James Madison Papers

[James Madison] to John M. Patton, 24 March 1834

24. March 1834.

Dear Sir

I have duly recd. the copy of your speech on the "Virginia Resolutions". Tho’ not permitting myself to enter into a discussion of the several topics embraced by them, for which, indeed, my present condition would unfit me, I will not deny myself the pleasure, of saying that you have done great justice to your views of them. I must say, at the same time, that the warmth of your feelings has done infinitely more than justice to any merits that can be claimed for your friend

Should the controversy on removals from office, end in the establishment of a share in the power, as claimed for the Senate, it would materially vary the relations among the component parts of the Govt: and disturb the operation of the Checks and balances as now understood to exist. If the right of the Senate be, or be made a Constitutional one, it will enable that branch of the Govt. to force on the Executive Department, a continuance in office, even of the Cabinet officers, notwithstanding a change from a personal and political harmony with the President, to a state of open hostility towards him. If the right of the Senate be made to depend on the Legislature, it would still be grantable in that extent; and even with the exception of the Heads of Departments and a few other officers, the augmentation of the Senatorial patronage, and the new relation, between the Senate directly, and the Legislature indirectly, with the Chief Magistrate, would be felt deeply in the general administration of the Government. The innovation, however modified, would more than double the danger of throwing the Executive machinery out of gear, and thus arresting the march of the Govt. altogether.

The legislative power is of an elastic & Protean character, but too imperfectly susceptible of definitions and land=marks. In its application to tenures of office, a law passed a few years ago, declaring a large class of offices, vacant at the end of every four years and of course to be filled by new appointments. Was not this as much a removal, as if made individually & in detail? The limitation might have been 3. 2. or 1. year; or even from Session to Session of Congs, which would have been equivalent to a tenure at the pleasure of the Senate.

The light in which the large States would regard any innovation increasing the weight of the Senate, constructed and endowed as it is, may be inferred from the difficulty of reconciling them to that part of the Constitution when it was adopted.

The Constitution of the U. S. may doubtless disclose from time to time, faults which call for the pruning or the ingrafting hand. But remedies ought to be applied not in the paroxisms of party & popular excitement; but with the more leisure & reflection, as the Great Departments of power according to experience may be successively and alternately in, and out of public favour; and as changes hastily accommodated to these vicissitudes would destroy the symmetry and the stability, aimed at in our political System. I am making observations however, very superfluous when addressed to you, and I quit them therefore with a tender of cordial regards & salutations wch I pray you to accept

Draft (DLC).

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