To Edmund Randolph
RC (LC: Madison Papers). Cover franked by JM and addressed to “Edmund Randolph Esqr. Richmond.” Docketed by Randolph, “J. Madison October 13. 1783.”
Philada. Octr. 13th. 1783
My dear Sir
I returned here yesterday in order to be with Mr. Jones before his departure and make some little arrangements with him of a private nature.1 The past week has been spent by Congress in deliberating on 1. their permanent seat, 2. their temporary one. The competition for the former lay between the falls of the Potowmack and those of the Delaware.2 We hoped at first from the apparent views of the Eastern Delegates that they would have given a preference to Potowmack. In the event they joined with Pena. & the intermediate States in favor of the Delaware the consequence of which is that the vicinity of its Falls is to become the future Seat of the fœderal Govt. unless a conversion of some of the Eastern States can be effected.3 The next point was the abode of Congs. untill their permanent seat could receive them. The expediency of removing from Princeton in order “to the more convenient transaction of the affairs of the U.S. and accomodation of Congs.[”] was first determined on, Massts. Cont. & R.I. alone being opposed to it.4 Trenton was next proposed, on which Question the votes were divided by the River Delaware.5 Philada. came next in order. Besides its convenient position in relation to the Permanent seat,6 superior temporary accomodations for the public business and for Congs., arguments in its favor were drawn from the tendency of passing by these accomodations to others inferior in themselves & more distant from the perman[en]t seat, to denote a resentment unworthy of a Sovereign authority agst. a part of its constituents which had fully expiated any offence which they might have committed: and at the same time to convert their penitential and affectionate temper into the bitterest hatred. To enforce this idea some of the proceedings of Congs. expressive of resentment agst. Philada. were made use of.7 Great stress also was laid on the tendency of removing to any small or distant place, to prevent or delay business which the honor & interest of the U.S. require sd. be dispatched as soon as possible. on the other side objections were drawn from those sources which have produced dislikes to Philada. and wch. will be easily conjectured by you. on the question N.Y. Pa. Delaware Virga. & N. Carolina were ay; Masts. Cont. R.I. N. Jersey no; and Maryland & S. C[aro]lina divided. If either of the divided States had been in the affirmative it was the purpose of N. Jersey to add a seventh vote in favor of Phil. The division of S. Carolina was owing to the absence of Mr. Rutlidge & Mr. Izard both of whom would have voted for Phila. The State was represented by two members only. The division of Maryland represented by Mr. Caroll & Mr. McHenry was occasioned by the negative of the latter whose zeal for Annapolis determined him to sacrifice every consideration to an experiment in its favr. before he would accede to the vote for Philada. The aversion of the Eastern States was the ground of his coalition with them.8 The arguments in favor of Annapolis consisted of objections agst. Philada. Those agst. it were cheifly the same which had been urged in preference of Philada. On the question the States were Masts. Cont. R.I. Delaware, Maryland & N.C. ay. N.Y. N.J. Pa. Virga. no. S.C. divided. Virga. was represented by Mr. Lee Mr. Mercer & Mr. M. The first was in the affirmative.9 Mr. Jones & Mr. Bland were in Philad. The vote of the latter wd. have been in favor of Annapolis of the former in favr. of Philada. The opinion of Mr. L. & Mr. B. in favr. of Annapolis resulted from a dislike to Philada. & the idea that the views of Virga. would be promoted by it.10 That of their colleagues from a belief that the reasons drawn in favr. of Philada. from the national consideration reqd. a concession of local views, and even that a recision of the permanent vote for Trenton in favor of George Town, the object of Va. would be promoted by placing the Eastern States in Philada. They also supposed that the concurrence of the Eastern States in a temporary vote for Annapolis to take effect some weeks hence, was little to be confided in, since the arrival of a colleague to the Delegate from N. Hamshire would with the accession of Pena. who wd. prefer Trenton to Annapolis & be moreover stimulated by resentment, would make up seven States to reverse the removal to Annapolis.11 Add to the whole that ex[p]erience has verified the opinion that in any small place Congs. are too dependent on courtesy & favor to be exempt eithe[r] in their purses or their sensibility from degrading impositions. Upon the whole it is most probable that Philada. will be abode of Congs. during the Winter.12 I must refer to Mr. Jones for explanations on all these points; he will be in Richmond early in the Session.13 For myself I have engaged to return to Princeton to attend some interesting points before Congs. Having not yet settled my arrangements for the Winte[r,] I must for the pres[ent] be silent as to my [future?] situation. Mr. Van Berkel arrived a few [days ago?] Congs. are in a charming situation to receive him, [being?] in an obscure village, unde[te]rmined where they will spend the Winter, and without a Minister of F.A.14 After the rect. of this you will stop your correspondence, and probably not hear further from me.15 I set off tomorrow morning at 3 oClock in the Flying Machine for Princeton, and it is now advancing towards the hour of Sleep.16 In haste adieu My dear friend and be assured that
I am Yrs. sincerely
1. JM to Jefferson, 20 Sept., n. 6; 30 Sept. 1783, and n. 2. The nature of the “little arrangements” may be suggested by Joseph Jones’s remark in his letter of 30 October from Virginia to JM (q.v.): “Company has hitherto prevented me since my arrival from packing[?] [the] things you desired and sending them to Mr. Maury.” For James Maury, see JM to James Madison, Sr., 27 May 1783, n. 2.
2. The falls of the Potomac River, a mile and a half long, terminate at the Great Falls, a cataract about ten and a half miles northwest of Georgetown and the Virginia shore opposite thereto; those of the Delaware River are at Trenton, N.J., and the Pennsylvania shore opposite thereto. For the “Neighbourhood of George Town” as a possible site of Congress’ permanent residence, 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 , VI, 447; 448, n. 6; Jones to JM, 28 June; Instructions to Delegates, 28 June; Motion in re Permanent Site, 22 Sept. 1783, and n. 1. On 24 June the “citizens of Trenton and its vicinity” invited Congress to move there from Philadelphia to escape the mutiny (JCC description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds., Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789 (34 vols.; Washington, 1904–37). description ends , XXIV, 424). On 13 October a letter to Congress from five prominent residents of Trenton pledged, on behalf of about thirty householders, to provide accommodations for approximately ninety persons and ninety-four horses, as well as some office space and a room, forty-three by twenty feet in size, in which Congress could meet (NA: PCC, No. 22, fols. 283–86; JCC description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds., Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789 (34 vols.; Washington, 1904–37). description ends , XXV, 695).
3. On Monday, 6 October, in accord with the “order of the day,” Congress took “into consideration the propositions of several states, respecting a place for the permanent residence of Congress.” After two efforts by the delegates of Rhode Island, Massachusetts, and New Hampshire to postpone action upon the issue had met with no other support, Congress proceeded to canvass the opinion of the delegates on each state seriatim, beginning with New Hampshire, as a possible site “for the residence of Congress.” The outcome made clear that, in this regard, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Georgia required no further attention. New York drew the approval of only its own two delegates, the two from Connecticut, one of the two from Rhode Island, and the one from New Hampshire. Besides its own delegates, New Jersey was favored by those from Connecticut, Rhode Island, Massachusetts, and New Hampshire. As for Pennsylvania, its delegates’ unanimous vote of “aye” was echoed only by Jacob Read of South Carolina. For Delaware, its delegates attracted no allies.
Every delegate from Virginia, except Bland, together with all the delegates from North Carolina and South Carolina joined Daniel Carroll and James McHenry in supporting the choice of Maryland. Those two Maryland delegates, however, refused to reciprocate by favoring Virginia. Only Elbridge Gerry of Massachusetts and Jacob Read united with the five delegates of Virginia in endorsing their state as the site for the capital of the Confederation. The session of 6 October apparently adjourned after resolving that “the fixing on a place for providing and erecting buildings for the residence of Congress, be an order of the day for the morrow” (JCC description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds., Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789 (34 vols.; Washington, 1904–37). description ends , XXV, 647–54).
On 7 October, after unsuccessful efforts to have “near Trenton,” “near George-Town,” at Annapolis, or on “the Hudson” made either the definitive or alternative choice for a “permanent seat,” Congress by a vote of 7 to 4 (Md., Va., N.C., and S.C.) agreed: “That buildings for the use of Congress be erected on or near the banks of the Delaware, provided a suitable district can be procured on or near the banks of the said river, for a federal town; and that the right of soil, and an exclusive or such other jurisdiction as Congress may direct, shall be vested in the United States.” In the three tallied polls preceding the adoption of this resolution, the five Virginia delegates, except Arthur Lee, were for retaining “near Trenton” and near “George-Town” as alternative sites and were unanimously against including “the Hudson” or selecting Annapolis (JCC description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds., Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789 (34 vols.; Washington, 1904–37). description ends , XXV, 654–57).
Immediately after the resolution carried, the delegates of Delaware, supported by Bland and those of Maryland and South Carolina, tried without success to have it amended by specifying “near Wilmington” in Delaware as the place (JCC description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds., Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789 (34 vols.; Washington, 1904–37). description ends , XXV, 658). Before adjourning on 7 October, Congress, without a recorded vote, decided that “on or near the banks” of the Delaware meant “near the falls,” that a committee of five delegates, Gerry, chairman, should proceed there so as to “report a proper district,” and that “to consider of the temporary residence of Congress” should be “an order of the day for to-morrow.” On 8 October a motion by Hugh Williamson of North Carolina, seconded by Read, to reconsider the choice just mentioned failed to carry. The delegates from the six states north of Delaware were unanimously against the motion; those from Delaware and the four more southerly states were unanimously in its favor (JCC description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds., Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789 (34 vols.; Washington, 1904–37). description ends , XXV, 658–60). Following the session of 7 October, Bland apparently was absent from Congress until 22 October (JCC description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds., Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789 (34 vols.; Washington, 1904–37). description ends , XXV, 659, 719). Jones left Congress after the session of 8 October for the remainder of 1783 (JM to Jefferson, 20 Sept. 1783, n. 6).
4. On 10 October, over the unanimous opposition of the New England delegates, it was decided that for the better accommodation of Congress, “it is expedient for them to adjourn from their present residence” (JCC description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds., Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789 (34 vols.; Washington, 1904–37). description ends , XXV, 664–66).
5. The motion leading to the sectional vote stated by JM was introduced on 10 October by James Duane and seconded by David Howell to amend the motion, introduced by Hugh Williamson and seconded by Richard Peters. Williamson proposed that Congress on 30 October move from Princeton to Philadelphia, continue there until 7 June 1784, and thereafter assemble at Trenton. Following the rejection of the Duane amendment, the vote on 10 October was on “the main question,” the recommended return of Congress temporarily to Philadelphia (JCC description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds., Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789 (34 vols.; Washington, 1904–37). description ends , XXV, 666–67).
6. That is, at or near the falls of the Delaware River.
8. JCC description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds., Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789 (34 vols.; Washington, 1904–37). description ends , XXV, 667–68. Of the two delegates present on 10 October from South Carolina, Jacob Read voted “ay,” and Richard Beresford, “no.” JM and John Francis Mercer were the only Virginia delegates who shared in the poll.
9. The poll, summarized accurately by JM, was upon an amended motion on 11 October by William Ellery, seconded by Samuel Holten, to direct President Boudinot to adjourn Congress on 22 October and convene it at Annapolis nine days later. The motion further provided for Congress to continue at Annapolis until 7 June 1784. It should then adjourn and convene at Trenton two days later. Both Annapolis and Trenton were proposed as sites of “temporary residence” (JCC description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds., Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789 (34 vols.; Washington, 1904–37). description ends , XXV, 669–72).
10. The stand of Bland and Lee was consistent with that taken by them in a poll on 14 August (Delegates to Harrison, 14–15 Aug., n. 7; JM to Randolph, 18 Aug. 1783, and nn. 3, 4). Unwillingness to have Congress return to the city in which Robert Morris and his business friends wielded great power was most probably a dominant consideration in determining their vote (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, 207; 208, n. 5; 304–5; 306, n. 6; 347, n. 7; 357; 409, n. 1; JM to Jefferson, 20 Sept. 1783, and n. 17; Burnett, Letters description begins Edmund C. Burnett, ed., Letters of Members of the Continental Congress (8 vols.; Washington, 1921–36). description ends , VII, 342).
11. Although JM, Jones, and Mercer, contrary to Lee and Bland, believed that the national welfare argued strongly in favor of Philadelphia over Annapolis as a temporary meeting place of Congress, all five of the Virginia delegates undoubtedly preferred Georgetown to the falls of the Delaware River as the site of the permanent capital of the Confederation. JM and Mercer apparently framed their strategy so that if the New England delegates were obliged against their will to return to Philadelphia, the aversion of those delegates to having the permanent capital within the orbit of that city’s influence would deepen sufficiently to ally them with the southern delegates in overturning the decision in regard to the permanent capital by replacing the falls of the Delaware River with those of the Potomac. By so reasoning JM and Mercer discounted the significance of the New England delegates’ unanimous vote on 7 October in favor of the Delaware location. JM’s hope in this regard was at least halfway gratified by the marked shift of position by those delegates only one week after the date of the present letter (Delegates to Harrison, 1 Nov. 1783 [1st letter]). Contrary to JM’s fear, Abiel Foster, the sole delegate from New Hampshire, was not joined by a colleague during the remainder of 1783.
12. In this instance JM’s prophecy was to be unrealized.
13. Joseph Jones, a delegate from King George County to the General Assembly, may have reached Richmond before the Virginia House of Delegates mustered its first quorum on 4 November (JHDV description begins (1828 ed.). Journal of the House of Delegates of Virginia, Anno Domini, 1776 (Richmond, 1828). description ends , Oct. 1783, pp. 4, 7, 12; Jones to JM, 30 Oct. 1783, and n. 5).
16. The stagecoach named the “New-York Flying Machine” left the Bunch of Grapes Tavern on Third Street between Market and Arch Streets in Philadelphia every Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday at 4:00 A.M. for Elizabethtown, N.J. The passengers were afforded an opportunity to have breakfast at Bristol, Pa., and dinner at Princeton (Pa. Journal, 17 Sept. 1783; New Jersey Archives description begins William S. Stryker et al., eds., Documents Relating to the Revolutionary History of the State of New Jersey (2d ser.; 5 vols.; Trenton, 1901–17). description ends , 2d ser., V, 246, 287–88, 422–23). By “3 oClock” JM probably signified the hour at which he would have to awaken so as to reach the tavern in ample time to assure himself of one of the less uncomfortable seats in the stagecoach.