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To James Madison from Edmund Randolph, 26 April 1782

From Edmund Randolph

RC (LC: Madison Papers). Unsigned, but in Randolph’s hand. Addressed to “The honble James Madison jr. of Congress Philadelphia.”

Richmond April 26. 1782.

Dear sir

The principle of “timeo Danaos et dona ferentes”1 has so powerful an effect upon the minds of our executive, that they seem fearful, lest the proposal of Pennsylvania to run a temporary line should contain an ambuscade. It offers the extension of Mason and Dixon’s line three and twenty miles. To this the governor and council are ready to assent. But hearing, that this line was produced by the Pennsylvania commissioner, after the commissioner for Maryland had left him, and that this produced line also goes under the name of Mason and Dixon’s, they apprehend, that the 23 miles are intended to be started from the termination of the produced line. There may be some reason for this apprehension, if the part added is to the south of the latitude of Mason and Dixon’s line. But if it be not, I hardly think it of sufficient consequence to bustle about it: as the 5° of longitude must necessarily be the distance of the western boundary of Penna. from the Delaware.2 Pray inquire into, and transmit to me the particulars of this Addition, made by the Penna. commissioner: and be sure to inform me, what Distance Mason and Dixon’s line was run by the two commissioners in conjunction.3

I can give you no intelligence as to supplies. I fear, however, that it is the fate of the delegation to undergo anew a state of humiliation and poverty.4

I beg to learn, how far the Dutch are warped from the war by negotiations with Britain. When I left you, his britannick majesty seemed disposed to a separate peace with them: but nothing appeared to warrant the belief, that they would yield to the seduction. Probably you have acquired more recent notice.5

Yrs mo. sincerely.

1“I fear the Greeks, even when bringing gifts” (Virgil Aeneid ii. 49).

2See Harrison to JM, 19 January, and nn. 2 and 3; JM to Harrison, 1 February, and n. 2; Jefferson to JM, 24 March 1782, and n. 5. Contrary to Governor Harrison’s belief, Charles Mason (1730–1787) and Jeremiah Dixon (d. 1773) were not employed from 1764 to 1767 by the proprietors of Pennsylvania and Maryland to favor either province but merely to survey accurately the boundary between the two provinces. Hostile Indians compelled the surveyors to abandon their task when they were about twenty-three miles from the western end of the line. For excellent summaries of the basis and course, prior to 1776, of the controversy between Pennsylvania and Virginia over the ownership of the territory from the westernmost range of the Allegheny Mountains to, or even beyond, the Ohio River, including much of the Monongahela and Youghiogheny river valleys and also “the forks” at Fort Pitt, 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 , I, 234–36, 594–97; and Solon J. Buck and Elizabeth Hawthorn Buck, The Planting of Civilization in Western Pennsylvania (Pittsburgh, 1939), pp. 156–72. The dozen conflicting solutions, including several “temporary” lines offered by officials of Virginia or Pennsylvania between 1774 and 1779, are shown on Plate 97G of Charles O. Paullin, Atlas of the Historical Geography of the United States, ed. by John K. Wright (Washington and New York, 1932).

Although the issue could not be discussed without mentioning the ambiguous and apparently overlapping boundaries stipulated in the London Company’s charter of 1609 and William Penn’s of 1681, much more practical considerations by 1781 mainly accounted for the heat of the controversy in the disputed areas and the seeming inability to reach an equitable compromise. Among these circumstances were the following: (1) A considerable number of Virginians and a lesser number of Pennsylvanians had settled there—some as squatters, some as tenants of absentee landlords with conflicting claims to extensive acreages, and a few with patents from these landlords or from Virginia or Pennsylvania. (2) Political and military officials were in conflict, because each of these states had created counties embracing the disputed territory. (3) Indian tribes were fighting each other and allegedly were goaded by frontiersmen of each state to attack the settlers of the other. (4) Agitation by Tories added to the chronic turmoil. (5) The Pennsylvania settlers, especially, were resisting the efforts of George Rogers Clark and the local officials of Virginia to enlist volunteers or forcibly to draft militia for service against the British and Indians in the Northwest Territory. (6) A few malcontents, probably encouraged by British agents or by leaders of the Indiana Company, which claimed much of the region west of the Monongahela River, were endeavoring to have the settlers secede from both Pennsylvania and Virginia and gain statehood, along with a confirmation of land titles from Congress. These would-be seceders contended that the disputed territory, being west of the Appalachian watershed, had reverted from Pennsylvania or Virginia to the Crown in consequence of the Royal Proclamation Line of 1763. Therefore, the Declaration of Independence had transferred to Congress, as successor to the Crown, the sole jurisdiction over the region (JCC description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds., Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789 (34 vols.; Washington, 1904–37). description ends , II, 76; XXII, 223–32, 240–41; Calendar of Virginia 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 , I, 273–74; 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 , IX, 262–63; 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 , I, 280, 330, 373; Pennsylvania Archives description begins Samuel Hazard et al., eds., Pennsylvania Archives (9 ser.; 138 vols.; Philadelphia and Harrisburg, 1852–1949). description ends , 1st ser., IX, 193–94, 233–34, 315–19, 343–45; Motion To Amend Lee’s Motion on Western Lands, 18 April, n. 1; JM to Pendleton, 23 April 1782, and n. 8).

At Baltimore on 31 August 1779 commissioners of Pennsylvania and Virginia had agreed to “extend Mason’s and Dixon’s line due west five degrees of longitude, to be computed from the river Delaware, for the southern boundary of Pennsylvania, and that a meridian drawn from the western extremity thereof to the northern limit of the said state be the western boundary of Pennsylvania forever” (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, 533). Although the Pennsylvania General Assembly ratified this compact on 19 November 1779, the Virginia General Assembly delayed until 4 July 1780 before expressing an approval, qualified by provisos intended to protect the personal and property rights of Virginians who, after the delineation of the boundary, would be under Pennsylvania’s jurisdiction (ibid., X, 534–37). In the meantime, responding to a complaint lodged by Pennsylvania, Congress on 27 December 1779 had requested Pennsylvania and Virginia (and they soon agreed) to cease granting land within the area in controversy “until the dispute can be amicably settled by both states or brought to a just decision by the intervention of Congress” (JCC description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds., Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789 (34 vols.; Washington, 1904–37). description ends , XV, 1411; 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, 37 n., 97–100; 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, 239). In the background of this resolution were the Indiana Company’s memorial of 14 September 1779 and the then unratified Articles of Confederation, whose ninth article designated Congress as “the last resort on appeal in all disputes and differences now subsisting or that hereafter may arise between two or more states concerning boundary, jurisdiction or any other cause whatever” (JCC description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds., Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789 (34 vols.; Washington, 1904–37). description ends , XV, 1063–65; XIX, 217–18).

Governor Jefferson of Virginia and President Reed of Pennsylvania desired “to establish Peace, Good Order & Government as soon as possible” in the disputed area, so that, incidentally, the inhabitants would be deprived of their customary “Pretence of unsettled Boundary” as a justification of their continuous bickering. After the two executives came to recognize the impracticality, under the existing circumstances, of running a permanent boundary line “by astronomical observations” in accord with the Baltimore agreement of 1779, they decided to resort to “a temporary line,” which would serve until the making of a definitive survey in the spring of 1782. The invasion of Virginia by the British, the harassment of the controversial borderland by Indians, the opposition of some of its frontiersmen to surveyors, and lack of money prevented even this stopgap action from taking place during 1781 (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 , III, 586; V, 303–4, 374–75, 478; VI, 74; Pennsylvania Archives description begins Samuel Hazard et al., eds., Pennsylvania Archives (9 ser.; 138 vols.; Philadelphia and Harrisburg, 1852–1949). description ends , 1st ser., IX, 20–21, 300–302, 304–5, 374–75, 402–3, 438–40, 444–45, 468).

Governor Harrison readily acquiesced to the resolution of 2 March 1782 of the Pennsylvania General Assembly to postpone surveying a permanent boundary until after the war, but he obviously was less eager than President Moore of Pennsylvania to have a temporary line drawn without delay. For awhile in the spring and early summer, Moore threatened to proceed with the survey, even though Virginia would not co-operate (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 , III, 176–77, 179–80; Pennsylvania Archives description begins Samuel Hazard et al., eds., Pennsylvania Archives (9 ser.; 138 vols.; Philadelphia and Harrisburg, 1852–1949). description ends , 1st ser., IX, 506–7, 519). Harrison’s hesitation reflected not only his belief that the western portion of Mason and Dixon’s line had been marked too far south and, hence, by being extended would give Pennsylvania more of the disputed area than was rightfully her due, but also his conviction, shared by Randolph, that Pennsylvania should be obliged prior to the survey to guarantee the personal and property rights, and the political privileges, of Virginians who, once the boundary had been defined, would become residents of Pennsylvania. Randolph also suggested to Harrison, in a letter of 22 April, that the rights, if any, of Congress and the Indiana Company in the territory at issue should be clarified (Randolph to Harrison, 22 April 1782, MS in Virginia State Library; 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 , III, 198, 206).

On 6 June 1782 the Virginia General Assembly responded to Harrison’s request for instructions by directing him to appoint a surveyor to join with one of Pennsylvania in drawing a “temporary boundary” by extending Mason and Dixon’s line twenty-three miles west and proceeding from its termination due north to the Ohio River (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 , III, 216, 235–36, 261, 287; Pennsylvania Archives description begins Samuel Hazard et al., eds., Pennsylvania Archives (9 ser.; 138 vols.; Philadelphia and Harrisburg, 1852–1949). description ends , 1st ser., IX, 562). Although the Pennsylvania surveyor had arrived at the agreed starting point by 10 June and was impatient to begin the survey, President Moore deferred to Harrison’s wish to postpone the work until November, when trees and undergrowth would be bare of leaves and when, very likely, Indian war parties would have left the area (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 , III, 291; Pennsylvania Archives description begins Samuel Hazard et al., eds., Pennsylvania Archives (9 ser.; 138 vols.; Philadelphia and Harrisburg, 1852–1949). description ends , 1st ser., IX, 562, 564–67, 585, 588). On 28 November 1782 the boundary commissioners signed a joint report to the effect that they had run the temporary line as directed. By then Governor Harrison had received a letter from JM, telling of a rumored secession movement in the western Pennsylvania-Virginia border country and encroachments there by Pennsylvanians on land held under Virginia titles (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 , III, 386–87; 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 , III, 228, 474; Colonial Records of Pennsylvania, XIII, 541–42; Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography, XXXVIII [1914], 407–26; JM to Harrison, 15 November 1782, MS in Princeton University Library). See also Harrison to JM, 19 January 1782, n. 3.

3If JM answered Randolph’s request, the letter has not been found.

5See JM to Pendleton, 23 April, and n. 5; and JM to Randolph, 7 May 1782, and n. 3.

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