Thomas Jefferson Papers

Benjamin Harrison to the Virginia Delegates in Congress, 16 April 1784

Benjamin Harrison to the Virginia Delegates in Congress

Council Chamber April 16. 1784.


Mr. Randolph was so obliging as to read me a Letter from the honble John F. Mercer addressed to the Honble. Executive Council of Virginia which I suppose from the stile of it was intended as an official Letter from the corresponding member of our Delegation in Congress tho’ I have no other reason for thinking so but a complaint made in it of negligence in me or curiosity in the Postmaster, one or other of which causes is assigned by the writer for his not getting answers to the many Letters he has written to his Excellency Benjamin Harrison and therefore it is that he has addressed himself to a body of men that have no existence in the State that I know of when it has a Governor. Charges of neglect will never give me pain from an individual from a thorough conviction that I have never been guilty of a single one since I had the honor of the first Magistracy conferred on me but one from so respectable a body of men as compose our delegation and for whom I have the highest respect and esteem affects me very much and the more so as the manner of doing it can be considered in no other light than a direct and intentional affront. If I mistake the powers vested in the corresponding member by his Colleagues, and am not to look on his letters as meeting the[ir] approbation when they do not tell me the contrary by seperate Letters, I most readily ask the pardon of the Gentlemen concerned in this and hope they will excuse me for addressing this Letter to the whole Delegation and that they will believe nothing will give me greater uneasiness than to enter into any altercation with them. If Mr. Mercer has written many Letters to me I am unfortunate indeed in not receiving one of them which is truly the case since the removal of Congress to Annapolis. One or two of his writing was received from Philadelphia signed by all the Members present and I make no doubt if an answer was necessary one may be found in my letter by the next post after its receipt. It may not be amiss to inform Mr. Mercer that if his Letters are in such demand with the curious his new address will not answer his purpose as long as he continues to frank them and that if they should escape from their hands they will not engage my attention as I shall not pay the least to any letter that is not addressed to me in my proper character.

I have nothing official to give you this post nor have we any thing in the news way but what you already are acquainted with. I have therefore only to add that I am, &c.,

B. H.

FC (Vi); caption reads: “To the Virginia Delegates in Congress.” As the date-line shows, this letter must have had the sanction of the Council.

If I mistake the powers vested in the corresponding member by his colleagues: Harrison knew that, according to the scheme of rotation in correspondence proposed by TJ, the member whose turn it was to keep the governor informed of proceedings in Congress and intelligence received from abroad was supposed to permit each member of the delegation to see what he had written. If any differed in opinion with what had been reported, he was then at liberty to write on his own account. Harrison’s private letter to TJ of this date proves that he thought Mercer had not shown his improperly addressed letter of 10 Apr. to other members of the delegation prior to dispatching it. This must have been the case. It is difficult to imagine that TJ and other members would have permitted such an affront or would have failed to note it in their letters to Harrison if, after reading the letter and protesting its form, Mercer had persisted in carrying through his calculated slight. For TJ’s frank appraisal of Mercer, see his letter to Madison of 25 Apr. 1784; even in old age TJ remembered the difficulties created by his colleague and set down the following in his Autobiography: “My colleague Mercer was one of those afflicted with the morbid rage of debate. Of an ardent mind, prompt imagination, and copious flow of words, he heard with impatience any logic which was not his own.”

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