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From James Madison to Edmund Randolph, 18 August 1783

To Edmund Randolph

RC (LC: Madison Papers). Docketed by Randolph, “J. Madison Aug: 18. 1783.”

Philada. Aug. 18. 1783.

Dear Sir

I have not this week any more than the last the pleasure of acknowledging a favor from you.1 Perhaps I may find one at Princeton when I get there.2 On thursday a question for returning to Philada. was put and decided in the Negative by a large majority. The friends of the measure foreseeing its fate, and supposing that a negative declaration cd. answer no good purpose and might an ill-one, withdrew it. The more moderate opponents concurred in the inexpediency of proclaiming unnecessarily an aversion in Congs to Philada. But some of this class were so keen in their hostility, that a motion was made by two of them to return, who on the question voted agst. their own motion. The public will not I believe fix on this proceeding as one of the brightest pages of the Journals! The abuses to which such an artifice may be extended are palpable. The merit of it in this application belongs to Mr. Howel of R. I. & Mr. B——d of V. The motion was first made by Mr. L. but in the course of the transaction devolved on Mr. Howel.3 I know of none that will read with pleasure this affair unless it be the Executive of Pa. and those who wish to refer the removal of Congs. to other motives than the national dignity & welfare.4

Congs. have letters from Mr. Laurens of the 17th. June but they decide nothing as to the definitive Treaty. We have no reason however to impute the delay to any cause which renders the event suspicious. It is said that the British Councils grow more & more wary on the subject of a Commercial Treaty with the U. S. and that the spirit of the Navigation act is likely to prevail over a more liberal system.5

S. Carolina we learn has agreed to the Impost on condition only that the revenue be collected by her own officers, & be credited to her own quota. It is supposed that she will agree to exchange the valuation of land for the proposed rule of numbers: But on this point R. I., is even more inflexible than on that of the Impost.6 I pity from my heart the officers of the Eastern line7 who are threatened by these prospects with disappointments which the Southern officers have no Idea of. From much conversation which I have lately had with some of the former, and from other information, there appears great reason to believe th[at] if no Continental provision be made for them they will not only be docked of their half pay, but will run great hazard of being put off with regard to a great share of their other pay on the pretence of their States that they have already advanced beyond their proportion8

I expect Mr. Jones every moment.9

1JM to Randolph, 12 Aug., and n. 1; Randolph to JM, 23 Aug. 1783. JM inadvertently repeated “the” before “last.”

2Mercer to JM, 14 Aug. 1783, n. 9. Many years later JM or someone at his bidding inserted a bracket immediately following this sentence and a matching bracket at the close of the letter’s second paragraph. Brackets also enclose the last paragraph. These brackets were to designate the portions of the letter to be published in the first extensive edition of JM’s writings (Madison, Papers [Gilpin ed.] description begins Henry D. Gilpin, ed., The Papers of James Madison (3 vols.; Washington, 1840). description ends , I, 564–66).

3Delegates to Harrison, 14–15 Aug. 1783, and n. 7. As recorded in the journal, the sequence of motions and countermotions concerning the meeting place of Congress began on 31 July and culminated on 14 August. On the earlier of these dates, Jacob Read, seconded by James McHenry, moved, “That on the   the President shall adjourn Congress, to meet at Philadelphia, on   there to continue until the last Monday in October next, at which time the President shall adjourn Congress, to meet at Annapolis on the Friday following, unless Congress shall before that time have determined otherwise.” On 1 August Bland, seconded by Howell, moved to fill the first blank with 8 August and the second blank with 12 August. Immediately thereafter they introduced a second motion to strike out all the words in the Read motion following the second blank. The outcome of a tallied vote was to delete those words—their retention being supported by the effective vote of South Carolina alone. In this poll, Bland voted to excise the words and Arthur Lee to retain them. Congress then adopted a motion by Lee, seconded by Samuel Holten, to give the Read motion “farther consideration” on 6 August (JCC description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds., Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789 (34 vols.; Washington, 1904–37). description ends , XXIV, 484–85).

It was not until 13 August, however, that “Agreeable to the order of the day,” Congress considered a Howell-Bland motion, offered on 11 August, for adjourning on 15 August and reconvening in Philadelphia on 21 August. Read, seconded by Daniel Carroll, moved that consideration of the motion be postponed “in order to take up” a new recommendation. Prefacing it with a “Whereas” paragraph to the effect that a continued stay in Princeton was no longer “necessary or expedient,” because the mutiny which obliged Congress to move there had been suppressed, Read then repeated the Howell-Bland proposal, but with the supplement “that on the second Monday in October next,” Congress adjourn to meet in Annapolis one week later, “unless Congress shall in the mean time order otherwise.” The attempt to substitute this motion failed by a vote of 3 to 5. On this poll both Bland and Lee, the only Virginia delegates in attendance, voted “no.” Congress adjourned after debating the Howell-Bland motion and entering on the journal a motion of the Pennsylvania delegates expressing the desire of the executive of their state that Congress return to Philadelphia (JCC description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds., Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789 (34 vols.; Washington, 1904–37). description ends , XXIV, 506–8, 508, n. 2; Jones to JM, 21 July 1783, n. 4).

On Thursday, 14 August, the “friends” of the Howell-Bland motion, recognizing that it could not pass, sought to postpone its “farther consideration.” The motion to postpone, introduced by James Duane of New York, failed to carry by a vote of 5 to 3. Bland, Lee, and Howell, also presumably “friends,” were against postponement. On the poll to agree to the Howell-Bland motion, those three delegates all voted “no.” The motion failed, with only the Pennsylvania and Maryland delegates being unanimously in its favor (JCC description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds., Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789 (34 vols.; Washington, 1904–37). description ends , XXIV, 508–9; Varnum L. Collins, Continental Congress at Princeton, pp. 168–72; Burnett, Letters description begins Edmund C. Burnett, ed., Letters of Members of the Continental Congress (8 vols.; Washington, 1921–36). description ends , VII, 262–63, 268, n. 2, 272; Delegates to Harrison, 14–15 Aug., and n. 7; Mercer to JM, 14 Aug. 1783).

4The outcome of the poll made clear that, although the offense to “the national dignity & welfare” was the official reason announced on 24 June by President Elias Boudinot for the move of Congress to Princeton, political considerations reflecting individual, state, and sectional rivalries had also influenced the decision and had gradually eclipsed in importance more worthy motives during the eight weeks which had elapsed since the adjournment at Philadelphia. Thus appeared to be confirmed what public officials of Pennsylvania and delegates in Congress had hinted, and prominent citizens of Philadelphia had openly charged even before Congress left that city (Varnum L. Collins, Continental Congress at Princeton, pp. 33–37; Burnett, Letters description begins Edmund C. Burnett, ed., Letters of Members of the Continental Congress (8 vols.; Washington, 1921–36). description ends , VII, 199, n. 2, 201, second n. 2, 205, n. 3, 209, 212, n. 3, 233–34, 252, 260–61, 266; JM Notes, 21 June, n. 7; JM to Randolph, 8 July; 28 July; 5 Aug. 1783).

5Papers 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, 452; 453, n. 5; 495, n. 13; JM to Randolph, 17 June, n. 6; Delegates to Harrison, 14–15 Aug., and n. 9; Mercer to JM, 14 Aug. 1783.

6JM to Jefferson, 11 Aug., and citations in n. 15; to Randolph, 12 Aug. 1783. JM’s information about South Carolina perhaps had been furnished by one or more of the passengers, including General Anthony Wayne, who had arrived at Philadelphia on 13 August by ship from Charleston (Pa. Packet, 14 Aug.). The news, whatever may have been its source, was inaccurate, for the South Carolina General Assembly delayed acceding to the proposed impost until the spring of 1784 (Boyd, Papers of Jefferson description begins Julian P. Boyd et al., eds., The Papers of Thomas Jefferson (18 vols. to date; Princeton, N.J., 1950——). description ends , VII, 130). For the proposal to allocate financial quotas among the states on the basis of population rather than land valuations as stipulated by Article VIII of the Articles of Confederation, 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, 26, n. 3; 297, n. 44; 406; 407, and n. 2; 491–92. The South Carolina delegates had opposed the suggested change (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, 24, and n. 8; 173).

7That is, the officers from the New England states in the continental army.

8For the opposition of the New England states to the pledge by Congress of full pay for five years to the officers of the continental line who had become supernumeraries or served for the duration of the war, see JM to Jefferson, 11 Aug. 1783, and citations in nn. 16 and 19.

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