Writings of James Madison, Volume 3

Author: James Madison

To John Cartwright.*


It is so long since I received your volume on the English Constitution, with the letter accompanying it, that I must add to my thanks for the favours an apology for the delay in returning them. I perceived at once, that, to do justice to such a work, it ought to be read with a continued attention, which happened to be impossible till within a short time past.

I am now able to say that I have found in your pages not a little to admire, very much to approve, but some things in which I cannot concur. Were I to name instances of the last, I should not omit your preference of a single to a double legislature.

The infirmities most besetting popular governments, even in the representative form, are found to be defective laws, which do mischief before they can be mended, and laws passed under transient impulses, of which time and reflection call for a change. These causes render the statute-book complex and voluminous, multiply disputed cases between individuals, increase the expense of legislation, and impair that certainty and stability which are among the greatest beauties as well as most solid advantages of a well-digested code.

A second branch of the legislature, consisting of fewer and riper members, deliberating separately and independently of the other, may be expected to correct many errors and inaccuracies in the proceedings of the other, and to control whatever of passion or precipitancy may be found in them; and being, in like manner with the other, elective and responsible, the probability is strengthened that the will and interest of their common constituents will be duly pursued.

In support of this view of the subject it may be remarked, that there is no instance among us of a change of a double for a single legislature, while there is more than one of a contrary change; and it is believed, that if all the States were now to form their governments over again, with lights derived from experience, they would be unanimous in preferring two legislative chambers to a single one.

I hope you will have no occasion to regret your early patronage of the independence of this country, or your approbation of the principles on which its governments have been established. Thus far, the trees can be safely tested by their fruits.

It affords sincere pleasure to find your government and nation relaxing their prejudices against us. Experience has proved what a few on your side as well as on this foresaw, that the separation of the colonies, though a gain to them, would be no loss of retainable commerce to the parent State, while it would be a gain to its treasury in the diminished demands on it.

It remains for the two countries now but to cultivate mutual good-will, to enrich and improve each other by all the interchanges having these tendencies, and to promote by their examples the improvement and happiness of all other countries.

I beg you to accept my acknowledgments for the friendly sentiments you have addressed to me, and to be assured of my great respect and good wishes.

* Notice of his death arrived before this was sent.


Related Resources

James Madison

Download Options

Title: Writings of James Madison, Volume 3

Select an option:

*Note: A download may not start for up to 60 seconds.

Email Options

Title: Writings of James Madison, Volume 3

Select an option:

Email addres:

*Note: It may take up to 60 seconds for for the email to be generated.

Chicago: James Madison Jr., "To John Cartwright.," Writings of James Madison, Volume 3 in James Madison, Letters and Other Writings of James Madison, 4 Vols. (Philadelphia: J.B. Lippincott & Co.), Pp.355-356 Original Sources, accessed July 23, 2024, http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=CZTMAYYZLBWJ3MN.

MLA: Madison, James, Jr. "To John Cartwright." Writings of James Madison, Volume 3, in James Madison, Letters and Other Writings of James Madison, 4 Vols. (Philadelphia: J.B. Lippincott & Co.), Pp.355-356, Original Sources. 23 Jul. 2024. http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=CZTMAYYZLBWJ3MN.

Harvard: Madison, J, 'To John Cartwright.' in Writings of James Madison, Volume 3. cited in , James Madison, Letters and Other Writings of James Madison, 4 Vols. (Philadelphia: J.B. Lippincott & Co.), Pp.355-356. Original Sources, retrieved 23 July 2024, from http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=CZTMAYYZLBWJ3MN.