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Edmund Randolph to Virginia Delegates, 15 March 1787

Edmund Randolph to Virginia Delegates

Richmond March 15. 1787

Gentlemen,

I have the honor of acknowledging the receipt of your favor of the 5th. instant, and the inclosed memorial from Mr. Van Berkel. Should any public document throw a light upon his demand in the course of its discussion, it will be very agreeable to the executive to have access to it.

The complaints of our merchants against the pressures of the late laws of trade have formed a distressing picture of our commerce: Yesterday was handed to me an address in folio from the mercantile interest at Norfolk; representing among a gloomy group instances of vessels, having touched in Virginia and immediately abandoning it for Maryland.1 Unfortunately too they were not acquainted with a tax of 6d. per month on Virginia seamen alone for the payment of annuities to the widows of sailors, registered, and the necessity of incurring a fee of pilotage, even for the smallest sea vessels. The act imposing the 6d. being of the revised code, and having passed in October 1785, crept into existence, unthought of at the last session, while the assembly were accumulating duties; and the fee of pilotage was certainly unknown to be capable of such desolation in our small shipping.2

From the recommendations of the county courts for appointments to commands in the militia, we have reason to hope for a speedy recovery from the late confusions in the arrangements of our national defence. But I fear, that energy will be long a stranger to our efforts; unless the legislature will surrender popular men in favor of able and experienced officers.3

We are on the point of erecting a general magazine and arsenal in the county of Fluvanna;4 and the determination of the executive seems to be to provide by every possible means, for the defence of our country against invasion or insurrection. But I doubt whether we shall discover more than zealous wishes, and the barrenness of our treasury.

Every day brings some apprehensions of an attack on Kentucky. We can assist them no further than to furnish them with blank commissions for officering the militia.5 I have the honor gentlemen to be with great respect & esteem yr. mo. ob. serv.

Edm: Randolph

Be so good as to send me a copy of the treaty with Sweden.

RC (DLC).

1An undated address of the Norfolk and Portsmouth merchants was filed as an enclosure to Randolph’s letter to the Speaker of the House of Delegates, 15 Oct. 1787 (Vi: Executive Communications). See also a similar address of the Portsmouth merchants of 14 Feb. 1787 in 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 , IV, 238–41, and Charles Lee to Randolph, 19 Feb. 1787, ibid., IV, 245–46. The merchants complained that the act “concerning Naval Officers” had too many restrictions and that the trade laws “far from producing a permanent addition to the Revenue … tend to decrease it by lessening the importations” (ibid., IV, 240). JM was the principal author of “An act to amend the several acts of Assembly concerning Naval Officers, and the collection of the Duties” (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 , XII, 304–19).

2On seamen’s pensions and pilotage fees, see ibid., XII, 132–33, 300–302.

3The militia reform law of 1784 had empowered the executive to appoint a new set of county lieutenants and regimental field officers (ibid., XI, 481). Protests against this law, however, caused the legislature to restore the old officers at the 1785 session, and to restrict the executive’s power of appointment to filling vacancies (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 , IV, 75–77; JM to Jefferson, 22 Jan. 1786, Papers of Madison description begins William T. Hutchinson et al., eds., The Papers of James Madison (9 vols. to date; Chicago, 1962——). description ends , VIII, 478; 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 , XII, 9–10).

4For a description of the proposed arsenal at “Point of Fork” (at the confluence of the Rivanna and James rivers), see JCSV description begins H. R. McIlwaine et al., eds., Journals of the Council of the State of Virginia (4 vols. to date; Richmond, 1931——). description ends , IV, 344–45.

5See Levi Todd to Randolph, 14 Feb. 1787, 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 , IV, 237–38. The council had earlier complained to the legislature that its authority to procure military stores extended “no farther, than to draw on the Contingent Fund; and upon the deficiency of this fund, the Militia must remain unprovided” (JCSV description begins H. R. McIlwaine et al., eds., Journals of the Council of the State of Virginia (4 vols. to date; Richmond, 1931——). description ends , IV, 15–16).

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