Observations Relating to the Influence of
Vermont and the Territorial Claims
on the Politics of Congress
MS (LC: Madison Papers). Written by JM and docketed by him with the above title, followed by “May 1, 1782.”
Why JM prepared this memorandum at this time can only be surmised. Perhaps believing that the Vermont issue, which had been quiescent since 20 April, would come importantly to the fore within a few days, he wished to organize his thoughts about the matter and its complex relationships with other interstate boundary controversies and with issues involving cessions of western territory to Congress by the landed states. He may also have desired to provide Joseph Jones, who was to depart for Virginia on 2 May, with a memorandum which would be welcomed by public officials at Richmond (JM to Randolph, 1 May 1782).
May 1st. 1782.
I The independence of Vermont and its admission into the Confederacy are patronised by the Eastern States3 (N. Hamshire excepted) 1. from ancient prejudice agst. N York: 2. the interest which Citizens of those States have in lands granted by Vermont. 3. but principally from the accession of weight they will derive from it in Congress. N. Hamshire having gained its main object by the exclusion of its territory East of Connecticut River from the claims of Vermont,4 is already indifferent to its independence, and will probably soon combine with other Eastern States in its favor.
The same patronage is yielded to the pretensions of Vermont by Pennsylvania & Maryland with the sole view of reinforcing the opposition to claims of Western territory particularly those of Virginia and by N. Jersey & Delaware with the additional view of strengthening the interest of the little States. Both of these considerations operate also on Rhode Island in addition to those above mentioned.5
The independence of Vermont and its admission into the Union are opposed by N. York for reasons obvious & well known.6
The like opposition is made by Virginia N. Carolina, S. Carolina, and Georgia. The grounds of this opposition are. 1. an habitual jealosy of a predominance of Eastern Interests. 2. the opposition expected from Vermont to Western claims. 3. the inexpediency of admitting so unimportant a State, to an equal vote in deciding on peace & all the other grand interests of the Union now depending. 4. the influence7 of the example on a premature dismemberment of other States. These considerations influence the four States last mentioned in different degrees.8 The 2. & 3. to say nothing of the 4. ought to be decisive with Virginia.
II The territorial claims, particularly those of Virginia are opposed by Rhode Island, N. Jersey, Pennsylvania Delaware & Maryland. Rhode Island is influenced in her opposition by 1. a lucrative desire of sharing in the vacant territory as a fund of revenue. 2. by the envy & jealousy naturally excited by superior resources & importance. N. J. Penna: Delaware, Maryland, are influenced partly by the same considerations; but principally by the intrigues of their Citizens who are interested in the claims of land Companies. The decisive influence of this last consideration is manifest from the peculiar, and persivering opposition made agst. Virginia within whose limits those claims lye.9
The Western claims, or rather10 a final settlement of them, are also thwarted by Massachussetts and Connecticut. This object with them is chiefly subservient to that of Vermont, as the latter is with Pennsylvania & Maryland to the former.11 The general policy and interests of these two States are opposed to the admission of Vermont into the Union, and if the case of the Western territory were once removed, they would instantly divide from the Eastern States in the case of Vermont. Of this Massachussetts & Connecticut are not insensible, and therefore find their advantage in keeping the territorial Controversy pending. Connecticut may likewise conceive some analogy between her claim to the Western Country & that of Virginia, and that the12 acceptance of the cession of the latter, would influence13 her sentiments in the controversy between the former &14 Pennsylvania.15
The Western claims are espoused by Virga. N & S. Carolinas, Georgia & N. York, all of these States being interested therein[.] S. Carolina is the least so.16 The claim of N. York is very extensive, but her title very flimsy.17 She urges it more with the hope of obtaining some advantage, or credit, by its cession, than of ever maintaining it. If this Cession should be accepted, and the affair of Vermont terminated,18 as these are the only ties which unite her with the Southern States, she will immediately connect her policy with that of the Eastern States; as far at least, as the remains of former prejudices will permit.
1. The background of the Vermont issue has been treated in Papers of Madison description begins William T. Hutchinson, William M. E. Rachal, et al., eds., The Papers of James Madison (4 vols. to date; Chicago, 1962——). description ends , III, 223–24; 225–26, nn. 11–13; 307–8; 309, n. 4; JM to Pendleton, 22 January, and nn. 5–8; 7 February, and n. 4; 2 April, and n. 2; 23 April, and nn. 7, 8; Motion Concerning Documents on Vermont, 3 April, editorial note, and nn. 4, 5, 8; Motion on Letter of Vermont Agents, 20 April, and nn. 3, 4; and JM to Randolph, 23 April 1782, and n. 15.
2. For the background of the issue of the western lands, see JM to Jefferson, 15 January, and nn. 8–13; 16 April, and nn. 3, 7, 9; JM to Pendleton, 2 April, and n. 3; 23 April, and nn. 7, 8; JM to Randolph, 9 April, and nn. 2, 3; Virginia Delegates to Harrison, 17 April, and 23 April; Motion To Amend Lee’s Motion on Western Lands, 18 April 1782, and n. 1.
3. Those of New England.
4. In February 1782 the “government” of Vermont had agreed to the stipulation made by Congress on 21 August 1781 that the eastern boundary of the proposed state should be “the west bank of Connecticut river” (JCC description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds., Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789 (34 vols.; Washington, 1904–37). description ends , XXI, 892; Motion Concerning Documents on Vermont, 3 April 1782, editorial note). See also JM to Pendleton, 22 January 1782, and n. 8.
5. See JM to Pendleton, 2 April, and n. 2; Motion Concerning Documents on Vermont, 3 April 1782, editorial note.
6. See Motion Concerning Documents on Vermont, 3 April 1782, editorial note, and n. 5. Besides the reasons mentioned in this cross-reference, the executive and legislature of New York charged the de facto government of Vermont with presuming to rule over, and grant land titles to, an area rightfully under the jurisdiction of New York and owned by her citizens. In their correspondence with Governor George Clinton, members of the New York delegation in Congress had analyzed the position of other delegates with relation to Vermont in a fashion similar to the present memorandum (Burnett, Letters description begins Edmund C. Burnett, ed., Letters of Members of the Continental Congress (8 vols.; Washington, 1921–36). description ends , VI, 212, 297–98, 309).
7. JM first wrote “tendency” and then deleted it.
8. See JM to Pendleton, 7 February 1782, and n. 4. See also Burnett, Letters description begins Edmund C. Burnett, ed., Letters of Members of the Continental Congress (8 vols.; Washington, 1921–36). description ends , VI, 327 n.
9. Arthur Lee wrote on 21 April 1782 in a letter to Samuel Adams: “these Agents [of land companies] are using every art to seduce us and to sow dissention among the States, I think they are more dangerous than the Enemy’s Arms. Every Motion relative to Vermont and the Cessions of the other States is directed by the interests of these Companies. I have in vain movd for a purifying declaration from each member that he is not concerned in them. The Motion was evaded by three days chicane, and remains undecided” (Burnett, Letters description begins Edmund C. Burnett, ed., Letters of Members of the Continental Congress (8 vols.; Washington, 1921–36). description ends , VI, 331). After Lee offered his motion on 18 April, JM had supported it with his vote (JCC description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds., Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789 (34 vols.; Washington, 1904–37). description ends , XXII, 191–92; Motion To Amend Lee’s Motion on Western Lands, 18 April 1782, n. 1). See also JM to Jefferson, 15 January, and n. 9, and 16 April; JM to Pendleton, 23 April, and n. 8; Randolph to JM, 26 April 1782, n. 2.
10. After “rather,” JM wrote and crossed out “perhaps.”
11. That is, although Massachusetts and Connecticut were more concerned about Vermont than about the “Western claims,” these claims were of greater consequence than Vermont to Pennsylvania and Maryland.
12. Here JM wrote and deleted “adjustment of the latter.”
13. At this point JM deleted “the part.”
14. JM substituted “the former &” for “Connecticut and.”
16. See Papers of Madison description begins William T. Hutchinson, William M. E. Rachal, et al., eds., The Papers of James Madison (4 vols. to date; Chicago, 1962——). description ends , II, 73. Although each of the two charters, granted in 1663 and 1665, respectively, by King Charles II to the Carolina proprietors, specified that their domain should extend “to the West as far as the South Seas,” the division of the territory into the provinces of North and South Carolina had allotted to the former all or almost all of the region now known as Tennessee. A few years later, in 1732, James Edward Oglethorpe and his fellow trustees received from King George II a charter which may have further hedged South Carolina on the west by declaring that Georgia stretched in that direction to “the south seas.” In other words, South Carolina naturally was not as concerned about the western lands as were the other southern states, because her rightful jurisdiction beyond the Appalachian watershed was confined, at best, to a very narrow corridor of territory extending to the Mississippi River. Following the making of a compact between South Carolina and Georgia about their common boundaries, South Carolina’s offer of her western lands was accepted by Congress on 9 August 1787 (William Macdonald, ed., Select Charters and Other Documents Illustrative of American History, 1606–1775 [New York, 1899], pp. 121, 148, 242; JCC description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds., Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789 (34 vols.; Washington, 1904–37). description ends , XXXIII, 467–77).
18. On 29 October 1782 Congress agreed to the cession by New York (JCC description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds., Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789 (34 vols.; Washington, 1904–37). description ends , XXIII, 694; JM to Jefferson, 15 January 1782, n. 8). The “affair of Vermont,” of course, was not settled until her admission as a state in 1791.