Virginia Delegates to Benjamin Harrison
RC (Virginia State Library). Written by Joseph Jones. Docketed, “Virga. Delegates Letter recd March 7. 1782. Feby: 25th.”
Phila: 25th. Febry 1782
We have your Excellencys favor of the 9th. of this month. Since our last the plan for the final settlement of the public accounts from the commencement of the War to the 1st. of Janry. 1782, which we formerly mentioned to be under consideration has been adjusted and agreed to by Congress and will be fully explained to your Excellency by the superintendant of finance to whose department it properly belongs. the want of the rule prescribed by the articles of Confederation and which from the particular situation of some of the States could not now be obtained rendered the adoption of any mode very difficult,1 the one proposed when the variety of circumstances and interests to be combined upon the occasion are considered will perhaps be found as free from exception as any that could be devised and will it is to be hoped meet the approbation of the States.2
We have reason to believe it has not proceeded from partiality to the Eastern and middle States that contracts for the southern department have not been proposed, as previous to the receipt of your Letter we had shewn attention to this business, and found the Financier disposed to take that course for supplying the southern department so soon as Taxes were laid and likely to be collected in those States to enable him to comply with such engagements as he should enter into for that purpose. If any preference appears to have been given to the State of Pensylvania in the benefit of Contracts we are assured it has proceeded from the money supplied by that State to enable the superintendant of Finance to fullfil them. This money was supplied in commutation for the specific requisitions due to the united States. It may with truth be said that the States as Virga. which supplied the specifics did their duty as much as Pensylvania wch. commuted for money, but unhappily the latter mode only has put into the hands of the superintendant the means of fullfiling future contracts.3 we must beg leave to refer to the inclosed paper for the news and are very respectfully
Sr. yr. Excellencys obed hum: servts.
James Madison jr.
1. See JM to Pendleton, 7 February, n. 6; and Report on Settlement of Accounts, 20 and 27 February 1782, and notes. Contrary to the delegates’ assurance, “the plan” was not “fully explained” in Robert Morris’ brief circular letter of 9 March to the executive of each state. In this letter, received by Governor Harrison and the Council of State on 21 March 1782, the superintendent of finance merely asked that the public accounts of Virginia be prepared for settlement and promised to send later “a general and comprehensive point of View” about the matter. In Morris’ opinion, an adjustment of “these intricate and almost obsolete Transactions” was essential to the relief of creditors, to the restoration of public credit, “to the Consolidation of our federal Union, to the Promotion of general Harmony and generous Confidence throughout the United States, and to the Establishment of our glorious Independence on the Solid Base of Justice” (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, 512–13; Journals of the Council of State description begins H. R. McIlwaine et al., eds., Journals of the Council of the State of Virginia (3 vols. to date; Richmond, 1931——). description ends , III, 62). The executives of the states were not officially furnished with copies of the ordinances of Congress of 20 and 27 February until they were enclosed by Morris on 15 April 1782 in his second circular letter dealing with the subject (Wharton, Revolutionary Diplomatic Correspondence description begins Francis Wharton, ed., The Revolutionary Diplomatic Correspondence of the United States (6 vols.; Washington, 1889). description ends , V, 309–10).
2. By the ordinance of 20 February, the commissioner for each state was authorized to estimate “all accounts of moneys advanced, supplies furnished, or services performed,” by that state to the United States or by the latter to that state, according to the Board of Treasury’s table of depreciation of 29 July 1780. In cases not covered by a directive of Congress, the commissioner was empowered to follow “principles of equity and good conscience” when settling, “in specie value, all certificates given for supplies by public officers to individuals, and other claims against the United States by individuals for supplies furnished the army, the transportation thereof and contingent expences thereon” (JCC description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds., Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789 (34 vols.; Washington, 1904–37). description ends , XXII, 85).
3. See Harrison to Virginia Delegates, 9 February, and n. 3; Randolph to JM, 16–17 May 1782, and n. 18. In a lengthy circular letter of 15 February addressed to the state executives, Robert Morris had defended his allocation of contracts for supplying the army (Wharton, Revolutionary Diplomatic Correspondence description begins Francis Wharton, ed., The Revolutionary Diplomatic Correspondence of the United States (6 vols.; Washington, 1889). description ends , V, 164–69).
Although Virginia had had little or no money in her treasury for months past, Governor Harrison believed that she had nearly, or more than, filled her stipulated quota—not in cash, to be sure, but in many kinds of supplies and services to the southern army and to the continental line within her own borders. She had extended these aids upon her own initiative, or in response to requests from Congress, or from commanders of continental troops.
For this reason Harrison could hardly have relished the delegates’ exoneration of Morris in the present letter. On 7 February the governor had written him, challenging the merits of his “plea” that Virginia fill a requisition for tobacco, and bluntly observing that neither Congress nor any of its officials had the constitutional competence to tell a state how to meet its financial quota. Moreover, Harrison had added, Virginia was “the only State that has not had large Advances made to it by Congress” and, as would become clear “whenever this States Account with the Continent comes to be settled,” was “far from being indebted” to the Confederation (McIlwaine, Official Letters description begins H. R. McIlwaine, ed., Official Letters of the Governors of the State of Virginia (3 vols.; Richmond, 1926–29). description ends , III, 144–45). Upon receiving Morris’ sharp rejoinder, Harrison answered in kind, asserting to the superintendent that his “Stile … savours much more of that passion and ignorance you so obligingly attribute to me, than that calmness and decency ever the Characteristic of the great Minister” (ibid., III, 184; Calendar of Virginia State Papers description begins William P. Palmer et al., eds., Calendar of Virginia State Papers and Other Manuscripts (11 vols.; Richmond, 1875–93). description ends , III, 77–78).