Motion of Virginia Delegates on Western Lands
MS (NA: PCC, No. 36, I, 223–24). Written by JM. Docketed, “Motion of Delegates of Virginia—Oct 16. 1781.”
[16 October 1781]
The Delegates of Virginia representing to Congress that the Committee to whom were committed the territorial Cessions of Virga. N. Y. & Connecticut with a Memorial signed J. Wilson by order of the United Illinois & Wawbash Companies & the Memorial of Wm. Trent in behalf of himself & other Members of the Indiana Company1 had given them notice that they should on Saturday last confer with the Agents of the said Companies on the subject of their several Memorials; that conceiving that no claim ought to be received from the said companies adverse to the cessions of Virginia or any other State, because if the lands to which pretension is made by those Companies lie within the limits of such State, by its authority alone can the merits of their claims be enforced; because the jurisdiction of Congress in territorial questions being confined to an adjustment of the conflicting claims of different States, if the lands claimed by these Companies lye without the limits of Virga. or either of the other States, Congress are interdicted by the Confederation from the cognizance of such claims,2 and because it derogates from the sovereignty of a State to be drawn into contest by an individual or company of individuals,3 and therefore that it was not the intention of Congress to authorise the Committee to confer with the said Agents in such manner as to receive from them claims adverse to the Cessions of either of the States abovementioned, the sd. Delegates did request the Committee to forbear such conference, untill the sense of congress on the subject sd. be known;4 and proposing that the question be now taken.5 Whether it was the intention of Congress to authorize the Committee to receive claims & hear evidence in behalf of the said Companies adverse to the claims or Cessions of Virga. N. Y. or Connecticut?6
5. The meaning is clarified by replacing this period with a colon or by inserting “following” before “question.”
6. As soon as the Virginia delegates presented this motion, “The previous question was moved by the State of Rhode Island &c., and seconded by the State of Maryland” (JCC description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds., Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789 (34 vols.; Washington, 1904–37). description ends , XXI, 1058). According to the sixteenth rule of congressional procedures, adopted on 4 May 1781, the passage of a motion of the previous question would be equivalent to a decision by Congress that the Virginia motion, being in effect out of order, was “improper to be debated or decided” (JCC description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds., Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789 (34 vols.; Washington, 1904–37). description ends , XX, 479). In the present instance, the Virginia delegates were supported in the roll call by those of South Carolina and Georgia. These were sufficient to defeat the motion of the previous question, since two states were unrepresented and each of three others had only one delegate present (JCC description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds., Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789 (34 vols.; Washington, 1904–37). description ends , XXI, 1058). On 17 October an effort by James M. Varnum to amend the motion of the Virginia delegates was also defeated, because, with three states absent, two represented by only one delegate, and the delegates from two others deadlocked in their vote, there were only four state delegations, rather than the requisite seven, which cast affirmative ballots. The vote was four to two, Virginia and Georgia opposing the amendment (JCC description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds., Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789 (34 vols.; Washington, 1904–37). description ends , XXI, 1060–61). Thereafter nine days elapsed before the issue of the western lands once again occasioned debate in Congress (Motion on Western Lands, 26 October 1781).