James Madison Papers

To James Madison from John Dawson, 28 June 1789

From John Dawson

Frdksburg June 28. 1789

dear Sir.

You will be pleas’d to accept my thanks for the Journals receivd a few days since by mr. Hopkins, from whom I learnt the different subjects which engage the attention of Congress and the variety of opinions on some of them.

You have it in contemplation, I hear, to adjourn in August. Surely you will not do this without recommending those alterations which have been so ardently desird by many of the states, most of which will not materially effect the system, but will render it more secure, and more agreable in the eyes of those who were oppos’d to its establishment. I rejoice to find that you come forward at an early day with a proposition for amendments, altho I coud have wish’d they had been more extensive. Experience, as well as sound policy point out, in my humble opinion, the propriety of the amendment propos’d by this state for rendering more secure our Western territory, & for guarding against the danger of the surrender of the Mississippi1—that in the commercial regulations there will be efforts in the one part of the Continent to throw the weight of the duties on the other, is apprehended by many and therefore the amendment propos’d to this part of the system is thought to be of importance.2

Those who are unacquainted with the difficulties and delays which ever attend the transactions of Congress, begin to complain, that too much time is taken up with rum, sugar, Molasses &c.

The Court of Appeals, on the motion of the Solicitor, have determind that the law on Clks &c was contrary to the Constitution, and therefore they woud not grant Judgt.3 A doubt having arisen under the district Law, whether Attornies on qualifying in the circuit Courts shoud pay 20/. or £15—they have determind that they shoud pay nothing4—these questions with some other motions of the Solicitor took up most of the time of the courts, wherefore very little was done with the docket.

I had it in view to have paid N. Y. a visit about this time but having enterd as an Attorney at the bar, have been obliged to pospone my plan, altho I have not altogether relinqui[s]hd it, but hope to execute it some time this summer.

Will you be pleasd to present my best wishes to Mrss. Elsworth & Harman. With much esteem & respect, I am Yr. Friend & hm Sert

J Dawson


1Dawson referred to the seventh amendment recommended by the Virginia ratifying convention of 1788: “That no commercial treaty shall be ratified without the concurrence of two-thirds of the whole number of the members of the senate; and no treaty, ceding, contracting, restraining or suspending the territorial rights or claims of the United States, or any of them, or their, or any of their rights or claims to fishing in the American seas, or navigating the American rivers, shall be made, but in cases of the most urgent and extreme necessity, nor shall any such treaty be ratified without the concurrence of three fourths of the whole number of the members of both houses respectively” (Robertson, Virginia Debates description begins David Robertson, Debates and Other Proceedings of the Convention of Virginia (2d ed.; Richmond, 1805). description ends , p. 474).

2The eighth amendment recommended by the Virginia ratifying convention declared that “no navigation law or law regulating commerce shall be passed without the consent of two-thirds of the members present, in both houses” (ibid.).

3This case came before the General Court, not the Court of Appeals (Jones to JM, 24 June 1789 and n. 2).

4An act of 1784 levied a £15 tax on attorneys upon their being admitted to practice in each superior court and twenty shillings in each inferior court (Hening, Statutes description begins William Waller Hening, ed., The Statutes at Large; Being a Collection of All the Laws of Virginia, from the First Session of the Legislature, in the Year 1619 (13 vols.; Richmond and Philadelphia, 1819–23). description ends , XI, 439–40).

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