Writings of James Madison, Volume 4

Author: James Madison

To Andrew Stevenson.


MY DEAR SIR,—I have received your letter of the 20th, with a just sensibility of the kind feelings it expresses, and, I hope you will not doubt, with an unfeigned reciprocity of them. The more of frankness you put into observations on the subjects which entered into our late conversations, the more acceptable as well as valuable they will be, that being a quality without which no interchange of thoughts can be profitable to either party, and with which it may be so to one or the other, and possibly to both.

I enclose the letter which particularly complies with the object of yours. The view it takes of the origin and innocence of the phrase "common defence and general welfare" is what was taken in the Federalist and in the report of 1799, and, I believe, wherever else I may have had occasion to speak of the clause containing the terms.

I have omitted a vindication of the true punctuation of the clause,* because I now take for certain that the original document, signed by the members of the Convention, is in the Department of State, and that it testifies for itself against the erroneous editions of the text in that particular. Should it appear that the document is not there, or that the error had slipped into it, the materials in my hands to which you refer will amount, I think, to a proof outweighing even that authority. It would seem a little strange, if the original Constitution be in the Department of State, that it has hitherto escaped notice. But it is to be explained, I presume, by the fact that it was not among the papers relating to the Constitution left with General Washington, and there deposited by him; but, having been sent from the Convention to the old Congress, lay among the mass of papers handed over on the expiration of the latter to that Department. On your arrival at Washington, you will be able personally, or by a friend having more leisure, to satisfy yourself on these points.

It appears, as you foretold, that my letter in the Northern Review has encountered newspaper criticism; but as yet, little, if at all, I believe, on the ground looked for. In some instances both the letter and the report of 1799 are misunderstood, and in none that I have seen has the distinction been properly kept in view between the authority of a higher tribunal to decide on the extent of its own jurisdiction, compared with that of other tribunals, and its claim of jurisdiction in any particular case or description of cases as within that extent; it being presumed that, if not within the extent of its jurisdiction, it will be pronounced coram non judice; and it being understood that, if not so, it will be a case of usurpation, and to be treated as such.

Mrs. Madison charges me with her most affectionate regards to Mrs. Stevenson, in which I beg leave to unite with her, as she does with me, in cordial salutations and all good wishes for yourself.

* This is also inserted with the letter. The letter and the paper referred to are those which immediately follow—both addressed to Mr. Stevenson.—Ed.


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Chicago: James Madison Jr., "To Andrew Stevenson.," Writings of James Madison, Volume 4 in James Madison, Letters and Other Writings of James Madison, 4 Vols. (Philadelphia: J.B. Lippincott & Co.), Pp.120-121 Original Sources, accessed September 30, 2022, http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=L93RKHAKMT58LNC.

MLA: Madison, James, Jr. "To Andrew Stevenson." Writings of James Madison, Volume 4, in James Madison, Letters and Other Writings of James Madison, 4 Vols. (Philadelphia: J.B. Lippincott & Co.), Pp.120-121, Original Sources. 30 Sep. 2022. http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=L93RKHAKMT58LNC.

Harvard: Madison, J, 'To Andrew Stevenson.' 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.120-121. Original Sources, retrieved 30 September 2022, from http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=L93RKHAKMT58LNC.