James Madison Papers

To James Madison from James Monroe, 3 September 1786

From James Monroe

New York Sepr. 3. 1786.

Dear Sir

In my last I advis’d you of the point to wh. seven States had brought the business. After repealing the instruction in part, entering the repeal affirmatively, setting aside a motion requiring the sense of Congress whether the repeal was valid so as to give a new instruction by 7. States, by the previous question, & passing an order to prevent our moving it again untill they shod. have the same number of States on the floor, on their part the thing was complete. I inform’d you also of our propositions & the number of States for them. It was on friday last that they clos’d the business.1 It has been propos’d by some of the gentn. on ours to notify Mr. Jay of the opinion of the 5. States but I think we shall not do this. He is possess’d of course of our sentiments in the official way; to communicate them otherwise than thro the journals might have an intemperate & factious appearance.2 We have as yet done nothing but under the constitution & almost in all cases the rules of the house, nor shall we I apprehend. Some gentn. on their side hinted their determination to withdraw if the question shod. be brought on as to the validity of the repeal. Whether we shall take any other step is undecided. I doubt the propriety of so doing further than moving for permission to transmit copies of the journals to the States for their information & to obtn. instructions to their delegations. I shod. suppose the Secry. wod. not proceed untill he finds himself supported by the States to whom the 7. delegations belong. Upon Jersey & Pena. then it rests. To engage their leading men is now the object.3 Most probably he has already consulted them but his consultations & those of his party I doubt not have been founded on partial representations. To remove their impression a view of the journals may be necessary. I consider the party especially Jay & the principal advocates as having gone too far to retreat. They must either carry the measure or be disgrac’d (as the principal already hath been by the vote of 5. States), & sooner than suffer this they will labour to break the Union.4 I therefore suspect they have been already (and indeed have too much reason for my suspicions) intriguing with the principal men in these States to effect that end in the last resort. They have even sought a dismembermt. to the Potowmack & those of the party here have been sounding those in office thus far. To defeat the measure therefore completely we must follow their mov’ments & counteract them every where, advise the leading men of their designs, the purposes they are meant to serve &c, and in event of the worst extremity prepare them for an union with the southern States.5 I fear some of those in Pena. will have a contrary affection—but it must be remov’d if possible.6 A knowledge that she was on our side wod. blow this whole intrigue in the air. To bring this abt. therefore is an important object to the Southern interest. If a dismembermt. takes place that State must not be added to the eastern scale. It were as well to use force to prevent it as to defend ourselves afterwards. I consider the convention of annapolis as a most important aera in our affrs. The Eastern men be assur’d mean it as leading further than the object originally comprehended.7 If they do not obtain that things shall be arrang’d to suit them in every respect, their intrigues will extend to the objects I have suggested above. Pena. is their object. Upon succeeding or failing with her will they gain or lose confidence. I doubt not the emissaries of foreign countries will be on the ground. In short I do consider this convention as requiring your utmost exertions, in the change things will infallibly take, as well to obtain good as to prevent mischief. Mr. Randolph will I hope devote himself to the publick upon this occasion & not suffer himself to be taken off by his professional pursuits before the convention dissolves.8 I write you freely without the cover of a cypher knowing you have not yours with you. Indeed I fear nothing to the publick or myself from a publication, for I am satisfied if the publick were acquainted with the conduct of these unworthy servants their consequence wod. be of but short duration. Prevail I beg of you on Colo. Mason to attend the convention. It will give him data to act on afterwards in the State.9 Very sincerely I am yr. friend & servt.

Jas. Monroe

I have always consider’d the regulation of trade in the hands of the U S. as necessary to preserve the Union. Without it, it will infallibly tumble to pieces. But I earnestly wish the admission of a few additional States into the confederacy in the southern scale.


1Friday, 1 Sept. 1786 (JCC description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds., Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789 (34 vols.; Washington, 1904–37). description ends , XXXI, 620–21).

2The northern states had successfully repealed the ultimatum in Jay’s instructions, and blocked the southern states from making a two-thirds majority mandatory on the repeal as part of Congress’s treaty-making power. The northern states were unable to issue revised instructions to Jay, since they lacked the required nine votes. The journal records made it clear that any treaty Jay negotiated which ignored the ultimatum in his original instructions would not muster the necessary majority in Congress, since all five southern states would vote against such a treaty (JCC description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds., Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789 (34 vols.; Washington, 1904–37). description ends , XXXI, 595–621 passim). A letter was drafted informing Jay that the Virginia delegation considered the resolutions of 20 July and 25 Aug. 1785 still in effect and Jay bound to adhere to their restrictions and limitations despite the partial repeal of his instructions voted by seven states (DLC). Apparently the letter was never sent.

3Monroe had already urged JM to sound out James Wilson and Arthur St. Clair of Pennsylvania and if possible to influence them favorably toward the southern position (Monroe to JM, 10 [11] Aug. 1786 and n. 3; JM to Monroe, 15 Aug. 1786 and n. 3). JM, on his way back to Philadelphia from New York, had stopped in Princeton and found President Witherspoon favorably disposed toward the southern stand on the Mississippi (JM to Monroe, 12 [11] Aug. 1786 and n. 3).

4See Monroe to JM, 14 Aug. 1786 and n. 3.

5Monroe wished the southern states to be prepared to establish their own confederacy in event of a disunion crisis (see Monroe to Patrick Henry, 12 Aug. 1786, Burnett, Letters description begins Edmund C. Burnett, ed., Letters of Members of the Continental Congress (8 vols.; Washington, 1921–36). description ends , VIII, 425).

6In particular, Monroe believed John Bayard and Charles Pettit to be eastern in their sentiments (Monroe to Patrick Henry, 12 Aug. 1786, ibid.). He may also have meant Arthur St. Clair, who gave a speech favoring the treaty in Congress on 18 Aug. (Charles Thomson, Minutes of Proceedings, ibid., VIII, 439–40).

7The suspicious climate of opinion caused even the Annapolis convention to arouse a feeling of distrust. Rufus King, a leading New England partisan, wrote to Jonathan Jackson on 11 June 1786, “I fear that the commercial convention proposed to be held in Maryland in September, will go but a little way in effecting those measures essentially necessary for the prosperity and safety of the States.… It is doubtful that the real sentiments of Virginia are on the question of commercial powers. This is certain, that the proposition for the Annapolis convention, which originated in the Assembly of Virginia, did not come from the persons favorable to a commercial system common to all the States, but from those, who in opposition to such a general system have advocated the particular regulations of individual States. The merchants through all the States are of one mind, and in favor of a national system. The planters in the Southern States are divided in their opinions and it is to be feared that the majority is against the only plan, which can insure the prosperity and honor of the confederacy” (ibid., VIII, 389–90). Theodore Sedgwick also expected that no advantages would come from the convention and believed that “the original proposers brought forward [the measure] with an intention of defeating the enlargement of powers of Congress” (Sedgwick to Caleb Strong, 6 Aug. 1786, ibid., VIII, 415). The probable originator of the convention idea, John Tyler, opposed a strong central government, but he also wanted Congress to have the power to regulate trade. At the Virginia ratifying convention of 1788, Tyler lamented his earlier advocacy of the Annapolis convention, since the Federal Constitution may have resulted from it. “It never entered my head that we should quit liberty, and throw ourselves into the hands of an energetic government” (Elliot, Debates [1836 ed.], III, 577). All these men, despite their misgivings, hoped that the Annapolis convention would result in national trade regulations.

8Edmund Randolph had a large law practice as well as his legal responsibilities as Attorney General. He wrote to JM on 12 June 1786 of “four violent colds, which I caught at four different courts and for the management of which I could not find the least leisure.… I am so hurried by the general court now sitting, that I really cannot attend to my private matters.” Joseph Jones commented to JM that he trusted that Randolph’s “attack will make him more cautious in future and not so freely venture health for the sake of money” (30 May 1786).

9Mason had been elected a delegate from Fairfax County to the October 1786 session of the General Assembly. As JM had put it, Mason had “Antifederal prejudices” (JM to Monroe, 13 May 1786). Monroe probably hoped that exposing him to national-minded men at the Annapolis convention would help cure him.

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