Note: Over on my personal blog, Rough Draft, I’ve been blogging my way through The Federalist Papers, with a rather loose goal of finishing them by the end of 2009. A list of previous installments is linked in the right sidebar. Because Federalist 18 treats a classical subject, the ancient Amphictyonic and Achaean Leagues, I’ve decided to spin this post off onto EcBlogue.

Part One: Madison’s Books

Thomas Jefferson was in France in the summer of 1785, enjoying the wine, the women, the architecture, and the shopping. He was besotted with the Maison Carrée in Nîmes, which he called “the best morsel of antient architecture now remaining.” He spent hours gazing at it like a lover, and hired architects to make drawings of it to serve as a model for the Virginia State Capitol. He told James Madison, with characteristic confidence, “It will be superior in beauty to any thing in America, and not inferior to any thing in the world.”

The Maison Carrée. Click thumbnails below for larger view.

When Jefferson learned that work had already begun on a state capitol building in Richmond, he wrote in alarm to Edmund Randolph:

This mortifies me extremely. The delay of this summer would have been amply repaid by the superiority and economy of the plan preparing here. Is it impossible to stop the work where it is? You will gain money by losing what is done, and general approbation, instead of occasioning a regret, which will endure as long as your building does. How is a taste for a chaste and good style of building to be formed in our countrymen, unless we seize all occasions which the erection of public buildings offers, of presenting to them models for their imitation?

Back in Paris, Jefferson had long lists of things he’d been commissioned to purchase for his friends. For Abigail Adams, he bought shoes, linens, and porcelain figurines of Minerva, Diana, Apollo and Mars. For James Madison, he bought a large crate of books. He spent extravagantly—240 livres for Mrs. Adams’ pottery, 1154 livres on Madison’s books—but remained on the lookout for a bargain. He asked Mrs. Adams to send him tablecloths and napkins from England, where they were cheaper, and to Randolph he wrote: “French books are to be bought here for two thirds what they can in England. English and Greek and Latin authors cost from twenty-five to fifty per cent more here than in England.” From England, he had a crate of Greek and Latin books sent to his nephew Peter Carr—Herodotus, Thucydides, Xenophon, and Cicero—along with a plan of reading that he believed would create “an honest heart” in a “knowing head.”

Madison had written to Jefferson on the subject of books in April 1785:

I thank you much for your attention to my literary wants. All the purchases you have made for me are such as I should have made for myself with the same opportunities. You will oblige me by adding to them the Dictionary, in 13 vol., 4, by Felice and others. Also, de Thou, in French. If the utility of Moreri be not superseded by some better work, I should be glad to have him, too. I am afraid, if I were to attempt a catalogue of my wants, I should not only trouble you beyond measure, but exceed the limits which other considerations ought to prescribe to me. I cannot, however, abridge the commission you were so kind as to take on yourself in a former letter, of procuring me from time to time such books as may be either “old and curious, or new and useful.” Under this description will fall those particularized in my former, to wit : Treatises on the ancient or modern Federal Republics, on the Law of Nations, and the History, natural and political, of the new World; to which I will add such of the Greek and Roman authors, where they can be got very cheap, as are worth having, and are not on the common list of school classics.

On August 20, Madison had not yet received the shipment of books, but was expecting them daily. Jefferson shipped them on September 1.

Meanwhile, Madison was preoccupied with the failing state of the American confederation. Trade was in a shambles. A disastrous trade imbalance was draining away what little capital the states still possessed. Crop prices were plummetting. With specie flowing overseas, paper money—that is, a form of credit—was being printed at an alarming rate. Without the hard cash to back it, the paper was worthless. Meanwhile, Congress was still unable to overcome the objections of various states and adopt a plan for paying off the national debt incurred during the war. In October, Madison wrote to Jefferson:

I find with much regret that these [i.e., the affairs of the confederation] are, as yet, little redeemed from the confusion which has so long mortified the friends to our national honor and prosperity. Congress have kept the vessel from sinking, but it has been by standing constantly at the pump, not by stopping the leaks which have endangered her. All their efforts for the latter purpose have been frustrated by the selfishness or perverseness of some part or other of their constituents.

Any plan to act on the debt could be vetoed by a single state—Rhode Island was always ready with its veto—and the members of Congress seemed concerned only for the interests of their respective states, not for the welfare of the confederation as a whole.

Madison also had his hands full as a member of the Virginia Assembly. During the winter of 1785-8, the Assembly had passed the statute for religious freedom that Jefferson had written back in 1779. Madison, ever Jefferson’s factotum in the legislature, wrote to Jefferson in January: “I flatter myself [we] have, in this country, extinguished forever the ambitious hope of making laws for the human mind.” But Madison was so swamped with legislative work that he was unable to open the two crates of books that finally arrived from Havre de Grace on January 20, 1786. He had them forwarded, unopened, from Richmond to his home in Orange, Virginia.

On March 18, Madison was back in Orange, the legislative session over, and had leisure to open his crates. He wrote gratefully to Jefferson: “The collection is perfectly to my mind.” Among the chief treasures of the collection was the 13-volume set of Barthélemy de Felice’s Code de l’Humanité, ou La Legislation Universelle, Naturelle, Civile et Politique (1778). Jefferson had also sent a set to Edmund Randolph, with the note: “It is an excellent book.”

Fortunato Bartolomeo de Felice (1723-89) was an Italian nobleman and scholar who became a professor of geography and physics in Naples, and who (in exile as the result of an “amorous intrigue”) founded a famous press in Yverdon, Switzerland. As a publisher, his most famous and ambitious undertaking was an enormous 58-volume encyclopedia, known as the Encyclopedie d’Yverdon, that expanded and refined the work of Diderot and d’Alembert. The crates from Jefferson also contained 47 volumes of the Encyclopedia.

Sitting among his new books, Madison was preoccupied, as always, with the perilous state of the confederation, which was wallowing in debt, hemorrhaging capital, emitting reams of worthless paper, and being torn apart by internal dissention. Plans had already been made for a convention to meet in Annapolis in September to attempt to reform the Articles of Confederation. As he reviewed for Jefferson the dangers facing the confederation, he was particularly concerned that a foreign power would take advantage of the disarray to make one of the states a “fit instrument” of its machinations. Madison warned Jefferson of “the danger of having the same game played on our Confederacy by which Philip managed that of the Grecians.”

Throughout 1786 and 1787, while momentum increased to reform and, eventually, to replace the Articles of Confederation, Madison studied the books Jefferson had sent him. In particular, he was drawn to de Felice’s Code de l’Humanité, which is the most frequently cited source in the notes he compiled under the title Of Ancient and Modern Confederacies, which became the basis for Federalist 18, 19, and 20.

To be continued…