James Madison Papers

From James Madison to James Madison, Sr., 1 April 1787

To James Madison, Sr.

N. York April 1. 1787.

Hond. Sir

I have received your favor of the 17th. Feby. and have made enquiry as to the Andover Works, not indeed thro’ the channel you suggested, but through one still more direct & authentic. I find that the works are not pursued with such alacrity at present as to promise the supply you wish, that it is uncertain whether it would be delivered at Philada. at all, and that the price is at present unfixed. I shall have an opportunity of seeing in Trenton on my way to the Convention, the man who is connected with these works, and will collect any further information that he may be able to give.1

Congress have remained very thin ever since my arrival, and have done but little business of importance. The general attention is now directed towards the approaching Convention. All the States have appointed deputies to it. except Connecticut, Maryland, and Rho. Island. The first it is not doubted will appoint, and the second has already resolved on the expediency of the measure. Rho. Island alone has refused her concurrence. A majority of more than twenty in the Legislature of that State has refused to follow the general example. Being Conscious of the wickedness of the measures they are pursuing they are afraid of every thing that may become a controul on them.2 Notwithstanding this prospect of a very full and respectable meeting, no very sanguine expectations can well be indulged. The probable diversity of opinions and prejuduces, and of supposed or real interests among the States, renders the issue totally uncertain. The existing embarrassments and mortal diseases of the Confederacy form the only ground of hope, that a Spirit of concession on all sides may be produced by the general chaos or at least partition of the Union which offers itself as the alternative.

N. Carolina, and N. Jersey have followed the example of Virginia in giving instructions in favor of the Missippi. Penna. has not done so as was expected, but she has appointed a Delegation which thinks differently from her last on the subject.3

I am anxious to hear from my brother A. on the subject of the Tobacco. It will at farthest I hope arrive within the current month in Philada. With affecte. regards to my mother & the family I remain Yr dutiful son

Js. Madison Jr


1The Andover Iron Works was located in Sussex County, New Jersey, convenient both to Philadelphia and New York. Established in 1760 by William Allen and Joseph Turner, the works operated on a relatively extensive scale and was noted for its superior quality of bar iron. At the outbreak of the Revolution the state closed the works because the owners were Loyalists. In 1778 Congress ordered Whitehead Humphreys to produce steel there for the army. Since the Loyalists’ company had been dispersed during the Revolution, the mines for a time thereafter remained unclaimed and taxes unpaid. The works must not have resumed operation when JM made his investigation, for he wrote his father, “My inquiries concerning the iron do not promise any supply from the quarter you wished it” (Archives of the State of New Jersey, 2d ser., I [1901], 388–89 and n.; J. Leander Bishop, A History of American Manufactures from 1608 to 1860 [3d ed. rev.; 3 vols.; Philadelphia, 1868], I, 544–45; John Cary, “Historic Resources of the Upper Delaware: The Jersey Side,” Proceedings of the New Jersey Historical Society, LXXXIII [1965], 80; JM to James Madison, Sr., 27 May 1787 [DLC]).

2In the April 1786 elections in Rhode Island, the country (or paper-money) party gained control of both the governor’s office and the legislature and promptly passed a paper-money bill. Depreciation quickly followed: 3 to 1 in the summer of 1786, 6 to 1 by the spring of 1787. During the summer the state legislature instituted two force acts compelling creditors to accept the currency; nevertheless, many merchants and most creditors continued to reject the paper in payment so that economic stagnation ensued. In September the Rhode Island Superior Court made a decision on the test case of Trevett v. Weeden that was unfavorable to the proponents of paper currency. The indignant legislators called the judges before them for a reprimand, but the precedent stood, and the force acts became inoperative. The leaders of the country party continued to rule the legislature and to pursue their paper-money program by using the power of their majority to dictate the policy of the government. In December 1786 the General Assembly enacted a law destroying the use of the most common forms of business credit, promissory notes and book accounts, and ordered the payment in paper currency of one-fourth of the state securities. After another victory at the polls of the country party in the spring of 1787, the government proceeded in the policy of redeeming the internal debt of the state with paper bills at depreciated rates.

Relations between Rhode Island and the federal government rapidly deteriorated following the triumph of the paper-money forces. The General Assembly insisted that its paper bills be accepted in fulfillment of Rhode Island’s share of the continental requisition. William Ellery, the commissioner of the Loan Office, refused to accept the paper and was backed by Congress and the Board of Treasury. A stalemate resulted. A second controversy developed between the federal postmaster in Newport and the governor and legislature. The postmaster refused to hand over the mail unless the postage was paid in hard money, which evoked the rage of the governor and a rebuke from the legislature. The ultimate outrage, however, was perpetrated by the lower house of the legislature when it refused Governor Bowdoin’s request to aid Massachusetts in apprehending the insurgents of Shays’s Rebellion. Rumors told of the rebels’ refuge in the state. Rhode Island further earned the opprobrium of her neighbors by excluding out-of-state debtors from the provisions of the legal-tender laws, thus prohibiting them from discharging their debts in Rhode Island with paper money. Such behavior also incensed staunch federalists (like JM) who viewed the events in New England as undermining all their attempts to establish the respectability of republican government while confirming the worldwide opinion that democracy necessarily degenerated into mob rule. Given Rhode Island’s antifederal intransigence, not many men were surprised by the legislature’s refusal in March 1787 to send delegates to the Federal Convention (Irwin H. Polishook, Rhode Island and the Union, 1774–1795 [Evanston, 1969], pp. 124–55, 173–80, 184–85).

3The North Carolina legislature apparently passed a resolution on the navigation of the Mississippi on 5 Jan. 1787. On 24 Nov. 1786 the New Jersey legislature passed instructions to their delegates to oppose in Congress any measure which would cede the navigation of the river to Spain. The instructions went on to say that “the Consideration offered for it is Nothing to this State, and little or trifling to the Union.… We believe that the Value of the western Country, on the Sales of which we rely for the Discharge of our numerous Debts, is in some Degree dependant upon the free Navigation of this important River. The Cession of a disputed Right, when once made, is not easily reclaimed” (Clark, ed., State Records of N. C., XVIII, 359, 456; XX, 602; Votes and Proceedings of the Eleventh General Assembly of the State of New-Jersey, At a Session begun at Trenton on the 24th Day of October, 1786, and continued by Adjournments [Trenton, 1786], p. 75). Of the “last” delegation, Charles Pettit and John Bayard in particular had been considered as being “under the influence of eastern politicks.” Arthur St. Clair also proved himself to be on the northern side of the Mississippi question when he gave on 18 Aug. 1786 one of the principal speeches favoring Jay’s proposals. James Wilson alone among them was not suspect, since he had been absent from Congress during the summer and fall of 1786, when the question had been under heavy debate. The new delegation, elected 31 Oct. 1786, included, along with Pettit and St. Clair, William Bingham, William Irvine, and Samuel Meredith. John Armstrong, Jr., was added by a special election on 24 Mar. 1787 (Monroe to JM, 31 May and 10 [11] Aug. 1786 and n. 3; Monroe to Gov. 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; ibid., VIII, xciv, xcv).

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