James Madison Papers

To James Madison from Tench Coxe, 18 March 1789

From Tench Coxe

Philada. March 18th. 1789

Dear Sir

I have this afternoon obtained from a friend of Col. Geo. Morgan a copy of his handbill which was put into the hands of confidential people in N. Jersey & Pennsylvania for the purpose of procuring followers. I know your solicitude about the western Country, and have therefore enclosed you a copy, which after you have done with it be pleased to give to Mr. Jay when you have an opty.1

I am this day favored with yours from Virginia2 and am happy to find that the favorable termination of the elections renders any answer to it unnecessary.

The country members of our legislature express so much anxiety to return that I think it not improbable the house may rise on Saturday. In that event Mr. Clymer & Mr. Fitzsimons will proceed immediately. We are yet uncertain about Mr. Scott’s serving.

I have reflected since I had the pleasure of seeing you on the form of a declaration to be introduced into the constitution in favor of religious liberty, and I think the Idea of extending the powers of the union to an interposition between the state legislatures & their respective constituents might be accomplished, to universal satisfaction, by something like the 4th. Sec. of the 4th. Article relating to a republican form of Government. It would give great eclat to the constitution in Europe, and would give it an honest Triumph over the disingenuousness of those, who have opposed it on that score against their better knowlege. It is a little remarkable in how great a degree Events have justified some of the most censured powers of the plan. The non election of senators in New York—the conduct of the Jersey election—and the suppression of the Senatorial negative in Maryland &ca. may be adduced, at least among the candid & reflecting, as examples.3

I must apologize to you, Sir, for the liberty I took in troubling you with a letter by Mr. Hanson. When you see his respectable letters—and know his character & Situation from the General you will be somewhat disposed to excuse it.

Our state have determined to dismiss the public creditors of the Union—and leave them to Congress from a conviction of their being unequal to the formation of adequate funds. This business of the public Debt is an immense & most important Affair. To ascertain what substantial justice requires & to establish the necessary funds in the least burden-some way seems, of all our affairs, to be now most—opus et labor. A complete survey of the various public obligations must of course be taken. In doing this we are not to forget the separate state Debts, which are now existing. These are to be paid—or to be funded—or in some proper way disposed of. They unpaid, or improperly managed will lessen the ability of the state—our internal order—and will affect our public credit. Foreigners, tho friendly, will not always be able to distinguish between federal & state Debts—and, if unfriendly, may purposely misrepresent them. During my stay at New York I pursued the examination of our finances, & the investigation of the subject in general, which has always engaged a good deal of my attention. I found some facts in the estimate of the state Debts, that were astonishing. Massachussetts for instance owes £1,500,000 Lawful Money or 5 Millions of Dollars, the simple interest whereof is 300,000 Drs. per Ann. without any considerable body of lands or other public property to sink it. South Carolina owes £800,000 Stg. which in Dollars at 4/8 is 3,428,571, Drs worth at 7 per Cent, her interest, about 240,000 Drs. These tho the largest are only a part of the great mass of separate state Debts.4 I am, dear Sir, with very great respect & esteem your obedt. Servant

Tench Coxe

Mr. Gorhams purchase of £300,000 must be deducted from the Massts. Debt which leaves 4. Millions of Dollars.

RC (DLC). Docketed by JM. For enclosure, see n. 1.

1The handbill, dated 3 Oct. 1788, urged “all Farmers, Tradesmen, &c. of good Characters” to join Morgan in an expedition to survey and establish the town of New Madrid near the confluence of the Ohio and Mississippi rivers. Morgan promised those who joined him 320 acres of land at a price of one-eighth of a dollar per acre, unlimited navigation of the Mississippi, and the right to sell produce duty-free at New Orleans. The text is printed as an enclosure in JM to Washington, 26 Mar. 1789. A photograph of the handbill is in Savelle, George Morgan, opposite p. 206.

2JM to Coxe, 16 Feb. 1789 (PJM description begins William T. Hutchinson et al., eds., The Papers of James Madison (vols. 1–10, Chicago, 1962–77; vols. 11—, Charlottesville, Va., 1977—). description ends , XI, 443–44).

3On the New York and New Jersey federal election controversies, see JM to Washington, 19 Mar. 1789 and n. 1, and JM to Jefferson, 29 Mar. 1789. When the Maryland Senate rejected a series of paper money bills adopted by the House of Delegates in the winter of 1786–1787, the lower house urged the people to issue binding instructions requiring the Senate to pass the bills. For the significance of the incident in contemporary political ideology, see Wood, Creation of the American Republic, pp. 251–54, 369–72.

4An abstract of the several state debts was appended to Hamilton’s Report on Public Credit of January 1790 (Syrett and Cooke, Papers of Hamilton description begins Harold C. Syrett and Jacob E. Cooke, eds., The Papers of Alexander Hamilton (25 vols. to date; New York, 1961—). description ends , VI, 118–25).

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