It becomes my painful duty to announce to you the melancholy
intelligence of the death of James Madison, ex-President of
the United States. He departed this life at half past 6
o'clock on the morning of the 28th instant, full of years and
full of honors.
I hasten this communication in order that Congress may adopt
such measures as may be proper to testify their sense of the
respect which is due to the memory of one whose life has
contributed so essentially to the happiness and glory of his
country and the good of mankind.
WASHINGTON, December 6, 1836.
To the Senate and House of Representatives:
I transmit herewith to Congress copies of my correspondence
with Mrs. Madison, produced by the resolution adopted at the
last session by the Senate and House of Representatives on
the decease of her venerated husband. The occasion seems to
be appropriate to present a letter from her on the subject of
the publication of a work of great political interest and
ability, carefully prepared by Mr. Madison's own hand, under
circumstances that give it claims to be considered as little
less than official.
Congress has already, at considerable expense, published in a
variety of forms the naked journals of the Revolutionary
Congress and of the Convention that formed the Constitution
of the United States. I am persuaded that the work of Mr.
Madison, considering the author, the subject-matter of it,
and the circumstances under which it was prepared—long
withheld from the public, as it has been, by those motives of
personal kindness and delicacy that gave tone to his
intercourse with his fellow-men, until he and all who had
been participators with him in the scenes he describes have
passed away—well deserves to become the property of the
nation, and can not fail, if published and disseminated at
the public charge, to confer the most important of all
benefits on the present and all succeeding
generations—accurate knowledge of the principles of
their Government and the circumstances under which they were
recommended and embodied in the Constitution for adoption.
DEPARTMENT OF STATE, July 9, 1836.
The Secretary of State has the honor to report to the
President that there is no resolution of Congress on the
death of Mr. Madison on file in the Department of State. By
application at the offices of the Secretary of the Senate and
Clerk of the House of Representatives the inclosed certified
copy of a set of resolutions has been procured. These
resolutions, being joint, should have been enrolled, signed
by the presiding officers of the two Houses, and submitted
for the Executive approbation. By referring to the
proceedings on the death of General Washington such a course
appears to have been thought requisite, but in this case it
has been deemed unnecessary or has been omitted accidentally.
The value of the public expression of sympathy would be so
much diminished by postponement to the next session that the
Secretary has thought it best to present the papers,
incomplete as they are, as the basis of such a letter as the
President may think proper to direct to Mrs. Madison.
JOHN FORSYTH, Secretary of State.
WASHINGTON, July 9, 1836.
Mrs. D.P. MADISON, Montpelier, Va.
MADAM: It appearing to have been the intention of Congress to
make me the organ of assuring you of the profound respect
entertained by both its branches for your person and
character, and of their sincere condolence in the late
afflicting dispensation of Providence, which has at once
deprived you of a beloved companion and your country of one
of its most valued citizens, I perform that duty by
transmitting the documents herewith inclosed.
No expression of my own sensibility at the loss sustained by
yourself and the nation could add to the consolation to be
derived from these high evidences of the public sympathy. Be
assured, madam, that there is not one of your countrymen who
feels more poignantly the stroke which has fallen upon you or
who will cherish with a more endearing constancy the memory
of the virtues, the services, and the purity of the
illustrious man whose glorious and patriotic life has been
just terminated by a tranquil death.
I have the honor to be, madam, your most obedient servant,
The President of the United States having communicated to the
two Houses of Congress the melancholy intelligence of the
death of their illustrious and beloved fellow-citizen, James
Madison, of Virginia, late President of the United States,
and the two Houses sharing in the general grief which this
distressing event must produce:
Resolved by the Senate and House of Representatives of the
United States of America in Congress assembled, That the
chairs of the President of the Senate and of the Speaker of
the House of Representatives be shrouded in black during the
present session, and that the President of the Senate, the
Speaker of the House of Representatives, and the members and
officers of both Houses wear the usual badge of mourning for
Resolved, That it be recommended to the people of the
United States to wear crape on the left arm, as mourning, for
Resolved, That the President of the United States be
requested to transmit a copy of these resolutions to Mrs.
Madison, and to assure her of the profound respect of the two
Houses of Congress for her person and character and of their
sincere condolence on the late afflicting dispensation of
MONTPELIER, August 20, 1836.
The PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:
I received, sir, in due time, your letter conveying to me the
resolutions Congress were pleased to adopt on the occasion of
the death of my beloved husband—a communication made
the more grateful by the kind expression of your sympathy
which it contained.
The high and just estimation of my husband by my countrymen
and friends and their generous participation in the sorrow
occasioned by our irretrievable loss, expressed through their
supreme authorities and otherwise, are the only solace of
which my heart is susceptible on the departure of him who had
never lost sight of that consistency, symmetry, and beauty of
character in all its parts which secured to him the love and
admiration of his country, and which must ever be the subject
of peculiar and tender reverence to one whose happiness was
derived from their daily and constant exercise.
The best return I can make for the sympathy of my country is
to fulfill the sacred trust his confidence reposed in me,
that of placing before it and the world what his pen prepared
for their use—a legacy the importance of which is
deeply impressed on my mind.
With great respect,
MONTPELIER, November 15, 1836.
The PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES.
SIR: The will of my late husband, James Madison, contains the
"Considering the peculiarity and magnitude of the occasion
which produced the Convention at Philadelphia in 1787, the
characters who composed it, the Constitution which resulted
from their deliberations, its effects during a trial of so
many years on the prosperity of the people living under it,
and the interest it has inspired among the friends of free
government, it is not an unreasonable inference that a
careful and extended report of the proceedings and
discussions of that body, which were with closed doors, by a
member who was constant in his attendance, will be
particularly gratifying to the people of the United States
and to all who take an interest in the progress of political
science and the cause of true liberty."
This provision bears evidence of the value he set on his
report of the debates in the Convention, and he has charged
legacies on them alone to the amount of $1,200 for the
benefit of literary institutions and for benevolent purposes,
leaving the residuary net proceeds for the use of his widow.
In a paper written by him, and which it is proposed to annex
as a preface to the Debates, he traces the formation of
confederacies and of the Articles of Confederation, its
defects which caused and the steps which led to the
Convention, his reasons for taking the debates and the manner
in which he executed the task, and his opinion of the framers
of the Constitution. From this I extract his description of
the manner in which they were taken, as it guarantees their
fullness and accuracy:
"In pursuance of the task I had assumed, I chose a seat in
front of the presiding member, with the other members on my
right and left hands. In this favorable position for hearing
all that passed I noted down, in terms legible and in
abbreviations and marks intelligible to myself, what was read
from the chair or spoken by the members, and losing not a
moment unnecessarily between the adjournment and reassembling
of the Convention, I was enabled to write out my daily notes
during the session, or within a few finishing days after its
close, in the extent and form preserved in my own hand on my
"In the labor and correctness of this I was not a little
aided by practice and by a familiarity with the style and the
train of observation and reasoning which characterized the
principal speakers. It happened also that I was not absent a
single day, nor more than the casual fraction of an hour in
any day, so that I could not have lost a single speech,
unless a very short one."
However prevailing the restraint which veiled during the life
of Mr. Madison this record of the creation of our
Constitution, the grave, which has closed over all those who
participated in its formation, has separated their acts from
all that is personal to him or to them. His anxiety for their
early publicity after this was removed may be inferred from
his having them transcribed and revised by himself; and, it
may be added, the known wishes of his illustrious friend
Thomas Jefferson and other distinguished patriots, the
important light they would shed for present as well as future
usefulness, besides my desire to fulfill the pecuniary
obligations imposed by his will, urged their appearance
without awaiting the preparation of his other works, and
early measures were accordingly adopted by me to ascertain
from publishers in various parts of the Union the terms on
which their publication could be effected.
It was also intended to publish with these debates those
taken by him in the Congress of the Confederation in 1782,
1783, and 1787, of which he was then a member, and selections
made by himself and prepared under his eye from his letters
narrating the proceedings of that body during the periods of
his service in it, prefixing the debates in 1776 on the
Declaration of Independence by Thomas Jefferson so as to
embody all the memorials in that shape known to exist. This
exposé of the situation of the country under the
Confederation and the defects of the old system of government
evidenced in the proceedings under it seem to convey such
preceding information as should accompany the debates on the
formation of the Constitution by which it was superseded.
The proposals which have been received, so far from
corresponding with the expectations of Mr. Madison when he
charged the first of these works with those legacies, have
evidenced that their publication could not be engaged in by
me without advances of funds and involving of risks which I
am not in a situation to make or incur.
Under these circumstances, I have been induced to submit for
your consideration whether the publication of these debates
be a matter of sufficient interest to the people of the
United States to deserve to be brought to the notice of
Congress; and should such be the estimation of the utility of
these works by the representatives of the nation as to induce
them to relieve me individually from the obstacles which
impede it, their general circulation will be insured and the
people be remunerated by its more economical distribution