James Madison Jr. (16 March 1751 – 28 June 1836) was the fourth President of the United States (1809–1817). He was co-author, with John Jay and Alexander Hamilton, of the Federalist Papers, and is traditionally regarded as the Father of the United States Constitution.
- A watchful eye must be kept on ourselves lest while we are building ideal monuments of Renown and Bliss here we neglect to have our names enrolled in the Annals of Heaven.
- Letter to William Bradford (9 November 1772)
- I have sometimes thought there could be no stronger testimony in favor of Religion or against temporal Enjoyments even the most rational and manly than for men who occupy the most honorable and gainful departments and are rising in reputation and wealth, publicly to declare their unsatisfactoriness by becoming fervent Advocates in the cause of Christ, & I wish you may give in your Evidence in this way. Such instances have seldom occurred, therefore they would be more striking and would be instead of a "Cloud of Witnesses."
- Letter to William Bradford (September 1773), quoted in The Lustre of Our Country : The American Experience of Religious Freedom (2000) by John Thomas Noonan, p. 66
- "Religious bondage shackles and debilitates the mind and unfits it for every noble enterprize, every expanded prospect."
- Letter to William Bradford (1 April 1774) Addressing proposed use of governmental land for churches
- It is impossible for the man of pious reflection not to perceive in it the finger of that Almighty Hand which has been so frequently and signally extended to our relief in the critical stages of the Revolution.
- As quoted in The Federalist (Philadelphia: Benjamin Warner, 1818), p. 194, James Madison, Federalist #37.
- Would it not be as well to liberate and make soldiers at once of the blacks themselves, as to make them instruments for enlisting white soldiers? It would certainly be more consonant to the principles of liberty which ought never to be lost sight of in a contest for liberty...
- On a view of all circumstances I have judged it most prudent not to force Billey back to Virginia even if it could be done; and have accordingly taken measures for his final separation from me. I am persuaded his mind is too thoroughly tainted to be a fit companion for fellow slaves in Virginia. The laws here do not admit of his being sold for more than 7 years. I do not expect to get near the worth of him; but cannot think of punishing him by transportation merely for coveting that liberty for which we have paid the prices of so much blood, and have proclaimed so often to be the right, and worthy the pursuit of every human being.
- Another of my wishes is to depend as little as possible on the labor of slaves.
- Where slavery exists, the republican theory becomes still more fallacious.
- Vices of the Political System of the United States (April 1787), Papers 9:350-51
- The man who is possessed of wealth, who lolls on his sofa or rolls in his carriage, cannot judge the wants or feelings of the day-laborer. The government we mean to erect is intended to last for ages. The landed interest, at present, is prevalent; but in process of time, when we approximate to the states and kingdoms of Europe, — when the number of landholders shall be comparatively small, through the various means of trade and manufactures, will not the landed interest be overbalanced in future elections, and unless wisely provided against, what will become of your government? In England, at this day, if elections were open to all classes of people, the property of landed proprietors would be insecure. An agrarian law would soon take place. If these observations be just, our government ought to secure the permanent interests of the country against innovation. Landholders ought to have a share in the government, to support these invaluable interests, and to balance and check the other. They ought to be so constituted as to protect the minority of the opulent against the majority. The senate, therefore, ought to be this body; and to answer these purposes, they ought to have permanency and stability.
- Statement (26 June 1787) as quoted in Notes of the Secret Debates of the Federal Convention of 1787 by Robert Yates
- In order to judge of the form to be given to this institution, it will be proper to take a view of the ends to be served by it. These were, — first, to protect the people against their rulers, secondly, to protect the people against the transient impressions into which they themselves might be led.
- Remarks on the institution of the Senate, in debates in the Constitutional Convention, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania (26 June 1787) Journal of the Federal Convention, edited by E. H. Scott (1893), pp. 241 – 242
- In time of actual war, great discretionary powers are constantly given to the Executive Magistrate. Constant apprehension of War, has the same tendency to render the head too large for the body. A standing military force, with an overgrown Executive will not long be safe companions to liberty. The means of defence against foreign danger have been always the instruments of tyranny at home. Among the Romans it was a standing maxim to excite a war, whenever a revolt was apprehended. Throughout all Europe, the armies kept up under the pretext of defending, have enslaved the people.
- Since the general civilization of mankind, I believe there are more instances of the abridgment of the freedom of the people by gradual and silent encroachments of those in power, than by violent and sudden usurpations; but, on a candid examination of history, we shall find that turbulence, violence, and abuse of power, by the majority trampling on the rights of the minority, have produced factions and commotions, which, in republics, have, more frequently than any other cause, produced despotism. If we go over the whole history of ancient and modern republics, we shall find their destruction to have generally resulted from those causes.
- Speech at the Virginia Convention to ratify the Federal Constitution (6 June 1788)
- Speech in the Virginia Ratifying Convention on the Control of the Military (16 June 1788); published in The History of the Virginia Federal Convention of 1788, with some account by eminent Virginians of that era who were members of that body (1890), Vol. I, p. 130 (Hugh Blair Grigsby et al, editors, )
- In the first place, I own myself the friend to a very free system of commerce, and hold it as a truth, that commercial shackles are generally unjust, oppressive and impolitic — it is also a truth, that if industry and labor are left to their own course, they will generally be directed to those objects which are the most productive, and this in a more certain and direct manner than the wisdom of the most enlightened legislature could point out.
- Debating on duties on imports (9 April 1789), published in The Debate and Proceedings in the Congress of the United States (1834), Vol. 1, Joseph Gales, editor, Washington DC, Gales and Seaton, publisher , pp. 115-116
- Wherever the real power in a Government lies, there is the danger of oppression. In our Governments, the real power lies in the majority of the Community, and the invasion of private rights is chiefly to be apprehended, not from the acts of Government contrary to the sense of its constituents, but from acts in which the Government is the mere instrument of the major number of the constituents.
- The papers inclosed will shew that the nauseous project of amendments has not yet been either dismissed or despatched. We are so deep in them now, that right or wrong some thing must be done.
- Letter to Richard Peters (19 August 1789)
- It is an established maxim that birth is a criterion of allegiance. Birth however derives its force sometimes from place and sometimes from parentage, but in general place is the most certain criterion; it is what applies in the United States; it will therefore be unnecessary to investigate any other.
- As quoted in "Constitutional Originalism Requires Birthright Citizenship" (9 September 2018), by Dan McLaughlin, National Review
Memorial and Remonstrance Against Religious Assessments (1785)
- "Memorial and Remonstrance Against Religious Assessments" (1785), opposing a "Bill establishing a provision for Teachers of the Christian Religion"
- We hold it for a fundamental and undeniable truth, “that Religion or the duty which we owe to our Creator and the Manner of discharging it, can be directed only by reason and conviction, not by force or violence.” The Religion then of every man must be left to the conviction and conscience of every man; and it is the right of every man to exercise it as these may dictate. This right is in its nature an unalienable right. It is unalienable; because the opinions of men, depending only on the evidence contemplated by their own minds, cannot follow the dictates of other men: It is unalienable also; because what is here a right towards men, is a duty towards the Creator. It is the duty of every man to render to the Creator such homage, and such only, as he believes to be acceptable to him. This duty is precedent both in order of time and degree of obligation, to the claims of Civil Society. Before any man can be considered as a member of Civil Society, he must be considered as a subject of the Governor of the Universe: And if a member of Civil Society, who enters into any subordinate Association, must always do it with a reservation of his duty to the general authority; much more must every man who becomes a member of any particular Civil Society, do it with a saving of his allegiance to the Universal Sovereign. We maintain therefore that in matters of Religion, no man’s right is abridged by the institution of Civil Society, and that Religion is wholly exempt from its cognizance. True it is, that no other rule exists, by which any question which may divide a Society, can be ultimately determined, but the will of the majority; but it is also true, that the majority may trespass on the rights of the minority.
- § 1
- The free men of America did not wait till usurped power had strengthened itself by exercise, and entangled the question in precedents. They saw all the consequences in the principle, and they avoided the consequences by denying the principle. We revere this lesson too much soon to forget it. Who does not see that the same authority which can establish Christianity, in exclusion of all other Religions, may establish with the same ease any particular sect of Christians, in exclusion of all other Sects? that the same authority which can force a citizen to contribute three pence only of his property for the support of any one establishment, may force him to conform to any other establishment in all cases whatsoever?
- § 3
- It is moreover to weaken in those who profess this Religion a pious confidence in its innate excellence and the patronage of its Author; and to foster in those who still reject it, a suspicion that its friends are too conscious of its fallacies to trust it to its own merits.
- § 6
- During almost fifteen centuries has the legal establishment of Christianity been on trial. What have been its fruits? More or less in all places, pride and indolence in the Clergy, ignorance and servility in the laity, in both, superstition, bigotry and persecution.
- § 7
- What influence in fact have ecclesiastical establishments had on Civil Society? In some instances they have been seen to erect a spiritual tyranny on the ruins of the Civil authority; in many instances they have been seen upholding the thrones of political tyranny: in no instance have they been seen the guardians of the liberties of the people. Rulers who wished to subvert the public liberty, may have found an established Clergy convenient auxiliaries. A just Government instituted to secure & perpetuate it needs them not.
- § 8
- Attempts to enforce by legal sanctions, acts obnoxious to so great a proportion of Citizens, tend to enervate the laws in general, and to slacken the bands of Society. If it be difficult to execute any law which is not generally deemed necessary or salutary, what must be the case, where it is deemed invalid and dangerous? And what may be the effect of so striking an example of impotency in the Government, on its general authority?
- § 13
- Because finally, “the equal right of every citizen to the free exercise of his religion according to the dictates of conscience” is held by the same tenure with all his other rights. If we recur to its origin, it is equally the gift of nature; if we weigh its importance, it cannot be less dear to us; if we consider “the declaration of those rights which pertain to the good people of Virginia as the basis and foundation of government,” it is enumerated with equal solemnity, or rather studied emphasis.
- § 15. Often misquoted as “Religion is the basis and foundation of government.”
- We the Subscribers say, that the General Assembly of this Commonwealth have no such authority: And that no effort may be omitted on our part against so dangerous an usurpation, we oppose to it, this remonstrance; earnestly praying, as we are in duty bound, that the Supreme Lawgiver of the Universe, by illuminating those to whom it is addressed, may on the one hand, turn their Councils from every act which would affront his holy prerogative, or violate the trust committed to them: and on the other, guide them into every measure which may be worthy of his blessing, may redound to their own praise, and may establish more firmly the liberties, the prosperity and the happiness of the Commonwealth.
- § 15
Federalist Papers (1787–1788)
- By a faction, I understand a number of citizens, whether amounting to a majority or a minority of the whole, who are united and actuated by some common impulse of passion, or of interest, adversed to the rights of other citizens, or to the permanent and aggregate interests of the community.
- Liberty is to faction what air is to fire, an aliment without which it instantly expires. But it could not be less folly to abolish liberty, which is essential to political life, because it nourishes faction, than it would be to wish the annihilation of air, which is essential to animal life, because it imparts to fire its destructive agency.
- Federalist No. 10
- As long as the reason of man continues fallible, and he is at liberty to exercise it, different opinions will be formed. As long as the connection subsists between his reason and his self-love, his opinions and his passions will have a reciprocal influence on each other; and the former will be objects to which the latter will attach themselves.
- Federalist No. 10
- The diversity in the faculties of men, from which the rights of property originate, is not less an insuperable obstacle to a uniformity of interests. The protection of these faculties is the first object of Government.
- Federalist No. 10
- From the protection of different and unequal faculties of acquiring property, the possession of different degrees and kinds of property immediately results; and from the influence of these on the sentiments and views of the respective proprietors, ensues a division of the society into different interests and parties. The latent causes of faction are thus sown in the nature of man; and we see them everywhere brought into different degrees of activity, according to the different circumstances of civil society.
- Federalist No. 10
- A zeal for different opinions concerning religion, concerning government, and many other points, as well of speculation as of practice; an attachment to different leaders ambitiously contending for pre-eminence and power; or to persons of other descriptions whose fortunes have been interesting to the human passions, have, in turn, divided mankind into parties, inflamed them with mutual animosity, and rendered them much more disposed to vex and oppress each other than to co-operate for their common good. So strong is this propensity of mankind to fall into mutual animosities, that where no substantial occasion presents itself, the most frivolous and fanciful distinctions have been sufficient to kindle their unfriendly passions and excite their most violent conflicts. But the most common and durable source of factions has been the various and unequal distribution of property. Those who hold, and those who are without property, have ever formed distinct interests in society.
- Federalist No. 10
- No man is allowed to be a judge in his own cause; because his interest would certainly bias his judgment, and, not improbably, corrupt his integrity. With equal, nay with greater reason, a body of men are unfit to be both judges and parties at the same time.
- Federalist No. 10
- To secure the public good and private rights against the danger of such a faction, and at the same time to preserve the spirit and the form of popular government, is then the great object to which our inquiries are directed.
- Federalist No. 10
- A pure Democracy, by which I mean a Society consisting of a small number of citizens, who assemble and administer the Government in person, can admit of no cure for the mischiefs of faction. A common passion or interest will, in almost every case, be felt by a majority of the whole; a communication and concert result from the form of Government itself; and there is nothing to check the inducements to sacrifice the weaker party, or an obnoxious individual. Hence it is, that such Democracies have ever been spectacles of turbulence and contention; have ever been found incompatible with personal security, or the rights of property; and have in general been as short in their lives, as they have been violent in their deaths. Theoretic politicians, who have patronized this species of Government, have erroneously supposed, that by reducing mankind to a perfect equality in their political rights, they would, at the same time, be perfectly equalized and assimilated in their possessions, their opinions, and their passions.
- Federalist No. 10
- The apportionment of taxes on the various descriptions of property is an act which seems to require the most exact impartiality; yet there is, perhaps, no legislative act in which greater opportunity and temptation are given to a predominant party to trample on the rules of justice. Every shilling which they overburden the inferior number is a shilling saved to their own pockets.
- Federalist No. 10
- Enlightened statesmen will not always be at the helm.
- Federalist No. 10
- The smaller the society, the fewer probably will be the distinct parties and interests composing it; the fewer the distinct parties and interests, the more frequently will a majority be found of the same party; and the smaller the number of individuals composing a majority, and the smaller the compass within which they are placed, the more easily will they concert and execute their plans of oppression. Extend the sphere, and you take in a greater variety of parties and interests; you make it less probable that a majority of the whole will have a common motive to invade the rights of other citizens; or if such a common motive exists, it will be more difficult for all who feel it to discover their own strength, and to act in unison with each other.
- Federalist No. 10
- A rage for paper money, for an abolition of debts, for an equal division of property, or for any other improper or wicked project.
- Federalist No. 10
- Is it not the glory of the people of America, that, whilst they have paid a decent regard to the opinions of former times and other nations, they have not suffered a blind veneration for antiquity, for custom, or for names, to overrule the suggestions of their own good sense, the knowledge of their own situation, and the lessons of their own experience? To this manly spirit, posterity will be indebted for the possession, and the world for the example, of the numerous innovations displayed on the American theatre, in favor of private rights and public happiness.
- The first question that offers itself is, whether the general form and aspect of the government be strictly republican. It is evident that no other form would be reconcilable with the genius of the people of America; with the fundamental principles of the Revolution; or with that honorable determination which animates every votary of freedom, to rest all our political experiments on the capacity of mankind for self-government. If the plan of the convention, therefore, be found to depart from the republican character, its advocates must abandon it as no longer defensible.
- It were doubtless to be wished, that the power of prohibiting the importation of slaves had not been postponed until the year 1808, or rather that it had been suffered to have immediate operation. But it is not difficult to account, either for this restriction on the general government, or for the manner in which the whole clause is expressed. It ought to be considered as a great point gained in favor of humanity, that a period of twenty years may terminate forever, within these States, a traffic which has so long and so loudly upbraided the barbarism of modern policy; that within that period, it will receive a considerable discouragement from the federal government, and may be totally abolished, by a concurrence of the few States which continue the unnatural traffic, in the prohibitory example which has been given by so great a majority of the Union. Happy would it be for the unfortunate Africans, if an equal prospect lay before them of being redeemed from the oppressions of their European brethren!"
- Besides the advantage of being armed, which the Americans possess over the people of almost every other nation, the existence of subordinate governments, to which the people are attached, and by which the militia officers are appointed, forms a barrier against the enterprises of ambition, more insurmountable than any which a simple government of any form can admit of. Notwithstanding the military establishments in the several kingdoms of Europe, which are carried as far as the public resources will bear, the governments are afraid to trust the people with arms.
- Should an unwarrantable measure of the federal government be unpopular in particular States, which would seldom fail to be the case, or even a warrantable measure be so, which may sometimes be the case, the means of opposition to it are powerful and at hand. The disquietude of the people; their repugnance and, perhaps, refusal to co-operate with the officers of the Union; the frowns of the executive magistracy of the State; the embarrassments created by legislative devices, which would often be added on such occasions, would oppose, in any State, difficulties not to be despised; would form, in a large State, very serious impediments; and where the sentiments of several adjoining States happened to be in unison, would present obstructions which the federal government would hardly be willing to encounter.
- Federalist No. 46
- One of the principal objections inculcated by the more respectable adversaries to the Constitution is its supposed violation of the political maxim, that the Legislative, Executive, and Judiciary departments ought to be separate and distinct. In the structure of the Fœderal Government, no regard, it is said, seems to have been paid to this essential precaution in favor of liberty. The several departments of power are distributed and blended in such a manner, as at once to destroy all symmetry and beauty of form, and to expose some of the essential parts of the edifice to the danger of being crushed by the disproportionate weight of other parts.
No political truth is certainly of greater intrinsic value, or is stamped with the authority of more enlightened patrons of liberty, than that on which the objection is founded. The accumulation of all powers, Legislative, Executive, and Judiciary, in the same hands, whether of one, a few, or many, and whether hereditary, self-appointed, or elective, may justly be pronounced the very definition of tyranny.
- The legislative department is everywhere extending the sphere of its activity and drawing all power into its impetuous vortex.
- As the people are the only legitimate fountain of power, and it is from them that the constitutional charter, under which the several branches of government hold their power, is derived, it seems strictly consonant to the republican theory, to recur to the same original authority, not only whenever it may be necessary to enlarge, diminish, or new-model the powers of the government, but also whenever any one of the departments may commit encroachments on the chartered authorities of the others.
- Federalist No. 49 (2 February 1788)
- The danger of disturbing the public tranquillity by interesting too strongly the public passions, is a still more serious objection against a frequent reference of constitutional questions to the decision of the whole society.
- Federalist No. 49 (2 February 1788)
- [T]he great security against a gradual concentration of the several powers in the same department, consists in giving to those who administer each department the necessary constitutional means, and personal motives, to resist encroachments of the others. The provision for defence must in this, as in all other cases, be made commensurate to the danger of attack.
- Federalist No. 51 (6 February 1788) s:The_Federalist_Papers/No._51 Full text at Wikisource
- Ambition must be made to counteract ambition.
- Federalist No. 51 (6 February 1788)
- The interest of the man must be connected with the constitutional rights of the place. It may be a reflection on human nature, that such devices should be necessary to control the abuses of Government. But what is Government itself, but the greatest of all reflections on human nature?
- Federalist No. 51 (6 February 1788)
- If men were angels, no government would be necessary. If angels were to govern men, neither external nor internal controls on government would be necessary. In framing a government which is to be administered by men over men, the great difficulty lies in this: you must first enable the government to control the governed; and in the next place oblige it to control itself. A dependence on the people is, no doubt, the primary control on the government; but experience has taught mankind the necessity of auxiliary precautions.
- Federalist No. 51 (6 February 1788)
- It is of great importance in a republic, not only to guard the society against the oppression of its rulers, but to guard one part of the society against the injustice of the other part. Different interests necessarily exist in different classes of citizens. If a majority be united by a common interest, the rights of the minority will be insecure. There are but two methods of providing against this evil: the one by creating a will in the community independent of the majority, that is, of the society itself; the other, by comprehending in the society so many separate descriptions of citizens as will render an unjust combination of a majority of the whole very improbable, if not impracticable.
- Federalist No. 51 (6 February 1788)
- In a free Government, the security for civil rights must be the same as that for religious rights. It consists in the one case in the multiplicity of interests, and in the other in the multiplicity of sects. The degree of security in both cases, will depend on the number of interests and sects; and this may be presumed to depend on the extent of country and number of People comprehended under the same Government.
- Federalist No. 51 (6 February 1788)
- Justice is the end of Government. It is the end of civil society. It ever has been, and ever will be pursued, until it be obtained, or until liberty be lost in the pursuit.
- Federalist No. 51 (6 February 1788)
- We must deny the fact, that slaves are considered merely as property, and in no respect whatever as persons. The true state of the case is, that they partake of both these qualities: being considered by our laws, in some respects, as persons, and in other respects as property. In being compelled to labor, not for himself, but for a master; in being vendible by one master to another master; and in being subject at all times to be restrained in his liberty and chastised in his body, by the capricious will of another, the slave may appear to be degraded from the human rank, and classed with those irrational animals which fall under the legal denomination of property. In being protected, on the other hand, in his life and in his limbs, against the violence of all others, even the master of his labor and his liberty; and in being punishable himself for all violence committed against others, the slave is no less evidently regarded by the law as a member of the society, not as a part of the irrational creation; as a moral person, not as a mere article of property.
- No government, any more than an individual, will long be respected without being truly respectable; nor be truly respectable without possessing a certain portion of order and stability.
The Debates in the Federal Convention (1787)
- Quotes on remarks of Madison (and a few others for context), from his own notes summarizing the debates and discussions in developing the US Constitution (14 May - 17 September 1787), as published in The Debates in the Federal Convention of 1787, which framed the Constitution of the United States of America, reported by James Madison, a delegate from the state of Virginia (1920), as edited by Gaillard Hund and James Brown Scott
- Mr. MADISON observed that whatever reason might have existed for the equality of suffrage when the Union was a federal one among sovereign States, it must cease when a national Govermt. should be put into the place. In the former case, the acts of Congs. depended so much for their efficacy on the cooperation of the States, that these had a weight both within & without Congress, nearly in proportion to their extent and importance. In the latter case, as the acts of the Genl. Govt. would take effect without the intervention of the State legislatures, a vote from a small State wd. have the same efficacy & importance as a vote from a large one, and there was the same reason for different numbers of representatives from different States, as from Counties of different extents within particular States.
- Mr. MADISON considered the popular election of one branch of the National Legislature as essential to every plan of free Government. He observed that in some of the States one branch of the Legislature was composed of men already removed from the people by an intervening body of electors. That if the first branch of the general legislature should be elected by the State Legislatures, the second branch elected by the first-the Executive by the second together with the first; and other appointments again made for subordinate purposes by the Executive, the people would be lost sight of altogether; and the necessary sympathy between them and their rulers and officers, too little felt. He was an advocate for the policy of refining the popular appointments by successive filtrations, but though it might be pushed too far. He wished the expedient to be resorted to only in the appointment of the second branch of the Legislature, and in the Executive & judiciary branches of the Government. He thought too that the great fabric to be raised would be more stable and durable, if it should rest on the solid foundation of the people themselves, than if it should stand merely on the pillars of the Legislatures.
- Mr. MADISON said that he had brought with him into the Convention a strong bias in favor of an enumeration and definition of the powers necessary to be exercised by the national Legislature; but had also brought doubts concerning its practicability. His wishes remained unaltered; but his doubts had become stronger. What his opinion might ultimately be he could not yet tell. But he should shrink from nothing which should be found essential to such a form of Govt. as would provide for the safety, liberty and happiness of the community. This being the end of all our deliberations, all the necessary means for attaining it must, however reluctantly, be submitted to.
- Madison's notes (31 May 1787)
- Mr. MADISON thought it would be proper, before a choice shd. be made between a unity and a plurality in the Executive, to fix the extent of the Executive authority; that as certain powers were in their nature Executive, and must be given to that departmt. whether administered by one or more persons, a definition of their extent would assist the judgment in determining how far they might be safely entrusted to a single officer. He accordingly moved that so much of the clause before the Committee as related to the powers of the Executive shd. be struck out & that after the words "that a national Executive ought to be instituted" there be inserted the words following viz. "with power to carry into effect the national laws, to appoint to offices in cases not otherwise provided for, and to execute such other powers "not Legislative nor Judiciary in their nature," as may from time to time be delegated by the national Legislature." The words "not legislative nor judiciary in their nature" were added to the proposed amendment in consequence of a suggestion by Genl. Pinkney that improper powers might otherwise be delegated.
- Mr. MASON. Some mode of displacing an unfit magistrate is rendered indispensable by the fallibility of those who choose, as well as by the corruptibility of the man chosen. He opposed decidedly the making the Executive the mere creature of the Legislature as a violation of the fundamental principle of good Government.
Mr. MADISON & Mr. WILSON observed that it would leave an equality of agency in the small with the great States; that it would enable a minority of the people to prevent ye. removal of an officer who had rendered himself justly criminal in the eyes of a majority; that it would open a door for intrigues agst. him in States where his administration tho' just might be unpopular, and might tempt him to pay court to particular States whose leading partizans he might fear, or wish to engage as his partizans. They both thought it bad policy to introduce such a mixture of the State authorities, where their agency could be otherwise supplied.
Mr. DICKENSON considered the business as so important that no man ought to be silent or reserved. He went into a discourse of some length, the sum of which was, that the Legislative, Executive, & Judiciary departments ought to be made as independent. as possible; but that such an Executive as some seemed to have in contemplation was not consistent with a republic: that a firm Executive could only exist in a limited monarchy.
- In all cases where a majority are united by a common interest or passion, the rights of the minority are in danger. What motives are to restrain them? A prudent regard to the maxim that honesty is the best policy is found by experience to be as little regarded by bodies of men as by individuals. Respect for character is always diminished in proportion to the number among whom the blame or praise is to be divided. Conscience, the only remaining tie, is known to be inadequate in individuals: In large numbers, little is to be expected from it. Besides, Religion itself may become a motive to persecution & oppression. — These observations are verified by the Histories of every Country antient & modern. In Greece & Rome the rich & poor, the creditors & debtors, as well as the patricians & plebians alternately oppressed each other with equal unmercifulness. What a source of oppression was the relation between the parent cities of Rome, Athens & Carthage, & their respective provinces: the former possessing the power, & the latter being sufficiently distinguished to be separate objects of it? Why was America so justly apprehensive of Parliamentary injustice? Because G. Britain had a separate interest real or supposed, & if her authority had been admitted, could have pursued that interest at our expence. We have seen the mere distinction of colour made in the most enlightened period of time, a ground of the most oppressive dominion ever exercised by man over man. What has been the source of those unjust laws complained of among ourselves? Has it not been the real or supposed interest of the major number? Debtors have defrauded their creditors. The landed interest has borne hard on the mercantile interest. The Holders of one species of property have thrown a disproportion of taxes on the holders of another species. The lesson we are to draw from the whole is that where a majority are united by a common sentiment, and have an opportunity, the rights of the minor party become insecure. In a Republican Govt. the Majority if united have always an opportunity. The only remedy is to enlarge the sphere, & thereby divide the community into so great a number of interests & parties, that in the 1st. place a majority will not be likely at the same moment to have a common interest separate from that of the whole or of the minority; and in the 2d. place, that in case they shd. have such an interest, they may not be apt to unite in the pursuit of it. It was incumbent on us then to try this remedy, and with that view to frame a republican system on such a scale & in such a form as will controul all the evils wch. have been experienced.
- Madison's own notes on Madison's remarks of debate (6 June 1787)
- Twenty years will produce all the mischief that can be apprehended from the liberty to import slaves. So long a term will be more dishonorable to the National character than to say nothing about it in the Constitution.
- Mr. MADISON thought it wrong to admit in the Constitution the idea that there could be property in men. The reason of duties did not hold, as slaves are not like merchandize, consumed, &c
- Regarding using the words "slave" or "slavery" within the U.S. Constitution, in Madison's notes (25 August 1787)
- Madison, in convention, when an attempt was made to introduce the term slave into the Constitution, said: "It must not be so; because we intend this Constitution to be the great charter of human liberty to the unborn millions who shall enjoy its protection, and who should never see that such an institution as slavery has ever known in our midst."
- As paraphrased or quoted in Our National Condition, and Its Remedy : A Sermon, Preached in the Pine Street Church, Boston, on Sunday, June 22, 1856 (1856) by Henry Martyn Dexter
- Madison said he "thought it wrong to admit in the Constitution the idea that there could be property in man. We intend this Constitution to be the great charter of human liberty to the unborn millions who may enjoy its protection, and who shall never see that such an institution was ever known in their midst.
- Two objections had been raised against leaving the adjustment of the representation, from time to time, to the discretion of the Legislature. The first was, they would be unwilling to revise it at all. The second, that, by referring to wealth, they would be bound by a rule which, if willing, they would be unable to execute. The first objection distrusts their fidelity. But if their duty, their honor, and their oaths, will not bind them, let us not put into their hands our liberty, and all our other great interests; let us have no government at all. In the second place, if these ties will bind them we need not distrust the practicability of the rule. It was followed in part by the Committee in the apportionment of Representatives yesterday reported to the House. The best course that could be taken would be to leave the interests of the people to the representatives of the people.
Mr. Madison was not a little surprised to hear this implicit confidence urged by a member who, on all occasions, had inculcated so strongly the political depravity of men, and the necessity of checking one vice and interest by opposing to them another vice and interest. If the representatives of the people would be bound by the ties he had mentioned, what need was there of a Senate? What of a revisionary power? But his reasoning was not only inconsistent with his former reasoning, but with itself. At the same time that he recommended this implicit confidence to the Southern States in the Northern majority, he was still more zealous in exhorting all to a jealousy of a western majority. To reconcile the gentleman with himself, it must be imagined that he determined the human character by the points of the compass. The truth was, that all men having power ought to be distrusted, to a certain degree. The case of Pennsylvania had been mentioned, where it was admitted that those who were possessed of the power in the original settlement never admitted the new settlements to a due share of it. England was a still more striking example.
- Madison's notes (11 July 1787)
- The truth is that all men having power ought to be mistrusted.
- As paraphrased in The Great Quotations (1960) by George Seldes, p. 460; this paraphrase has for some time become the most widely quoted form of Madison's statement.
Letter to Alexander Hamilton (1788)
- Yours of yesterday is this instant come to hand & I have but a few minutes to answer it. I am sorry that your situation obliges you to listen to propositions of the nature you describe. My opinion is that a reservation of a right to withdraw if amendments be not decided on under the form of the Constitution within a certain time, is a conditional ratification, that it does not make N. York a member of the New Union, and consequently that she could not be received on that plan. Compacts must be reciprocal, this principle would not in such a case be preserved.
- The Constitution requires an adoption in toto, and for ever. It has been so adopted by the other States. An adoption for a limited time would be as defective as an adoption of some of the articles only. In short any condition whatever must viciate the ratification. What the New Congress by virtue of the power to admit new States, may be able & disposed to do in such case, I do not enquire as I suppose that is not the material point at present. I have not a moment to add more than my fervent wishes for your success & happiness.
- This idea of reserving right to withdraw was started at Richmd. & considered as a conditional ratification which was itself considered as worse than a rejection.
Memorandum to Abolitionists (1789)
- Memorandum to Abolitionists (20 October 1789), as quoted in Selected Writings, p. 188
- It might prove a great encouragement to manumission in the southern parts of the U.S. and even afford the best hope yet presented of putting an end to the slavery, in which not less than 600,000 unhappy Negroes are now involved...
- In order to render this change eligible as well to the society as to the slaves, it would be necessary that a complete incorporation of the latter into the former should result from the act of manumission. This is rendered impossible by the prejudices of the whites, prejudices which proceeding principally from the difference of color must be considered...
- You will find an allusion to some mysterious cause for a phenomenon in Stocks. It is surmised that the deferred debt is to be taken up at the next session, and some anticipated provision made for it. This may either be an invention of those who wish to sell, or it may be a reality imparted in confidence to the purchasers or smelt out by their sagacity. I have had a hint that something is intended and has dropt from 1 which has led to this speculation. I am unwilling to credit the fact, untill I have further evidence, which I am in a train of getting if it exists. It is said that packet boats & expresses are again sent from this place to the Southern States, to buy up the paper of all sorts which has risen in the market here. These & other abuses make it a problem whether the system of the old paper under a bad Government, or of the new under a good one, be chargeable with the greater substantial injustice. The true difference seems to be that by the former the few were the victims to the many; by the latter the many to the few. It seems agreed on all hands now that the bank is a certain & gratuitous augmentation of the capitals subscribed, in a proportion of not less than 40 or 50 [per cent] and if the deferred debt should be immediately provided for in favor of the purchasers of it in the deferred shape, & since the unanimous vote that no change [should] be made in the funding system, my imagination will not attempt to set bounds to the daring depravity of the times. The stock-jobbers will become the pretorian band of the Government, at once its tool & its tyrant; bribed by its largesses, & overawing it by clamours & combinations. Nothing new from abroad. I shall not be in [Philadelphia] till the close of the Week.
- Letter to Thomas Jefferson (8 August 1791)
- Man who preys both on the vegetable and animal species, is himself a prey to neither. He too possesses the reproductive principle far beyond the degree requisite for the bare continuance of his species. What becomes of the surplus of human life to which this principle is competent?
It is either, 1st. destroyed by infanticide, as among the Chinese and Lacedemonians; or 2d. it is stifled or starved, as among other nations whose population is commensurate to its food; or 3d. it is consumed by wars and endemic diseases; or 4th. it overflows, by emigration, to places where a surplus of food is attainable.
- "Population and Emigration" in National Gazette (21 November 1791); also quoted in If Men Were Angels: James Madison & the Heartless Empire of Reason (1995) by Richard K. Matthews. p. 44
- [I]n proportion as slavery prevails in a State, the Government, however democratic in name, must be aristocratic in fact.
- Influence of Domestic Slavery on Government
- If Congress can do whatever in their discretion can be done by money, and will promote the general welfare, the Government is no longer a limited one possessing enumerated powers, but an indefinite one subject to particular exceptions. It is to be remarked that the phrase out of which this doctrine is elaborated, is copied from the old articles of Confederation, where it was always understood as nothing more than a general caption to the specified powers, and it is a fact that it was preferred in the new instrument for that very reason as less liable than any other to misconstruction.
- If Congress can apply money indefinitely to the general welfare, and are the sole and supreme judges of the general welfare, they may take the care of religion into their own hands; they may establish teachers in every State, county, and parish, and pay them out of the public Treasury; they may take into their own hands the education of children, establishing in like manner schools throughout the Union; they may undertake the regulation of all roads other than post roads. In short, every thing, from the highest object of State legislation, down to the most minute object of police, would be thrown under the power of Congress; for every object I have mentioned would admit the application of money, and might be called, if Congress pleased, provisions for the general welfare.
- Conscience is the most sacred of all property; other property depending in part on positive law, the exercise of that being a natural and unalienable right. To guard a man's house as his castle, to pay public and enforce private debts with the most exact faith, can give no title to invade a man's conscience, which is more sacred than his castle, or to withhold from it that debt of protection for which the public faith is pledged by the very nature and original conditions of the social pact.
- "Property" in The National Gazette (29 March 1792)
- Behold you, then, my dear friend, at the head of a great army, establishing the liberties of your country against a foreign enemy. May heaven favor your cause, and make you the channel through which it may pour its favors. While you are exterminating the monster aristocracy, and pulling out the teeth and fangs of its associate, monarchy, a contrary tendency is discovered in some here. A sect has shown itself among us, who declare they espoused our new Constitution, not as a good and sufficient thing in itself, but only as a step to an English constitution, the only thing good and sufficient in itself, in their eye. It is happy for us that these are preachers without followers, and that our people are firm and constant in their republican purity. You will wonder to be told that it is from the eastward chiefly that these champions for a king, lords and commons come. They get some important associates from New York, and are puffed up by a tribe of agitators which have been hatched in a bed of corruption made up after the model of their beloved England. Too many of these stock-jobbers and king-jobbers have come into our legislature, or rather too many of our legislature have become stock-jobbers and king-jobbers. However, the voice of the people is beginning to make itself heard, and will probably cleanse their seats at the ensuing election.
- Letter to Gilbert du Motier, marquis de Lafayette (16 June 1792)
- In every political society, parties are unavoidable. A difference of interests, real or supposed, is the most natural and fruitful source of them. The great object should be to combat the evil: 1. By establishing a political equality among all. 2. By withholding unnecessary opportunities from a few, to increase the inequality of property, by an immoderate, and especially an unmerited, accumulation of riches. 3. By the silent operation of laws, which, without violating the rights of property, reduce extreme wealth towards a state of mediocrity, and raise extreme indigence towards a state of comfort. 4. By abstaining from measures which operate differently on different interests, and particularly such as favor one interest at the expence of another. 5. By making one party a check on the other, so far as the existence of parties cannot be prevented, nor their views accommodated. If this is not the language of reason, it is that of republicanism.
- Mr. Madison wished to relieve the sufferers, but was afraid of establishing a dangerous precedent, which might hereafter be perverted to the countenance of purposes very different from those of charity. He acknowledged, for his own part, that he could not undertake to lay his finger on that article in the Federal Constitution which granted a right of Congress of expending, on objects of benevolence, the money of their constituents.
- Summation of Madison's remarks (10 January 1794) Annals of Congress, House of Representatives, 3rd Congress, 1st Session, p. 170; the expense in question was for French refugees from the Haitian Revolution; this summation has been paraphrased as if a direct quote: "I cannot undertake to lay my finger on that article of the Constitution which granted a right to Congress of expending, on objects of benevolence, the money of their constituents."
- The government of the United States is a definite government, confined to specified objects. It is not like the state governments, whose powers are more general. Charity is no part of the legislative duty of the government.
- Of all the enemies to public liberty war is, perhaps, the most to be dreaded, because it comprises and develops the germ of every other. War is the parent of armies; from these proceed debts and taxes; and armies, and debts, and taxes are the known instruments for bringing the many under the domination of the few. In war, too, the discretionary power of the Executive is extended; its influence in dealing out offices, honors, and emoluments is multiplied; and all the means of seducing the minds, are added to those of subduing the force, of the people. The same malignant aspect in republicanism may be traced in the inequality of fortunes, and the opportunities of fraud, growing out of a state of war, and in the degeneracy of manners and of morals engendered by both. No nation could preserve its freedom in the midst of continual warfare.
- "Political Observations" (1795-04-20); also in Letters and Other Writings of James Madison (1865), Vol. IV, p. 491
- Resolved, That the General Assembly of Virginia, doth unequivocally express a firm resolution to maintain and defend the Constitution of the United States, and the Constitution of this State, against every aggression either foreign or domestic, and that they will support the Government of the United States in all measures warranted by the former.
- Resolutions proposed to the Legislature of Virginia (21 December 1798), passed on 24 December; as published in the "Report of the Committee to whom were referred the Communications of various States, relative to the Resolutions of the last General Assembly of this State, concerning the Alien and Sedition Laws" (20 January 1800)
- This Assembly doth explicitly and peremptorily declare, that it views the powers of the federal government, as resulting from the compact, to which the states are parties, as limited by the plain sense and intention of the instrument constituting the compact; as no further valid than they are authorized by the grants enumerated in that compact; and that in case of deliberate, palpable, and dangerous exercise of other powers, not granted by the said compact, the states who are parties thereto, have the right, and are in duty bound, to interpose, for arresting the progress of the evil, and for maintaining within their respective limits, the authorities, rights and liberties appertaining to them.
- "Virginia Resolution of 1798" (December 1798)
- That the General Assembly doth particularly protest against the palpable and alarming infractions of the Constitution, in the two late cases of the "Alien and Sedition Acts" passed at the last session of Congress; the first of which exercises a power no where delegated to the federal government, and which by uniting legislative and judicial powers to those of executive, subverts the general principles of free government; as well as the particular organization, and positive provisions of the federal constitution; and the other of which acts, exercises in like manner, a power not delegated by the constitution, but on the contrary, expressly and positively forbidden by one of the amendments thereto; a power, which more than any other, ought to produce universal alarm, because it is levelled against that right of freely examining public characters and measures, and of free communication among the people thereon, which has ever been justly deemed, the only effectual guardian of every other right.
- The constitution supposes, what the History of all Governments demonstrates, that the Executive is the branch of power most interested in war, & most prone to it. It has accordingly with studied care, vested the question of war in the Legislature. But the Doctrines lately advanced strike at the root of all these provisions, and will deposit the peace of the Country in that Department which the Constitution distrusts as most ready without cause to renounce it. For if the opinion of the President not the facts & proofs themselves are to sway the judgment of Congress, in declaring war, and if the President in the recess of Congress create a foreign mission, appoint the minister, & negociate a War Treaty, without the possibility of a check even from the Senate, untill the measures present alternatives overruling the freedom of its judgment; if again a Treaty when made obliges the Legislature to declare war contrary to its judgment, and in pursuance of the same doctrine, a law declaring war, imposes a like moral obligation, to grant the requisite supplies until it be formally repealed with the consent of the President & Senate, it is evident that the people are cheated out of the best ingredients in their Government, the safeguards of peace which is the greatest of their blessings.
- Letter to Thomas Jefferson (2 April 1798); published in The Writings of James Madison (1906) edited by Gaillard Hunt, Vol. 6, pp. 312-14
- Perhaps it is a universal truth that the loss of liberty at home is to be charged to provisions agst. danger real or pretended from abroad.
- Some degree of abuse is inseparable from the proper use of every thing; and in no instance is this more true than in that of the press. It has accordingly been decided, by the practice of the states, that it is better to leave a few of its noxious branches to their luxuriant growth, than, by pruning them away, to injure the vigor of those yielding the proper fruits. And can the wisdom of this policy be doubted by any one who reflects that to the press alone, checkered as it is with abuses, the world is indebted for all the triumphs which have been gained by reason and humanity over error and oppression?
- Report on the Virginia Resolutions, House of Representatives: Report of the Committee to whom were referred the Communications of the various States, relative to the Resolutions of the Last General Assembly of the State, concerning the Alien and Sedition Laws (20 January 1800) , p. 571
Inaugural address (1809)
- First Inaugural Address (4 March 1809).
I repair to the post assigned me with no other discouragement than what springs from my own inadequacy to its high duties. If I do not sink under the weight of this deep conviction it is because I find some support in a consciousness of the purposes and a confidence in the principles which I bring with me into this arduous service...
To cherish peace and friendly intercourse with all nations having correspondent dispositions; to maintain sincere neutrality toward belligerent nations; to prefer in all cases amicable discussion and reasonable accommodation of differences to a decision of them by an appeal to arms; to exclude foreign intrigues and foreign partialities, so degrading to all countries and so baneful to free ones; to foster a spirit of independence too just to invade the rights of others, too proud to surrender our own, too liberal to indulge unworthy prejudices ourselves and too elevated not to look down upon them in others; to hold the union of the States as the basis of their peace and happiness; to support the Constitution, which is the cement of the Union, as well in its limitations as in its authorities; to respect the rights and authorities reserved to the States and to the people as equally incorporated with and essential to the success of the general system; to avoid the slightest interference with the right of conscience or the functions of religion, so wisely exempted from civil jurisdiction; to preserve in their full energy the other salutary provisions in behalf of private and personal rights, and of the freedom of the press; to observe economy in public expenditures; to liberate the public resources by an honorable discharge of the public debts; to keep within the requisite limits a standing military force, always remembering that an armed and trained militia is the firmest bulwark of republics — that without standing armies their liberty can never be in danger, nor with large ones safe; to promote by authorized means improvements friendly to agriculture, to manufactures, and to external as well as internal commerce; to favor in like manner the advancement of science and the diffusion of information as the best aliment to true liberty; to carry on the benevolent plans which have been so meritoriously applied to the conversion of our aboriginal neighbors from the degradation and wretchedness of savage life to a participation of the improvements of which the human mind and manners are susceptible in a civilized state — as far as sentiments and intentions such as these can aid the fulfillment of my duty, they will be a resource which can not fail me.
- American citizens are instrumental in carrying on a traffic in enslaved Africans, equally in violation of the laws of humanity and in defiance of those of their own country. The same just and benevolent motives which produced interdiction in force against the criminal conduct will doubtless be felt by Congress in devising further means of suppressing the evil.
- The United States while they wish for war with no nation, will buy peace with none, it being a principle incorporated into the settled policy of America, that as peace is better than war, so war is better than tribute.
- Message delivered to Dey Omar Agha, by Isaac Chauncey and William Shaler , summarizing the Treaty with Algiers (1815), and U.S attitudes and actions in the Barbary Wars, in refusing to pay ransom or tribute to pirates of the Barbary States, as quoted in History and Present Condition of Tripoli: With Some Accounts of the Other Barbary States (1835) by Robert Greenhow, p. 46
- A paraphrased variant of this seems to have arisen on the internet around 2007: It is … a settled policy of America, that as peace is better than war, war is better than tribute. The United States, while they wish for war with no nation, will buy peace with none.
- The United States, having been the first to abolish within the extent of their authority the transportation of the natives of Africa into slavery, by prohibiting the introduction of slaves and by punishing their citizens participating in the traffic, can not but be gratified at the progress made by concurrent efforts of other nations toward a general suppression of so great an evil. They must feel at the same time the greater solicitude to give the fullest efficacy to their own regulations. With that view, the interposition of Congress appears to be required by the violations and evasions which it is suggested are chargeable on unworthy citizens who mingle in the slave trade under foreign flags and with foreign ports, and by collusive importations of slaves into the United States through adjoining ports and territories. I present the subject to Congress with a full assurance of their disposition to apply all the remedy which can be afforded by an amendment of the law. The regulations which were intended to guard against abuses of a kindred character in the trade between the several States ought also to be rendered more effectual for their humane object.
- James Madison's Eighth State of the Union Address (3 December 1816)
- Besides the danger of a direct mixture of religion and civil government, there is an evil which ought to be guarded against in the indefinite accumulation of property from the capacity of holding it in perpetuity by ecclesiastical corporations. The establishment of the chaplainship in Congress is a palpable violation of equal rights as well as of Constitutional principles. The danger of silent accumulations and encroachments by ecclesiastical bodies has not sufficiently engaged attention in the U.S.
- "Monopolies, Perpetuities, Corporations, Ecclesiastical Endowments"; this is an essay probably written sometime between 1817 and 1832. It has sometimes been incorrectly portrayed as having been uncompleted notes written sometime around 1789 while opposing the bill to establish the office of Congressional Chaplain. It was first published as "Aspects of Monopoly One Hundred Years Ago" in 1914 by Harper's Magazine and later in "Madison's Detached Memoranda" by Elizabeth Fleet in William and Mary Quarterly (1946). More information on this essay is available in "James Madison and Tax-Supported Chaplains" by Chris Rodda
Letter to Robert J. Evans (1819)
- the freed blacks ought to be permanently removed beyond the region occupied by or allotted to a White population
- If in any instances, wrong has been done by our forefathers to people of one colour, by dispossessing them of their soil, what better atonement is now in our power than that of making what is rightfully acquired a source of justice & of blessings to a people of another colour?
- If these thoughts can be of any aid in your search of a remedy for the great evil under which the nation labors, you are very welcome to them. You will allow me however to add that it will be most agreeable to me, not to be publickly referred to in any use you may make of them.
- I have long thought that our vacant territory was the resource which, in some mode or other, was most applicable and adequate as a gradual cure for the portentous evil; without, however, being unaware that even that would encourage serious difficulties of different sorts.
- The subject which ruffles the surface of public affairs most, at present, is furnished by the transmission of the "Territory" of Missouri from a state of nonage to a maturity for self-Government, and for a membership in the Union. Among the questions involved in it, the one most immediately interesting to humanity is the question whether a toleration or prohibition of slavery Westward of the Mississippi would most extend its evils. The human part of the argument against the prohibition turns on the position, that whilst the importation of slaves from abroad is precluded, a diffusion of those in the Country tends at once to meliorate their actual condition, and to facilitate their eventual emancipation. Unfortunately, the subject, which was settled at the last session of Congress by a mutual concession of the parties, is reproduced on the arena by a clause in the Constitution of Missouri, distinguishing between free persons of colour and white persons, and providing that the Legislature of the new State shall exclude from it the former. What will be the issue of the revived discussion is yet to be seen. The ease opens the wider field, as the Constitution and laws of the different States are much at variance in the civic character giving to free persons of colour; those of most of the States, not excepting such as have abolished slavery, imposing various disqualifications, which degrade them from the rank and rights of white persons. All these perplexities develop more and more the dreadful fruitfulness of the original sin of the African trade.
- Letter to General Marquis de Lafayette (25 November 1820), Montpelier
- Religion & Govt. will both exist in greater purity, the less they are mixed together.
- Letter to Edward Livingston (10 July 1822)
- Among the features peculiar to the political system of the United States is the perfect equality of rights which it secures to every religious sect. And it is particularly pleasing to observe in the good citizenship of such as have been most distrusted and oppressed elsewhere, a happy illustration of the safety and success of this experiment of a just and benignant policy. Equal laws protecting equal rights, are found as they ought to be presumed, the best guarantee of loyalty, and love of country; as well as best calculated to cherish that mutual respect and good will among citizens of every religious denomination which are necessary to social harmony and most favorable to the advancement of truth.
- … I entirely concur in the propriety of resorting to the sense in which the Constitution was accepted and ratified by the nation. In that sense alone it is the legitimate Constitution. And if that be not the guide in expounding it, there can be no security for a consistent and stable, more than for a faithful exercise of its powers. If the meaning of the text be sought in the changeable meaning of the words composing it, it is evident that the shape and attributes of the Government must partake of the changes to which the words and phrases of all living languages are constantly subject. What a metamorphosis would be produced in the code of law if all its ancient phraseology were to be taken in its modern sense! And that the language of our Constitution is already undergoing interpretations unknown to its founders, will I believe appear to all unbiased Enquirers into the history of its origin and adoption.
- Letter to Henry Lee (25 June 1824)
- A popular Government without popular information, or the means of acquiring it, is but a Prologue to a Farce or a Tragedy, or perhaps both. Knowledge will forever govern ignorance: And a people who mean to be their own Governors, must arm themselves with the power which knowledge gives.
- Letter to W.T. Barry (4 August 1822), in The Writings of James Madison (1910) edited by Gaillard Hunt, Vol. 9, p. 103; these words, using the older spelling "Governours", are inscribed to the left of the main entrance, Library of Congress James Madison Memorial Building.
- The belief in a God All Powerful wise and good, is so essential to the moral order of the world and to the happiness of man, that arguments which enforce it cannot be drawn from too many sources nor adapted with too much solicitude to the different characters and capacities to be impressed with it.
- Letter to Rev. Frederick Beasley (20 November 1825)
- The happy Union of these States is a wonder; their Constitution a miracle; their example the hope of Liberty throughout the world.
- "Outline" notes (September 1829), in The Writings of James Madison (1910) by Gaillard Hunt, Vol. 9, p. 357. Inscribed in the Madison Memorial Hall, Library of Congress James Madison Memorial Building.
- The essence of Government is power; and power, lodged as it must be in human hands, will ever be liable to abuse.
- Speech in the Virginia Constitutional Convention, 2 December 1829, The Writings of James Madison: 1819-1836 (1910), ed. Galliard Hunt, p. 361
- It is due to justice; due to humanity; due to truth; due to the sympathies of our nature; in fine, to our character as a people, both abroad and at home, that they should be considered, as much as possible, in the light of human beings, and not as mere property. As such, they are acted on by our laws, and have an interest in our laws. They may be considered as making a part, though a degraded part, of the families to which they belong.
Letter to F. Corbin (1820)
- Letter to F. Corbin (26 November 1820), as quoted in Letters and other Writings of James Madison: 1816-1828, III, pp. 194-195.
- I do not mean to discuss the question how far slavery and farming are incompatible. Our opinions agree as to the evil, moral, political, and economical, of the former.
- I still think, notwithstanding, that under all the disadvantages of slave cultivation, much improvement in it is practicable. Proofs are annually taking place within my own sphere of observation; particularly where slaves are held in small numbers, by good masters and managers. As to the very wealthy proprietors, much less is to be said. But after all, protesting against any inference of a disposition to undertake the evil of slavery, is it certain that in giving to your wealth a new investment, you would be altogether freed from the cares and vexations incident to the shape it now has? If converted into paper, you already feel some of the contingencies belonging to it ; if into commercial stock, look at the wrecks every where giving warning of the danger. If into large landed property, where there are no slaves, will you cultivate it yourself? Then beware of the difficulty of procuring faithful or complying labourers. Will you dispose of it in leases? Ask those who have made the experiment what sort of tenants are to be found where an ownership of the soil is so attainable.
- It has been said that America is a country for the poor, not for the rich. There would be more correctness in saying it is the country for both, where the latter have a relish for free government; but, proportionally, more for the former than for the latter.
- Your anticipations with regard to the slavery among us were the natural offspring of your just principles and laudable sympathies; but I am sorry to say that the occasion which led to them proved to be little fitted for the slightest interposition on that subject. A sensibility, morbid in the highest degree, was never more awakened among those who have the largest stake in that species of interest, and the most violent against any governmental movement in relation to it. The excitability at the moment, happened, also, to be not a little augmented by party questions between the South and the North, and the efforts used to make the circumstance common to the former a sympathetic bond of co-operation. I scarcely express myself too strongly in saying, that any allusion in the Convention to the subject you have so much at heart would have been a spark to a mass of gunpowder. It is certain, nevertheless, that time, the “great Innovator,” is not idle in its salutary preparations. The Colonization Society are becoming more and more one of its agents. Outlets for the freed blacks are alone wanted for a rapid erasure of the blot from our Republican character.
- Letter to Lafayette (1 February 1830), published in Letters and Other Writings of James Madison (1867), Vol. IV, p. 60
- With respect to the words "general welfare," I have always regarded them as qualified by the detail of powers connected with them. To take them in a literal and unlimited sense would be a metamorphosis of the Constitution into a character which there is a host of proofs was not contemplated by its creators. If the words obtained so readily a place in the "Articles of Confederation ," and received so little notice in their admission into the present Constitution, and retained for so long a time a silent place in both, the fairest explanation is, that the words, in the alternative of meaning nothing or meaning everything, had the former meaning taken for granted.
- Letter to James Robertson (20 April 1831)
- Nothing more than a change of mind, my dear.
- Last words, to his niece, according to A Colored Man's Reminiscences of James Madison (1865) by Paul Jennings, p. 20; his testimony on his death reads:
- I was present when he died. That morning Sukey brought him his breakfast, as usual. He could not swallow. His niece, Mrs. Willis, said, "What is the matter, Uncle Jeames?" "Nothing more than a change of mind, my dear." His head instantly dropped, and he ceased breathing as quietly as the snuff of a candle goes out.
- I always talk better lying down.
- Last words, according to a listing of "Last Words of Famous Americans" in A Conspectus of American Biography (1906) edited by George Derby, p. 276; no prior publication of such an attribution has been located; in recent years, without any sources cited, the two divergent accounts of his last words have sometimes been combined into the form: "Nothing more than a change of mind, my dear. I always talk better lying down."
Quotes about Madison
- It would be a blot and stigma on your otherwise spotless escutcheon, not to restore to your slaves that liberty and those rights which you have been through life so zealous and able a champion.
- If Washington or Jefferson or Madison should utter upon his native soil today the opinions he entertained and expressed upon this question, he would be denounced as a fanatical abolitionist. To declare the right of all men to liberty is sectional, because slavery is afraid of liberty and strikes the mouth that speaks the word. To preach slavery is not sectional — no: because freedom respects itself and believes in itself enough to give an enemy fair play. Thus Boston asked Senator Toombs to come and say what he could for slavery. I think Boston did a good thing, but I think Senator Toombs is not a wise man, for he went. He went all the way from Georgia to show Massachusetts how slavery looks, and to let it learn what it has to say. When will Georgia ask Wendell Phillips or Charles Sumner to come down and show her how liberty looks and speaks?
- George William Curtis, [https://archive.org/details/orationsandaddr03curtgoog "The Present Aspect of the Slavery Question" (18 October 1859)
- Among Madison’s 15 points was his declaration that “the Religion then of every man must be left to the conviction and conscience of every...man to exercise it as these may dictate. This right is in its nature an inalienable right.”
Madison also made a point that any believer of any religion should understand: that the government sanction of a religion was, in essence, a threat to religion. “Who does not see,” he wrote, “that the same authority which can establish Christianity, in exclusion of all other Religions, may establish with the same ease any particular sect of Christians, in exclusion of all other Sects?” Madison was writing from his memory of Baptist ministers being arrested in his native Virginia.
As a Christian, Madison also noted that Christianity had spread in the face of persecution from worldly powers, not with their help. Christianity, he contended, “disavows a dependence on the powers of this world...for it is known that this Religion both existed and flourished, not only without the support of human laws, but in spite of every opposition from them.”
- Madison was shy and reserved with strangers and never learned the politically useful art of small talk. Because of this shyness, as well as his small stature and weak voice, he made a very bad first impression. Contributing to his poor image was his deliberative nature He deferred decisions whenever possible until all sides had been considered thoroughly. For this, some regard him as weak and indecisive. But others agreed with Treasury Secretary Albert Gallatin, who said, "Mr. Madison is... slow in taking ground, but firm when the storm rises."
- William A. DeGregorio, The Complete Book of U.S. Presidents (1984), p. 55
- James Madison rarely spoke regarding slavery during his Presidency, and the few times he did it was to stricter enforcement of the slave trade on two occasions in his address to Congress in 1810 and 1816. The only significant line in his address is from the 1816 in which he states 'The regulations which are intended to guard against abuses of a kindred character, in the trade between the several states, ought also to be rendered more effectual for their humane object'. After he left office Madison began working on his plans for the gradual emancipation of the slaves. He wrote that 'it ought, like remedies for other deep-rooted and widespread evils, to be gradual, is so obvious, that there seems to be no difference of opinions on that point. To be equitable and satisfactory, the consent of both the master and the slave should be obtained'. Madison then continues his work, proposing that the slaves be bought and then move west to federal land where they will work to pay off their debt to the Federal government. Madison estimated this cost at 600 MILLION DOLLARS, that is not adjusted for inflation. However Madison then interestingly writes that by doing this America is atoning for its actions in mistreating the black man, perhaps atoning for his own sins? 'If in any instances wrong has been done by our forefathers to people of one color, by dispossessing them of their soil, what better atonement is now in our power than making what is rightfully acquired a source of justice and blessings to a people of another color?', Madison here is referring to the mistreatment of the native peoples and that by treating blacks they are in a way atoning for their sin. Madison's next plan involved all female slaves being bought by the federal government which was more feasible in economic terms. After this plan there is a few years of silence and then a very different tone begins to emerge from Madison. Madison, I believe, looked at the events of the Missouri crisis, to indicate that the Union was in peril and a certain amount of expedience was required in his work. Madison writing to Lafayette seemed to indicate a regret at allowing the continuation of the slave trade until 1808, writing in reference to the Missouri controversy.
- I would argue yes, that to an extent Madison's actions can be interpreted as showing some form of guilt in his early perceived failings, especially since he repeatedly refers to sin of slave trade and atonement for America's actions. Interestingly I'd also add that Madison was the 'prophet of the founders' and repeatedly, and with a great degree of accuracy, saw the rising fears of disunion and even predicted that Fugitive slave laws would drive a immovable wedge between northern and southern states... Madison's writing regarding finding a solution to Slavery took on a certain rush and priority that had largely existed in his previous years of life. This, I believe, was because of a direct result of the events unfurling around him that he saw as threatening Union. I'd also note that he fought furiously at the Virginia Constitutional Convention of 1829, along with Monroe which I will probably touch up more on when I finish that post, to ban slavery in Virginia.
- [T]he Constitution deliberately avoided the direct use of the word 'slavery' because, as James Madison explained, the Framers did not want to give express approval to the idea that there could be 'property in man'.
- Ethan Greenberg, Dred Scott and the Dangers of a Political Court, p. 12
- Madison saw slavery as an evil.
- Ethan Greenberg, Dred Scott and the Dangers of a Political Court, p. 117
- [I]f some doubt may be cast upon the language of Mr. Madison at times, at others he stands out for at least as much admiration as may be bestowed upon a set of man who have rarely been subjected to unfavorable criticism. He squarely announced himself opposed to the slave-trade, and stated that he did not think it right to admit the idea into the Constitution that its framers considered the slaves as property, or that there could be property in man. And no doubt he said honestly that much had been gained by closing the slave-trade in 1808, forever.
- John Robert Irelan, History of the Life, Administration and Times of James Madison (1886), Chicago: Fairbanks and Palmer Publishing Company, p. 104
- Madison grew up with slaves, and continued to own slaves throughout his life. Nevertheless from early in his political career he had considers slavery a moral and political evil, admitted that it violated the natural rights promised in the Declaration of Independence, and hoped for its ultimate, if gradual, abolition.
- Stuart Leibiger, A Companion to James Madison and James Monroe, p. 279
- He observed that the whole Bible is against Negro slavery, but that the clergy do not preach this, and the people do not see it.
- Of the authors of The Federalist Papers, James Madison could claim the least familiarity with military affairs, for unlike Alexander Hamilton and John Jay, he had known neither the sting of battle nor the tension of international diplomacy during the American Revolution. In contrast to Hamilton, who had conducted an inquiry on post-Revolution defense policy, or Jay, who had directed the perilous diplomacy of the new nation under the Articles of Confederation, Madison had made his postwar reputation as a cerebral congressional surrogate for his famous Virginia colleague Thomas Jefferson. During the Constitutional Convention, however, Madison emerged as one of the architects of the Constitution with which its framers hoped to reorganized the newly independent states. Thus when the fight for ratification came to the crucial state of New York, Madison was a natural choice to be one of the three authors of the "Publius" essays, advocating a stronger central government. Surprisingly, Madison contributed an essay on Article I, Section 8 of the Constitution, applying his analytical skill to No. 41 of The Federalist Papers. The issue was empowering the government to conduct the nation's defense.
- Allan R. Millett, Peter Maslowski, and William B. Feis, For the Common Defense: A Military History of the United States From 1607 to 2012 (2012), p. xvii
- To Madison, the Constitution's provisions for the central control of military policy seemed self-evident. "Security against foreign danger is one of the primitive objects of civil society. It is an avowed and essential object of the American Union." It was unthinkable to him that defense would not be the domain of the national government. "Is the power of raising armies and fleets necessary?" Madison could imagine no constitutional limits upon the nation's potential enemies. How could the readiness for war in time of peace be safely prohibited, unless we could prohibit in like manner the preparations and establishments of every hostile nation?" Perhaps he remembered George Washington's quip that the Constitution would not limit the size of other nations' armies even if it set a ceiling on America's standing forces. "The means of security can only be regulated by the means and danger of attack. They will, in fact, be ever determined by these rules and no other. It is in vain to oppose constitutional barriers to the impulse of self-preservation. It is worse than in vain... If one nation maintains constantly a disciplined army, ready for service of ambition or revenge, it obliges the most pacific nations who may be within the reach of its enterprises to take corresponding precautions."
- Allan R. Millett, Peter Maslowski, and William B. Feis, For the Common Defense: A Military History of the United States From 1607 to 2012 (2012), p. xvii-xviii
- A letter sent by James Madison on November 25, 1820, to the Marquis de Lafayette discussed the debate over admitting Missouri as a slave state and the confusion caused by the different rights of "free people of color" in various states. He deplored the "various disqualifications which degrade them from the rank & rights of white persons". Dismayed by the growing divisiveness in the nation, which he had helped to found, Madison added, "All these perplexities develop more and more, the dreadful fruitfulness of the original sin of the African trade".
- Madison, like many of the other Founders, was acutely aware of the injustice of slavery and saw it as one form of the oppression that their innovative approach to government as to eliminate.
- Tom G. Palmer, as quoted in Realizing Freedom: Libertarian Theory, History, and Practice (2009), p. 338
- Being good gentlemen of the Enlightenment, the Founders thought that the demise of slavery would come about naturally. Washington, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, all believed that somehow slavery would disappear.
- The Union was and is perpetual. The founders intended it so. Madison's letter to Hamilton, 'The Constitution requires an adoption in toto, and for ever', during the New York ratification debates demonstrate that decisively. But on an even more profound scale, the ratification process itself demonstrates that the founders intended the permanence and strength of the Union. They had had it with powerful states. That's why the founders stated in Article VII that ratification had to happen in special conventions, not the state legislatures. If the founders had left it to the state legislatures, those legislatures would have rejected the document out of hand. But the special ratifying conventions were different. They were composed of delegates elected by 'We The People' of each state, not the state itself. In addition, the states liberalized voting rules by getting rid of the property qualifications. This was a special one-time-only thing in order to ensure the broadest possible participation to select delegates in order to make it as democratic as the eighteenth century mindset would allow. In the north, five states even allowed blacks the right to vote. When the Constitution says 'We the People' that's not just a rhetorical flourish. That's a description of the nature of the Union.
- In his mind, at least, one thing was settled. Billey was no longer a slave, but a human being. In his own upheaval, the principle of freedom could no longer be confined to whites. It was a right for all human beings, black and white alike.
- Madison could not escape the specter of slavery and the risk that it would sever the American union. As a young politician, Madison struggled with the contradiction between slavery and America's revolutionary ideals. His ideals … Madison had not absorbed the race prejudices of his time and place. He never denied that the African Americans he owned were human beings like him … Madison accepted emancipated blacks on an equal footing … When a free black man brought a message to Montpelier nine years later, James and Dolley invited the man to join the company for dinner and evening conversation. The visitor spent the night at Montpelier. After breakfast, he borrowed a horse to continue his journey.
- All the leading Founders affirmed on many occasions that blacks are created equal to whites and that slavery is wrong.
- Madison went on in 1789 to become the dominant member of the new House of Representatives. He not only helped President George Washington organize the executive branch, he was also the person most responsible for producing the first 10 amendments to the Constitution, which became the Bill of Rights. One problem that Madison couldn’t deal with was slavery. Although he believed it was “the most oppressive dominion ever exercised by man over man,” he realized the political opposition to abolition was too great, and he hoped against hope that time would solve the problem.
- Official White House page for James Madison
- Extensive essay on James Madison and shorter essays on each member of his cabinet and First Lady from the Miller Center of Public Affairs
- James Madison Biography and Fact File
- The James Madison Papers, 1723-1836 at the Manuscript Division of the Library of Congress
- The Papers of James Madison from the Avalon Project
- Memorial and Remonstrance Against Religious Assessments, 1785
- Madison's last will and testament, 1835
- A history of the Madison family since the 17th century
- Madison Archives
- Works by James Madison at Project Gutenberg
- James Madison and the Social Utility of Religion: Risks vs. Rewards, James Hutson, Library of Congress
- Sourced Madison quotes at Positive Atheism
- James Madison Museum
- Montpelier-Home of James Madison