George Washington Papers

From George Washington to James Madison, 28 November 1784

To James Madison

Mount Vernon 28th Novr 84


After the several conversations we have had on the subject of inland navigation; and the benefits which would, probably, be derived from a commercial intercourse with the Western territory; I shall make no apology for giving you the trouble of the enclosed.1

It is matter of regret to me, however, that I cannot accompany them with some explanations & observations. It was intended these Papers should have met me at Richmond. They missed me on the road thither—travelled back to Baltimore—returned—and were put into my hands at the moment I was setting off for Annapolis; to which place I mean to accompany the Marqs de la Fayette on his return to New York where he expects to embark, about the middle of next month, for France.2

I could not think of withholding these Papers until my return, as I shall probably accompany the Marquis from Annapolis to Baltimore. Therefore, in the order I receive, I send them to you. Your own judgments in this business will be the best guide. but in one word, it should seem to me, that if the public cannot take it up with efficient funds, & without those delays which might be involved by a limping conduct, it had better be placed in the hands of a corporate Company—What encouragements, and what powers, to give this Company, deserves all that consideration which I persuade myself you, Gentlemen, will bestow.

The Maryland Assembly is now sitting—If I should return in time, I will have the honor of writing to you again on this Subject 3—in the meanwhile, if your leizure will permit, I should be glad to know your Sentimts on, and what will be the issue of, this business—With very sincere esteem and regard I have the honor to be Gentn Yr most Obedt Hble Servt

Go: Washington

P.S. As your Assembly are upon a Militia Law, I send you the thoughts of the Baron de Steuben which I found here upon my return from Richmond.4 G.W.

ALS, NNC. GW addressed the letter to “James Madison Esquire—or in his absence Joseph Jones Esquire At Richmond.” The letter was docketed by Madison, who probably had received it by 3 Dec. (see Madison to James Monroe, 4 Dec. 1784, in Rutland and Rachal, Madison Papers, description begins William T. Hutchinson et al., eds. The Papers of James Madison, Congressional Series. 17 vols. Chicago and Charlottesville, Va., 1962–91. description ends 8:175–76). Joseph Jones (1727–1805), delegate from King George County, was shortly after this elected to the council of state and so was not active in the house of delegates when the Potowmack Company was under consideration and finally incorporated in December.

1The “conversations” took place while GW was in Richmond the week of 15 November. GW enclosed both a draft of a bill for creating a Potomac River company, which the meeting at Alexandria adopted on 15 Nov., and a covering letter from the chairman of the meeting, along with, perhaps, a copy of the petition that the Alexandria meeting drew up to present to the legislatures of Virginia and Maryland. See Henry Lee to GW, 18 Nov., and note 1 of that document. None of these enclosures has been found, but on 4 Dec. the clerk of the house of delegates noted in the house journals: “A petition of sundry inhabitants of the State of Maryland, and also of this State, was presented to the House, and read; setting forth, that they conceive it would greatly contribute to the extension of commerce, and the improvement of agriculture, if the river Potomac was made navigable from the falls, and a communication opened by that means with the western country; and praying that an act may pass establishing a company, to be invested with full powers for that purpose” (House of Delegates Journal, 1781–1785). description begins Journal of the House of Delegates of the Commonwealth of Virginia; Begun and Held in the Town of Richmond, In the County of Henrico, on Monday, the Seventh Day of May, in the Year of Our Lord One Thousand Seven Hundred and Eighty-One. Richmond, 1828. description ends The Virginia house ordered that the petition be referred to “the committee of the whole House on the state of the Commonwealth” for its consideration on 7 December. On the seventh, the committee of the whole reported and the house agreed: “That an act ought to pass, for opening and extending the navigation of the river Potomac.” Two days later, a committee composed of Carter Henry Harrison, Thomas Mathews, and William Grayson reported to the house a bill for “establishing a company for opening and extending the navigation of the river Potomac.” The committee had access to the drafted bill that GW sent to Madison in this letter and to a greater or lesser extent based its bill on it, but as no copy of either the Alexandria draft of the bill or the delegates’ bill has been found, it cannot be determined just how closely the house bill followed the wording of the Alexandria bill. However, Madison wrote Richard Henry Lee on 11 Dec: “The scheme for opening the navigation of the Potomac, which has been settled between the Maryland and [the Virginia] gentlemen, is before the House of Delegates, and will be favoured, as far as the objectionable amount of the tolls will admit. As the concurrence of Maryland in this scheme is necessary, some difficulties will attend its progress” (Rutland and Rachal, Madison Papers, description begins William T. Hutchinson et al., eds. The Papers of James Madison, Congressional Series. 17 vols. Chicago and Charlottesville, Va., 1962–91. description ends 8:180–81). Madison also wrote GW a letter on 11 Nov., which has not been found. Madison in his missing letter may have been responding to GW’s letter of 3 Dec., and he undoubtedly reported on these developments with regard to the Potowmack Company bill. In any case, the house bill, which was scheduled for debate in the committee of the whole on 14 Dec, was dropped; on 13 Dec. the house of delegates adopted the suggestion GW made in his letter to Madison of 3 Dec. that the Virginia assembly appoint commissioners to meet with commissioners of the Maryland legislature to draft a single bill for creating a Potomac River company acceptable to both state bodies. See GW to Madison, 3 Dec, n.5.

2See Henry Lee to GW, 18 Nov., and note 2 of that document. It was probably on this day, 28 Nov., that GW and Lafayette left Mount Vernon for Annapolis. For the duration of their stay in Annapolis, see GW to Madison, 3 Dec, n.1.

4GW was probably referring to Steuben’s A Letter on the Subject of an Established Militia, and Military Arrangements, Addressed to the Inhabitants of the United States (1784). For GW’s earlier involvement in the composition of Steuben’s pamphlet, see GW to Steuben, 15 Mar. 1784, and notes. In this session, the Virginia legislature replaced the colonial and wartime statutes governing the state’s militia with a new comprehensive statute (see 11 Hening 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. 1819–23. Reprint. Charlottesville, Va., 1969. description ends 476–94).

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