MADISON, James (1751-1836), President. Autograph letter signed ("Js Madison Jr") TO TENCH COXE, delegate to the Continental Congress, New York, 20 January 1788. 1 1/8 pages, 4to (9 x 7 5/16 in.), slightly browned, otherwise fine.
FIGHTING FOR THE CONSTITUTION, MADISON CONSIDERS THE CHANCES FOR RATIFICATION IN MASSACHUSETTS AND NEW YORK
In the midst of the bitter battles over ratification of the new Constitution, Madison reports to a fellow Federalist on the current situation in two key states. After the Constitution was signed by the delegates to the Constitutional Convention on September 17, 1787, determined opponents to the federalist plan began to campaign to defeat its ratification by the states. In response to Anti-Federalist opposition, Madison, Alexander Hamilton and John Jay, under the pseudonym "Publius," published an influential series of carefully-reasoned arguments defending the republican principles on which the Constitiution was based; these were collected and separately published under the title The Federalist Papers (see lot 9).
Here, as Massachusetts delegates argued over ratification in a special convention, Madison writes to Tench Coxe (1755-1824), a Philadelphia Federalist who had himself published a defense of the Constitution, An Examination of the Constitution of the United States (1788): "I have received and forwarded your letter and pamphlet to Mr.King [Rufus King (1755-1827), another ardent Federalist]. The latest information from Boston makes it probable that every aid to the federal cause will be wanted there. The antifederal party have found such reinforcements in the insurgents [supporters of Shay's Rebellion], and the province of Maine which is afraid of creating obstacles to her separation, that there is the most serious reason to apprehend the friends of the Constitution will be outnumbered. The consequences of such an event elsewhere, are as obvious as they are melancholy." Madison reflects that ratification in New York is also in doubt: "The Legislature at Poughkepsy [sic] is now much divided on the point of submitting the Constitution to a Convention. The House of assembly is in the affirmative, and is even supposed to be friendly to the merits. The Senate in its present state is opposed to a convention. The arrival of the absent members may turn the scale in favor of one. On the merits that branch is certainly in the negative."
Madison stresses the critical nature of the impassioned editorial and pamphlet wars waging over ratification: "The little piece by Philanthropos is well calculated to cherish the distrust of a favorable issue to a second Convention and will be reprinted here. I do not know a better mode of serving the federal cause at this moment than to display the disagreement of those who make a common cause agst. the Constitution. It must produce the best affects on all who seriously wish a good general government. Your commands for the Editor of the papers under the title of Publius shall be attended to."
The Federalist Papers, "the single most authoritative exposition of the new charter of government" (Bernstein, Are We to Be A Nation, p.230) were critical to ratification. Despite the fact that Massachusetts "posed the greatest threat to the adoption of the Constitution up to that time," it became the sixth state to ratify, on 6 February 1788. In New York, where Hamilton and Jay were delegates, only a last-minute compromise on amendments led to ratification, on 26 July.