James Madison Papers

D’Alembert Thorntone to James Madison, 1 February 1834

[1-25 February 1834]

Esteemed Sir, 

The aspect of our Publick affairs, is of so critical a nature, as to induce me again to address you. I did myself the satisfaction of writing you in 1814 or ’15,* on the then deranged state of the Currency. If I mistake not, your opinion is adopted by a majority of the State of Virginia, relative to the un=constitutionality of the United States Bank; inasmuch as you are of opinion, that Congress do not possess the Right to grant Corporate Privileges. This Point, separate and distinct from the Government, I should not, at present, be disposed to contest. But this Institution, incorporated or united with the Government, specially to fulfil the Duties imposed by the Constitution; I consider, in this view, the point un=questionable.1.

* Then of Charleston, S. C.

The elder John Adams, in his "Defence of the Constitutions" says, "Every Government contains within itself, the seeds of its own destruction"—Had he have qualified this assertion, by admitting, that every Government was intended by its Founders, to be perpetual; and had the Principles of self-preservation incorporated or understood—But that, from our imperfect actions we eventually destroyed the most perfect Systems; I would not have charged him with inaccuracy and carelessness. If then this our Constitution was formed and intended to be perfect and perpetual; and possessed the Principle of self-preservation; whence, at this early period, does it arise, that the Power to controul its Currency, is questioned & impeded? 2.

The Power then, specifically granted by the Constitution, to create a Currency, is unquestionably understood to grant the means of preserving it. What has been the operation on the Clause 3. in question, between the General and State Governments? The General Government has Coined, and the States have embezzled, and kept out of circulation the Currency! and set at defiance both Government & People! Suppose Congress, in 1826 had attempted to enforce the first Clause of the 10th. Section, Art. I. of the Constitution; would not a Civil=war have ensued, the States claiming their assumption on the false ground of retained Right? 4.

Our Government, being free, and "in the full=tide of experiment," as the People become enlightened, the facilities that Genius suggests, necessarily will have to be adopted, it only remains to prevent these suggestions, or improvements affecting the radical Principles of our Government, and engendering evils. Among these is that of the Paper Medium. In Commmerce, this is, indispensably necessary to its Economy, 5.—and the more Economick this Branch of the pursuits of the Compact is transacted, the less pressure it will have on (the Stamina of every State) Labor.

The preceding observations, are simply intended as detached suggestions. The filling up, and use, I leave in your hands—Should they be the means of throwing light on our present difficulties, and eventuate in clearly establishing the Right of Congress to the creating a National Bank, Constitutionally—You no doubt will make your views and sentiments Publick. xxx Would to Heaven, that you and I could see, ere we lay our grey=heads in the Dust, such an uninimity pervading the Union, that would give us an earnest, that this best form of Government, would descend unmutilated, to the latest Posterity. With affectionate regard I remain, respectfully your fellow-Citizen,

    D’Alembert 6.Thorntone.


1. Patrick Henry’s view (although some of his conclusions, are hasty and undigested) correctly drew a line of distinction, in relation to the Origin, Class or Nature of our Constitution—He says, "Had the Constitution commenced, "We the States," instead of "We the People," he would have been satisfied—" This stamps it an Original, not a Derivative Government. It is immediate, of and for the People. A Government in full possession of all Powers requisite for the purposes it was created.

2. The first and leading error, in answer to this query, was, the General Government, suffering the only Paper Institution in the States, (that of the "Bank of North America," at Philada.) to continue, after the Government was organised. From this neglect, has arisen an evil of such magnitude, that the remedy is appalling—but as freemen, although in a minority let us breast the coming storm fearlessly. If in the Contest, the Constitution falls, let us feel proud that our Bones will be Buried under its ruins. These chaste materials will attract Posterity; and again rise when our slumbering Bones, in perfect preservation, will be Canonized, and our holy mound reared, where the Children of our Posterity, will be collected round, and their Parents will say, "These are the Sacred Relicks of your Ancestors, who, in the Defence of the Chaste Materials of yon Noble Structure, fell gloriously, Martyrs to Liberty, by the hands of Ignorance & Vandalism.

3. Vide. "To Coin &c with 10th Sect. Art. I.

4. The Classification of the Governments, it is high time, was fixed. The General Government is for, Commerce & Defence, with every thing thereunto attached—The States, for Labor, (be it Agricultural or Manufactures) with all that necessarily thereto belongs.

5. If I recollect correctly, the weight and Insurance for Specie, from Charleston to Philadelphia, cost six per cent. The Exchange, now, thro’ the N. Bank—one-quarter per cent.

6. This Signature was adopted by mistake, in the hurry of Business—I think the Name intended was "Theobald—" The Office he held under Frederick, the Great of Prussia, was the "Head of the Literary Department," and, as his other ministers of State, was one among his Cabinet=Council, 7.—Pray is this not a reproach to our compact, that an unlimited monarchy should possess such a Department, and our Government, founded on the Voice of People, Destitute? Let me here suggest an help to an outline, to be incorporated in this omission: General Plan of Republican Education—"All males from 5 to 14, all females, from 4 to 12—five days in the week, 6 hours per day—To be taught the English Language Grammatically, Writing, Geography, General & Natural History—Moral & Political Philosophy—The Practical parts of Mathematicks, including Astronomy—Of the mathematicks, for the Girls, Arithmetick & Astronomy. This will give the Boys an education equal to our beloved Political Father, Washington—This to be Imperitive on all and every male & female Child, rich or poor, without let or hindrance, all at the same School, at the Publick expense—to be termed: the Primary School. A sufficiency of these Schools to be established in each Township or District—" Further—in each County, centerally, a Grammar School, (or a School preparatory to the University). Four Universities, in the State, if so many be necessary. The Grammar and University, not Imperitive, but optionable, and paid for by those who occupy them.

7. "Vide Anecdotes of Frederick the Great," 2 vols. 8vo.

P.S. In the preceding Remarks & Suggestions, I would not be understood, that have advanced any thing New or Original—I claim nothing beyond the turning; the manner; and the motive.


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