James Madison Papers

Joseph Reed to Virginia Delegates, [10 July] 1781

Joseph Reed to Virginia Delegates

FC (Division of Public Records of the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission). Addressed to “the Hon. the Delegates of Virginia.”

[10 July 1781]


I have the Honour to acknowledge the Receipt of your Memorial on the Detention of the Property of the State of Virginia.1 And beg Leave to assure you of our entire Disapprobation of the Measure & Concern at so disagreeable an Incidint. As the Case is of the first Impression, & the Procedure thereupon may tend to establish a Precedent of great Importance we have thought it proper to advise with the Law Officer of the State & shall communicate as soon as possible the Result.2 In the mean Time I am very respectfully Gen. Your obed. Hbble Ser

J. R.3

2On 10 July President Reed requested William Bradford, Jr., the attorney general of Pennsylvania and JM’s close friend, to confer promptly with Chief Justice Thomas McKean and Justice George Bryan of the State Supreme Court, and to submit an “opinion of the whole—whether any, and what Relief can be given consistent with the Laws & Constitution of the State.” In his reply two days later, Bradford stated: “We are all of Opinion That the Commonwealth of Virginia being an independent & Sovereign power, cannot be compelled to appear or answer in any Court of Justice within this State. That all process directed against the person of a Sovereign or against his Goods is absolutely void; that the Sheriff cannot be compelled to serve or return it: and that all concerned in issuing or serving such process are guilty of a violation of the laws of nations: That the Supreme Executive power has a right to enquire into the circumstances of this affair, to call the party and the Sheriff before them and to direct that the Goods attached be immediately delivered up to the Person out of whose possession they have been taken or in whose hands they are attached. And in case of disobedience to commit them to Gaol to answer for the offence” (Pennsylvania Archives description begins Samuel Hazard et al., eds., Pennsylvania Archives (9 ser., 138 vols.; Philadelphia and Harrisburg, 1852–1949). description ends , 1st ser., IX, 266, 272).

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