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James Madison Coaxes Georgia for Official Notification of the 12th Amendment’s Passage to Avoid Another Election Fiasco
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With the necessary approval of 13 out of 17 state legislatures, Secretary of State James Madison urges Georgia Governor James Milledge to send notification of his state’s approval before the upcoming 1804 presidential election. By requiring separate ballots for president and vice president, the 12th Amendment fixed a major flaw in the original Constitution by eliminating the possibility of a tie vote in the Electoral College.

JAMES MADISON. Autograph Letter Signed as Secretary of State, to James Milledge. Washington, D.C., August 18, 1804. 1 p., 8 x 9¼ in. On wove paper watermarked “1800.”

Inventory #23396       Price: $20,000

Complete Transcript

                                                                                                Department of State

                                                                                                Aug. 18. 1804


            It being understood that the Legislature of Georgia has ratified the proposed amendment to the Constitution of the U. States. concerning the election of President and vice President, and the requisite number of states, including Georgia, having concurred in that proposition, I take the liberty of intimating to you that no exemplification of the ratifying act of her Legislature has yet been rec’d. and that the Official notification required by law from the Department of State. awaits that formality only. Not doubting Sir that whether the failure has happened from miscarriage or otherwise no time will be lost in forwarding the accessory document, I have the honor to remain,

                                    with sentiments of great respect

                                    & consideration your most Ob. hbe Sevt.                                                                                             James Madison

Historical Background

Secretary of State James Madison writes to Georgia governor James Milledge requesting official notification that his state has indeed ratified the 12th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Two days earlier, Jacob Wagner, the chief clerk of the State Department, had written to Madison informing the secretary of a number of outstanding issues ranging from salaries for Louisiana territory officials, to deteriorating relations with the Barbary States, to conflict between British and American naval forces off Connecticut.

At the top of his list, however, was the failure of Georgia to inform the State Department of its ratification of the 12th Amendment. Georgia was among the required three-quarters (13 of 17) of states required for the amendment to become part of the Constitution, but despite their May 19 ratification, had not yet officially informed the State Department. Tennessee, which approved the 12th Amendment on July 27, put the amendment over the top and sent the news to Washington. However, Wagner still needed Georgia’s “exemplification” before the State Department could declare the amendment officially part of the Constitution. He wrote to Madison on August 16:

“Yesterday came to hand an exemplification of the Act of Tennessee approving the amendment of the constitution....Nothing therefore is wanting to authorize the official notification of the amendment being constitutionally ratified but the exemplification of the Act of Georgia upon the subject, which we have not hitherto received. As it is not to be imagined that it is in the President’s possession, permit me to suggest, whether it might not be necessary to request Governor Milledge to forward it.”

With the upcoming presidential election only three months away, Madison was no doubt eager to see the 12th Amendment on the books to avoid another election fiasco. The election of 1800 pitted Democratic-Republican Thomas Jefferson against Federalist John Adams, and had revealed a flaw in the Constitution’s original electoral scheme. Electors voted for two candidates, one for president and the other for vice president, and Democratic-Republican electors voted for both Jefferson and his running mate, Aaron Burr, locking them into an unforeseen tie in the Electoral College. After 35 inconclusive votes in the House of Representatives, Jefferson won the presidency. The 12th Amendment rectified problem by requiring electors to use two distinct ballots—one for their choice for president, and the other for their choice of vice president.

Proposed on December 9, 1803, the 12th Amendment was passed by the required three-fourths (13 of 17) of state legislatures on June 15, 1804, upon New Hampshire’s approval. Georgia had ratified the amendment on May 19, making it clear why Madison was concerned that he had not received Georgia’s notice three months after the fact.

His letter was successful: nearly a month later, on September 13, 1804, Milledge wrote back to Madison informing him that he had, on September 8, sent two copies of Georgia’s “exemplification,” via two separate routes, to the State Department.

*This item is also being offered in part II of The Alexander Hamilton Collection


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