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William Cabell Rives

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

William Cabell Rives
Member of the Confederate Congress from Virginia's 7th district
In office
May 2, 1864 – March 2, 1865
Preceded byJames Philemon Holcombe
Succeeded byPosition abolished
Delegate from Virginia to the Provisional Confederate Congress
In office
February 4, 1861 – February 17, 1862
Preceded byPosition established
Succeeded byPosition abolished
United States Minister to France
In office
Appointed byZachary Taylor
Preceded byRichard Rush
Succeeded byJohn Y. Mason
In office
Appointed byAndrew Jackson
Preceded byJames Brown
Succeeded byLevett Harris
United States Senator
from Virginia
In office
January 18, 1841 – March 3, 1845
Preceded byHimself
Succeeded byIsaac S. Pennybacker
In office
March 4, 1836 – March 3, 1839
Preceded byJohn Tyler, Jr.
Succeeded byHimself
In office
December 10, 1832 – February 22, 1834
Preceded byLittleton W. Tazewell
Succeeded byBenjamin W. Leigh
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Virginia's 10th district
In office
March 4, 1823 – 1829
Preceded byThomas L. Moore
Succeeded byWilliam F. Gordon
Member of the Virginia House of Delegates from Albemarle County
In office
Alongside William F. Gordon
Member of the Virginia House of Delegates from Nelson County
In office
Alongside Thomas McCleland, John Cobbs and Joseph Shelton
Personal details
Born(1793-05-04)May 4, 1793
Amherst County, Virginia
DiedApril 25, 1868(1868-04-25) (aged 74)
Charlottesville, Virginia
Political partyDemocratic,

William Cabell Rives (May 4, 1793 – April 25, 1868) was an American lawyer, politician and diplomat from Albemarle County, Virginia. He represented Virginia as a Jackson Democrat in both the U.S. House and Senate. He served two terms as U.S. Minister to France. As minister during the Andrew Jackson administration, he negotiated a treaty whereby the French agreed to pay the U.S. for spoliation claims from the Napoleonic Wars. During the American Civil War, Rives served as a Delegate to the Provisional Confederate Congress and as a member of the Confederate House of Representatives.

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  • ✪ Mysteries of Madison's Notes of the Constitutional Convention
  • ✪ Nullification Crisis


>> From the Library of Congress in Washington, DC. [ Silence ] >> John Cole: Well, good afternoon, everyone, and welcome to the Library of Congress. I'm John Cole, I'm the director of the Center for the Book in the Library of Congress, which is the arm that promotes books and reading around the country through affiliated state centers for the book. And we also do programming here at the Library of Congress. We are deeply involved in the National Book Festival. And I hope some of you have visited the National Book Festival in the past. This year, we are still in the Washington Convention Center, but we've managed to snag a late Saturday in September. This year, it's going to be not on Labor Day Saturday, but September 24th. However, I have to say, with the crowds on Labor Day Saturday's turned out to be pretty good in the Convention Center. The Books and Beyond Program that you're joining us for today is part of the center's programming here at the Library. We feature new books that have some relationship to the Library of Congress. Often, it is a -- excuse me -- it is the use of the collections. Often, it is a project that has been developed by the Library of Congress. And sometimes it's kind of a special occasion to talk to people that otherwise would not have come to the Library to see them and have meetings. So it's really worked out to be a wonderful program. All of these programs are filmed. And with -- on the website later, you'll be able to see the talk from today. We have around 350 of these talks available on the website, and they all started in 1996. So actually, along with the talks from the National Book Festival, which are also available on the website, we have captured since 1996, and since the book festival started in 2001, a fair sampling of speakers and books that relate to all aspects of not only the collections of the Library of Congress, but events both current and historical. And I do love to point out, finally, that we tried to have books, as I said earlier, that have a relationship to libraries, and especially the Library of Congress. And that is the case today. To introduce our speaker, however, we have the chief of the Library of Congress's manuscript division. James Hutson, Jim Hutson received a PhD in history from Yale in 1964. He has worked in the Yale History Department and also William and Mary, prior to -- and after he -- well actually some of Jim's work related to the topic of today's talk occurred after he came to the Library of Congress. And I discovered that in addition to several books, Jim also is the author of a couple of articles that relate to the Federal Constitutional Convention in 1787. And so he is an especially appropriate and knowledgeable introducer of today's speaker. And let's give Jim Hutson a hand. Jim. [ Applause ] >> James Hutson: Thanks, John. [ Background Sounds ] Thanks a lot. I -- we were a little bit worried about an audience today, because Professor Bilder was here a few weeks ago at the great tumultuous day in which the metro was shut down. So I assume perhaps some of you couldn't make it that day. And you'll be here, and we'll have a real treat listening to her. There was an old joke about law office history, that it's completely unreliable. And there are also jokes about lawyers being unable to write history. She's an exception, certainly. Professor Bilder is the founders professor of law at Boston College. And she has a law degree from Harvard, but also a PhD in history, or history of American civilization -- in history from Harvard. And this gives her a rare combination of skills, which she has put to very good account. This is your second book, right; yes. And this is [inaudible] prize this year, Madison's hand revising of the Constitution Convention. It was published by the Harvard -- Constitutional Convention, published by the Harvard University Press. She's going to talk today, she tells me, more about the technological -- or the processes of studying Madison's notes, which we have here, his draft. It's one of the Library's top treasures, not often seen. And it's down in the Conservation. In other words, you can't -- if you walk into the Manuscript Division and want to see it, you won't be able to do that. It is now -- however, there's a pretty good digital copy of it, since we have it online, so that if your interests are stimulated by her talk, you can find the notes online. She's kind of joined an old fray about the authenticity or integrity of the notes, which began a long time ago I think with when Hamilton's children accused Madison more or less revising the notes to fit his current political beliefs. And that debate has gone on for a long time. And but I think she's not going talk so much about that as about her research, really, as to how she acquired the information to write the book. Okay; Professor Bilder. Thank you. [ Applause ] [ Background Sounds ] >> Mary Sarah Bilder: Thank you very much to John Cole, and Anne Boney from the Center for the History of the Book for inviting me, and to Jim Hutson for that wonderful introduction. Jim's work was very helpful in this project, and so it's particularly nice to have him introduce me. Can everyone hear me? I never know if these -- I have such a loud voice naturally that I'm not sure always when I speak. My book, "Madison's Hand: Revising the Constitutional Convention", is a biography of Madison's notes on the Constitutional Convention of 1787. And it's a story about how Madison originally wrote, and then revised his notes as he changed his understanding of the Convention, the Constitution, and his own role. It's a book that argues that Madison wrote only part of his iconic notes in the summer of 1787. I argue he finished them two years later when Thomas Jefferson returned from France. And he then continued to revise them throughout his life. It's a book that argues Madison even replaced some key speeches to better accord with Jefferson's new Republican politics. It's not the book I set out to write. And so today, I will tell the story behind the book, and the mysteries, investigations, and questions. I began the book in 2008 and I unfortunately repressed how difficult I found it to write. I recently reread some emails I wrote to people who serve as coaches and critics. "Am I going to be seen as a nut? I can't figure out how to arrange the material. I bump into puzzles at every turn. A snappy subtitle escapes me. I have no idea who will possibly read this. And my editor is forcing me to spend the weekend shaving 7,000 words out of the evidence section, and she is completely right." But one thing I have always remembered is the extraordinary assistance given to me by the outstanding staff of the Library. And one page of the acknowledgements include the names of curators, librarians, and archivists, both here and elsewhere in the United States, who made this book possible. And so I want to thank Julie Miller, Elmery Anugent, Mary Houty, Barbara Baref, Mel Franck, and Bonnie Coles [phonetic], as well as the staff of the Reading Room. And I hope that the professionals in the audience realize that their assistance is indispensable to projects such as this one. But I confess that I had not planned to meet so many wonderful people. In 2008, with two then very young daughters -- and these are my daughters at the Bancroft ceremony on the completion of the book eight years after I started, so they were quite little at the beginning; I decided to write a book that would require no research trips at all. That was the plan. I had written on Madison as a law student, and I noticed that no one had written an interpretive account of his famous notes of the Constitutional Convention. His notes are the only set of notes that cover every day of the Convention, beginning on May 14th, and ending on September 17th, 1787. Every history rely on the notes to tell the story of the Convention. But no book interpreted his notes as if it were a literary text. So to do this, I needed to first figure out what the notes had looked like when Madison wrote them in the summer of 1787. And answering that question took me seven years, and in an abandonment of the original no research part of the plan, and a growing appreciation for the notes manuscript as an artifact. So the book is a study of the notes manuscript as a text, and also as a historical object and artifact. And the goal became to meld the story of the notes as a text with that of the notes as an artifact. American historians have viewed the notes like many writings of the framing generation as a text, a piece of writing to be interpreted. And it is. But the notes manuscript's also an artifact, that is a physical object with a particular history of composition. Now, an artifact's something different than a relic. The papers of the framers were actually originally collected as relics. Letters were taken out of the historical context, and they were placed in collections, for example, the signers of the Constitution. And this practice resulted in many papers of the framing generation being saved, but often destroying their providence. Now, the marble Madison statue in this building's foyer looks like it symbolizes the relic approach. That's what we tend to think of when we see marble statues. But it interestingly actually emphasizes the artifact approach. Sculptor Walter Hancock depicted Madison as he looked in the early 1780s, just before the Convention. And Madison holds a volume of the encyclopedia [inaudible]. It appeared on Madison's list for the Congressional Library; and I think it was volume number one. But the book itself is an artifact with a story. Jefferson had sent the book from France to Madison. And as I discuss in my book, Madison used it to study the problems of ancient confederacies. So the statue tells us that books are to be used, and Madison actually has his finger holding a place in the book. Books and papers tell stories as artifacts. And my book was only possible because archivist after archivist made the crucial decision that Madison's papers were artifacts, not relics, and that they could be investigated. Now, the notes are particularly intriguing as a text and artifact. They've always been known to be revised. Madison made a comment to that effect on the last page of the manuscript. In 1840, Henry Gilpin, the editor of the print edition, noted that they'd been revised by Mrs. Madison. And the notes even contained signals that they were used by others. Madison wrote in one section that this section had not been copied by Mr. Epps for Thomas Jefferson. And so the notes have always been a text that hint of their importance as an artifact. And you can see I use PowerPoint the way people use picture books, so you just have to kind of look at the images while I'm talking, because they kind of show everything. The book implicitly considers the classic historical question, "How do we figure out how people in the past saw their world?" And the difficulty of seeing the world from the view of the framing generation appears in cartoons about the founders. The cartoons hint at the unreliability of the paper left by the framing generation. My book focuses on how impossible it is to escape the distance between events and contemporary recording of events, and how important it is for the historian to recognize and consider that distance. In particular, the framers had the opportunity -- or their widows and their descendants had the opportunity, to curate and revise their papers years later. Now, this is a particular problem with Madison. He left the only seemingly set of notes of the Convention. He also outlived every other member. This was actually not surprising, his mom died at age 97 in 1829, shortly before his own death in 1836. And as the other framers died, Madison kept track of their deaths, and with the rest gone, he got the final word what historian Drew McCoy nicely termed "Last of the Fathers". So in 2008, I tried to find an edition that showed Madison's notes as they existed in the summer of 1787. I actually thought this would be relatively easy. But modern editions -- and those are all images of modern editions, regardless of what they said, turned out largely to be the version that had been published by the government in 1840. This edition, prepared by Gilpin, was based on the transcript prepared by James Madison, and left at his death. And various editions included, at best, selected revisions. And you can see the transcript up there and then the Gilpin edition. Fortunately, the Department of State, where the manuscript was housed in the 19th Century, had printed an extraordinary version of the note, largely forgotten for the last century. For this edition, begun in 1897 and printed in 1900, the Department of State tried to show Madison's notes with all of the revisions. In fact, a young staff member, John Weisenhaagen [assumed spelling], actually detached the slips from the original manuscript to prepare the edition. And he noted in red ink on news slips inserted in the notes where they'd been attached. Now, there are some small errors in this transcript, but it remains the best edition of Madison's notes as it appears. In 1914, the government recommended against reprinting it, noting that there were many sets still unsold. But you can -- and I actually was able to acquire like four for almost no money when I started this project, you can now find it online. But the edition did not show the pagination or layout. And so for that, I originally used the microphone that was done in 1964 of the notes, and that's now digitized on the Library's website. But it quickly became apparent that digital images were needed. So the manuscript's in the Library in a vault. It's been disassembled, and is now in archival storage boxes. The Library sent images of, I think what was a preservation copy apparently taken with a Nikon camera, in 2003. And the images were labeled "Top Treasure", and you can see that on the label. [ Silence ] The manuscript's 136 and a half sheets of paper, folded in half, four pages of writing each sheet. That's over 500 pages. So it was actually a lot of images. But technology was moving so fast that by 2008, the resolution on these images was less than desirable. Today, current phones shoot at about five times the resolution of the images. But digital photography, even at that resolution, made this book possible. An extraordinary group of curators, librarians, and archivists across the United States took or helped me take photographs of Madison's manuscripts. And so as I began to read the transcript now with the digital images, I realize there were mysteries about the manuscript. And so let me mention just a few. There were visible revisions on the first 98 sheets in the manuscript, but not very many on the last 34 sheets after August 22nd. The revisions often were in the official language of the Convention Journal. But on the last sheets, the official language already had been integrated into the text. Why? Slips only appeared attached in the first two-thirds of the manuscript. And similarly, for the first two-thirds, Madison had written "Mr. M", and then later inserted "Addison". But in the last third, he originally wrote his name out, "Madison". There were blank pages in strange places, like August 22nd. One page, September 8th, ended abruptly partway down the page. And material had been missing when Jefferson had the manuscript copied. There were also mysteries noted by earlier scholars. People had noticed odd things over the years, but they weren't sure what the reason was. For example, when Jefferson had a copy made in the 1790s, three and a half weeks in June and July were omitted. And Madison even went so far as to note in the margin they had never been copied. And the early editor, Max Ferrand, realized Madison made over 50 insertions from a set of notes by Robert Yates, published in 1821. This was odd, because Madison had openly criticize these notes, particularly Yates' claim that Madison had suggested the states might have less than full sovereignty. But Madison had nonetheless used them, and had actually paraphrased the insertions as if disguising their place of origin. So faced with these puzzles, I decided to compare the manuscripts that Madison and others created. And so let me explain what sources exist. Madison was not the only note-taker at the Convention. Notes exist from ten other note-takers. Many may have problems similar to those that I describe in Madison's notes. And Madison criticized some of these during his own lifetime. Historians have tended to favor Madison's version. I try to be more agnostic. An official record of the Convention was compiled by its secretary, William Jackson. It included a journal and a series of vote tallies. And the image shows you the vote tally on the final day when the Constitution was adopted. At the end of the Convention, this official journal was given to George Washington. And only in 1796 did he deposit it publicly with the State Department, and only in 1819 was it finally published. And Madison actually then used it to further revise his text. But Madison had a secret copy of that journal. In the fall of 1789, Madison acquired the official journal from George Washington. Washington's diary is missing for the dates during which Madison would have borrowed the journal. And so we don't know how or why Washington decided to lend it. Madison nonetheless made a copy. This is not my discovery. In 1930, Charles Keller and George Pierson wrote a wonderful, quite speculative at the time, article about this journal copy, which then was at Yale where it still is. They argued that Madison had copied the official journal in the fall of 1789, and he had then used it to revise the notes by including official language on slips and insertions. In 1937, Farand ignored the implications of this discovery, and chose to reprint his 1911 edition. And so Keller and Pierson's article was largely forgotten. Yale permitted me to take photos -- there is no microfilm available, and these photos were critical. There turned out to be small notations in Madison's journal copy, and the notes that suggested that at one time, Madison had imagined that the two manuscripts would be read together. And it was also apparent that the front page of the journal copy wasn't actually the first page Madison had copied. Instead, it seemed, he started with Monday, August 20th, 1787; and that's the image you can see on the screen. That's not the front page of the manuscript, but it's the page that has the title as if it's the first page. Why? [ Silence ] Thomas Jefferson was responsible for two other copies of the notes. Jefferson had a young man studying with him, John Epps, make a partial copy of Madison's notes in 1791 to 1793, and also a very partial duplicate press copy that you can see here; it's at the New York Public Library. But Jefferson's copy had actually additional puzzles. Many pages were replaced. After Madison's death, Judith Reeves, wife of Senator William Cabell Rives, had helped turn the Jefferson copy into another one for Dolley Madison to use for foreign publication. And many pages were altered to match the notes as they stood at Madison's death. The untouched press copy, however, showed what the Jefferson copy had looked like in its original state. But there were, again, puzzles upon puzzles. Jefferson's copy reflected an odd division in the notes between August 21st and August 22nd. Epps had never been given the notes from mid-June to July. Epps had even noticed that there was a page missing from the manuscript. And the link the account that now stands in Madison's manuscript of the final days seemed too long to fit on the three pages that the press copy suggested had originally been the only final days of the notes. Now, we know that the transcript looked like after Madison's death, because Madison left a transcript copied by his brother-in-law John C. Payne, that was begun basically after 1818-1819. So I began to try and create what the notes looked like originally. Now, I tried originally to do this high-tech computers, and that was a total failure. And so I resorted to the old-fashioned technique of using colored pencils; [laughter] something to be said for that. I marked the material copied literally from Madison's journal copy; that's his secret journal. I marked what existed when Epps had copied it in the early 1790s. I marked what seemed to have been revised afterwards. And what emerged, obviously imperfectly, was the notes from 1787. Two Madison comments intrigued me. First, in late August 1789, Madison had written to Edmund Randolph to make up his opening speech for Madison; because Madison explained, "My notes do not do justice to the substance." Randolph refused. He wrote, "He would mingle inadvertently what I have heard since without being able to separate it from what occurred then." And so Madison and Randolph instead sent his original notes, and Madison inserted them. But why was Madison comfortable having Randolph write up his speech two years later? And second, as an elderly man in the 1830s, Madison reflected that his writings during 1790s might have been too often tinged with the party's spirit of the times. And by "party spirit", he didn't mean party in the sense of fun and games; although if you go see "Hamilton", which I haven't seen, I think it suggests some of the fun parts of the 1790s. At the same time, he wrote an editorial note discussing the controversial Pinckney Plan that had been published in the official journal. Madison had long thought that the Pinckney Plan was not the original one. And for years he'd actually obsessively been trying to prove that. And that's part of what you see on the far right of the screen. But in the 1830s, Madison became forgiving. He explained Pinckney might have used a rough draft with revisions that was confounded with the original text. And the revisions might have been confounded also in the memory of the author. So was Madison talking about himself also? Might the notes not date entirely from the summer of 1787; and if so, how had Madison actually composed them? These questions led me to reconsider assumptions about the manuscript. People have used the notes as if they were contemporaneous copy. But had Madison written every day in the summer of 1787, and if so, why did he always start with a summary sentence? Why did he refer to decisions that didn't yet happen? And why were Saturday speeches always mysteriously the longest? I recall that Madison wrote his correspondence twice a week, and suddenly the pattern appeared. In the summer of 1787, twice a week on Wednesdays and Sundays, Madison probably wrote his rough notes up into a fair copy. And if so, how did he originally take his rough notes? He was limited by available technologies, the quilt pen and steel eraser. He didn't know shorthand. And so he probably used abbreviations, such as up here in a few of his extant papers. This would have meant that similar words, like "judicial", "judiciary", and "judge", would have been hard to figure out afterwards. Writing from a rough copy explained the strongest stylistic aspect of the notes. Madison summarizes the point of the speech at the outset. He created a first sentence that always summarized the position of the speaker or the proposal. And so consistent is the style that you can read the notes by reading the first sentence of every speech. It explained why the longest notes appeared on Saturday; not because they were most important, but because a Sunday without any meetings gave Madison time to decipher his rough notes. And so when we wrote about events on Monday and Thursday, he knew what the Convention had gone to decide. These days were always written with hindsight. So there was always distance, even in the original notes between what Madison wrote and the Convention. From the very first day, he was revising his understanding. For myself, it is this contemporaneous revising that summer that is as important as any of the other revisions. Now, a second assumption needed to be revisited. Although referred to as "notes", they'd been relied on as if they had been taken by a court reporter or a stenographer for the Congressional record. But drawing on work on British Parliamentary diaries, I realize they belong to the genre of legislative diaries. Legislative proceedings were closed, and what the public had a right to was the final product, the legislation and the journal of motions. And indeed, the House of Representatives opens its doors in 1789, but the Senate remains closed until 1795. So without published accounts of the base, legislators relied on private diaries. Madison's earlier legislative diaries are in the Library of Congress. They're political diaries, and he's interestingly also revived those. And someone could do a great article on those. There's almost nothing written on them, and also on the Maclay diary, which over time has begun to be seen as surprisingly objective. The notes reflected Madison's political ideas, his strategies, the positions of allies and of [inaudible]. The original Convention notes therefore showed what he cared about, and they omitted what he did not find interesting. And so they were about who he found interesting. In this sense, the notes were a biography of his view of the Convention. They recorded Madison's convention, not "the" Convention. As I reconstructed the original notes, I found a different Madison, a man who desperately wanted proportional representation in both Houses, and wanted to limit the role in power of the states, a man who was frustrated by the small state's concern about Virginia's political power, a man who left Philadelphia, disappointed at the Convention's failure to completely control the states. And I found a man who initiated the dynamic that led to the Three-Fifths Compromise. Madison repeatedly hinted at a sectional divide between northern and southern states over slavery, and he even proposed a bicameral Congress based on the division. Enslaved African-Americans, of course, would not vote. And so Madison's plan would have given voting power to states that legalized slavery. Virginia, by this calculation, benefited the most as it held nearly 300,000 people enslaved, nearly half the enslaved population in the United States. And although after leaving the Convention, Madison would come to blame South Carolina and Georgia for what seemed as an inevitable compromise over slavery, Madison was equally at fault. His willingness to embrace slavery reflected his personal compromise over slavery. He believed it to be against the principles of the revolution, but he could not imagine a multiracial American nation. He freed no one at his death. And indeed, his will left the profits from the sale of the notes to the American Colonization Society, a group dedicated to sending freed African-Americans to Africa. I found a man who was emotional and aggravated because of his losses, but after August 6th, began to acquire a new role. And the book argues that by copying the August 6th draft into the notes, Madison grasped the structure. So then, a need to reconsider a final assumption became apparent. Who was the audience? Was it us? Was it posterity? Before the Convention, Madison had shared his legislative diary and Congress with Jefferson. And on July 18th, 1787, Madison wrote Jefferson in Paris, "As soon as I am at liberty, I will endeavor to make amends for my silence. I have taken lengthy notes, and mean to go on with a drudgery if no disposition obliges me to discontinue it." I argue the notes were taken largely as a political diary for Madison and Jefferson, and that they're part of the histories told of Madison and Jefferson as collaborators. [ Silence ] With this, the boundary of the original notes began to shift. Madison's integration of large sections of text from the journal copy in the latter section of the notes raised the possibility that Madison had written this section after 1789. Could the manuscript offer additional evidence? Watermarks have long been a story of the Convention. Watermarks were used to prove that the Charles Pinckney Plan was not written in the summer of 1787. And watermarks were used to disprove a contention by Professor William Crosskey of the University of Chicago that Madison wrote sections in the 1820s. Now, it's important to realized that watermarks are only corroborating evidence. Nothing in the book exclusively relies on them; because their presence has an almost infinite number of alternative explanations. But here they reinforce the textual evidence. Older technology made it difficult to obtain enough images to study differences. And so the Library generously took photographs of watermarks. I classified them in the Library, put the notes on a light table for us to check. Madison was interestingly consistent. Between May 1787 and August 21st, the paper's almost entirely paper with marks associated with James Whatman. And this paper matches precisely the letters Madison wrote this summer. But it appears in the notes after August 21st only in the plan appended to the manuscript written about Hamilton. Decidedly different Whatman paper was used for the section begging with August 22nd. This paper does not match any extant letter from the summer. Other evidence corroborates the division. The holes used to sew the August 22nd section differ, the division matches the division that was there in the Jefferson copy, it corresponds roughly to where Madison began his secret journal copy, and it matches precisely the shift from the later insertion of journal language in the notes to original integration of that language. And this is the watermark -- two of the crucial Whatman watermarks. [ Silence ] The book therefore, argues that the notes after August 21st represent an unconformity, a missing section of time. The evidence from the text and artifact tell a new story about Madison and the Convention. Madison became sick that week, something that he was susceptible to under stress. And the delegates sent controversial issues to the committee. And for the first time, Madison served on the three-most important committees. He was too involved in drafting to bother writing up his rough notes. And it may have been impossible for him to disentangle decisions and committees from those on the Convention floors. So at the very moment that the Convention decided many of the issues we debate today, congressional powers, presidential powers, impeachment, the electoral college, the notes are the most unreliable. But the collapse of the notes represents and reflects the contemporary inability of the delegates to see the final Constitution in the sense we mistakenly imagine they could. Between 1787 and 1789, the Convention's relevance and Madison's understanding of it changed. He wrote the federalist essays. He made arguments in the Virginia Ratification Convention. He understood the textual ambiguity of the Constitution when we served in the first Congress, and he proposed amendments to the Constitution. Madison wanted the amendments interwoven with the original Constitution. But Roger Sherman insisted that they be supplemental. Sherman spoke of a sacred Constitution to which the amendments should be added, and Congress agreed. And so only with that decision in 1789, did it become clear that the text of the Constitution, and the work of the Convention would remain forever intact. And so now, suddenly, Madison's notes had a new potentially significant relevance. With Jefferson about to return, Madison completes his incomplete notes. He makes the copy of the official journal. He uses it to make sense of whatever rough notes he still had, far more than the original sections of the notes. The post-August 21st notes focused on textual changes to the Constitution and the reasons. Now, there were undoubtedly other changes that are impossible to know with precision. How had Madison's perspective changed over two years? I speculate in the book about whether he spoke the statements against slavery on August 25th that he attributes to himself. No one else ever recorded him saying anything against slavery. And his words bear a marked resemblance to those he recorded of Luther Martin on August 21st. Was it coincidence? Did he have remaining rough notes containing his remarks, or in 1789, 1790, did he decide to ensure that the notes reflected what he now understood surely must have been his position? The book suggests that in the years immediately after the Convention, Madison also likely replaced several sheets containing his speeches as his perspective changed. In some respects, this is not surprising. One cannot take notes of one's self speaking. And so Madison's own speeches, even those he wrote down in 1787, are the most contested in terms of reliability. And he may therefore have been the most comfortable altering them as his understanding of what he had been attempting to say changed. These sheets were identified because the watermarks do not match the surrounding pages, and there was corroborating textual evidence. Once that relates to June 6th through 8th, and it fits the story about Madison's initial difficulties in taking notes, and the chronology around federalist [inaudible]. A second set relates to Jefferson. Jefferson returned from Paris in the fall of 1789. The "Hamilton" musical has that song, "What Did I Miss," which pretty much sums up the whole thing. [Laughter] And he saw the world through the lens of the French Revolution; supporters of Republican government, versus monarchists. And he became obsessed with the idea that Alexander Hamilton was a secret monarchist, in part based on reading about Hamilton's June speech in Madison's notes. Four sheets in the manuscript appear related to Jefferson's promotion of Republican government. And one finds this phrase more prevalent on these pages. A related replaced sheet relates to a vote by the Virginia delegation in favor of an executive with life tenure, the president on life tenure, a position that after the Convention looked suspiciously like a monarch, and had become aligned with Hamilton. The sheets containing this first speech, and the final Virginia vote match precisely the section that Jefferson never was able to copy. And so I suggest that Madison was working on replacing these sheets in the 1790s. Now, I didn't have sufficient evidence precisely date and explain two other sets of replaced sets. Madison was not happy with something on September 7th or 8th. He replaced that sheet. He messed something up in replacing it. Perhaps notices there's something missing, Madison subsequently adds that material in an awkward way back into the manuscript. And similarly, I speculate that the final two days of the Convention might have been written at a slightly different time, and they may have replaced a shorter original conclusion that was in place when Jefferson's copy was made. But I'm not at all certain of this. History should be about interpretation and reinterpretation. And so I put the evidence in a set of appendices, the evidence that discusses the manuscripts and includes a list of the sheets and slips with the watermark information as I was able to develop it. And I'm sure my book will not be the last word. By 1796, the final sheets were likely in place. And in December 1796, Madison announced his retirement from politics. And that same month, Jefferson became vice president. Jefferson viewed the notes as part of his political agenda, and he urged publication, arguing, "The Constitution will then receive a different explanation." Jefferson believed publication of the notes would undermine the Adams administration. Madison demurred. He worried that Jefferson had not read the entire notes; and he might have been right about that. And he worried that the notes would not support Jefferson's interpretation, and worse, that other reports would perhaps be made out in muster, and they would not necessarily confirm Madison's version. He worried, "What turn might be giving the impression on the public mind?" Nothing in the notes would damage Jefferson's reputation, but for Madison, the expediency of publication weighed differently. Madison's concerns triumphed; the notes were never published. And Jefferson moved onto a different interpretation of the Constitution, one in which was a compact among the states, and perhaps with relief, Madison put the notes away. After retiring from the presidency in 1817, Madison continued to revise the notes to increase the appearance of comprehensiveness. He added revisions from the official journal. He inserted missing sections of speeches that he paraphrased from Yates' notes, and then he and his brother-in-law created a transcript with selected letters to explain the larger context. But though he repeatedly flirted with publication, he refrained. I believe he continually worried about other accounts. Not until 1827-1828 did the other three significant note-takers, Rufus King of Massachusetts, John Lansing of New York, and the Secretary William Jackson die. Only in 1829 was Madison the only living member left. And by that point, he settled on postromous publication. Madison's will left the notes to Dolley Madison. And Congress finally agreed to buy the papers for $30,000. In 1840, Madison's notes were published in a three-volume collection of his papers. Now, in the introduction, a single description of Madison's writing of the notes reassured readers of the contemporaneous accuracy. And this description's been repeated by countless historians. But intriguingly, Madison never wrote in his own hand; that the notes in their entirety had been written that summer. I tracked down the original version of that introduction. And the sentence breaks, and the final assertion is in Dolly's handwriting. And you can see that there with Dolly's -- the introduction sentence with the italics being Dolly's handwriting. Madison may have consented to the edition, for his handwriting appears as an insertion on the sheet; but he never actually wrote it himself. He had never settled on a precise explanation of the notes' relationship to the Convention. Madison understood his revisions as repeated efforts to create a record, his record of what he saw significant in the Convention. Yet each revision, small and large, increased the distance from the summer of 1787. Over the years and decades, words, concepts, compromises, shifted and took on new political meanings. And motivations were disputed, and context was lost. The Convention could not see the Constitution until the final days, and from the moment the Constitution became visible, it was contested. I believe that the revisions do not detract, but rather enhance the manuscript's significance. The story of Madison's composition of the notes emphasizes his inability and that of his fellow delegates to perceive the extraordinary document that the Constitution would become. And so tracing Madison's composition of the notes guides us back to a moment when the substance and fate of the Constitution remained uncertain. Madison's narrative in the notes was always that of James Madison, a member. Beginning in 1787 and continuing for a half century, he struggled to understand what had happened that summer, a struggle that continues into our own day. It's been a great privilege to speak here today. Thank you very much. [ Applause ] And this is my final revised slide. [Laughter] It took me a long time to figure out how to revise the cartoon. [ Laughter ] >> John Cole: We have time for questions; [inaudible]. >> Mary Sarah Bilder: Sir. >> I still hold onto the notes [inaudible] and fell in love with them. I really look forward to reading the book. I don't want to take us down a rabbit hole away from the [inaudible]. The question of the ambiguity of his position on slavery is a big one. I recall years ago when they first reopened [inaudible], the only place I've seen them deal with the house slaves, it strikes me [inaudible] he took to Philadelphia with him, the assertion made [inaudible] that he sold the man to a Philadelphia resident in the knowledge that under Pennsylvania law the man [inaudible] and the implication is that, you know, he's in that sort of an ambiguous situation, he can't make the jump himself, he's a man of his own time and place. But is -- there's -- >> John Cole: Mary, could you summarize the question? >> Mary Sarah Bilder: Yes; so the question is sort of about Madison's position on slavery. For myself, I find that Madison has been given a pass that's quite interesting compared to other people like Jefferson, who I personally think he agreed with much more than we realize. Montpelier does a wonderful job talking about slavery, and they actually have a wonderful room there when you visit. For most of Madison's -- certainly in his later life an African-American man named Paul Jennings was an enslaved man who spent most of his life with and wrote actually an autobiography about that. And in the dining room, they have an image of Paul Jennings. And they ask you to imagine what was it like to be Paul Jennings, while everybody came and went, and talked about slavery, and the American colonization side, and you were just there. The book actually talks about Madison's -- Madison writes a letter actually from when he's in Congress about a person who is enslaved who he doesn't bring back with him. And the letter's actually interesting because part of the letter writes about, "Oh, he's a person he must value slavery." And the other part of the letter writes about the man as a property. "He would not be worth anything," and everything like that. And so in some ways, I think it very much symbolizes Madison's fundamental ambiguity. But he freed no one and this was actually so shocking to the man who had worked for many years with him as a secretary that he originally thought that Madison's will was forged. And so but Madison actually -- other than being against the slave trade, which he is against when it becomes clear that everybody's against it, I think he was not -- I don't know why he's given such a pass about it. And in the Virginia Ratification Convention, he goes out of his way to reassure the people who held people in slavery that they be protected. [ Silence ] Yes, sir. >> So I read an article a while back about how there were a number of different [inaudible]; that a number of them have gotten lost over the years. And how did that fit into [inaudible]? >> Mary Sarah Bilder: Yes; so I mean, I don't think I can flip back here to the thing. There are some lost notes, and if you found them, that would be awesome, and you'd probably make the front page of the New York Times as a discovery. There's contention about whether some of those lost notes ever existed or not, because if you think about -- for example, I think particularly if you read a wonderful book by Joanne Freeman on the 1790s, you realize how much this was a period where people made assertions, and then wanted to claim that they had paper to back it up. So, you know, who knows how much the notes are about that. But there are notes that we know exist that are missing the original Yates notes are much of Lansing's copy of those have never been found. Jim Hutson found a very crucial part of that I guess about 30 years ago now for that. So we're dealing with multiple conflicting accounts. One thing that I think my book disagrees with is what people have taken as they've made Madison's notes always the stable objective account. And then every time that Madison's version, particularly of himself, disagreed with anybody else, they picked Madison. My book tries to argue that on a couple of the issues that people disagreed with, there were reasons why Madison later on wanted to say that he hadn't said those things. And I'm more agnostic. Madison was very close to Hamilton during the Convention. And when Jefferson comes back, Jefferson does not think Hamilton is a good guy, and Madison distances himself. And so the book tries to tell the notes and the multiple accounts out of that history. [ Silence ] Yes, sir, >> [Inaudible] are there any other issues that have come before modern supreme courts that would have been -- might have been affected by [inaudible]? >> Mary Sarah Bilder: Yes, yes, yes. So I'm very careful not to answer that question, [laughter] because one of the things I've loved is that people of many political persuasions have really enjoyed reading the book, and like the book. So, you know, that's a good position for me. The Supreme Court, in terms of its majority opinions in recent years, has been very careful to keep distanced from the notes. This isn't so true of the late 19th Century Supreme Court, so there are cases involving legal tender and things like that that actually cite to Madison's notes. The people who cite to Madison's notes explicitly these days involve people like Justice Thomas, and they're mostly in dissents. So it doesn't matter that much in that respect, in terms of pure citation. I think the place that the book will give people some difficulty is that even though they're not cited, many of the understandings that the Court has held with respect to the Constitution recently rely on a belief that in Philadelphia in August and September, the people who wrote the Constitution understood the Constitution in all the complicated ways that we do. And my book sort of argues they didn't; that they were so busy drafting it and trying to put it together that they understood the basic structures, but the very fine-tuned way that the Court has come to read the Constitution makes sense 225 years later, but it might not have made sense to them. But the Court's very tricky about that. Yes, sir? >> I'd like to ask another moot point [phonetic]. Would he have agreed with Senator Steven Douglas, and Governor Sam Houston asserting the union, or would he have agreed that Virginia should leave the union after the [inaudible]? >> Mary Sarah Bilder: Yes; so -- >> John Cole: Summarize it. >> Mary Sarah Bilder: Yes; so the question involves where would Madison have been in 1864? Yes, 1864 is sort of right when Fort Sumter happened. So in the 1830s -- and Drew McCoy's wonderful book on Madison talks about this, all sorts of nullification -- young nullification people from South Carolina come and visit Madison and Virginia. And they all say, "Madison, you were really on our side. Vouch for us." And Madison's like, "No," you know, like, "It was different. Yes; I did the states thing with Jefferson, but we're not the same as you guys." And he actually gets quite worried about that piece. And I personally believe that he was a nationalist above and beyond anything else. I think that was particularly true at Philadelphia. I think it was then particularly true again after serving as president. And if you ever read -- Garry Wills has a wonderful little book on Madison as president. And one of the things that I think Wills does very well is talk about how we don't give Madison enough credit for successfully navigating through the War of 1812. And I think in that sense, he's a nationalist. In that sense, right, Jefferson we know makes the same -- you know, it's one thing before you're president, and then it's another thing after you're president. So I think he would not have -- how he would have done that would he have been a constitutional unionist, who knows? But personally, I would have put him on the union side. He would have had to move to West Virginia, though, in order to -- [laughter] maybe wouldn't have left Montpelier. Any other questions? [ Silence ] Well, thank you -- oh, yes, ma'am. >> [Inaudible]; but I'm just curious, with regard to the correspondence, I mean, I always envision people before the mid -- the 20th Century, you know, writing almost daily, little notes with whoever. And so talking about losses, I mean, there were only about a half dozen people that listed [inaudible] contemporaneous notes or reported contemporaneous. But since there were more than that at the Convention, I mean, what remains of anybody else's personal correspondence where they might have described events to their spouses, adult children, other close friends that -- I mean, I can't believe that those are the only [inaudible]. >> Mary Sarah Bilder: Yes. Yes; so basically those sets of notes refer to people who wrote enough to constitute what I could call "legislative diaries" of some type or the other. There's also an extensive body of personal papers related to the Convention. Those were published actually in the documentary history. The State Department published a lot of them. Max Furan's Third volume has a lot of them; Jim Hutson's fourth volume has a lot of them. I'm actually working on a piece of this. One thing that's interesting is there are no letters to women in all of them. So like did nobody write their wives about what's happening, or has no one looked for letters to women, okay, which if you do women's history, might be like, "Oh, maybe no one's gone looking." So there's actually a lot of correspondence about the Convention. The Convention said it was secret or confidential, and they actually meant -- were really meaning confidential. So people write things that are illusions to what's going to happen at best. And so we have -- other than these sort of private legislative diaries, we don't have a lot of correspondents that explicitly says the day-to-day accounts the way we do for the first Congress where things became more open. >> Were the wives, would their descendants have sort of maybe burned the letters because they thought they were worthless? >> Mary Sarah Bilder: Well, yes. >> Would they have kept them secret in the manner like they [inaudible] history's perception, their husbands' reputations, or maybe it was interwoven with personal matters that they didn't [overlapping] -- >> Mary Sarah Bilder: Yes; no it's a really interesting -- I think what gets destroyed is a very interesting question. And we don't know what's destroyed. We know that Dolley Madison's niece destroys some things. She was told she was supposed to destroy some things. So we know -- I think particularly descendants -- particularly I think interesting wives and daughters did do some of that in concern with reputation. People -- some of Madison's notes -- there are several letters that Madison writes that summer that we know about, because recipients say, "Thanks for your letter," and those letters are missing, and it may be that those were letters particularly to one of the Virginia delegates who left Madison's letters in the scene, and it may be that Madison was like, "I'd better not look like I was writing people what happened that summer." So it may be that people destroyed some letters that suggested that you hadn't taken the confidentiality as seriously. Some delegates brought their wives with them so they didn't have that problem. Thank you very much. [ Applause ] >> This has been a presentation of the Library of Congress. Visit us at


Early life

Rives was born at "Union Hill", the estate of his grandfather, Col. William Cabell, in Amherst County, Virginia. It was located on the James River in what is now Nelson County. His parents were Robert (1764–1845) and Margaret Cabell (c. 1770–1815) Rives, and his brothers included Alexander Rives. He was a great-uncle of Alexander Brown, author of books on the early history of Virginia and a family history, The Cabells and their Kin.[1]

After private tutoring, Rives attended Hampden-Sydney College, followed by the College of William and Mary.

He left Williamsburg to study law with Thomas Jefferson at Monticello, and in 1814 was admitted to the bar at Richmond. Rives began his law practice in Nelson County, but after marrying Judith Page Walker (1802–1882), the daughter of Francis Walker, in 1819, he moved to her estate Castle Hill, near Cobham in Albemarle County. This was his home for the remainder of his life.

Political career

William Cabell Rives
William Cabell Rives

Rives's political career began by serving in the state constitutional convention of 1816. He served in the Virginia House of Delegates in 1817–19 for Nelson County, and again in 1822 for Albemarle County. In 1823 he was elected to the United States House of Representatives and served from 1823 to 1829. In 1829 he was appointed by Andrew Jackson as Minister to France.

When Rives took office, compensation demands for the capture of American ships and sailors, dating from the Napoleonic era, caused strained relations between the American and French governments. The French Navy had captured and sent American ships to Spanish ports while holding their crews captive forcing them to labor without any charges or judicial rules. According to Secretary of State Martin Van Buren, relations between the U.S. and France were "hopeless."[2] Yet, Rives was able to convince the French government to sign a reparations treaty on July 4, 1831, that would award the U.S. ₣ 25,000,000 ($5,000,000) in damages.[3] The French government became delinquent in payment due to internal financial and political difficulties, but after firm insistence from the United States, payments were finally made in February 1836.[2]

Rives was presented as a candidate for the Democratic vice presidential nomination in 1835, but the nomination went to Richard M. Johnson, in spite of having been presidential nominee Martin Van Buren's preferred candidate.

On his return from France, Rives was elected to the United States Senate. He would serve three terms, the last as a member of the Whig Party. He served on the Board of Visitors for the University of Virginia from 1834 to 1849, and was for many years the president of the Virginia Historical Society. In 1849, Rives was once more appointed Minister to France. He served until 1853. In 1860, he endorsed the call for a Constitutional Union Party Convention, where he received most of Virginia's first ballot votes for President.

Rives was a delegate to the February 1861 Peace Conference in Washington, which sought to prevent the American Civil War. He spoke out against secession but was loyal to Virginia when it seceded. He served in the Provisional Confederate Congress from 1861 to 1862 and the Second Confederate Congress from 1864 to 1865.

Later life

Rives wrote several books, the most important being his Life and Times of James Madison (3 vols., Boston, 1859–68). He died at Castle Hill in 1868 and was buried in the family cemetery.


His son, Alfred Landon Rives, was a prominent engineer, and his granddaughter Amélie Rives was a novelist, best known for The Quick or the Dead? (1888).

His second son William Cabell Rives, Jr., (1825–1890) owned Cobham Park Estate.[4] It was listed in the National Register of Historic Places in 1974.[5] His son, also William Cabell Rives (1850-1938) donated the Peace Cross and supported building the Washington National Cathedral.[6]


Rives is the namesake of the town of Rivesville, West Virginia.[7]


  1. ^ Brown, Alexander (1939). The Cabells and Their Kin. Richmond: Garrett and Massie.
  2. ^ a b Latner 2002, pp. 119–20.
  3. ^ Cunningham, Hugo S. (1999). "Gold and Silver Standards France". Archived from the original on August 18, 2014. Retrieved August 28, 2014.
  4. ^ CVirginia Historic Landmarks Commission Staff (December 1973). "National Register of Historic Places Inventory/Nomination: Cobham Park" (PDF).
  5. ^ "National Register Information System". National Register of Historic Places. National Park Service. July 9, 2010.
  6. ^ inscription to the right of the Great Choir.
  7. ^ Kenny, Hamill (1945). West Virginia Place Names: Their Origin and Meaning, Including the Nomenclature of the Streams and Mountains. Piedmont, WV: The Place Name Press. p. 533.

William Cabell Rives: A Country to Serve by Barclay Rives. New York, Atelerix Press, 2014


External links

Further reading

  • McCoy, Drew R. The Last of the Fathers: James Madison and the Republican Legacy. Cambridge, MA: Cambridge University Press, 1989, pp. 323–369.
U.S. House of Representatives
Preceded by
Thomas L. Moore
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Virginia's 10th congressional district

Succeeded by
William F. Gordon
U.S. Senate
Preceded by
Littleton W. Tazewell
 U.S. Senator (Class 2) from Virginia
Served alongside: John Tyler, Jr.
Succeeded by
Benjamin W. Leigh
Preceded by
John Tyler, Jr.
 U.S. Senator (Class 1) from Virginia
Served alongside: Richard E. Parker, William H. Roane
Succeeded by
Preceded by
 U.S. Senator (Class 1) from Virginia
Served alongside: William S. Archer
Succeeded by
Isaac S. Pennybacker
Political offices
Preceded by
New creation
Delegate to the Provisional Confederate Congress from Virginia
April 29, 1861 – February 16, 1862
Succeeded by
Office abolished
Confederate States House of Representatives
Preceded by
James P. Holcombe
Member of the C.S. House of Representatives
from Virginia's 7th congressional district

February 17, 1864 – March 7, 1865
Succeeded by
Office abolished
Diplomatic posts
Preceded by
James Brown
Minister to France
Succeeded by
Edward Livingston
Preceded by
Richard Rush
Minister to France
Succeeded by
John Y. Mason
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