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To James Madison from Edmund Randolph, 1 June 1782

From Edmund Randolph

RC (LC: Madison Papers). Addressed to “The honble. James Madison jr. esqr. of congress Philadelphia.” Unsigned letter, docketed by JM, “June 1st. 1782.”

Richmond June 1st. 1782

Dear sir

The senate have amended the resolution of the house of delegates, which I inclosed to you by the last post, respecting passports for the transportation of tobacco to New-York, so as to destroy its force. The delegates disagreed to their amendment, and that disagreement remains to be discussed on monday next. There is not the least probability, that the senate will recede, their vote having passed by the voice of sixteen members against one negative. Indeed many are inclined to believe, that, should this subject be remitted to the house of delegates for consideration, they will rather abandon their disagreement.1

The day before yesterday, Mr. Mason, Mr. Jefferson, Mr. A. Lee, myself and Dr. Walker were appointed to state the claims of Virginia to western territory.2 Our power extends to publication without consulting the assembly; and I presume, that two or three months will produce something.3 I wish, I had leisure to relate to you some management, which the desire of being distinguished by an appointment of this sort has occasioned. Superior beings must surely amuse themselves with contemplating the contests, which agitate mankind for trifles, and the meanesses, to which those trifles give birth. I will shortly excite either your ridicule or indignation at some recent manoeuvres.4

Messrs. Webb and St. George Tucker have fallen victims to the triennial exclusion of counsellors. The former has accepted since the office of receiver of the monies, paid into our treasury for continental use.5 I have written to Mr. Morris this week upon the subject:6 but in addition must beg you to inform him, that, as the assembly are about to appropriate the taxes to the various uses, for which they are designed, I have suggested to Mr. Webb the propriety of deferring the publication, mentioned in his instructions,7 lest it should irritate at a season, when the assembly intend8 to destine for the use of the united states a portion of the public revenue; which portion will probably be affected in its quantum by the temper of the legislature.

I am afraid however, that scarcely any thing can [be] expected from the collection of taxes sooner than the latter end of the year: it having been yesterday determined to postpone it. But a blank is left for the day, to which it is to be postponed.9

Mr. Henry is indisposed at present to repeal the cession, desiring to wait for a fitter opportunity. This measure will be attempted next week: and will, as [I] at present think, be adopted, giving congress a day, before which they may still accept [it.]10

The Mr. Lees11 are the warm patrons of a r[e]formation of the general court: and have worked out a new system, which will [car]ry its own refutation with it.12

I saw a letter from Mr. Jefferson to Col. Monro, in which he assigns reasons for refusing his seat in the house of delegat[es.]13 The pathos of the composition is really great; and the wound, which his sp[irit] [re]ceived by the late impeachment,14 is, as he says, to be cured only by the all-heali[ng] grave. His triumph might certainly be an illustrious one over his former enemies, were [he] to resume the legislative character: for in the constant division between the tw[o] leaders, Henry & Lee,15 he might incline the scale to which soever side he wou[ld.]

Tell Mrs. Triste, that we remember her with affec[tio]nate regard, and present our best respects to our acquaintance under your roof[.]16

Sincerely yours.

3Randolph was much too sanguine. Jefferson contributed nothing, and George Mason declined to serve, although he consented to review before publication whatever the other members of the committee might prepare. Thomas Walker and Arthur Lee, the latter of whom apparently was more interested in drafting his own separate refutation of the claims to the Northwest Territory advanced by land companies and northern states, willingly relinquished to Randolph the main burden of the committee’s assignment. Helped very little by his colleagues and hampered by the dearth or confused state of “our public records,” Randolph was able to “produce something” only by August 1783, or about a year later than he had expected when he wrote the present letter. Even in the autumn of 1783 he could not complete the report, because Arthur Lee, attending Congress in Philadelphia, was unavailable for consultation. Finally, on 25 November 1783, Randolph wrote to John Tyler, the speaker of the House of Delegates, to explain the long delay of the committee in rendering its report and to ask the permission of the House for “the work to go into print under the correction of Mr. Mason and myself.” The House tabled Randolph’s letter (Randolph to Speaker of House of Delegates, 25 November 1783, MS in Virginia State Library; Journal of the House of Delegates description begins Journal of the House of Delegates of the Commonwealth of Virginia; Begun and Held at the Capitol, in the City of Williamsburg. Beginning in 1780, the portion after the semicolon reads, Begun and Held in the Town of Richmond. In the County of Henrico. The journal for each session has its own title page and is individually paginated. The edition used, unless otherwise noted, is the one in which the journals for 1777–1786 are brought together in two volumes, with each journal published in Richmond in 1827 or 1828, and often called the “Thomas W. White reprint.” description ends , October 1783, p. 35). See also Boyd, Papers of Jefferson description begins Julian P. Boyd et al., eds., The Papers of Thomas Jefferson (16 vols. to date; Princeton, N.J., 1950——). description ends , VI, 651–55; Randolph to JM, 10 May 1782, and n. 7.

5For George Webb, see Pendleton to JM, 22 April 1782, and n. 12. St. George Tucker (1752–1827), a Bermudian by birth, had been graduated from the College of William and Mary in 1774. He interrupted his law practice to serve in the armed forces both on sea and land and rose to the rank of lieutenant colonel of Virginia militia. Wounded at the Battle of Guilford Court House, he subsequently campaigned with Lafayette and was present at Yorktown. His later career was distinguished by his eminence as a lawyer, as a professor of law in succession to his mentor, George Wythe, at the College of William and Mary (1790–1804), as a judge of both the Virginia Court of Appeals (1804–1810) and the United States Court of the District of Virginia (1813–1827), and as an author of books and pamphlets on legal, constitutional, political, and literary subjects. Probably his best-known work is his annotated five-volume edition (1804) of Blackstone’s Commentaries on the Laws of England (Mary Haldane Coleman, St. George Tucker, Citizen of No Mean City [Richmond, 1938]). George Webb had been a member of the Council of State for over two years, but Tucker had first attended a meeting of the council as recently as 22 January 1782 (Journals of the Council of State description begins H. R. McIlwaine et al., eds., Journals of the Council of the State of Virginia (3 vols. to date; Richmond, 1931——). description ends , II, 257; III, 32; McIlwaine, Official Letters description begins H. R. McIlwaine, ed., Official Letters of the Governors of the State of Virginia (3 vols.; Richmond, 1926–29). description ends , II, 123). Webb and Tucker had “fallen victims” to the operation of Article XI of the Form of Government of Virginia, which provided that two members of the Council of State should “be removed by joint ballot of both Houses of Assembly at the end of every three years, and be ineligible for the three next years” (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 , IX, 116).

6Robert Morris’ reply of 11 June to Randolph’s letter of 31 May is in Madison, Papers (Gilpin ed.) description begins Henry D. Gilpin, ed., The Papers of James Madison (3 vols.; Washington, 1840). description ends , I, 142. After expressing his chagrin because of the slowness with which all states except New Jersey and Rhode Island were meeting their financial obligations to Congress, Morris added: “Surely a different spirit will be roused. For Heaven’s sake let us owe our freedom to ourselves! We have the means, if we dare to use them.”

7In his circular of instructions to the receiver of continental taxes in each state, Morris suggested the publication of the names of individuals who had paid their assessments promptly and from time to time the total sums received from every tax district within a state. He also importuned the state governments to authorize the receivers to hold local collectors responsible for filling their individual quotas (Clarence L. Ver Steeg, Robert Morris, pp. 100–101). See Harrison to Virginia Delegates, 6 April 1782, n. 6.

8At first Randolph wrote “are about” rather than “intend.”

9On 1 July 1782 the Virginia General Assembly enacted a law “for appropriating the public revenue.” This measure provided that the tax money “shall be appropriated to continental purposes, and shall be applied to the credit of this commonwealth, upon the requisition of congress of” 4 October 1781, but only after a half-dozen specified obligations, including the long overdue stipend of the delegates in Congress, had been paid. In view of these prior liens, the residue available for the use of Congress probably would be very small, at best (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, 12–14; Minute Book, House of Delegates, May 1782 description begins Minute Book, House of Delegates, May 1782, MS in Virginia State Library. description ends , p. 85; Virginia Delegates to Harrison, 19 March 1782, n. 1). The Assembly at the same session, by directing that the collection of taxes should be delayed, signified its refusal to heed Morris’ plea for a prompt payment of the financial quota, already much in arrears (Randolph to JM, 21–24 May, and n. 19; 27–29 June 1782, n. 8).

11The brothers Lee, Richard Henry and Arthur, represented Westmoreland and Prince William counties, respectively, in the House of Delegates, where the other delegate from Westmoreland County was their first cousin Richard Lee (ca. 1726–1795). His brother Henry (1729–1787) represented in the Senate the district comprising Prince William and Fairfax counties.

12On 4 July 1782 John Banister, a Lee partisan in the House of Delegates from Dinwiddie County, remarked in a letter to Theodorick Bland: “The assembly were engaged for several weeks in attempting a reform in the mode of administering justice, but, like many other essential measures, it fell through, and we remain still without credit, without the means of obtaining justice, and subject to the contempt and ridicule of all other states whose policy is better regulated” (Charles Campbell, ed., Bland Papers, II, 84). The nine-page bill “for regulating the General Court” was introduced on 11 June. Purportedly designed for “the more easy & speedy Administration of Justice,” it divided the state into seven “Circuits or Districts” and added fourteen judges to the judiciary. This enlargement might have made the administration of justice “more diffusive,” but also much more cumbersome. On 18 June the bill was “referred to the next session of Assembly on second Monday in October next” (MS bill in Virginia State Library).

13For Jefferson’s letter to James Monroe on 20 May 1782, see Boyd, Papers of Jefferson description begins Julian P. Boyd et al., eds., The Papers of Thomas Jefferson (16 vols. to date; Princeton, N.J., 1950——). description ends , VI, 184–86, 187 n.; and Randolph to JM, 16–17 May 1782, n. 6.

14See Papers of Madison description begins William T. Hutchinson, William M. E. Rachal, et al., eds., The Papers of James Madison (4 vols. to date; Chicago, 1962——). description ends , III, 338, n. 3; 347; 348, n. 1.

15Patrick Henry and Richard Henry Lee.

16For Mrs. Nicholas Trist, see ibid., II, 92, n. 8. By using the word “acquaintance” rather than “friend,” Randolph may be referring sarcastically to Bland.

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