James Madison Papers

To James Madison from Joseph Gales Jr., 22 June 1821

From Joseph Gales Jr.

Washington, June 22. 1821.

Respected Sir:

I am honored by your favor of the 12th instant. I much regret, that it is wholly out of our power to oblige Mr. Joy. Admiral Cockburn, when he paid his respects to us,1 took care to leave us no spare copies of the National Intelligencer—having burnt them, with the few books I had at that time collected.

I have been uneasy to perceive that a paragraph from the Enquirer, remarked on by us, has made an erroneous impression on the public mind respecting your present occupations, as though you were preparing a Work for the Press—which I understand is not the fact.2 Should you think this worth contradicting, we shall be happy to hear from you. Begging to be most respectfully remembered to Mrs. Madison, I am, with profound respect, Your faithful servt.

J: Gales Jr

RC (DLC). Addressed by Gales to JM, and franked. Docketed by JM.

1For the burning of Washington, and for Admiral George Cockburn’s personal supervision of the destruction of the offices of the National Intelligencer, see Robert S. Quimby, The U.S. Army in the War of 1812: An Operational and Command Study (2 vols.; East Lansing, Mich., 1997), 2:693–94.

2Gales referred here to the article entitled “Debates of the Convention, &c.” printed in the Daily National Intelligencer, 4 May 1821: “In noticing the volume of debates of the Federal Convention, reported by Chief Justice Yates of New York, and about to be published, the Richmond Enquirer subjoins the following interesting note. ‘We have for a long time, (says the Enquirer) understood that a distinguished member of the Federal Convention from Virginia has a plan of this sort before him, and that he has probably prepared a large portion of it for the press. No one who is acquainted with the gentleman we refer to, (and who is not acquainted with his transcendant abilities?) will deny, that of all other men he is best qualified for the task which he has undertaken. He was conversant with the scheme of the Constitution from its very egg-shell. ‘He may indeed literally say, “quorum magna pars fui [in which I played a great part].” He has had his eye steadily fixed upon it from the time it was submitted to the people, and adopted by the State Conventions, down to the present moment. He has every advantage of his own notes, and those of other members, to assist him in the sketch which he has prepared. “In elucidating the principles of the Constitution, and the views of the sages who formed it, it will be an invaluable acquisition to the statesman and the politician.” It will clear up many of the dark passages which are to be found in the Journals of that Convention, (recently issued from the press.) It will show us, whether, when any power was proposed to be given, and not finally engrafted into the Constitution, the omission arose from the idea that it was already given, or that it was not proper to be given at all. Could this valuable present also exhibit the present views of its author respecting the Constitution; could it give us the results of his experience since he saw the machine in operation; wherein it seemed to him defective, and how it was to be improved, the author would render a still more acceptable service to his grateful countrymen.’

“No one can mistake the allusion of the Enquirer. There is but one man left in Virginia who signed the constitution; and if that were not the case, there is scarcely a surviving member of the Convention, whose name would justify the language of the Enquirer, save that of James Madison. We had understood that this venerable patriot occupied much of his time, since his retirement from public life, not only on the work mentioned by the Enquirer, but also in reviewing and arranging his correspondence with the numerous distinguished men with whom he interchanged sentiments on public concerns during his long connection with public affairs. Such works from such a source, should their illustrious author give them to his countrymen, will possess a value and an interest not equalled by any publication since the era of the formation of the constitution.”

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