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Jefferson to Madison - Don't Give the Feds Too Much Power

Thomas Jefferson's Letter to James Madison Philosophy American History American Presidents Government Law and Politics

On the 7th of July, 1793, Thomas Jefferson wrote a letter to his friend, James Madison.  The writer of the Declaration of Independence was becoming increasingly concerned that the ideas behind a new Constitution, to govern America, would give too much power to the federal government.

Not wishing to write an article himself, stating his strong views that a central government with too-much power would be bad for Americans, Jefferson urged James Madison to do so (thereby attacking the ideas of Alexander Hamilton).  

This image depicts a page from that letter.

The Library of Congress maintains the original in its archives.  The Library's curators tell us more about the background of this letter and Jefferson's motives:

Thomas Jefferson seldom wrote articles or essays for the press, but he did urge his supporters such as James Madison, James Monroe (1758-1831), John Beckley (1757-1807), and David Rittenhouse (1732-1796) to publicly counter the Federalists.  

In this July 7, 1793, letter, Jefferson urges Madison to attack the ideas of Alexander Hamilton:  "for god's sake, my dear Sir, take up your pen, select the most striking heresies, and cut him to peices [sic] in the face of the public.

Both Republicans and Federalists engaged in critical attacks on their opponents.

The original letter is now too-faded to read. Here is the entire text (split into paragraphs for easier reading):

July 7. 1793.

Dear Sir

I wrote you on the 30th. ult. and shall be uneasy till I have heard you have received it. I have no letter from you this week.

You will perceive by the inclosed papers that they are to be discontinued in their present form & a daily paper published in their stead, if subscribers enough can be obtained. I fear they cannot, for nobody here scarcely has ever taken his paper. You will see in these Colo. H’s 2d. & 3d. pacificus. (Philadelphia Gazette of the U.S., 3 and 6 July 1793; reprinted in Syrett and Cooke, Papers of Hamilton, 15:55–63, 65–69.)

Nobody answers him, & his doctrine [that is, Hamilton’s ideas] will therefore be taken for confessed.

For god’s sake, my dear Sir, take up your pen, select the most striking heresies, and cut him to peices in the face of the public. There is nobody else who can & will enter the lists [in other words, the arena] with him.

Never in my opinion, was so calamitous an appointment made, as that of the present minister of F. here. Hotheaded, all imagination, no judgment, passionate, disrespectful & even indecent towards the P. in his written as well as verbal communications, talking of appeals from him to Congress, from them to the people, urging the most unreasonable & groundless propositions, & in the most dictatorial style &c. &c. &c.

If ever it should be necessary to lay his communications before Congress or the public, they will excite universal indignation. He renders my position immensely difficult.

He does me justice personally, and, giving him time to vent himself & then cool, I am on a footing to advise him freely, & he respects it. But he breaks out again on the very first occasion, so as to shew [show] that he is incapable of correcting himself.

To complete our misfortune we have no channel of our own through which we can correct the irritating representations he may make.

Adieu.

Yours affectionately. [Jefferson did not sign the letter]

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Author: Carole D. Bos, J.D. 5185stories and lessons created

Original Release: Oct 07, 2013

Updated Last Revision: Jun 18, 2019


Media Credits

Image online, courtesy Library of Congress.  PD

 

See "Founders Online," at the National Archives, for more information on this letter.

 

To cite this story (For MLA citation guidance see easybib or OWL ):

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