Thomas Jefferson Papers

From Thomas Jefferson to the Speaker of the House of Delegates, 16 March 1781

To the Speaker of the House of Delegates

In Council March 16th 1781


The Marquis Fayette desired me among the articles most essential for an enterprize at the Head of which he is, to procure 130 Draught Horses for Artillery and 50 Saddle Horses for Officers to act on. I gave Power and Instructions to have them procured by Purchase if possible and if not by Impress.

One of the Quartermasters employed in this Business informs me that he has purchased some and impressed others on valuations by men on oath and deemed honest which are rated as high as £30,000, and most of them very much above what is reasonable. These Circumstances are very embarrassing. To retain the Horses at such enormous prices threatens Ruin on one Hand, on the other to discharge them endangers an Enterprize which if successful would relieve us from an Enemy whose Presence is attended with continued Expence, Fatigue and Danger. Under this perplexity I am happy to have it in my power to ask the advice of the General Assembly. The Quarter master was under orders from his commanding officer to set out this morning with what Horses he had, but I have detained him till the sense of the General Assembly may be had on the Subject. I have the Honor to be &c

T. J.

FC (Vi); at head of text: “To the Speaker of the House of Delegates.”

TJ’s letter was laid before the House on 16 Mch, and the following resolutions were adopted at once: “Whereas the excessive valuation which hath been made by Appraisers, of the Horses purchased or impressed, by Order of the Executive, for the Expedition now carrying on, under the Command of Marquis LaFayette, will involve the State in an immense and heavy debt; And such valuations appear to have been wantonly made: Resolved that the Governor be empowered with advice of Council to appoint two or more persons of discretion and integrity to affix the true value on all such Horses, and where the Horses are unfit for the service that they be forthwith returned to their respective Owners, That the General Assembly will during the present Session make provision for the payment of all Horses so purchased or impressed. … Resolved that his Excellency the Governor, be requested immediately to cause a strict enquiry to be made, into the conduct of the several persons, who have been empowered to purchase or impress Horses, for the use of this State and that he cause the result of such enquiry to be laid before the General Assembly at their next meeting” (JHD description begins Journal of the House of Delegates of the Commonwealth of Virginia (cited by session and date of publication) description ends , Mch. 1781, Va. State Libr., Bull., 1928, p. 32–3, 34). A second resolution was introduced but defeated; it reads as follows: “Resolved that this State cannot impress Horses for the use of Officers at large: Since such are not allowed by Congress and if they were they ought to be furnished by the Continent” (same). See TJ to Claiborne and Smith, 24 Mch.

These resolutions on the impressment of horses, a subject that aroused intense animosities in Virginia in the spring of 1781, and the defeat by a narrow vote of 40 to 33 of a move to bring in a bill “to amend the Act for the removal of the Seat of Government,” another subject that still agitated the representatives, may have been responsible for the following resolution that was brought up on the same day, 16 Mch.: “Whereas the relation between the representative body and the people renders it essential that the latter should be enabled to get the most authentic information in [on] the manner in which their Delegates vote upon important questions in the Legislature; without which knowledge the people can have small ground for supporting a virtuous conduct by their countenance or for removing from high trust such as may desire [deserve] it by a vicious, weak, or wicked conduct, Resolved that hence forward … the yea’s and nay’s and the name of every person as he answers either in the negative or affirmative, shall be called and entered upon the Journal whenever a motion for that purpose shall be made and seconded.” This important motion, however, was defeated (JHD description begins Journal of the House of Delegates of the Commonwealth of Virginia (cited by session and date of publication) description ends , Mch. 1781, Va. State Libr., Bull., 1928, p. 33–4).

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