To Thomas Jefferson
RC (LC: Madison Papers). Cover missing. JM docketed the letter, upon recovering it many years later, “Madison, Jas. July 17. 1783.”
Philada. July 17th. 1783.
Your two favors of the 1 & 17 of June, with the debates of Congress and the letter for Miss Floyd and the Cyphers inclosed in the former, and your amendments to the Constitution inclosed in the latter, have been duly recd. The latter came by yesterday’s mail.1 I feel too sensibly the value of these communications to omit my particular acknowledgments for them.
The usual reserve of our Ministers has kept us in entire suspence since my last with regard to the definitive Treaty and every thing else in Europe.2 The only incident produced in this interval has been that which removed Congress from this City to Princeton. I have selected the Newspaper which contains the Report of a Committee on that subject, from which you will collect the material information.3 Soon after the removal of Congs. the Mutineers surrendered their arms and impeached some of their officers, the two principal of whom have escaped to sea.4 Genl. Howe with a detachment of Eastern troops is here and is instituting an enquiry into the whole plot, the object & scheme of which are as yet both involved in darkness.5 The Citizens of this place seem to disavow the alledged indisposition to exert force agst. insults offered to Congress, and are uniting in an address rehearsing the proofs which they [have] given of attachment to the fœderal authority, professing a continuance of that attachment, and declaring the utmost readiness on every occasion, to support the dignity and privileges of Congs. if they sd. deem this place the fittest for transacting the public business until their permanent residence shall be fixed.6 What effect this address backed by the scanty accomodations of Princeton will have on Congress is uncertain. The prevailing disposition seemed to be that a return to their former residence as soon as the way sd. be decently opened would be prudent in order to prevent any inferences abroad of disaffection in the mass of so important a State to the revolution or the fœderal governmt.7 Others suppose that a freer choice among the Seats offered to Congress could be made here than in a place where the necessity of a speedy removal8 wd. give an undue advantage to the seat happening to be in greatest readiness to receive them. The Advocates for Anapolis appear to be sensible of the force of this consideration, and probably will if they can, detain Congs. in Princeton until a final choice be made. N. Jersey will probably be tempted to concur in the plan by the advantage expected from actual possession. other Members are extremely averse to a return to Philada. for various reasons.9
I have been here during the week past engaged partly in some writing which, my papers being all here cd. not be so well done elsewhere, partly in some preparations for leaving Congress. The time of my setting out depends on some circumstances which in point of time are contingent.10 Mr. Lee arrived here two days ago and proceeds to day to Princeton.11 Mr. Mercer is gone to the Sea-board in N. Jersey for his health.12 I shall probably return to Princeton next week, or sooner if I sd. have notice of any subject of consequence being taken up by Congress.13 Subjects of consequence, particularly a ratification of the Treaty with Sweeden have been long waiting on their table for 9. states.14
I am Dr. Sir Yr. sincere friend
J Madison Jr.
2. For earlier remarks by JM about the infrequency with which “our Ministers” wrote to Congress, see Papers of Madison description begins William T. Hutchinson, William M. E. Rachal, et al., eds., The Papers of James Madison (7 vols. to date; Chicago, 1962——). description ends , IV, 448; 450, n. 17; V, 70; 86–87; VI, 326; 327, n. 3; JM to Jefferson, 10 June, and n. 9. Except for Franklin’s dispatch, already mentioned (JM to Randolph, 8 July, n. 11), letters from them, relating to “every thing else,” including the current negotiations of a definitive peace treaty, were not received by Congress until 11 and 12 September (NA: PCC, No. 183, III, 71, 78–80). These many dispatches had been written, of course, weeks before the commissioners of the United States and Great Britain signed that treaty on 3 September 1783.
3. Hamilton to JM, 6 July, n. 3. See also for the “Committee” and its “Report,” JM Notes, 19 June, and n. 7; 20 June, and n. 1; 21 June, and nn. 5–7; JCC description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds., Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789 (34 vols.; Washington, 1904–37). description ends , XXIV, 412–21.
7. JM to Randolph, 8 July, and n. 2. Although Congress had received letters, resolutions, or addresses of welcome to New Jersey from Governor William Livingston, the “House of Assembly,” the “Governours and Masters of the College” of New Jersey, the “inhabitants of Princeton and vicinity,” the “inhabitants of Trenton and vicinity,” and from particular residents of Princeton offering the use of their houses, and would soon receive similar resolutions from Newark, New Brunswick, and residents of Hunterdon, Somerset, and Middlesex counties, the delegates responded to this cordiality with general expressions of gratitude, unaccompanied by any commitment not to return eventually to Philadelphia (Hamilton to JM, 6 July 1783, n. 6; JCC description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds., Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789 (34 vols.; Washington, 1904–37). description ends , XXIV, 412 n., 421, n. 2, 422 n., 423–24, 425, and n. 1, 439, 445, 501–2). Failure to return to that city, which, except during its occupancy by the British army, had been viewed overseas as the capital of the United States ever since 1776, might adversely affect the reputation of the Confederation abroad at a time when commissioners of Congress were negotiating a definitive treaty of peace and treaties of commerce, and seeking further loans from Louis XVI of France.
8. That is, in Philadelphia rather than in Princeton.
9. Residents of Princeton and its vicinity, although recognizing that their town lacked the facilities to be the permanent capital of the Confederation, naturally sought to “detain Congs.” there as long as possible. Besides Philadelphia, whose citizens wished Congress to return, and Williamsburg, whose citizens declined to pledge to Congress an indefinite extent of jurisdictional powers, Annapolis obviously was better able to provide ample accommodations than the other sites (Kingston, N.Y., Georgetown, Md., Trenton, and along the Delaware River in “the Township of Nottingham in the County of Burlington,” N.J.) which had been offered (NA: PCC, No. 46, fols. 35–49; JCC description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds., Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789 (34 vols.; Washington, 1904–37). description ends , XXIV, 229, n. 2, 376, 378, n. 2, 422 n., 428, 438, n. 2, 439, and n. 1; Papers of Madison description begins William T. Hutchinson, William M. E. Rachal, et al., eds., The Papers of James Madison (7 vols. to date; Chicago, 1962——). description ends , VI, 447; 448, nn. 4, 6, 7; Harrison to Delegates, 17 May; 4 July, and n. 5; 12 July, and n. 3; Delegates to Harrison, 27 May, n. 2; Instructions to Delegates, 28 June 1783).
10. For the probable nature of at least some of JM’s “writing” and “preparations,” see Papers of Madison description begins William T. Hutchinson, William M. E. Rachal, et al., eds., The Papers of James Madison (7 vols. to date; Chicago, 1962——). description ends , V, 232; VI, 293, n. 15; JM to Randolph, 8 July 1783, n. 2. The contingent circumstances probably included the undetermined date of his expected marriage to Catherine Floyd, the precarious state of his mother’s health, and perhaps also his lack of assurance that if he left for Montpelier prior to 2 November, when his term expired, Virginia would still have an effective delegation of at least two members in Congress. See JM to Jefferson, 11 Aug.; to James Madison, Sr., 30 Aug. 1783.
14. On 18 June Congress referred the treaty of commerce, concluded at Paris on 3 April, to a committee composed of JM, chairman, Stephen Higginson, and Hamilton. The committee’s report, drafted by JM, was submitted on 24 July, when only six states were effectively represented in Congress. Five days later, although JM apparently was absent, Congress ratified the treaty, for the number of effective delegations had increased to nine (NA: PCC, No. 185, III, 68; No. 186, fol. 108; JCC description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds., Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789 (34 vols.; Washington, 1904–37). description ends , XXIV, 457–77, 477, n. 1, 478–79; Treaty with Sweden, 24 July 1783).