James Madison Papers

To James Madison from James Wilkinson, 22 February 1787

From James Wilkinson

Kentucky 22nd. Feby. 1787


Motives of regard, to the general Interests of the United States, prompt this Address; your Virtues as a Man, and your Integrity & descernment as a Politician, subject you to the intrusion: A Republican in every impulse of the Senses, I deal not in apologies.

The inclosed papers came to my Hands a few days Since; under the delusion of names, the applicants have mistaken the Authority of the public Body, as well as the influence of the private Man, they have addressed:1 Judge Simms late a Member of Congress, is impressed with the Idea, that a knowledge of the Genius & disposition of these People, may be profitable to Congress in the organization of the proposed Colonial Government;2 With this View Sir, the public address is submited to you, the Letter3 accompanies it, to explain the manner, in which it came into my possession.

I will add that the French & Indians are closely connected, by long intercourse, habits, Manners, language, & by Blood. The fighting Men of post Vincent,4 who stile themselves French Men, may amount to 300—insensible of every Idea of agriculture, they look to a most luxuriant Soil, merely for a miserable pittance of Indian Corn, which is planted awkardly & suffered to make its way to maturity. The avocations of the Men are hunting, & carrying in perogues, by the Wabash, Miami, & Lake Erie; to & from Detroit, by which communication an extensive Trade has been Supported, Since the Peace, the Impediments being inconsiderable, & the Portage only Nine Miles. It will be difficult to bring Such Subjects to submit to Taxation, & if they are not, in the commencement of the Government, treated with great lenity, the Country will Soon be depopulated. Your Superior Sagacity will Suggest, the proper Measures. I wish Congress to reflect that free Men submit very ungraciously, to Taxes imposed by any foreign power, and that Colonies have revolted, from this Cause. With due respect I am Sir Your Most Ob Servant

James Wilkinson

RC (DLC). Docketed by JM. Enclosures in PCC (see n. 1).

1The “inclosed papers” were a memorial from Vincennes settlers to “the Honorable Assembly of Kentucky” and a letter from J. M. P. LeGras to Wilkinson. The petition of 5 Feb. 1787 sought provisions for the Kentucky troops then billeted in Vincennes and payment for supplies previously provided from private sources. The seventeen memorialists described conditions which they thought warranted the establishment of a court of justice for the district, and also asked for more power for magistrates to instill order and discipline (PCC). LeGras, who signed the memorial as the chief magistrate, sent a note, dated 3 Feb. 1787, with the memorial to Wilkinson. Wilkinson, then preparing for his trip to New Orleans, forwarded the memorial to JM, who presented it to Congress on 10 Apr. 1787. JM was on the committee to consider the memorial but had left Congress to attend the convention at Philadelphia by the time the committee reported on 7 May. The report recommended that a commissioner, responsible to Congress, be appointed for the Illinois district and a government organized under him. No further action was taken in 1787 (Thomas R. Hay and M. R. Werner, The Admirable Trumpeter: A Biography of General James Wilkinson [Garden City, N.Y., 1941], p. 83; JCC description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds., Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789 (34 vols.; Washington, 1904–37). description ends , XXXII, 170–71 n. 3, 266–69).

2John Cleves Symmes (1742–1814) had become interested in western colonization while a member of Congress from New Jersey (1785–1786). In the spring of 1787 he traveled down the Ohio and subsequently bought a large tract between the Miami and Little Miami (known as the Miami Purchase), where he intended to establish a colony (DAB description begins Dictionary of American Biography. description ends , XVIII, 258–59).

3J. M. P. LeGras to Wilkinson, 3 Feb. 1787 (PCC).

4Vincennes, sometimes called Port or Post Vincents by the older inhabitants.

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