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To James Madison from Edmund Randolph, 15 June 1782

From Edmund Randolph

RC (LC: Madison Papers). This letter, in Randolph’s hand, lacks a cover, complimentary close, signature, and docket. Even though the final paragraph suggests that Randolph had completed his message when he reached the bottom of a single sheet of paper, the letter may have included an additional page.

Richmond June 15. 1782.

Dear Sir

Mr. F. Webb, who returned yesterday, informs me, that he is the bearer of another instance of your very friendly attention to me. The letter is at some distance from the town,1 and I shall not be able to see it, before the mail of this week is closed. I sincerely wish, that my matter could supply an equivalent for your interesting communications: but the retrograde motion of the assembly, and a toilsome employment for four days past in the trial of many unfortunate criminals are violent bars to my wishes on this head.2

Not having attended the assembly for the present week in person, I write from information. The tobacco, it seems, is now on float: that is, the house of delegates assented to the measure by a majority of ninety to ten or eleven, and the senate heard not a single negative.3 Mr. Rutledge is said to have been the parent of this revolution, and effectually to have converted all the leading members, except Mr. R. H. Lee, whose perseverance remained undiminished by his arguments.4

The act of the legislature, which passed the delegates yesterday, for cooperating with Maryland in the defence of the bay,5 breathes so much harmony, that something of the virulence respecting western territory ought to be abated on this account.6 It is resolved, to unite vigorously in this important object. And that future occasions may not produce regulations of commerce, by which the one may supplant the other, it is recommended, that the imposts &c of both states shall go hand in hand.

I am called to court, and must therefore postpone a full discharge of those epistolary arrears, for which I am bound to you.7 I beg you to present my respects to Colo. Bland, and inform him, that I received his obliging favor by the last post: and that he may be assured, that I will not remain his debtor in future.

1See JM to Randolph, 6 June 1782. Webb had apparently left the letter at “Pettus’s” (Randolph to JM, 11–13 April 1782, and n. 2).

2As attorney general, Randolph had attended the session of the Virginia General Court terminating on the date of this letter. Two soldiers, found guilty of manslaughter, and a boy “of about twelve,” convicted of grand larceny, were immediately pardoned by the court. Although six men were condemned to death—three for high treason, two for horse stealing, and one for rape—all were eventually pardoned by the governor or by the General Assembly (Virginia Gazette description begins Virginia Gazette, or, the American Advertiser (Richmond, James Hayes, 1781–86). description ends , 22 June 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 , III, 110, 122, 227; 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 , III, 194, 379; Minute Book, House of Delegates, May 1782 description begins Minute Book, House of Delegates, May 1782, MS in Virginia State Library. description ends , pp. 73, 82; 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 1782, pp. 18–19; 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, 129). See also Randolph to JM, 18 July 1782, and n. 17.

3For the oft-mentioned issue of the tobacco to be shipped from Virginia in British flag-of-truce vessels to New York City in exchange for the goods purchased from the traders-capitulant at Yorktown, see Randolph to JM, 21–24 May, and nn. 3, 6, 7, 8; and 1 June 1782. Randolph used the term “on float” in the sense of “free from embarrassments.” On 14 and 15 June 1782 the two houses of the General Assembly, having been convinced by John Rutledge and George Clymer of “the expediency of the proceedings of congress touching the passports granted to certain flag vessels loading” 685 hogsheads of tobacco in Virginia, asked the governor “to give every necessary assistance for carrying the views of congress and their financier into due effect” (MS in Virginia State Library).

4See JCC description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds., Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789 (34 vols.; Washington, 1904–37). description ends , XXII, 311. See also Report on Mission To Inform States of Financial Crisis, 22 May, n. 2; Randolph to JM, 21–24 May; JM to Randolph, 4 June 1782. These two letters include comments about the hostility of Richard Henry Lee and Arthur Lee toward any measure originated or favored by Robert Morris.

5When the “Cormorant” and “Oliver Cromwell,” armed vessels of Virginia, docked at Baltimore, they were obliged by the port officials to give bond for the payment of duties. In a letter of 27 April 1782 Governor Harrison protested to his Maryland counterpart, Thomas Sim Lee, against this infringement “of the usages and customs of Nations” (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, 198–99). On 23 May the Maryland General Assembly, to which Lee had referred the matter, adopted “An Act for the protection of our Bay Trade and to Defend our Citizens exposed to plunder by the Enemy’s Barges.” Included in this law was a provision appointing Robert Hanson Harrison as an agent to consult “the Legislature or Executive” of Virginia “on the most effectual measures for protecting the Trade of the Bay of Chesapeake, and the property of the people inhabiting the shores thereof” (MS in Virginia State Library; W. H. Browne et al., Archives of Maryland, XLVIII, 170–71, 173–74). Largely as a response to the above-mentioned statute and Harrison’s mission to Richmond, the Virginia General Assembly on 13 and 14 June passed resolutions (MS in Virginia State Library; 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 , III, 192–93) and on 1 July 1782 an “act for defending and protecting the trade of Chesapeake bay” (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; 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, 42–44).

The resolutions requested Governor Harrison to correspond with Governor Lee on the subject of “harmonizing as much as possible in the Duties Imposts or Customs that are or may be laid on Commerce” and asked Robert Hanson Harrison to assure his government of the “Cordiality and Pleasure” with which the executive and General Assembly of Virginia had received “the very friendly Invitation of Maryland to join our Marine Forces for the Defence of the Commerce of Chesapeake Bay and its Dependencies and for protecting the Shores from the Ravages of the Enemy.” Also emphasized in these resolutions was the readiness of the General Assembly to promote “the strictest Union of the two States” as conducive to their “Benefit Safety and Happiness.”

Maryland, by a law of 23 May, and Virginia, by hers of 1 July 1782, respectively, allocated ships and funds and appointed commissioners “for the defence and protection of our bay trade” and for the adjustment of disputes arising over these matters. Thus the “Cormorant” and “Oliver Cromwell” incident, although merely one of many episodes illustrating the jealous regard of each state for its sovereignty during the Revolution and the frequent disagreements between Maryland and Virginia for nearly 150 years over the regulation of Chesapeake Bay commerce, helped to foster an accord which was further strengthened at the Mount Vernon Conference of 1785.

6Randolph expresses the hope that Maryland’s opposition to the terms of Virginia’s offer to cede her western lands to Congress will abate if the two states achieve harmony on matters concerning Chesapeake Bay.

7Of the seven letters written by JM to Randolph between 14 May and 11 June, Randolph had received five by 15 June and also knew of JM’s dispatch of 6 June. During the period 16 May to 15 June, both included, Randolph wrote four letters to JM.

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