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    Madison writes to US Minister to Great Britain, James Barbour: "our free System of Government, however liable to local & acute maladies, has a chronic health & vigor"

    James Madison Autograph Letter Signed to James Barbour (1775-1842), U.S. Minister to Great Britain; Montpelier, Virginia, December 18, 1828. One and a half pages with integral address leaf, 7.75" x 9.75".

    In full:

    I had the pleasure of duly receiving your interesting favor of Sept. 29. The agricultural scenery which charmed you so much has had the same effect on other strangers surveying it with an equal taste for such improvements. I wish you may have as much reason to be pleased with the countenance of the Cabinet when your objects are presented to it. We think here it is high time for a relinquishment of the theoretic fallacy, and practical folly of their colonial doctrine; and for a discovery of the inconsistency of refusing our claim to the use of the St. Lawrence with theirs to that of the Mississippi; and what is more, with a reasonableness and a usage amounting to a Law of Nations in such cases.

    The view you give of the harvest and market in G.B. [Great Britain] confirmed the accounts which had begun to raise the price of our flour; and those which followed soon after carried it up to $9 & even more. This how ever was very fugitive; and succeeded by a considerable depression. Latterly it has risen & fallen, according to arrivals from Liverpool & London, within the extremes of $8. & 6¼. At present it seems to be going up a little, under the influence of arrivals bringing information to the 2d. of Nov.r In the Fredericksburg Market flour is at present a fraction above $7: but the sellers hold back more than the buyers. The price of [gor:?] is yet to be conjectured. The crop is short, & the character generally not good. Hopes are indulged that the market will be favorable especially for the best qualities. I take for granted that everything relating to your individual concern in these matters, reaches you from other & better sources.

    I need not repeat to you the issue of the Presidential contest, which fame with ten thousand trumpets has already proclaimed, of the Cabinet in embrio [sic], and of the course that will be steered by the new Palinurus [Aeneas' helmsman when he visited the Underworld], with respect to the stormy questions and baffling expectations, in the midst of which he will take the helm, I know as little as the least knowing, and must refer you for the various speculations afloat, to the metropolitan fountain from wch they flow.

    I am sorry to say that the ferment produced in S. Carolina by the tariff subsides more slowly (if at all) than was to be expected. The Legislature is now in session, and the difference in opinions seems to be confined to the modes of effectuating its repeal or its nullification; all concurring in the unconstitutionality and intolerable oppression of the measure. As Georgia however does not back her neighbour in the extent that was probably expected, & N.C. will certainly not do so, whilst Virginia frowns on every symptom of violence and disunion; it may be confidently presumed that a favorable change is not very distant; such as will satisfy our Ill[-]wishers abroad, that our free System of Government, however liable to local & acute maladies, has a chronic health & vigor that is sure to expel the cause of them. You will see that the Legislature of Virginia has re-elected Mr. Giles, and that he continues, tho with a lowered tone, to denounce the tariff. It is not probable that the subject will produce a reiteration of the language held at the last session. But I will not venture to be a prophet.

    Your connections & neighbours as far as I have heard are all well.

    I have taken the liberty, since your departure, of writing you two letters[:] one relating to the University [of Virginia], the other requesting a favor for myself. I inclose copies of both; the risk of the sea, added to other risks, suggesting the precaution[.]

    Health & all other blessings to yourself & those around you; a wish in which Mrs. Madison cordially unites with me.
    James Madison

    Writing during the critical election year of 1828, former president James Madison expresses confidence that the nation will weather the nullification crisis. President John Quincy Adams's efforts to foster economic growth by means of a protective tariff had touched off widespread and vocal opposition in the South. Intended to shield the developing Northern manufacturing industries from foreign competition, the tariff forced Southern planters to purchase otherwise more expensive Northern manufactured goods and elicited retaliatory tariffs against Southern cotton. For these reasons, the South termed it the "Tariff of Abominations."

    While hitherto it had been New Englanders who had felt themselves to be the put-upon minority, Southerners became the ones who, in the words of Thomas Cooper, President of South Carolina College, felt "compelled to calculate the value of our union...and enquire of what use to us is this most unequal alliance" (Quoted in Harry Watson, Liberty & Power, p. 116). Vice President John C. Calhoun, once a staunch nationalist, transformed himself into the chief spokesman in Congress for Southern sectionalism. In his South Carolina Exposition and Protest, of the same year, he gave full articulation to the doctrine of nullification. Since the constitution was a compact among sovereign states, a state legislature could declare to be "void and of no force" in its jurisdiction any act of Congress-such as the tariff-that represented an unconstitutional extension of power. Ironically, this position revived and extended a theory first proposed by Thomas Jefferson and James Madison in the Virginia and Kentucky Resolutions (1798) opposing the Alien and Sedition Acts.

    The dispute over the tariff in 1828 was momentarily diffused by Andrew Jackson's victory in 1828. Nullification supporters expected that Jackson, as a Southern plantation owner, would prove sympathetic to the states' rights faction and support elimination of the hated tariff. Utilizing the ship of state analogy, James Madison cautions his correspondent James Barbour since no one can yet be certain "of the course that will be steered by the new Palinurus, with respect to the stormy questions and baffling expectations, in the midst of which he will take the helm. I know as little as the least knowing and must refer you for the various speculations afloat to the Metropolitan fountain from which they flow."

    As things turned out, the tariff was revised only moderately downward four years later, prompting the legislature of South Carolina to put Calhoun's theory into actual practice by blocking collection of import duties in Charleston and its other ports. Jackson, emphatically rejecting South Carolina's policy of nullification, threatened to suppress any movement to interfere with federal power with military force. South Carolina promptly backed down. Thus was the threat of secession averted for twenty-eight more, critical years.

    Provenance: The Forbes Collection; Christie's, 2002.

    Condition: Professionally restored along the integral fold, adding paper where loss has occurred at the time the seal was opened. Otherwise, very clean with bold ink.

    Auction Info

    Auction Dates
    November, 2015
    4th-5th Wednesday-Thursday
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