another. I really should not be surprized if our Hyperfederalists in Boston should four years hence set up Ben Austin, whom they hate more than they do the Devil, for President.2

But to be more serious the Elections in New England hitherto demonstrate a discontent from the Potomac to Nova Scotia which is alarming and it is to be feared will embarress and weaken the administration at a time when it ought to be the most energetic and the most unanimously and cordially supported: the causes of such a change are too numerous, besides the inherent and inalienable fickleness of the people to be detailed at present.

There is one of many years standing which has been constantly increasing in its operation and has had a more malignant effect in our late Elections than a stranger could well imagine. I mean the claim to the Georgia Lands.3 It has ever been my opinion and that of every other Lawyer in New England whose judgment was worth one farthing to his Client in any case and the opinion of every other man of honour and candor that the title of the claimants is good and valid in Law.

Nor is there any doubt here among reasonable men that their title is good and valid in Equity. The transaction on the part of the purchasers was bonâ fide. They had no suspicion of buying a controverted title. They had no intimation of any design to attempt a repeal: and indeed if such notice had been given them it was impossible they could have beleived it serious or feasible. They are now great sufferers. Many are of respectable situations in society. Many are reduced to poverty, by the interference of Georgians and the consequent interference of the United States to injure a title which stood on the legal constitutional and authentic records of the highest authority of a sovereign state. They paid an adequate and at that time an ample consideration. These facts are notorious and universally beleived here; and the Characters of many persons concerned render it extremely improbable in the public opinion, that the general opinion in this respect is erronious.

Such a case as this has a tendency to weaken the confidence of the people in the justice and impartiality of the nation and to propogate and countenance an apprehension that the government of the United States is an Enemy to the northern part of them. And it really has in too great a degree that Effect.

Far from me be the thought of proscribing for the government—but as every citizen has a right to his own opinion and to give it I may venture mine in unison with the universal opinion in this quarter: that government ought either to remove all obstacles to the claimants possessing the lands, or to take them for the nation by the consent of the purchasers paying them an adequate and liberal indemnity for all their advances and damages. Neither myself nor any of my Connections have any lot or portion in this business. As [sic] sense of public and private justice a love of the union and an ardent desire of its continuance in harmony are my only motives for giving you this trouble.

I am too sensible of the impropriety of your committing yourself to any individual without necessity upon a subject like this that I neither expect nor wish for any acknowledgment of this letter, which is intended only to communicate the sense of the public with which in this case that of the individual coincides.

Wishing you health, honour, and long life in and out of office. I remain Sir with great respect and esteem your most obedient Servant.

John Adams

Letterbook copy (MHi: Adams Papers). The RC has not been found.

1In the 1808 presidential election JM received 122 electoral votes. His competitors, Charles Cotesworth Pinckney and George Clinton, received 47 and 6 electoral votes, respectively (Brant, Madison description begins Irving Brant, James Madison (6 vols.; Indianapolis and New York, 1941–61). description ends , 4:467).

2Benjamin Austin Jr. (1752–1820), a Boston artisan and Revolutionary War patriot, was best known for his writings in opposition to Massachusetts legal procedure in the 1780s. He was a member of the state senate in 1787, 1789–94, and 1796 but fast fell out of favor in Massachusetts because of his increasing passion for Republican views. Jefferson appointed him commissioner of loans in 1804 (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 , 1:476, 477).

3Adams referred to the continuing controversy over the Yazoo claims of the shareholders in the New England Mississippi Land Company. The U.S. Supreme Court in its 1810 ruling in Fletcher v. Peck had upheld the claim of the New Englanders that the repeal of the Yazoo land sales by the Georgia legislature in 1796 had violated their contractual rights, but the ruling did not provide for financial indemnification. The New England land speculators were thus required to seek a federal compensation law, and their campaign was ultimately successful in March 1814 when Congress passed a law making up to $5 million available for compensation (see Magrath, Yazoo, 85–100).

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