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To James Madison from Edmund Randolph, 20 December 1782

From Edmund Randolph

RC (LC: Madison Papers). Unsigned but in Randolph’s hand. Docketed “Decr 20th 1782” by JM. Cover addressed to “The honble James Madison jr. esq of congress Philadelphia.” Randolph may have written this letter, or the greater part of it, on 19 December and then postdated it. See n. 12, below.

Richmond Decr. 20. 1782.

My dear friend

The journal of the house of delegates from Saturday last1 to this day includes the following points, worthy of notice.

An attempt has been made to vest the high court of chancery with spiritual jurisdiction. But the terror, which always accompanies the mention of powers, exercised by the hierarchy, caused the bill to be postponed until the next session of assembly.2

Mr. John Mercer is elected as my successor in opposition to Mr. St. George Tucker, the numbers being 66 and 30.3

I mentioned to you in my letter of last week that the inquiry into Dr. Lee’s letter to Mr. Page proved favorable to the former gentleman. I believe, I inclosed to you the act of acquittal.4 Since these measures, he has been attacked under a variety of forms. 1. A motion was made for reelecting the five delegates for congress. This was not approved.5 2. Another motion was made for recalling him. This was ordered to lie on the table.6 Whether the object of this step was to introduce new charges, or not, I cannot tell; but so it was, that the facts, stated in the inclosed paper, were formally laid before the house by Mr. John Mercer.7 The report of the committee appointed to inquire into them will be introduced today, and the fate of the motion for a recal seems to depend on it. The evidence, so far as it has gone, will not, I fancy, produce any thing, fatal to Mr. Lee.8

You will receive two instructions: The one injoins you to oppose every9 communication with a british agent or minister, except in conjunction with France and except independence shall be acknowledged, as a preliminary. The other commands you to labour against the restitution of British property.10

The ardor of the delegates to suppress the importation of British goods is not cooled by the rejection of a former bill to that purpose by the senate. Another11 is ordered to be read a third time today. It differs from the former one in this, that it removes the suspension on the first prohibitory act after the first day of next January, without clogging it with any limitations.12

A new form is given to the assessment of lands. The house of delegates have passed a bill, called the equalizing bill; to which the senate have agreed with an amendment. The delegates have not yet confirmed the Ame[nd]ment; but there is little doubt of the final enaction of the capital branches of the scheme.13 These capital branches consist in the following particulars. They divide14 the country into four districts. The assessments of all the lands in each county are then added together, and divided by the number of acres; by whi[ch] an average is formed. The average of each county being thus taken, the averages of every county in the district are added together, and divided by the number of countie[s] which process forms an average of every acre in the district.

Upon reflection,15 I think, I had rather not inclose Mr. Mercer’s facts, until the next week, whe[n] I shall have access to the cypher.16

114 December 1782.

3For John Francis Mercer, 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, 154, n. 14; for St. George Tucker, ibid., IV, 306, n. 5. For Randolph’s resignation as a delegate in Congress and his explanation of why he felt impelled to resign, see Randolph to JM, 22 November; 13 December 1782, and n. 4. Mercer was elected on 18 December by a joint ballot of the House of Delegates and Senate. The journal of the House of Delegates does not mention the number of votes received by him and Tucker respectively (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 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 1782, pp. 67, 69, 70, 71), but the count would have been known to John Beckley, clerk of the House of Delegates, who was then living in the same house with Charles Hay, Randolph’s law clerk (Randolph to JM, 29 November 1782, n. 14; Heads of Families at the First Census of the United States … Virginia, p. 112). See also Randolph to JM, 27 December 1782.

4See Randolph to JM, 13 December 1782, and nn. 9–12, 16–17.

5Having on 14 December succeeded in tabling the bill of Isaac Zane, Jr., “to reduce the number of delegates representing this State in Congress” (Randolph to JM, 13 December 1782, and nn. 18, 19), the partisans of Arthur Lee on the same day sought through an oblique maneuver to forestall a probable motion of recall directed explicitly and solely against him (n. 6). To this end, they tried to assure Lee’s continuance as a delegate by proposing, in effect, a reaffirmance by the Virginia legislature of its election on 15 June 1782 of Lee and four other men, including JM, as delegates for the year beginning early in November 1782 (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, 336). Lee thereby might receive the vote of some of his opponents in the legislature in exchange for pro-Lee support for their own candidates.

Lee’s advocates prefaced their resolution, calling for “the choice of five delegates to represent” Virginia in Congress until November 1783, by stating: “Whereas, in times of great peril and danger, it is politically wise that the Legislature should make frequent exercise of the power to continue or supersede officers in high and important trust, so as to prevent all possible injury to the public interest, and promote a spirit of free inquiry into the conduct of those to whom the representative trust is confided” (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 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 1782, p. 67). This generalization obviously was intended not only to justify a new election within only six months of the latest one but also to suggest that Arthur Lee, being the sole Virginia delegate whose conduct in Congress had been subjected to “a free inquiry” and approved, especially merited reelection (Randolph to JM, 13 December 1782, and n. 11). Although Lee’s partisans undoubtedly wished to retain Theodorick Bland as a delegate and could hardly expect to displace JM and Joseph Jones, they probably hoped that the vacancy in the delegation, created by Edmund Randolph’s resignation on 11 December, would be filled by someone more in tune with their own views than Randolph had been. Their design was foiled when their motion for a new election “was not approved” by a vote of 37 to 40 (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 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 1782, p. 67).

6On 18 December 1782, by a vote of 48 to 37, the House of Delegates tabled this motion to recall Arthur Lee as a delegate in Congress (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 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 1782, p. 71).

7Randolph interlineated “of this step.” See the final paragraph of this letter and n. 16 for his change of mind about enclosing the “paper.” It probably would have been a copy of the charges against Arthur Lee made in writing by Samuel Griffin, James Mercer, and Meriwether Smith, and presented to the Virginia House of Delegates on 18 December by John Francis Mercer. The charges were (1) that in Philadelphia it was “public conversation” that Samuel Adams, Lee, and Henry Laurens were the leaders of a “British party on the continent”; (2) that the Comte de Vergennes had intercepted a letter to Arthur Lee from Dr. John Berkenhout, a British secret agent (Comments on Temple, 1 August 1782, and n. 3), in which Berkenhout had given assurance that “riches, honors and dignities await your family”; (3) that Arthur Lee as an American commissioner in Paris had “directed his public letters to private friends, to retain what part and produce what part they pleased to Congress”; and (4) that when Lee was in Paris, Vergennes had informed Conrad Alexandre Gérard, the French minister in America, that he “could make no confidential communications” to the American commissioners because “he suspected Dr. Lee and all about him.” These charges were referred for examination and report to the Committee of Privileges and Elections (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 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 1782, p. 72). In a dispatch of 26 October 1778 Vergennes remarked to Gérard, “Je crains M. Lee et ses entours” (I fear Mr. Lee and those around him) (William E. O’Donnell, Chevalier de La Luzerne, pp. 54, n. 50, 169–71). See also James C. Ballagh, ed., Letters of Richard Henry Lee, II, 277.

8See Randolph to JM, 27 December 1782, and nn. 5, 6.

9Following the colon, Randolph at first wrote, “one injoining you to oppose any.”

11Randolph at first wrote “The other.”

12The bill to which Randolph refers was “read a third time” on 19 December (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 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 1782, p. 73). Therefore he probably wrote at least to this point in the present letter on that day rather than on 20 December, as indicated by the date line. Dealing with the “seizure and condemnation of British goods found on land,” this bill in its final form provided for its enforcement to begin on 1 April 1783 rather than immediately upon passage, as had the similar measure which the Senate had declined to accept earlier in the session (Randolph to JM, 22 November 1782, and n. 12; 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 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 1782, pp. 70, 72, 75, 90). In contrast to the unemotional language of the preamble of this rejected bill (MS in Virginia State Library), the preamble of the measure which became a law on 28 December 1782 scathingly pointed to “a ruinous and shameful clandestine trade with the enemies of this commonwealth, to the destruction of fair and open commerce” (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, 162).

14Randolph interlineated the passage beginning with “in” and concluding with “divide.” Immediately after “The” at the beginning of the next sentence he canceled “number.”

15JM wrote this word over “recollection.”

16See n. 7, above. If Randolph enclosed “Mr. Mercer’s facts” in his letter of 27 December 1782 (q.v.), which he partly encoded, he did not mention doing so; nor did JM acknowledge their receipt.

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