James Madison Papers

Edward Coles to James Madison, 4 November 1830

Philadelphia Nov: 4. 1830

My dear Sir:

Soon after leaving you I became sick, & continued so for several weeks--indeed I have not yet entirely recovered, and am still quite feeble. It was my intention to have visited you again before I left Va; but finding that Mr Singleton had left his wife sick, & was extremely anxious to return to her, and to attend to some business in Carolina, I was induced to propose that he should return home, and that I would accompany his daughters back to school. This he acceded to, & immediately setout for Carolina, and his daughters & myself for this place, where we arrived by way of Richd & Norfolk the day before yesterday. I cannot say how long I shall remain here; but certainly a week or two; and if I should not recover sufficient health & strength to encounter the fatigues of a journey across the mountains before the setting in of the winter, I shall not return to the West until the spring.

I hav recd out of the U.S. Bank at Richd the money you deposited to my credit, and have entered the amount on the back of your bond— and for your further satisfaction will send you enclosed a receipt for it.

I have read your letter to the editor of the North American Review with infinite satisfaction. I think it conspicuous among the best efforts of your pen, and the clearest exposition of the Constitution I have ever read. I took some pains in Albemarle, and on the road from thence here, to ascertain the public opinion in relation to it, and I am gratified to tell you, with the exception of a few hot headed ultra State-right men in Richmond, it was not only approved of but highly extold by all; and I am sure you will be particularly gratified to hear that its publication has done much good, in enlightening the community on Constitutional doctrines, and correcting the political heresies of the day.

I was not less surprised than concerned however to find in a conversation with Mr Stevenson in Richd, that we understood you differently, & that he refered to some verbal explanations of yours to show I was mistaken. He says your remarks upon the powers of the Genl Govt were intended to be limitted to civil cases only, and that you deny the powers of that Govt to extend to criminal cases. Under the impression I have on this subject, it seems to me there must be a misunderstanding between you & him, as it is clear to my mind, not only from your language, but from the necessity of the case, as well as from the express provisions of the Constitution, & from the practice of the Govt, that it must have jurisdiction in criminal cases; Otherwise how can we understand your phrase that the Fedl Govt operates like the State Govts "directly on persons & things"— or how could the Govt proceed for a day without the power to compell obedience by criminal process & punish the violators of the laws— and how can we reconcile the daily practice of punishing criminally individuals who forge the evidences of the Fedl debt— or rob the Fedl Treasury, the mail &c &c. If I understand this doctrine any State can forbid the Collectors of the revenue from paying it over into the Fedl Treasury— declare the U.S. Bank unconstitutional, & that its citizens shall not be held criminal for forging its notes— that it shall not be criminal for her citizens to resist the laws of the Union, or wage even war upon it--in a word a State may authorise her citizens to do whatever she pleases in violation of the Constitution (as understood by the other States) and laws of the United States, and her citizens can not be tryed & punished by the Fedl Judiciary. It is certain that the Genl Govt has ever exercised this power, and it surely will not be contended that it derives the power from the acquiescence of the States.

I beg pardon for writing you so much on this subject. I have now barely time before the mail closes to renew to you & Mrs. M. the assurances of my sincere & affectionate regards

Edward Coles

RC (ICHi); copy (NjP: Edward Coles Papers). RC docketed by JM.

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