James Madison Papers

To James Madison from John Dawson, 7 November 1791

From John Dawson

Richmond Novr. 7th. 1791

Dear Sir!

By the public papers I observe that you have arriv’d in Philadelphia, & I trust in good health.

It is very doubtful whether the present will be a very long or short session of the general assembly. The commissioners appointed to prepare & report on the laws of the state have not yet come forward—but it is said they will in a few days. Shoud this business be gone into, it will take up much time—shoud it not there is very little to do.1

The Indiana claims will be taken up on tomorrow in comme. of the whole, & will I think be soon finishd, as I find most of the members are in favour of the Law of 79.

The division of the state into districts to elect members to the low house of congress is a subject that will take up some time & be attended with debates probably more interesting to the speakers than to the hearers. The bill will be reported tomorrow.

The strange & indelicate case of Mrs. Turnbull will be examind on the 25t. Mr. Henry is his advocate—Mr. Marshall hers. They are to appear at the bar of the house. The opinions of gentlemen are suspended, & will be govern’d by the proofs, which they think ought to be the best that the nature of the case will admit of.2

I shall be very happy to hear from you, & am with real esteem yr. friend & Sert

J Dawson


1In its 1789 session, the Virginia assembly had provided for a general revision of the laws by a board of eight jurists (later reduced to six). On 29 Nov. 1791 Francis Corbin, chairman of the House of Delegates Committee on the Revisors of the Laws, reported resolutions which the House passed, further defining the revisors’ instructions. During its 1792 session, the assembly passed a series of acts revising and condensing the statutes (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 , XIII, 8, 130–31, 357–401, 531–35; JHDV description begins Journal of the House of Delegates of the Commonwealth of Virginia, Begun and Held at the Capitol, in the City of Richmond. Volumes in this series are designated by the month in which the session began. description ends , Oct. 1791, p. 91).

2Robert Turnbull of Prince George County petitioned the House of Delegates for a divorce from Sarah Buchanan Turnbull after his case had been rejected by the chancery court. Before the session ended, the House “enacted a procedure by which the High Court of Chancery could void the marriage if the facts were proved” (Herbert A. Johnson et al., eds., The Papers of John Marshall [3 vols. to date; Chapel Hill, 1974—], II, 123 n. 1).

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