James Madison Papers

To James Madison from Frances Wright, 28 June 1820

From Frances Wright

Whitburn Sunderland June 28th. 1820


The Tragedy of Altorf, a copy of which I presume to request your acceptance,1 was favourably received, some time since, in the Theatres of New York and Philadelphia. The kindness which, as a young and unknown Author, I then experienced, has added sentiments of heartfelt gratitude and affection to that admiration which I had previously conceived for the people of America, from the consideration of their history, their excellent laws and liberal constitution.

I must apologize Sir, for thus intruding my sentiments upon one with whose name and reputation I am alone Acquainted. But on these Sir, it is—upon your name which is connected with that of your country, and your reputation which has spread beyond it, that I rest my excuse.

It was the many engagements incident to my sudden return from America to England, at the call of friendship, that prevented me from presenting to Mr Madison at an earlier period a little work which had been so fortunate as to receive the approbation of some of his countrymen. I am Sir, with the highest respect, your most obedient servant

Frances Wright2

RC (DLC). Docketed by JM.

1Frances Wright, Altorf, a Tragedy (Philadelphia, 1819; 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 47790). The play was about the Swiss struggle for independence.

2Frances Wright (1795–1852) was a Scottish-born writer and social reformer whose first visit to the United States in 1818–20 led her to write Views of Society and Manners in America (London, 1821). On her second visit to the United States in 1824, she toured the country with Lafayette and visited JM. Their conversations about slavery led to a correspondence. Wright’s experimental community, Nashoba, in Tennessee, established in 1825, was a plan to test ideas of emancipation. Between 1828 and her death, Wright edited the Indiana New Harmony Gazette, which later became the New York Free Enquirer, and lectured to a public scandalized by her advocacy of equal rights for women, free love, and birth control, and her attacks on organized religion. Jefferson’s granddaughter, Ellen Coolidge, reacted with characteristic disapproval when she wrote in 1829 that “Frances Wright has arrived in Boston to deliver a course of lectures which I hope no body will go to hear.” About Wright’s views on the immorality of marriage, she wrote that “I fear the people here are scarcely advanced enough to relish the doctrine, & Miss Wright will probably not be noticed by any modest woman” (Ellen Wayles Randolph Coolidge to Virginia Randolph Trist, 21 July 1829, ViU: Correspondence of Ellen Wayles Randolph Coolidge, Special Collections).

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