DescriptionJames Madison Excellent Autograph Letter Signed: A year before the 1824 Presidential election, Madison writes an old friend that he and Thomas Jefferson will not publicly support a candidate for President and that the public will be able to judge each of the nominee's ability by reading about them. He cannot find documents asked for and fears they may have perished when the British burned the White House in 1814.
Signed: "James Madison", one page, 8" x 9.5". Montpellier, February 21, 1823. To Tench Coxe. In full: "Dear Sir, Since I rec'd your two letters of [blank space] I have hitherto been prevented from acknowledging them first by some very urgent calls on my time, and afterwards by an indisposition which has just left me. I have forwarded the letters with the printed papers to Mr. Jefferson. I know well the respect he as well as myself attaches to your communications. But I have grounds to believe that with me also he has yielded to the considerations and counsels which dissuade us from taking part in measures relating to the ensuing Presidential Election. And certainly if we are to judge of the ability with which the comparative pretensions of the candidates will be discussed, by the examples sent us, the public will be sufficiently enabled to decide understandingly on the subject. I know you too well to doubt that you will take this explanation in its just import, and will remain assured that it proceeds from no diminution of confidence or regard towards you. I have made a search for the documents of which you wish the loan, but without success. I am not sure that some of them were preserved in my collection. If they were, it is probable they were among bundles which during my long exile from private life and alterations in my dwelling, were removed into damp situations, where they perished, or included in parcels carried to Washington in order to be assorted & bound, where they had the fate of many other articles in 1814. With a continuance of my esteem & my best wishes."
James Madison served in the Continental Congress (1780-1783, 1787-1788) and was a delegate from Virginia in the Federal Constitutional Convention at Philadelphia in 1787. Madison took frequent and emphatic part in the debates and made a major contribution to the ratification of the Constitution by writing, with Alexander Hamilton and John Jay, the Federalist essays. The "Father of the Constitution," Madison served in the first four Congresses (1789-1797) and as Jefferson's Secretary of State (1801-1809). After his two terms as President (1809-1817), he retired to his Virginia estate, Montpelier (spelled "Montpellier" by Madison).
Tench Coxe (1755-1824) entered his father's mercantile business in 1776, then joined and resigned from the Pennsylvania Militia, becoming a Loyalist. He joined the British Army under Howe in 1777, was arrested, paroled, and then joined the patriot cause. Coxe served in the Continental Congress in 1789 and was appointed by President Washington Assistant Secretary of the Treasury on September 11, 1789, serving until the office was abolished on May 8, 1792. Appointed Revenue Commissioner on June 30, 1792, he served until removed by President Adams in 1797. Coxe was Purveyor of Public Supplies under Jefferson and Madison from 1803 to 1812. He retired from public service in 1818 after having served three years as clerk of the Quarter Sessions in Philadelphia. Tench Coxe spent his remaining years as a writer on political and economic subjects, continuing to correspond with his political friends.
Since 1796, a caucus of members of Congress would decide on who to nominate for President and Vice President from their political parties. James Monroe had succeeded Madison in 1817 and continued the precedent set by George Washington by not seeking a third term. In 1824, the Democratic Republican Congressional caucus, with less than a third of those eligible voting, nominated Secretary of the Treasury William H. Crawford of Georgia for President. Supporters of Secretary of State John Quincy Adams and Speaker of the House Henry Clay denounced the caucus decision; the Massachusetts legislature then nominated Adams for President and the Kentucky legislature nominated Clay. Senator Andrew Jackson of Tennessee, who had already been nominated for President by the Tennessee legislature in 1822, was then nominated by a convention of Democratic Republicans in Pennsylvania. The Federalist Party, in effect, no longer existed. All four candidates were Democratic-Republicans, each representing a different faction of the party. Crawford was strong among voters in the Southeast, Adams was strong in the Northeast, Clay in parts of the West, and Jackson in the West, South and mid-Atlantic.
Obviously, the support of former Presidents Jefferson and Madison would help a presidential candidate. Coxe publicly opposed John Quincy Adams, whose support of restrictive European laws regarding gun ownership for hunting, Coxe felt, undermined the entire right to keep and bear arms which was guaranteed in the United States by the Second Amendment, authored by Madison. Coxe had sent Madison "printed papers" relating to the "ensuing Presidential Election". In this letter, Madison tells Coxe that he will send the papers to Jefferson, but that friends have advised him and Jefferson not to publicly support a candidate. He believes that the public will be able to "judge of the ability" and "decide understandingly" who to vote for after reading printed papers on the candidates similar to those Coxe sent him. Madison also believes that Jefferson has taken the same course.
In the election of 1824, no candidate received the 131 electoral votes needed for election, a majority of the 261 electoral votes cast. Jackson had 99 electoral votes, Adams 84, Crawford 41, and Clay 37. Pursuant to the 12th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, ratified in 1804, the House of Representatives chose the President "from the persons having the highest numbers not exceeding three on the list of those voted for as President" with the votes "taken by states, the representation from each state having one vote." The supporters of Clay, who had received the fourth most votes, threw their support to Adams who, on February 9, 1825, was elected with 13 votes; Jackson had 7 votes and Crawford had 4 votes. When Henry Clay was named Secretary of State by President-elect Adams, Jackson supporters raised the cry of "corrupt bargain." No doubt a political deal was made for Clay's congressional supporters voting for Adams, but there was nothing to show that it was illegal or dishonest. Tench Coxe didn't live to see the outcome of the presidential election of 1824; he had died at age 69 in Philadelphia on July 17, 1824.
Coxe had also asked Madison if he could borrow some documents from Madison which dated from his pre-presidential years. Madison concludes this letter opining that they may have been "included in parcels carried to Washington...where they had the fate of many other articles in 1814." On August 24 and 25, 1814, during the War of 1812, the British entered Washington, D.C., and burned the White House, the Capitol, and numerous other buildings. Many important papers and documents were lost.
This marvelous letter is in very fine condition, with a faint toning at the edges from prior framing. Penned by the "Father of the Constitution" writing about the "Author of the Declaration of Independence" and their "taking part in measures relating to the ensuing Presidential Election" and concluding with the possibility that documents he cannot find may have perished when the British burned the White House in 1814, this letter would make an outstanding addition to any major collection. From the Gary Grossman Collection.
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