James Madison Papers

From James Madison to Francis Walker Gilmer, 18 December 1820

To Francis Walker Gilmer

Montpellier Decr. 18. 1820

Dear Sir

I have received your favor of the 10th. inclosing the letter from Mr. Correa, for the perusal of which you will please to accept my thanks. I am glad to find that he leaves our country with so many cordial feelings: and I can not but value highly the share allowed me in such, by one, not more distinguished by the treasures of his capacious mind, than by the virtues and charms of his social life.

I am to thank you also for the little treatise in vindication of the Usury laws. The arguments you have marshalled on that side must be respected by those most zealous on the other. They will a[t] least agree that you have seconded them by very interesting appeals to the sympathies of benevolence.

It has occasionally occurred to me, as worthy of consideration whether a limitation of the legal interest in favor of the distressed & inconsiderate, might not admit exceptions where a higher rate would be advantageous to the borrower as well as to the lender. That there are such cases cannot be doubted, and if exceptions in favor of them could be duly guarded agst. abuse, by official formalities, & even by disinterested sanctions founded on satisfactory explanations, the space would be much narrowed for differences of opinion. How far the excepted cases would be of sufficient extent to justify the departure from a uniform rule, is another point requiring more investigation & reflection, than I have bestowed on it.1 With great esteem Yrs.

James Madison

RC (CLU-C); draft (DLC).

1In a letter to Dabney Carr, Gilmer commented on JM’s response: “Mr. Madison to whom I sent a copy wrote a longer letter—concurring with us too in the main but tinctured with the political mysticism which I ever thought belonged to his mind. Rely upon it, his views are neither great nor distinct—objects loom because of the haze about them. He admits needy borrowers should be protected, but thinks that those not impelled by necessity should not have the benefit of the exception. His exception to the exception, is about as practicable, as Gullivers, for setting a dial on a weathercock. It is in short, little less than sheer nonsense—and his idea about it as he himself has expressed it, is downright absurdity. I was struck as I have ever been at the contrast between his way of thinking and that of Mr. J. There is no comparison between the two men. Madison I hear was logical in debate. But in every thing I have seen from him, his logic is artificial & shallow. In conversation he is a disputatious polemic; but I think by no means a powerful adversary. He is however as much superior to his successor as he is inferior to his predecessor” (Gilmer to Carr, 15 Jan. 1821, Vi).

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