James Madison Papers

Nicholas P. Trist to James Madison, 11 December 1828

Washington Decr. 11. 28.

Dear Sir

I have not had it in my power to thank you sooner, for your kind compliance with my request in relation to Mr Gallatin. A few evenings after the receipt of your letter, it procured for me an interview in which my high expectations were realised, & I moreover experienced the gratification of having my own views on many points, confirmed by such high authority. It was not the least of the pleasures of the evening, to discover, as well from his expressed opinion as from the general tone of his conversation, that he was a sincere seeker of truth, and admirer of the severe processes by which it is to be discovered; and that, with him as with the other great examples, this was the principal secret of his great & acknowledged powers as a reasoner. As I anticipated, he concurred with me in thinking a remark made by Watkins Leigh on Mr Tazewell’s mind, that he could argue with equal ability on either side of a question, intended as highly encomiastic, really very much the reverse; & applicable only to an intellect that had, in a great degree, lost the faculty of discriminating between truth & error. Mr G. spoke with considerable interest of the papers of Mr Jefferson & yourself. I told him of your division of these into three classes, and doctrine in relation to them—his remark was, they ought al to see the light. He hoped Mr J. & yourself would leave something from which the world would obtain correct views of your administrations, for he knew (and this word he repeated several times, with emphasis) that no one else would; and if you did not, your opponents would be sure to give to the subject a coloring to suit their own purposes. Unless you furnished it, there would be no history of your administrations.

After passing a delightful hour with Mr G, I called to see Mr Rives, whom I found alone, his two fellow-boarders, Mr Cambreling & Mr Drayton, having just gone out to visit Mr Gallatin. My recent call on Mr G. furnished some subjects of conversation; & the prospects on the political horison, others. Among these, the state of things in relation to the tariff; & the disposition of the South Carolina politicians to pervert the report of ’98 to their purposes. Mr R thought it would be well, in consequence of this disposition, that written evidences of your opinions, particularly as to the constitutional question, should exist. I took the liberty of mentioning to him your letters to Dr Cooper; and thought of telling him, also, of the remark you have several times made to me, & which I have as often written down, that, had the question been raised in the Convention, of the right of the proposed government to impose duties for the encouragement of manufactures, you did not believe there would have been a single dissentient voice. On reflexion, however, I thought it due to you not to impart your observations, even on these abstract questions; and abstained also from mentioning the distinction, on the importance of which you have always insisted, when led to this subject, between the exercise of an ungranted power, & the extravagant use of one which has been granted.

I cannot well express the mortification experienced by me, when, after putting the papers relating to the University into the letter box, I enquired when the mail closed, & found that it had done so a few minutes before. I had been positively informed at the Department of State, that twelve o’clock was the hour. This occasioned the loss of several days; and my mortification was increased by the reply of Mr Davis to my letter, informing me that he had not been able to find the papers I had requested him to send you, & that the return post would depart before it would be possible to obtain that which Mr Garrett would have to furnish. I trust, however, that every thing has been set right long ere this; & the report sent in, in time to save you from any disagreeable feelings on the subject. How these accounts happened not to be among either the papers I brought with me or those I left in Albemarle, is somewhat of an enigma. On perceiving that the reports which I had with me, dated only as far back as Decr.; & that those communicated with the Rector’s report last year, came up only to July 1827, I recollected that a meeting had been appointed for December; and, although I had no remembrance of its having taken place, took for granted it must have occurred, & that reports from the Bursar & Proctor must have been then handed in. But there seems to be no notice of this meeting among the papers, nor any accounts handed in at this period.

The last accounts I have from home, show the intention of paying the long purposed visit to Montpellier, towards the end of this month; & I am now sanguine that it will be in my power to join them for a couple of days.

Part of the evening of wednesday, I passed at a party to which Mrs Cutts had been kind enough to invite me. She and the family were well. If there be any commission which my probable visit to Montpellier will enable me to execute for Mrs Madison or yourself, please let me know in time. Meanwhile, accept, for both, assurances of affectionate respect

N. P. Trist

RC (ViHi: Nicholas P. Trist Album Book) ; RC (DLC). Docketed by JM.

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