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From James Madison to Edmund Randolph, 10 September 1782

To Edmund Randolph

RC (LC: Madison Papers). Unsigned but in JM’s hand. Addressed to “E. Randolph Esqr.” Cover missing. Docketed by Randolph, “James Madison. Septr. 10. 1782.” Except where otherwise noted, the italicized words were written by JM in the official cipher.

Philada. Sepr. 10th. 1782

My dear Sir

The1 loss of the French 74 in Boston Harbour presented an occasion which was embraced by Congress, of making a small requital to their Ally for his benevolent exertions in behalf of the U. S.2 They have directed the Agent of Marine3 to replace the loss by presenting in the name of the U.S. the Ship America to the Chevr. de la Luzerne for the service of his M. C. M.4 The States5 were unanimous in this vote. The dissenting members were Bland and Jones of Georgia.6 Independent of the motive of Gratitude, it was certain that our resources could not launch the ship before the winter; that before the spring she would be scarcely worth launching; that it was prudent therefore to dispose of her and more so by gift to France than by sale to either France or Spain.

The report of the Grand Committee “that the western lands if ceded to the U. S. would be an important fund &c.” was the subject of the deliberations of Congress on thursday & friday last.7 After the usual discussion of the question of right, and a proposal of opposite amendments to make the report favor the opposite sides,8 a turn was given to the debate to the question of expediency, in which it became pretty evident to all parties that unless a compromise took place, no advantage could ever be derived to the U.S. even if their right were ever so valid.9 The no. of States interested in the opposite doctrine rendered it impossible for the title of the U. S. ever to obtain a vote of Congress in its favor, much less any coercive measures to render the title of any10 fiscal importance; whilst the individual States having both the will & the means to avail themselves of their pretensions, might open their land offices, issue their patents, and if necessary protect the execution of their plans; without any other molestations than the clamours of individuals within & without the doors of Congress. This view of this case had a manifest effect on the most temperate advocates of the federal title. Witherspoon11 moved a set of resolutions12 recommending to the States which had made no Cessions13 to take up the subject, & to the States whose cessions were not entirely conformable to the plan of Congress, to reconsider their acts;14 And declaring that in case of a compliance of the several States claiming the back lands, none of their determinations with regard to private property within their cessions shall be reversed or altered without their consent, except in cases falling within the 9th. article of the Confedon.15 On this motion the report was postponed & these resolutions committed.16 The report of the Committee on the last article will probably determine the ultimate sense of Congress on the pretensions of the companies.17

Every review I take of the Western territory produces fresh conviction that it is the true policy of Virginia as well as of the United States to bring the dispute to a speedy18 compromise. A separate government can not be distant; and will be an insuperable barrier to subsequent profits.19 If therefore the decision of the State on the claims of the companies can be saved I hope her other conditions will be relaxed.20

On the notification given to the inhabitants of Charleston of the approaching evacuation of that garrison, a committee of the Merchts. with the license of the commanding officer waited on Govr. Matthews21 with a proposition; that they might be permitted to remain in the town in the character of neutrals for 18 months, to sell their goods freely for money or produce, and remove with their effects to G. B. or elsewhere finally, together with several other indulgences still more extraordinary. The answer permits them to stay for 6 months, to sell their goods as requested, & to make their remittances to Neutral ports.22 I fully anticipate your feelings on this transaction.23

Mr. Cohen has given me hopes that your letter will produce the desired effect within the present week.24 The bill on Mr. Holker for 200 Drs.25 is very acceptable, but both together do not make me independent even for a moment. The continuance of your exertions which your favr. of the 30 Ulto.26 promises will therefore be necessary. I need not repeat to27 you how sensible I am of your kindness on this subject.

I am making out a State of my accts28 according to the request of the Auditors, on the new idea; & expect to transmit it soon in a form which will render less of their labor necessary. With it I shall inclose a copy of the scale of Depreciation of this State.29

Genl Washington has moved with his principal force down to Verplanks point.30 His object, if he has any material one, is not yet disclosed.

7 Ships of the line part of a fleet under Lord Hood is arrived at N. York, and 1500 foreign troops have embarked for Halifax.31

We are still left by our Ministers in the most painful suspence with regard to events in Europe.32 The arrival of a packet at New York has supplied us with the articles published in the inclosed Gazette. The new revolution in the British Cabinet in favor of the Shelburne party has a sinister aspect on peace. Unless however this party be reinforced out of the late administration it must be too feeble to resist the popular champions whom they have exiled from office.33

Adieu.

1Many years later JM, or someone at his bidding, bracketed this paragraph, except for its last sentence, and also the second and third paragraphs, thus designating the portions of the letter to be published in the first edition of his writings. See Madison, Papers description begins (Gilpin ed.). Henry D. Gilpin, ed., The Papers of James Madison (3 vols.; Washington, 1840). description ends (Gilpin ed.), I, 166–67.

3Robert Morris.

4La Luzerne was minister plenipotentiary of His Most Christian Majesty, King Louis XVI of France, to the United States.

5JM underlined this word.

6In Madison, Papers description begins (Gilpin ed.). Henry D. Gilpin, ed., The Papers of James Madison (3 vols.; Washington, 1840). description ends (Gilpin ed.), I, 166, and in Madison, Writings description begins (Hunt ed.). Gaillard Hunt, ed., The Writings of James Madison (9 vols.; New York, 1900–1910). description ends (Hunt ed.), I, 231, Noble Wymberley “Jones of Georgia” erroneously appears as “Jones of Virginia.”

7On 5 and 6 September (JCC description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds., Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789 (34 vols.; Washington, 1904–37). description ends , XXIII, 550–53). See Randolph to JM, 6 August, nn. 23, 24; Virginia Delegates to Harrison, 3 September 1782, and n. 4. The grand committee reported on 4 September, but Congress then decided to defer debate on the recommendation until the next day (JCC description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds., Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789 (34 vols.; Washington, 1904–37). description ends , XXIII, 545, 550).

8For the “opposite sides” and the “question of right,” see Randolph to JM, 6 August, and nn. 23 and 24; JM to Randolph, 13 August, and nn. 14 and 15; Comments on Randolph’s “Facts and Observations,” 16 August, and ed. n.; Comments on Petitions of Kentuckians, 27 August 1782, and ed. n., and nn. 2, 3, 4, and 6.

9JM interlineated “unless,” wrote “took” above a deleted “takes,” and “could” above a deleted “would.” On 5 September, immediately after the attention of Congress was directed to the report of the grand committee, Theodorick Bland introduced, and Arthur Lee seconded, an addendum to the report, calling upon Congress to accept Virginia’s offer of cession of 2 January 1781, New York’s of 1 March 1781, and Connecticut’s of October 1780, “with the conditions therein named.” The amendment was objected to “as out of order.” After an apparently inconclusive debate on the validity of this demurrer, James Duane moved that “the farther consideration of the report of the grand committee be postponed till tomorrow.” Over the opposition of Bland and Lee, who were the only members of the Virginia delegation who voted, this motion carried (JCC description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds., Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789 (34 vols.; Washington, 1904–37). description ends , XXIII, 550).

On 6 September John Rutledge, seconded by Lee, moved that the recommendation of the grand committee be amended to affirm explicitly that “the western lands” were owned by “several states,” and hence only they could vest title in the United States. Thereupon, Eliphalet Dyer of Connecticut, seconded by Thomas McKean, moved to amend the Rutledge amendment by making clear that the “several states” were merely claimants rather than owners of those lands (JCC description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds., Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789 (34 vols.; Washington, 1904–37). description ends , XXIII, 551–52). Thus, once again, as so often during the previous eighteen months, the issue reached an impasse, and, as JM noted, “expediency” counseled “a compromise.” See n. 15, below.

10JM interlineated this word.

11JM encoded this name but only underlined the other italicized words in this paragraph.

12John Witherspoon’s motion asked for a postponement of further debate upon the grand committee’s proposal in order to give consideration to his “set of resolutions” (JCC description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds., Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789 (34 vols.; Washington, 1904–37). description ends , XXIII, 552). They embodied the “compromise” mentioned by JM. See n. 9, above; and Virginia Delegates to Harrison, 1 October 1782, and n. 3.

13Massachusetts, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Georgia.

14Connecticut and Virginia were asked to reconsider the provisos attached to their offers of cession and “send the result” to Congress (JCC description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds., Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789 (34 vols.; Washington, 1904–37). description ends , XXIII, 552). For Virginia’s “provisos,” see n. 20.

15That is, if Virginia, for example, would comply as requested (n. 14), Congress would pledge never, except with her consent, to countenance the claims of land companies to territory north and west of the Ohio River. This proposal, a major concession to Virginia, no doubt accounts for JM’s support of Witherspoon’s resolutions. See n. 16. In view of the ninth article of the Articles of Confederation, providing for Congress to appoint “commissioners or judges” to render a “final and decisive” judgment on boundary controversies between “two or more states” (JCC description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds., Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789 (34 vols.; Washington, 1904–37). description ends , XIX, 217–19), the resolution obviously could not guarantee Virginia’s title to the Northwest Territory against the adverse claims of Connecticut and Massachusetts.

16See n. 12. On 6 September Congress adopted Witherspoon’s motion by a vote of seven states to four. The votes of New Hampshire and North Carolina were ineffective—the former had only one delegate, and the two delegates from the latter deadlocked. In general, the states of New England and the middle seaboard, except New Jersey, carried the motion over the opposition of the four states south of the Potomac River. Apparently missing the significance of the “compromise,” Theodorick Bland and Arthur Lee ranged Virginia against it by overriding JM’s affirmative vote. Congress referred the Witherspoon resolutions to a committee comprising Witherspoon, chairman, with JM, John Rutledge, Samuel Osgood, and Joseph Montgomery as the other members (JCC description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds., Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789 (34 vols.; Washington, 1904–37). description ends , XXIII, 552–53, 553 n.).

17JM interlineated “on the last article.” For this article, see n. 15, above. The committee, probably with JM as its spokesman, since Witherspoon was absent, presented its report on 25 September. This report was virtually the same as the resolutions proposed by Witherspoon on 6 September 1782. Abraham Clark moved to strike out the crucial “last article.” The votes of New Jersey, South Carolina, and Georgia, together with those of Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, and Maryland—whose delegates had supported that “article” on 6 September but evidently had come to see its implication for the land companies—carried Clark’s motion over the unanimous votes of the Connecticut, Virginia, and North Carolina delegations.

Contrary to their stand on 6 September (n. 16, above), Bland and Lee by the twenty-fifth evidently had come to appreciate this “implication.” With the “compromise” provision thus deleted, JM and the other Virginia delegates, Bland excepted, voted to reject the rest of the report. Only six states, rather than the necessary minimum of seven, favored its adoption (JCC description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds., Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789 (34 vols.; Washington, 1904–37). description ends , XXIII, 604–6). Bland perhaps concluded that the remaining resolutions, if adopted, would impel the Virginia General Assembly to send him and his colleagues the instructions on the western lands issue which they had expected to receive during the summer. See Virginia Delegates to Harrison, 6 August 1782, and n. 6.

18Although JM wrote 297 47 262, signifying “foredy,” he probably intended to encipher “speedy” (797 47 262). Randolph interlineated “friendly,” but this would require 839 2 721, an encoding bearing no resemblance to JM’s.

19JM foresaw that the territory north and west of the Ohio River would become a separate state or states. Although this consummation would foil the land companies of the Middle States, it would also bar Virginia from deriving income from taxes or the sale of land in the area. For several years Thomas Jefferson, George Mason, JM, and other prominent Virginians had favored this solution of the troublesome problem, provided that valid private-land titles were undisturbed, and Congress compensated Virginia for governing and defending the region during the Revolution (Papers of Madison description begins William T. Hutchinson, William M. E. Rachal, et al., eds., The Papers of James Madison (5 vols. to date; Chicago, 1962——). description ends , II, 53, n. 3; 76; 77–78; 138, n. 2).

20See nn. 15 and 17. JM interlineated “of the State.” The “conditions,” hedging Virginia’s cession offer of 2 January 1781, were that Congress must promise, when accepting the gift, to (1) admit to the Confederation from the Northwest Territory sovereign states, each of them at least 150 miles square; (2) reimburse Virginia for the military and civil expenses incurred by her during the Revolution in the ceded area; (3) assure its residents who were citizens of Virginia their rightful liberties and land titles, and afford them military protection against the British; (4) assume Virginia’s pledge to George Rogers Clark and his troops of a maximum of 150,000 acres as bounty lands, to be surveyed in one block at a location in the Northwest Territory agreeable to a majority of Clark’s officers; (5) reserve enough good land between the Scioto and Little Miami rivers to satisfy whatever military bountyland warrants, issued by Virginia to her state and continental lines, could not be located in the Kentucky bountyland reserve; (6) use all other ceded lands, except those mentioned above, only as a “common fund” for the benefit of the states in the Confederation in proportion to their allotted financial quotas; (7) declare “absolute void” all land titles in the Northwest Territory purportedly derived from Indians or a king of Great Britain and “inconsistent with the chartered rights, laws and customs of Virginia”; (8) guarantee to Virginia the ownership of her territory, except that offered by the present resolution; and (9) agree that the offer of cession would be void, unless ratified by “all the states in the American union.” The Virginia General Assembly concluded its resolution by signifying its expectation, in return for this valuable gift, that “every other state” with “vacant territory” west of the Appalachians “will make similar cessions of the same to the United States for the general emolument” (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 , X, 564–67).

21John Mathews, who, as a delegate from South Carolina in Congress during 1780 and 1781, was well known to JM.

22JM probably had been told of this arrangement by the members of the South Carolina delegation in Congress, who on 7 September had received a dispatch from Governor Mathews, dated 15 August (Burnett, Letters description begins Edmund C. Burnett, ed., Letters of Members of the Continental Congress (8 vols.; Washington, 1921–36). description ends , VI, 469; Pennsylvania Packet, 10 September 1782). The ninety-one British or Loyalist merchants in Charleston had sent a committee of five to the governor, requesting the concessions mentioned by JM, and also an assurance of the immunity from capture of the flag-of-truce vessels in which they eventually would depart (South Carolina Historical and Genealogical Magazine, XXVII [1926], 65; JM to Pendleton, 3 September 1782, n. 4).

23Although Randolph seems never to have commented on “this transaction” in a letter to JM, both men probably deplored an arrangement similar to the agreement with the merchants-capitulant at Yorktown, which had drained specie from Virginia for the purchase of enemy goods and invited smuggling by flag-of-truce vessels. See Papers of Madison description begins William T. Hutchinson, William M. E. Rachal, et al., eds., The Papers of James Madison (5 vols. to date; Chicago, 1962——). description ends , IV, 244; 394–95; 397, n. 3; 400; 422–23.

24JM wrote “letter” over a deleted “bill.” For “Mr. Cohen,” see Randolph to JM, 24 August 1782, and n. 12.

25See Ambler to JM, 31 August 1782, and nn. 1 and 2.

26Q.v.

27JM wrote “repeat to” above a deleted “assure.”

28JM interlineated this abbreviation.

29See Ambler to JM, 3 August, and n. 4; 24 August, and n. 4; JM to Virginia Auditors, 20 August 1782, and n. 3. If JM “soon” sent a statement of his accounts to the auditors, both the recipient’s copy and the file copy appear to be lost.

30JM wrote “principal” above a deleted “collected.” See Pendleton to JM, 9 September 1782, n. 3.

32See Papers of Madison description begins William T. Hutchinson, William M. E. Rachal, et al., eds., The Papers of James Madison (5 vols. to date; Chicago, 1962——). description ends , IV, 450, n. 17.

33The Pennsylvania Gazette of 10 September 1782 copied news items from London telling of the death of the Marquis of Rockingham on 1 July, of the Earl of Shelburne’s becoming prime minister and first lord of the treasury in Rockingham’s stead, of Charles James Fox’s resigning as secretary of state for foreign affairs, and of other important changes being made in the personnel of the British administration. According to these dispatches, this “political revolution,” the readiness of the new ministry to ask Parliament for higher taxes, the recently received word of Rodney’s victory in the Battle of the Saints, and the apparent unwillingness of the enemies of Great Britain to cease fighting unless she made an “unconditional submission” dimmed the former prospect of an early peace.

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