James Madison Papers

To James Madison from Henry St. George Tucker, 18 December 1817

From Henry St. George Tucker

Washington Decr. 18. 1817.

Dear Sir,

I beg leave to enclose to you a hasty sketch on a constitutional question, which it has fallen to my duty to draw up.1 The pressure of circumstances which it is unnecessary to detail have prevented a more extended investigation of the question, and may perhaps have led to inaccuracies which might otherwise have been avoided.

Tho retired from public life you cannot be indifferent I am assured to what is passing: Nor can I, in turning over the Constitution forget for a moment that I am indebted to yourself for every principle of Constitutional law which in early life was impressed upon my mind. Whilst therefore, I apprehend, that I shall be supposed to have deviated from the lessons of my preceptor, I am anxious to avail myself of an occasion of acknowledging the great advantages I have derived in common with the rest of my Countrymen from your profound Speculations on the Charter of the Government.

Permit me at the same time to express a hope that the notice which a review of Some of the transactions of the federal government, has compelled me to take of a few of the acts of your administration, will not be considered as disrespectful or unfair. Should such an impression be made on your mind by any part of the enclosed paper, it could only be calculated to give me pain instead of inflicting a wound on you. Permit me therefore with all frankness to disavow any but the most respectful sentiments towards you, and to add the Assurance of the great esteem with which I have the Honour to be Dr Sir Your obedt. Servant

H: S: G: Tucker2

RC (DLC). Docketed by JM. Enclosure not found, but see n. 1.

1Tucker enclosed his report “on so much of the President’s Message as relates to roads, canals, and seminaries of learning,” which was presented and read in the U.S. House of Representatives on 15 Dec. 1817 (Annals of Congress description begins Debates and Proceedings in the Congress of the United States.… (42 vols.; Washington, 1834–56). description ends , 15th Cong., 1st sess., 446, 451–60). The report argued that Congress has the power, without amending the Constitution, to construct post roads, military roads, and canals with the assent of the states concerned.

2Henry St. George Tucker (1780–1848), a graduate of the College of William and Mary, was a prominent Virginia lawyer who served in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1815 to 1819. In 1824 he was elected judge of the Superior Court of Chancery for the Winchester and Clarksburg districts, and in 1831 he became president of the Supreme Court of Appeals of Virginia. The author of a number of books of legal scholarship, he served as professor of law at the University of Virginia, 1841–45.

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