Writings of James Madison, Volume 4

Author: James Madison

To Henry Clay.

JUNE, 1833.

DEAR SIR,—Your letter of May 28 was duly received. In it you ask my opinion on the retention of the land bill by the President.

It is obvious that the Constitution meant to allow the President an adequate time to consider the bills, &c., presented to him, and to make his objections to them; and, on the other hand, that Congress should have time to consider and overrule the objections. A disregard on either side of what it owes to the other must be an abuse for which it would be responsible under the forms of the Constitution. An abuse on the part of the President, with a view sufficiently manifest, in a case of sufficient magnitude to deprive Congress of the opportunity of overruling objections to their bills, might doubtless be a ground for impeachment. But nothing short of the signature of the President, or a lapse of ten days without a return of his objections, or an overruling of the objections by two-thirds of each House of Congress, can give legal validity to a bill. In order to qualify [in the French sense of the term] the retention of the land bill by the President, the first inquiry is, whether a sufficient time was allowed him to decide on its merits; the next, whether, with a sufficient time to prepare his objections, he unnecessarily put it out of the power of Congress to decide on them. How far an anticipated passage of the bill ought to enter into the sufficiency of the time for Executive deliberation is another point for consideration. A minor one may be, whether a silent retention, or an assignment to Congress of the reasons for it, be the mode most suitable to such occasions.

I hope, with you, that the compromising tariff will have a course and effect avoiding a renewal of the contest between the South and the North, and that a lapse of nine or ten years will enable the manufacturers to swim without the bladders which have supported them. Many considerations favour such a prospect. They will be saved in future much of the expense in fixtures which they had to encounter, and in many instances unnecessarily incurred. They will be continually improving in the management of their business. They will not fail to improve occasionally on the machinery abroad. The reduction of duties on imported articles consumed by them will be equivalent to a direct bounty. There will probably be an increasing cheapness of food from the increasing redundancy of agricultural labour. There will, within the experimental period, be an addition of four or five millions to our population, no part or little of which will be needed for agricultural labour, and which will consequently be an extensive fund of manufacturing recruits. The current experience makes it probable that not less than fifty or sixty thousand, or more, of emigrants will annually reach the United States, a large proportion of whom will have been trained to manufactures and be ready for that employment.

With respect to Virginia, it is quite probable, from the progress already made in the Western culture of tobacco, and the rapid exhaustion of her virgin soil, in which alone it can be cultivated with a chance of profit, that, of the forty or fifty thousand labourers on tobacco, the greater part will be released from that employment and be applicable to that of manufactures. It is well known that the farming system requires much fewer hands than tobacco fields.

Should a war break out in Europe, involving the manufacturing nations, the rise of the wages there will be another brace to the manufacturing establishments here. It will do more; it will prove to the "absolutists" for free trade that there is, in the contingency of war, one exception at least to their theory.*

It is painful to observe the unceasing efforts to alarm the South by imputations against the North of unconstitutional designs on the subject of the slaves. You are right, I have no doubt, in believing that no such intermeddling disposition exists in the body of our Northern brethren. Their good faith is sufficiently guarantied by the interest they have as merchants, as ship-owners, and as manufacturers, in preserving a union with the slaveholding States. On the other hand, what madness in the South to look for greater safety in disunion. It would be worse than jumping out of the frying-pan into the fire: it would be jumping into the fire for fear of the frying-pan. The danger from the alarm is, that the pride and resentment exerted by them may be an over-match for the dictates of prudence, and favor the project of a Southern Convention, insidiously revived, as promising, by its councils, the best securities against grievances of every sort from the North.

The case of the tariff and land bills cannot fail of an influence on the question of your return to the next session of Congress. They are both closely connected with the public repose.

* This clause overlooked in the letter sent to Mr. Clay.


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Chicago: James Madison Jr., "To Henry Clay.," Writings of James Madison, Volume 4 in James Madison, Letters and Other Writings of James Madison, 4 Vols. (Philadelphia: J.B. Lippincott & Co.), Pp.299-301 Original Sources, accessed February 26, 2024, http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=482PNSU4621XYRH.

MLA: Madison, James, Jr. "To Henry Clay." Writings of James Madison, Volume 4, in James Madison, Letters and Other Writings of James Madison, 4 Vols. (Philadelphia: J.B. Lippincott & Co.), Pp.299-301, Original Sources. 26 Feb. 2024. http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=482PNSU4621XYRH.

Harvard: Madison, J, 'To Henry Clay.' in Writings of James Madison, Volume 4. cited in , James Madison, Letters and Other Writings of James Madison, 4 Vols. (Philadelphia: J.B. Lippincott & Co.), Pp.299-301. Original Sources, retrieved 26 February 2024, from http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=482PNSU4621XYRH.