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Virginia Delegates to Benjamin Harrison, 1 August 1783

Virginia Delegates to Benjamin Harrison

RC (Virginia State Library). In Arthur Lee’s hand, except for Theodorick Bland’s signature. Addressed to “His Excely. Govr. Harrison.” For the absence of JM’s signature, see Delegates to Harrison, 24 June 1783, ed. n.

Princeton Augt. 1st. 1783

Sir,

Congress have directed the Superintendent of Finance to make public an order he has given to the continental Receivers in the different States, to receive the Notes issued from his Office in payment of the Army, in exchange for hard money, as that shall come to hand. This order having been known to a few only, & not to the Soldiers, & other holders of those notes, it was apprehended that it woud expose them to be speculated upon, & deprivd of the fruits of their toils & sufferings at a very low rate, to their great injury. We think it our duty to give your Excellency this information, that you may make it public if you judge it adviseable.1

The discovery of the Forgers of our Paper, in N. York, will it is to be hopd, arrest that nefarious practice in this quarter of the U. S. & as there appear to be many persons concernd in similar practice in Virginia, we trust that government will use every diligence to have them tracd out, & brought to punishment.2 It woud appear, that the information we had receivd of the arrival of the Definitive treaty at N. York, in the Mercury frigate, tho it came from Rivington who it was conceivd must know, was premature3

Nothing has yet been decided relative to the matters we laid before Congress on the part of the State4

We have the honor to be, with great respect Yr. Excellency’s most Obedt. Servts.

Theok: Bland Jr

Arthur Lee

1JM seems to have been absent on all of the days when this matter was before Congress. On 11 July Congress referred to Robert Morris for comment a proposed resolution, drafted by Bland on behalf of a committee of which he was chairman, reading: “That the Superintendant of finance be directed immediately to order the receivers of the continental revenue in each State, to receive the notes issued by his order for the payment of the army, whether signed by himself or Michael Hillegas, treasurer, payable in one, two, three, four, five or six months in discharge of the requisition for eight millions of dollars, for the expence of the year 1782, and that he immediately publish the said order in all the newspapers in the several states.” On the same day Morris was further directed to inform Congress of what “measures” he had taken or expected to take “to redeem the notes” which had been or would be issued to the continental officers and troops in accord with the resolution of 26 May (JCC description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds., Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789 (34 vols.; Washington, 1904–37). description ends , XXIV, 430–32). For that resolution, see Papers of Madison description begins William T. Hutchinson, William M. E. Rachal, et al., eds., The Papers of James Madison (7 vols. to date; Chicago, 1962——). description ends , VI, 486, and nn. 2, 3; JM Notes, 20 May, and nn. 1, 2; 26 May, and n. 2; 11–12 June 1783, n. 1.

In his report of 15 July, laid before Congress three days later, Morris stated that he had “long since” instructed the continental receivers to take “in Payment of the Taxes” all the notes signed by him, and to exchange them, on demand, for whatever “public Money” was in “their Hands.” Having heretofore treated all varieties of these notes equally, Morris strongly opposed the proposal to confine a public announcement, in regard to an exchange for specie, only to those notes issued “in payment of the Army.” To do so, Morris warned, would “destroy what little Credit is at present reposed in the public Servants, and by bringing home immediately all other Notes which have been issued render it impracticable to discharge them, in which Case the Notes issued to the Army could be of no use because no Body would take them” (JCC description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds., Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789 (34 vols.; Washington, 1904–37). description ends , XXIV, 441–42). In a long letter of 18 July, spread on the journal on 26 July, Morris reminded Congress that eleven days before its resolution of 26 May he had warned a committee of Congress that, lacking the $750,000 required to cover three months’ pay for the troops, he would be obliged to resort to notes rather than cash, and that up to 18 July he had furnished the Paymaster General with notes of $500,000 face value. “Congress,” continued Morris, “solemnly pledged to me (for the Purpose of inducing my Continuance in Office)” to redeem, by means of “the vigorous Exertions of the several States in the Collection of Taxes” and, if possible, “a further Loan of three Million Livres” from Louis XVI of France, “those Notes issued to the Army as well as to fulfill all the other Engagements which I have taken or may take on the public account” (JCC description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds., Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789 (34 vols.; Washington, 1904–37). description ends , XXIV, 447–51).

The committee, consisting of Bland, chairman, Stephen Higginson, and James McHenry, to which Congress referred Morris’ report of 15 July and his letter of 18 July, rendered its first report on 29 July. Following what appears to have been a lengthy debate on that day and the next, Congress agreed, after considerably altering both the language and intent of the committee’s report, that “The Superintendant of finance having reported to Congress, ‘that the receivers in the several states have long since been instructed to take all notes signed by the Superintendant of finance, in payment of taxes; and also to take up all such notes whenever tendered, if they have public money in their hands;’ Ordered, That the Superintendant of finance be directed to publish the above information” (JCC description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds., Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789 (34 vols.; Washington, 1904–37). description ends , XXIV, 477–79, 480–82). Although the avowed purpose of Bland and Higginson was to protect the veterans against speculators, their aim no doubt was also to harass Morris (Papers of Madison description begins William T. Hutchinson, William M. E. Rachal, et al., eds., The Papers of James Madison (7 vols. to date; Chicago, 1962——). description ends , VI, 304; 305, n. 4; 306, n. 6; 357; 473, n. 7; Burnett, Letters description begins Edmund C. Burnett, ed., Letters of Members of the Continental Congress (8 vols.; Washington, 1921–36). description ends , VII, 123, 166–67, 184, and n. 5, 243–44, 252, and n. 5, 306, n. 6).

In the present letter the delegates conveyed the erroneous impression that the directive to Morris applied only to the notes issued “in payment of the Army.” With their letter, however, they evidently enclosed a copy of the congressional resolution. It appeared in the Virginia Gazette of 16 August—one day after Harrison, in his acknowledgment to the delegates, assured them that he would acquaint the “public” with the “information” (Harrison to Delegates, 15 Aug. 1783). George Webb was the continental receiver general of taxes in Virginia.

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