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To James Madison from Edmund Randolph, 3 January 1783

From Edmund Randolph

RC (LC: Madison Papers). Owing to fading of the ink, considerable portions of the letter are scarcely legible. Cover addressed to “The honble James Madison jr Esqr of congress Philadelphia.” Docketed by JM, “Jany. 3d. 1783.”

Richmond. Jany. 3. 1783.

My dear sir

The post of yesterday brought your two favors of the 17th. and 24th of decr.1

The prospect of softening the states who were at first the most obdurate against the impost of five per cent on imported and captured goods increases the discontent, which the repeal of our law excited in my mind, and which I communicated to you in a former letter.2 I cannot remember whether I then suggested those reasons, which were said to have accomplished the repeal. But as the enumeration of them is short I will endanger a repetition, by informing you, that the act was considered as a measure but ill concocted, having passed at Stanton, the asylum of the assembly from Tarlton’s horses,3 that the most striking mark of this ill concoction was the consignment of funds to the disposal of congress, not warranted by the confederation, that altho’ the objections of a present incapacity to enforce the plan of the confederation for raising a continental revenue was perhaps powerful,4 yet it was better to submit to this evil, than to encourage congress to persist in[?] that scheme of supplying the treasury of the U S, directed by it;5 and that a revenue, raised by such a duty would render congress, too remote from the controuling influence of separate states. I cannot learn that any question was made upon the power of Virginia to revoke her grant. On the first reflection, I conceived, that she possessed it not.6 But as the grant was founded on the condition of the concurrence of the other states, as that concurrence was expected in a reasonable time, as Virginia was not to be constantly bound, until negotiations with the opposing states should convert them,7 even if her own circumstances might change, it would seem as if the positive refusal of R.I. & M. had absolved her from her part of the Engagement.8 But alas! whether the power of abrogation remained with the assembly or not, to what tribunal will you appeal, if they persist in asserting it?9 Will you again deputize? If you do, it may be well to defer the election of the members till about April, as the assembly will not sit before May, and those members should be fitted to the probable temper of the new delegates.10

Colo. Bland left my house yesterday morning, on the 12th day from which time you may expect him at Philadelphia. He carries with him a list of the acts of the last session. The acts themselves shall be forwarded, as soon as they are published.11

I have heard that it appeared from the report of the financier that congress exceeded the two hundred millions which they prescribed as the limit of the paper emissions before that of March 1781. It came from your brother, who attended the last assembly, and astonishes me, being so repugnant to the declaration of congress, and what I supposed to be the fact.12

Oswald’s new commission has revived the hope of peace.13 But on what ground does it rest? On the slippery one of Shelburne’s finess,14 and precarious hold of office, and the jarring pretensions of the various powers, concerned in the war. Has the relief of Gibraltar given no retrograde motion to S’s affectation of peace?15 Has the arrival of the Russ[ian] fleet with naval stores added nothing to his expectations from the navy?16 Or do the exertions of America furnish him with fresh cau[se] of alarm? For my own part, I view peace at a great distance, and will for ever suffocate in my own mind the belief of its approach, until G.B. shall have gone thro’ the quackeries[?] of administration from every faction, and the people themselves refuse further succours.

The rising of the assembly17 produces a relapse into former barrenness, leaving me nothing to add, than assurances of the warmest friendship.

1Papers of Madison description begins William T. Hutchinson, William M. E. Rachal, et al., eds., The Papers of James Madison (6 vols. to date; Chicago, 1962——). description ends , V, 414–16; 448–50.

2This paragraph recapitulates Randolph’s comments about the repeal on 6 and 7 December by the Virginia General Assembly of its ratification of the proposed impost amendment to the Articles of Confederation in his letter of 13 December 1782 to JM (ibid., V, 401).

3That is, the cavalry commanded by Lieutenant Colonel Barnastre Tarleton. See Papers of Madison description begins William T. Hutchinson, William M. E. Rachal, et al., eds., The Papers of James Madison (6 vols. to date; Chicago, 1962——). description ends , III, 96, n. 6; 159, n. 5; 160, n. 6.

4For the impracticality of raising revenue by employing the method stipulated in Article VIII of the Articles of Confederation, see ibid., IV, 56, n. 5; 122; 431, n. 1; V, 295, n. 10.

5Following “congress to,” Randolph wrote one or two words on top of another one or two words. The outcome being virtually illegible, “persist in” is only a doubtfully accurate decipherment of the jumbled letters. The objection to having the proposed impost collected by appointees of Congress rather than of each state had often been advanced by opponents of the amendment. See ibid., V, 416, n. 3.

6In his letter of 13 December 1782 to JM, Randolph had questioned the constitutionality of the annulment by the Virginia General Assembly of its ratification of the amendment. See ibid., V, 401; 405, n. 26.

7On 5 January 1782 the Virginia General Assembly had suspended “the operation of” its ratification act of 23 June 1781 until all other states should agree to the amendment (JHDV 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 , May 1781, p. 32; Oct. 1781, p. 74; 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, 409–10, 451).

8“M,” Massachusetts, had ratified the proposed amendment on 4 May 1782 (Papers of Madison description begins William T. Hutchinson, William M. E. Rachal, et al., eds., The Papers of James Madison (6 vols. to date; Chicago, 1962——). description ends , IV, 221, n. 11). Randolph would have been more accurate had he written “G,” for Georgia (ibid., V, 291, n. 9; JM Notes, 29 Jan. 1783).

9The Articles of Confederation included no provision for a tribunal before which a sovereign state could be haled by Congress.

10For a previous instance when Congress did deputize, see Papers of Madison description begins William T. Hutchinson, William M. E. Rachal, et al., eds., The Papers of James Madison (6 vols. to date; Chicago, 1962——). description ends , IV, 270, and n. 2; V, 373–74. For Randolph’s comments upon the outcome of the election of delegates in April, see his letter of 26 April 1783 to JM. The Virginia General Assembly was scheduled to convene on 5 May (JHDV 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 , May 1783, p. 3).

11Theodorick Bland, a delegate from Virginia to Congress, arrived in Philadelphia on or just before 22 January (JM to Randolph, 22 Jan. 1783). On 5 February Governor Harrison was informed by the “public printer,” James Hayes, Jr., of Richmond, that “utter want of funds with which to procure workmen and material” rendered him unable “to print the Laws” (Cal. of Va. State Papers description begins William P. Palmer et al., eds., Calendar of Virginia State Papers and Other Manuscripts (11 vols.; Richmond, 1875–93). description ends , III, 432). Harrison’s letter of 15 May 1783 to the speaker of the House of Delegates reveals that this situation was still unchanged (Executive Letter Book, 1783–1786, p. 125, MS in Va. State Library).

12Although none of JM’s brothers, Francis (1753–1800), Ambrose (1755–1793), or William (1762–1843), was a member of the Virginia General Assembly, one of them may have attended as a spectator. JM’s second cousin, Thomas Madison (1746–1798), served as a delegate from Botetourt County during the recent session, and Randolph perhaps concluded that he was JM’s brother (Swem and Williams, Register description begins Earl G. Swem and John W. Williams, eds., A Register of the General Assembly of Virginia, 1776–1918, and of the Constitutional Conventions (Richmond, 1918). description ends , p. 15; Robert Douthat Stoner, A Seed-Bed of the Republic: A Study of the Pioneers in the Upper (Southern) Valley of Virginia [Roanoke, Va., 1962], pp. 305–7).

The total emissions of the old continental bills of credit had not much exceeded $200,000,000 face value. On 1 September 1779 Congress resolved that “on no account whatever” would more than that total be issued (JCC description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds., Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789 (34 vols.; Washington, 1904–37). description ends , XIV, 1013–14). Having emitted that amount, Congress on 18 March 1780, not 1781, apportioned the $200,000,000 by quotas among the states for cancellation at the ratio of 40 to 1 (JCC description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds., Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789 (34 vols.; Washington, 1904–37). description ends , XVI, 216, 262–67). Contrary to plan, the process of cancellation was far from completed by the close of 1782 and remained a problem for about seven more years. See Index to Papers of Madison description begins William T. Hutchinson, William M. E. Rachal, et al., eds., The Papers of James Madison (6 vols. to date; Chicago, 1962——). description ends , V, under Continental Congress, actions on paper money; Madison, James, views of paper currency; Money, continental paper. The “financier” was Robert Morris.

14Finesse. The Earl of Shelburne had been head of the British ministry since 4 July 1782 (Papers of Madison description begins William T. Hutchinson, William M. E. Rachal, et al., eds., The Papers of James Madison (6 vols. to date; Chicago, 1962——). description ends , IV, 240, nn. 17, 18).

16Randolph may have noted in the Pennsylvania Packet of 17 December 1782 a news item of 24 September from London to the effect that the “Baltic Convoy,” numbering “near 300 sail” and laden with “a vast supply of naval stores,” had arrived at a port in Yorkshire.

17The Virginia General Assembly had adjourned on 28 December 1782 (JHDV 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 , Oct. 1782, p. 91).

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