James Madison Papers

James Madison to Nicholas P. Trist, 17 December 1828

Montpellier Decr. 17. 1828

Dear Sir

I have duly recd. yours of the 18th. The delay in sending on the Report of the Visitors was unluckily increased by my error in supposing that your letter to Charlottesville, had been addressed to the Bursar. On the discovery of it by his answer to one from me, I inclosed the Report unsealed to him with a request that he would include the omitted document, and then forward the communication by mail to Richmond. This he informs me has been attended to. I take this occasion to thank you for the draft with which you favoured me: and which was used with very slight variations, some of them perhaps not for the better.

You refer to the distinction noted between a usurpation & an abuse of power. There is another, too much overlooked, between an Exercise of power with, & against the will of the Constituent body: and this distinguishes the course pursued by Virginia agst. the Alien & Sedition Acts, from that of S. Carolina agst. the Tariff: to say nothing of the difference between the cases on the point of Constitutionality. Virga. viewing the Acts as forming a case between the federal Government and its Constituents, appealed to her co-Constituents, to unite in the regular means of reclaiming the Government from its unwarrantable career: with an abstract declaration, of the right of the former to recur to fundamental principles, when necessary in the last resort, as an alternative of passive obedience & non resistance. S. C. on the other hand, according to her popular Orators, at least, makes the tariff a case between a minority & majority of the Constituents, and declares her right to actual resistance; with the further declaration of an incompatability of interests, not temporary even, which strikes at the utility of the Constitution, & saps the foundation of the Union itself.

Mr. Gallatin should discharge his quota of historical debt to truth & to posterity, instead of dunning those whose age puts them on the list of insolvents.

You afford us much pleasure by your promise of a visit, the more as it assures us, at the same time, of a fulfilment of the tardy one from Monticello. Mrs M. thanks you for your obliging offer to be the bearer of any thing wanted from Washington, and asks the favor of you to hint the opportunity to Mrs. Cutts. Should the late new & enlarged Edition of Lyman’s Hist. of Amn. Diplomacy be for sale in Washington, & you can conveniently bring a Copy, I would ask that favor also of you. I am not sure that I give the exact title Health & every other happiness

James Madison

RC (DLC: Nicholas P. Trist Papers); draft (DLC).

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