James Madison Papers

To James Madison from George Hay, 23 April 1821

From George Hay

Washington. April 23. 1821.


You were good enough when I had the pleasure of being at your house, during the last Summer, to offer me the use of Valen’s commentary on the “Ordonnances de la Marine.”1 The possession of that work at this time, would be a great accommodation to me. Will you pardon me for asking, that it may be forwarded by the mail to this City?

I have devoted some time lately to an investigation of the decision and reasoning of the S. Court in the Case of Anderson vs. Dunn;2 involving the question concerning the power of the H.R. to punish for a Contempt. If you have not attended to this decision, published in the Nat: Intr. you will be amused by looking into it. The decision is erroneous, and the doctrines ultra-federal. Yet they seem to have made no impression here, or indeed any where else.

I beg leave to offer to Mrs. Madison my most respectful Salutations: and am with the highest respect for yourself Yr. mo: ob. Sr.

Geo: Hay

RC (DLC). Docketed by JM, with his note: “The Books sent.”

2The case Anderson v. Dunn, turned on the issue of whether Congress had the right to punish a private citizen for contempt. John Anderson was accused of attempting to bribe a U.S. congressman, whereupon the Speaker of the House, Henry Clay, ordered Thomas Dunn, the sergeant at arms, to bring Anderson before the House to answer the charge. Anderson was reprimanded and discharged from arrest but sued for assault and battery and false imprisonment. In his decision, Justice William Johnson upheld Congress’s action, writing that, although “there is no power given by the constitution to either House to punish for contempts, except when committed by their own members,” there are implied powers, and further, “there is not in the whole of that admirable instrument [U.S. Constitution], a grant of powers which does not draw after it others, not expressed, but vital to their exercise, not substantive and independent, indeed, but auxiliary and subordinate” (6 Wheaton 204–35). Justice Johnson’s opinion was printed in the Daily National Intelligencer, 23 Mar. 1821.

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