James Madison Papers

Virginia Delegates in Congress to Thomas Jefferson, 30 January 1781

Virginia Delegates in Congress
to Thomas Jefferson

RC (LC: Continental Congress Miscellany). In Madison’s hand, except for signatures of Jones and Bland.

Philada. Jany. 30th. 1781


We were honored yesterday with your Excellency’s favor of the 15th. inst: inclosing Mr. Anderson’s explanation of his letter to Capt. Trott, and that of the 18th. enclosing instructions as to the Mississippi & requesting sundry military supplies, in promoting which no exertions shall be omitted on our part. Your Excellency’s letter to Congress on the subject of the Convention Prisoners & the unequal apportionment of the general resources with respect to the two great Departments was also received yesterday and referred to a Committee.1 The Resolutions of the General Assembly ceding the Territory N. West of the Ohio to the United States was laid before Congress at the same time.2 Although nothing has been yet done declaratory of their sense of them and although they are not precisely conformable to the recommendations of Congress on the subject, we flatter ourselves that the liberal spirit which dictated them will be approved & that the public will not be disappointed of the advantages expected from the measure.3 We have pretty good though unauthenticated information that Maryland has already acceded to the federal Union.4

Since the extinguishment of the Mutiny in the Pennsylvania line, some commotions founded on similar complaints have taken place in that of New Jersey. But we have the pleasure to inform you that the prudent & seasonable remedies applie[d] have re-established order & discipline among the troops.5

We have the honor to be with the most perfect esteem & regard Yr Excelly’s. Most Obt. servts.

Jos. Jones.
James Madison Junr.
Theok. Bland

1Jefferson’s letter of 15 January 1781 to President Samuel Huntington was the one in question (Boyd, Papers of Jefferson description begins Julian P. Boyd et al., eds., The Papers of Thomas Jefferson (16 vols. to date; Princeton, N.J., 1950——). description ends , IV, 369–70; Journals of the Continental Congress, XIX, 95). The “two great Departments” were the military forces in the south and in the middle states.

2Jefferson inclosed a copy of these resolutions, adopted by the General Assembly of Virginia on 2 January, in his letter of 17 January 1781 to President Samuel Huntington (Boyd, Papers of Jefferson description begins Julian P. Boyd et al., eds., The Papers of Thomas Jefferson (16 vols. to date; Princeton, N.J., 1950——). description ends , IV, 386–88; Journals of the Continental Congress, XIX, 96). For the background of these resolutions, see Motion regarding the Western Lands, 6 September 1780 and nn.; Jones to JM, 2 October 1780, n. 2; JM to Jones, 17 October, n. 2, and 28 November 1780, n. 4.

3The terms of cession offered by Virginia were hedged with so many qualifications that JM understates by remarking that the proposals did not “precisely” conform with the resolve of Congress on 6 September 1780 “to press upon those states which can remove the embarrassment respecting the western country, a liberal surrender of a portion of their territorial claims” (Journals of the Continental Congress, XVII, 806). JM was overly sanguine about the probability that the delegates in Congress would view the offer of Virginia as “liberal.” They and the Assembly of Virginia did not reach common ground on the issue until about three years later.

4This premature rumor was also reported in the Pennsylvania Journal of 31 January. The decision of the Maryland Assembly to accept the Articles of Confederation occurred two days later. On 12 February the Maryland delegates informed Congress that they were empowered to sign the document on behalf of their state. The affixing of their signatures was part of the ceremonies on 1 March whereby Congress formally proclaimed the Articles to be in effect (Journals of the Continental Congress, XIX, 138–40, 213–23). These ceremonies had been devised by a committee, appointed on 22 February, composed of George Walton, John Mathews, and JM. Following the main portion of its report, drafted by Walton, is a supplementary paragraph, also in his hand, recommending that Congress adjourn after the formal exercises to enable its members and the honored guests to “drink a glass of wine [to] ‘The United States of America.’ A keg of biscuit, in the room of cake.” Following “cake,” JM placed an asterisk and then quipped in a footnote, “Does it mean the Cake room” (NA: PCC, No. 23, fol. 29; Journals of the Continental Congress, XIX, 191–92). Insofar as the record shows, this sally was JM’s only “contribution” to the work of the committee. His good humor may not have been unqualified. The Maryland Assembly had explicitly pointed out in its resolutions that, by ratifying the Articles, the state “doth not relinquish, or intend to relinquish, any right or interest she hath, with the other united or confederated states, to the back country … and … that no article in the said Confederation, can or ought to bind this or any other State, to guarantee any exclusive claim of any particular State, to the soil of the said back lands, or any such claim of jurisdiction over the said lands or the inhabitants thereof” (ibid., XIX, 139). These reservations, of course, boded ill for the acceptance by Congress of Virginia’s offer of cession of 2 January 1781.

5Encouraged by the success of the Pennsylvania mutineers (Virginia Delegates to Jefferson, 9 January 1781), three New Jersey regiments marched from their winter quarters to Trenton on 20 January. Washington adopted stern measures and sent Major General Robert Howe with a detachment of New England troops to force their submission. One of the leaders from each mutinous regiment was court-martialed and two of them were hanged. The rest of the men returned to duty (Fitzpatrick, Writings of Washington description begins John C. Fitzpatrick, ed., The Writings of George Washington, from the Original Sources, 1745–1799 (39 vols.; Washington, D.C., 1931–44). description ends , XXI, 132–33, 156–57).

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