Writings of James Madison, Volume 4

Author: James Madison

To Mrs. Margaret H. Smith.


I have received, my dear madam, the very friendly, and, I must add, very flattering letter, in which you wish from my own hand some reminiscence marking the early relations between Mr. Jefferson and myself, and involving some anecdote concerning him that may have a place in a manuscript volume you are preparing as a legacy for your son.

I was a stranger to Mr. Jefferson [till] the year 1776, when he took his seat in the first Legislature under the Constitution of Virginia, then newly formed; being at the time myself a member of that Body, and for the first time a member of any public Body. The acquaintance made with him on that occasion was very slight; the distance between our ages being considerable, and other distances much more so. During part of the time whilst he was Governor of the State, a service to which he was called not long after, I had a seat in the Council, associated with him. Our acquaintance then became intimate, and a friendship was formed which was for life, and which was never interrupted in the slightest degree for a single moment.

Among the occasions which made us immediate companions was the trip in 1791 to the borders of Canada, to which you refer. According to an understanding between us, the observations in our way through the northern parts of New York and the newly settled vicinity of Vermont, to be noted by him, were of a miscellaneous cast, and part at least noted on the birch bark of which you speak. the few observations devolving on me related chiefly to agricultural and economic objects. On recurring to them, I find the only interest they contain is in the comparison they may afford of the infant State with the present growth of the settlements through which we passed; and I am sorry that my memory does not suggest any particular anecdote, to which yours must have alluded.

The scenes and subjects which had occurred during the session of Congress which had just terminated at our departure from New York, entered of course into our itinerary conversations. In one of those scenes, a dinner party, at which both of us were present, I recollect now, though not perhaps adverted to then, an incident, which, as it is characteristic of Mr. Jefferson, I will substitute for a more exact compliance with your request.

The new Constitution of the U. States having been just put into operation, forms of Government were the uppermost topics everywhere, more especially at a convivial board; and the question being started as to the best mode of providing the Executive chief, it was, among other opinions, boldly advanced that a hereditary designation was preferable to any elective process that could be devised. At the close of an eloquent effusion against the agitations and animosities of a popular choice, and in behalf of birth, as, on the whole, affording even a better chance for a suitable head of the Government, Mr. Jefferson, with a smile, remarked that he had heard of a University somewhere in which the Professorship of Mathematics was hereditary. The reply, received with acclamations, was a coup de grace to the anti-republican heretic.

Whilst your affection is preparing from other sources an instructive bequest for your son, I must be allowed to congratulate him on the precious inheritance he will enjoy in the examples on which his filial feelings will most delight to dwell.

Mrs. Madison failed to obtain the two prints she intended for you, but will renew her efforts to fulfil her promise. The only drawing of our house is that by Dr Thornton, and is without the wings now making part of it.

Be pleased, my dear madam, to express to Mr. Smith the particular esteem I have ever felt for the lights of his mind and the purity of his principles, and to accept for him and yourself my cordial salutations. Mrs. M., who has lately been seriously ill, but is now recovering, desires me to assure you of her affectionate friendship, and joins me in wishing for the entire circle of your family every happiness.

Fearing that the delay may do me injustice, I must in explanation remark that your letter found me in a bad state of health, and that before I could avail myself of its improvement to dispose of accumulated arrears of pressing sorts, the illness of Mrs. M. drew off my attention from every other consideration. I ought, perhaps, to have another fear, that of being charged with affectation in the microscopic hand in which I write. But the explanation is easy: the fingers, stiffened by age, make smaller strokes, as the feet from the same cause take shorter steps. I hope you will live to verify my sincerity.


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Chicago: James Madison Jr., "To Mrs. Margaret H. Smith.," Writings of James Madison, Volume 4 in James Madison, Letters and Other Writings of James Madison, 4 Vols. (Philadelphia: J.B. Lippincott & Co.), Pp.111-113 Original Sources, accessed April 22, 2024, http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=DD98SJ4V1CRW43E.

MLA: Madison, James, Jr. "To Mrs. Margaret H. Smith." Writings of James Madison, Volume 4, in James Madison, Letters and Other Writings of James Madison, 4 Vols. (Philadelphia: J.B. Lippincott & Co.), Pp.111-113, Original Sources. 22 Apr. 2024. http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=DD98SJ4V1CRW43E.

Harvard: Madison, J, 'To Mrs. Margaret H. Smith.' 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.111-113. Original Sources, retrieved 22 April 2024, from http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=DD98SJ4V1CRW43E.