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To James Madison from Thomas Jefferson, 24 March 1782

From Thomas Jefferson

Draft (LC: Jefferson Papers).

Monticello Mar. 24 1782

Dr Sir

I have recd from you two several favours on the subject of the designs against the territorial rights of Virginia.1 I never before could comprehend on what principle our right to the Western country could be denied which would not at the same time subvert the rights of all the states to the whole of their territory. what objections may be founded on the Charter of N. York I cannot say, having never seen that charter nor been able to get a copy of it in this country.2 I had thought to have seised the first leisure on my return from the last assembly to have considered & stated our right and to have communicated to our Delegates or perhaps to the public so much as I could trace, and expected to have derived some assistance from antient M.S.S. which I have been able to collect. these with my other papers & books however had been removed to Augusta to be out of danger from the enemy3 & have not yet been brought back. the ground on which I now find the question to be bottomed is so unknown to me that it is out of my power to say any thing on the subject. should it be practicable for me to procure a copy of the charter of N Y. I shall probably think on it, and would cheerfully communicate to you whatever could occur to me worth your notice. but this will probably be much too late to be of any service before Congress who doubtless will decide ere long on the subject. I sincerely wish their decision may tend to the preservation of peace. If I am not totally deceived in the determination of this country the decision of Congress if unfavourable, will not close the question.4 I suppose some people on the Western waters who are ambitious to be Governors &c will urge a separation by authority of Congress: but the bulk of the people Westward are already thrown into great ferment by the report of what is proposed, to which I think they will not submit. this separation is unacceptable to us in form only & not in substance. on the contrary I may safely say it is desired by the Eastern part of our country whenever their Western brethren shall think themselves able to stand alone. in the mean time on the petition of the Western counties a plan is digesting for rendering their access to government more easy.5

I trouble you with the inclosed to Monsr. Marbois.6 I had the pleasure of hearing that your father & family were well yesterday, by your brother who is about to study the law in my neighborhood.7 I shall alwais be glad to hear from you; & if it be possible for me, retired from public business to find any thing worth your notice, I shall communicate it with great pleasure. I am with sincere esteem Dr Sir

your friend & sert

1JM’s “two several favours” were those of 18 November 1781 and 15 January 1782. For the latter, see above; for the former, see Papers of Madison description begins William T. Hutchinson, William M. E. Rachal, et al., eds., The Papers of James Madison (4 vols. to date; Chicago, 1962——). description ends , III, 307–8; 309, n. 7.

2The territory granted in the charter of 1663/64 from King Charles II to his brother James, Duke of York, did not overlap the western claims of Virginia. For the basis of New York’s alleged title to land in the Old Northwest, see Papers of Madison description begins William T. Hutchinson, William M. E. Rachal, et al., eds., The Papers of James Madison (4 vols. to date; Chicago, 1962——). description ends , II, 73–74.

3That is, to Staunton, Augusta County, to which the Virginia General Assembly had fled about 1 June 1781, to avoid capture by British troops (Papers of Madison description begins William T. Hutchinson, William M. E. Rachal, et al., eds., The Papers of James Madison (4 vols. to date; Chicago, 1962——). description ends , III, 120; 121, n. 3).

4This sentence was interlineated by Jefferson.

5Many circumstances contributed to the discontent of the men “on the Western waters.” The earlier victories of George Rogers Clark over the British and their Indian allies had been largely nullified by the winter of 1781–1782. Having under his immediate command only a small force of state troops, poorly equipped and long unpaid, Clark could not maintain a garrison at Vincennes or more than a “few spys” at Kaskaskia and Cahokia. His belief that the British at Detroit were preparing a spring and summer assault by many Indians against Kentucky and the Kanawha Valley area of Virginia was supported by the unusual number of small raids into those regions from north of the Ohio River during the winter months (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 , II, 529–31, 562–64, 651; III, 68, 87–88). Blockhouses were useless as a means of protecting outlying settlements against these forays. Determined to defend their families, the scattered militiamen naturally refused Clark’s summons to garrison a fort or share in an expedition far from their homes.

Probably of even more importance in stimulating movements for separate statehood in Washington County and in Kentucky were the remoteness of the capital and the inadequacies of civil government on the frontier, the inability of pioneers to secure titles to acres which they had improved and defended, absentee ownership of huge tracts, competitive land speculation, and, as Jefferson remarks in the present letter, people “ambitious to be Governors.” On 8 April 1782 John Floyd of Kentucky commented in a letter to John May that “the new invented Ideas of a separate State, calculated on purpose for disaffection & an Evasion of duty … seems to threaten us on all sides with Anarchy, Confusion & I may add Destruction” (ibid., III, 121; Thomas P. Abernethy, Western Lands and the American Revolution, pp. 258–65, 302–3).

As Jefferson foresaw, at least two petitions from residents of the “three counties of Kentucky” were presented to the Virginia General Assembly at its session of May 1782. The forty-one signers of one of these memorials asked the Assembly to compel all absentee owners either to cultivate their huge acreages of Kentucky land or to dispose of them to settlers. If their request was granted, the petitioners continued, Kentucky would advance “towards that stage of maturity when the tenderness of a kind parent to a departing child, will direct us to form a constitution and act for ourselves.” On 1 June 1782 the House of Delegates ordered that this petition “lie on the table” (Kentucky Petitions, MSS in Virginia State Library). A considerably longer memorial, signed by fifty-seven Kentuckians, had already been received by the House of Delegates. After portraying their hard lot because of inadequate defense against Indians, scarce or almost worthless money, and the lack of homestead and pre-emption laws, the petitioners prayed “you to take into Consideration and Create them a power Sufficient for their Controul and better Government” or to intercede “with the Honourable the Continental Congress for their Incorporation with them.” Aside from a rather lengthy résumé of the contents, the docketing of this memorial reads, cryptically: “Kentuckey petition May 30th: 1782. referred to Courts of Justice June 13th 1782. Some parts Reasonable. Other parts Rejected[.] Reported” (Kentucky Petitions, MSS in Virginia State Library). Evidently the legislature did not grant the alternative request of the petitioners by asking Congress to admit Kentucky to the Union as a state. On the other hand, the General Assembly provided “a supreme court of judicature of original jurisdiction” for the three Kentucky counties (Jefferson, Fayette, and Lincoln) and directed the register of the land office to “issue pre-emption warrants” for a maximum of four hundred acres to Kentuckians whose claims to land should be uncontested within the period specified by the law (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, 431–32; XI, 85–92, 103). See Papers of Madison description begins William T. Hutchinson, William M. E. Rachal, et al., eds., The Papers of James Madison (4 vols. to date; Chicago, 1962——). description ends , III, 349, n. 9.

Following 23 August 1780, when the earliest petition “from sundry inhabitants of Kentucke” reached Congress, two years elapsed before another memorial from that area “was filed in the office of the Secretary of Congress” (NA: PCC, No. 48, fols. 237–44; JCC description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds., Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789 (34 vols.; Washington, 1904–37). description ends , XVII, 760; XXIII, 532; Papers of Madison description begins William T. Hutchinson, William M. E. Rachal, et al., eds., The Papers of James Madison (4 vols. to date; Chicago, 1962——). description ends , II, 65, and nn.).

6In this letter of 24 March to François, Marquis de Barbé-Marbois, Jefferson explained why he had delayed so long to reply to the Marquis’ questions about Virginia (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 , VI, 171–72). Jefferson’s answers were the basis of his well-known Notes on the State of Virginia (Papers of Madison description begins William T. Hutchinson, William M. E. Rachal, et al., eds., The Papers of James Madison (4 vols. to date; Chicago, 1962——). description ends , III, 330, n. 1; JM to Jefferson, 18 March 1782, n. 6).

7Although JM’s brother William visited Charlottesville to determine whether he could study law there, he evidently did not come under Jefferson’s tutelage until several months later (JM to James Madison, Sr., 20 May 1782). Late in the following November this arrangement necessarily ended when Jefferson consented to be “a minister plenipotentiary for negotiating peace with Great Britain” (JCC description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds., Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789 (34 vols.; Washington, 1904–37). description ends , XXIII, 720–21; 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 , VI, 202, 206).

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