Writings of James Madison, Volume 3

Author: James Madison

To N. P. Trist.

MONTPELLIER, Jany 26, 1828.

DEAR SIR,—Before I received your letter I had not adverted to the criticism in the "Advocate" on Mr. Rush, nor even read the criticism on the criticism; being diverted from it by the signature, which I ascribed to the author who has published so much under it, and whose views of every branch of the subject I thought myself sufficiently acquainted with.

I had, indeed, read but skimmingly the Treasury Report itself. I was certainly not struck with the passage in question as a heresy, and suspect that it must have been misunderstood by those who denounce it as such.

How far, or in what mode, it may be proper to countervail, by encouragements to manufactures, the invitations given to agriculture, by superadding to other lands in the market the vast field of cheap and fertile lands opened by Congress, is assuredly a fair subject for discussion. But that such a field is attractive to agriculture as much as an augmentation of profits is to manufactures, I conceive to be almost luce clarius. It is true that, as the enlarged sale of fertile lands may be increasing, the food and other articles in market cheapen them to the manufacturer, and so far operate, for a time at least, as an encouragement to him; but the advantage bears in this case no proportion to the effect of a redundancy of cheap and fertile lands in drawing of capital, as well as that class of population from which manufactories are to be recruited.

The actual fall in the price of land, particularly in Virginia, may be attributed to several causes: 1. To the uncertainty and low prices of the crops. 2. To the quantity of land thrown into market by debtors and the defect of purchasers, both owing to the general condition of the people, not difficult but unnecessary to be explained. But the 3d and main cause is the low price at which fertile lands in the Western market are attainable, tempting the owners here to sell out and convert the proceeds, or as much of them as they can spare, into cheaper and better lands there.

Nothing would be further from my wishes than to withhold, at proper prices, a fair supply of the national domain to emigrants, whether of choice or of necessity. But how can it be doubted that, in proportion as the supply should be reduced in quantity or raised in price, emigration would be checked and the price of land here augmented?

Put the case that the dividing mountains were to become an impassable barrier to further emigrations; is it not obvious that the price of land on this side, except so far as other temporary causes might be a check, would spring up the moment the fact was known? Or take another case: that the population on the other side, instead of being there, had remained and been added to the number on this; can it be believed that the price of land on this would be as low as it is? Suppose, finally, a general reflux of the Western population into the old States; a like effect on the price of land can be still less doubted.

That the redundancy and cheapness of land is unfavorable to manufactures, in a degree even beyond the comparative profit-ableness of the labour bestowed, is shown by experience, and is easily explained. The pride of ownership when this exists or is expected, the air of great freedom, the less of constancy and identity of application, are known to seduce to rural life the drudges in workshops. What would be the condition of Birmingham or Manchester were 40 or 50 millions of fertile acres placed at an easy distance and offered at the price of our Western lands? What a transfer of capital and difficulty of retaining or procuring operatives would ensue! And although the addition to the products of the earth, by cheapening the necessaries of life, might seem to favor manufactures, the advantage would be vastly overbalanced by the increased price of labour produced by the new demand for it, and by the superior attractiveness of the agricultural demand.

Why do such numbers flee annually from the more populous to less populous parts of the U. States, where land is cheaper? Evidently because less labour is more competent to supply the necessaries and comforts of life. Can an instance be produced of emigrants from the soil of the West to the manufactories of Massachusetts or Pennsylvania.

Among the effects of the transmigration from the Atlantic region to the ultra-montane, it is not to be overlooked that besides reducing the price of land in the former, by diminishing the proportion of inhabitants, it reduces it still further by reducing the value of its products in glutted markets. This is the result at which the reasoning of the "erased" [?] fairly arrived, and justifies the appeal made to the Southern farmers and planters on the question of having the same people for consumers of their vendibles, or rival producers of them.

But whilst I do justice to the successful reasoning in the case, I take the liberty of remarking, that in comparing land with machinery or materials, an important distinction should be kept in view. Land, unlike the latter, is a co-operating self-agent, with a surface not extendible by art, as machines, and in many cases materials also may be multiplied by art. Arkwright’s machine, which co-operates a thousand times as much with human agency as the earth does, being multipliable indefinitely, soon sinks in the price to the mere cost of construction. Were the surface or the fertility of the earth equally susceptible of increase, artificial and indefinite, the cases would be parallel. The earth is rather a source than an instrument or material for the supplies of manufacturing, except when used in potting and brick work.

Having thus undertaken to criticise a criticism on a point of some amount, I will indulge the mood as to a very minute one. You use the word "doubtlessly." As you may live long, and may write much, it might be worth while to save the reiterated trouble of two supernumerary letters, if they were merely such. But if there be no higher authority than the Lexicography of Johnson, the ly is apocryphal. And if not so, the cacophony alone of the elongated word ought to banish it; doubtless being, without doubt, an adverb, as well as an adjective, and more used in the former than the latter character.


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Chicago: James Madison Jr., "To N. P. Trist.," Writings of James Madison, Volume 3 in James Madison, Letters and Other Writings of James Madison, 4 Vols. (Philadelphia: J.B. Lippincott & Co.), Pp.614-616 Original Sources, accessed September 30, 2022, http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=KPCT3IJ4IMCER4V.

MLA: Madison, James, Jr. "To N. P. Trist." Writings of James Madison, Volume 3, in James Madison, Letters and Other Writings of James Madison, 4 Vols. (Philadelphia: J.B. Lippincott & Co.), Pp.614-616, Original Sources. 30 Sep. 2022. http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=KPCT3IJ4IMCER4V.

Harvard: Madison, J, 'To N. P. Trist.' 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.614-616. Original Sources, retrieved 30 September 2022, from http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=KPCT3IJ4IMCER4V.