The Age of Federalism

By Stanley Elkins; Eric McKitrick | Go to book overview
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The Divided Mind of
James Madison, 1790: Nationalist
Versus Ideologue

James Madison was absent from New York from October 9, 1789, to January 20, 1790. He was beset by bouts of illness at either end of his round journey, and in between, his mind was occupied by a variety of problems. Added up, they represented among other things the dilemma of what it meant to be both a leading Federalist and a leading Virginian. The search for a resolution of that dilemma would turn out to claim virtually the whole of James Madison's energies throughout the congressional session of 1790.

Madison, aware that his friend Jefferson was on his way home from France, had lingered an extra week or so in New York in the hope of welcoming him there. At length he set off southward. But he stopped at Philadelphia and waited in that city for nearly three weeks more, still hoping for some news of Jefferson's arrival. None came, but while there he chanced to run into Robert Morris, the senator from Pennsylvania, and the two had a lengthy conversation on the question of where the national capital should eventually be located. 1 This issue had already been debated extensively in the session of 1789 just completed, and had occasioned tortuous maneuverings both open and covert. Bargains had been made and remade, understandings reached and then repudiated, and the matter had been left in a state of volatile non-resolution at the time of adjournment. Robert Morris had been heavily involved throughout, as had Madison.

Two factions, generally speaking, had been in contention, with a third holding the balance of power. For years it had been the dream of Jefferson, Madison, and Washington himself that the capital might some day be located on the banks of the Potomac, and for this design the Virginians now had the support, other things being equal, of the other southern states. Then there was a Pennsylvania bloc, in which Morris was prominent, whose members were interested in one or more of three possible locations in Pennsylvania. They were Philadelphia and Germantown, both on or near the Delaware, and some site as yet unspecified on the Susquehanna. The Pennsylvanians, from varying internal interests, were not always


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