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To James Madison from Thomas Jefferson, 25 April 1784

From Thomas Jefferson

Annapolis Apr. 25. 1784.

Dear Sir

My last to you was of the 16th. of March, as was the latest I have received from you. By the proposition to bound our country to the Westward, I meant no more than the passing an act declaring that that should be our boundary from the moment the people of the Western country & Congress should agree to it. The act of Congress now inclosed to you will shew you that they have agreed to it, because it extends not only to the territory ceded, but to be ceded; and shews how and when they shall be taken into the union. There is no body then to consult but the people to be severed. If you will make your act final as to yourselves so soon as those people shall have declared their assent in a certain manner to be pointed out by the act, the whole business is settled. For their assent will follow immediately. One of the conditions is that they pay their quota of the debts contracted. Of course no difficulty need arise: on this head: as no quota has been fixed on us unalterably.1 The minuter circumstances of selling the ungranted lands will be provided in an ordinance already prepared but not reported. You will observe two clauses struck out of the report, the 1st. respecting hereditary honours, the 2d. slavery. The 1st. was done not from an approbation of such honours, but because it was thought an improper place to encounter them. The 2d. was lost by an individual vote only. Ten states were present. The 4. Eastern states, N. York, [&] Pennsva. were for the clause. [Je]rsey would have been for it, but there were but two members, one of whom was sick in his chambers. South Carolina Maryland, & ! Virginia ! voted against it. N. Carolina was divided as would have been Virginia had not one of its delegates been sick in bed.2

The place at which Congress should meet in Nov. has been the subject of discussion lately. Alexandria, Philada & Trenton were proposed. The first was negatived easily. Trenton had the 4. East. states. N. Y. N. J. & Pennsylva. We expect Georgia & Delaware shortly, in which case it will become possible that Philada may be determined on. The question is put off to be considered with the establishment of a commee of the states, which to my astonishment would have been negatived when first proposed had not the question been staved off. Some of the states who were against the measure, I believe because they had never reflected on the consequences of leaving a government without a head, seem to be come over.3 Dr. Lee is appointed an Indian Commr. He is not present, but is known to have sought it, & of course will accept. This vacates his seat here. I wish Short could be sent in his room. It is a good school for our young statesmen. It gives them impressions friendly to the federal government instead of those adverse which too often take place in persons confined to the politics of their state.4

I like the method you propose of settling at once with Maryland all matters relative to Patowmac. To introduce this the more easily I have conversed with mr Stone (one of their delegates) on the subject & finding him of the same opinion have told him I would by letters bring the subject forward on our part. They will consider it therefore as originated by this conversation.

Mercer is acting a very extraordin[ary] part. He is a candidate for the secretaryship of foreign affairs[s] and tho’ he will not get the vote of one state I beleive he expect[s] the appointment. He has been endeavoring to defeat all foreign treaty to force the nations of Europe to sen[d] ministers to treat here that he may have the honor of fabricatin[g] this whole business. Tho’ he could not change the vote of his state, he intrigued with a young fool from North Carolina & an old one from New York, go[t] them to decide their states by voting in the negative, & there being but eleven states present one of which was know[n] before to be divid[e]d the whole set of instructions were re[j]ected, tho approve[d] by twenty one out of twenty five members present.5 The whole business has been in the dust for a month & whether it can be resumed & past depends on the incertainty of Delaware or Georgia coming on. Vanity & ambition seem to be the ruling passions of this young man and as his objects are impure so also are his means. Intrigu[e] is a principal one on particular occasions as party attachment is in the general. He takes now about one half of the time of Congress to himself, & in conjunction with Read [and] Spaight obstruct business inconcievably. The last is of North Carolina & no otherwise of consequence than as by his vote according[ly] can divide his state.

The more I have reflected on your proposition for printing the Revisal the more I have like it. I am convinced too from late experiments it cannot be passed in the detail. One of the Eastern states had their laws revised and then attempted to pass them thro’ their legislature, but they got so mangled that all consistence was destroyed & I beleived they dropped them altogether. Should this be printed I will ask you to send me half a dozen copies wherever I shall be.

Would it not be well for Virginia to empower persons privately to buy up her quota of old Continental money. I would certainly advise this were I not afraid that the possession of her quota on such easy terms would tempt her to refuse justice to the other states on this matter. For surely there would be no justice in wiping off her part of this debt by so much smaller a contribution than the others.6 If she would avail herself of it only to sheild herself against injustice and to enable her from an high ground to declare & do what is right, I should much wish to see her adopt secret measures for the purchase. I think some other states will do this, & I fear with unjust views. You know that many gentlemen of this state had money in the hands of merchants in England. I am well informed that these merchants have uniformly refused to pay them interest, saying the money was always ready if they would have called for it. This adds another to the many good reasons we had before against paying interest during the war.

I inclose herewith the spectacles you desired, price 13⅔ Dollars. I have as yet done nothing on your commission either general or particular for books, because I am in constant expectation of a short trip to Philadelphia & can so much better execute it on the spot. The money hitherto remitted us amounts to about 4. Dollars a day. The predicament in which this places us is well known to you. It is inconceivably mortifying. I expect daily to hear from the Treasurer. As soon as I do it will enable me to give some directions on the subject of your money. I have not heard lately from mrs House. Mrs Trist got safely to Fort Pitt through much distress.7 Congress hope to adjourn by the last of May. The estimate & requisitions for the year, the arrangements for the land office, & Foreign treaties are subjects they will endeavor to complete. Vermont is pressed on them by N. York & a day declared beyond which they will await no interposition but assert their right of government. The Chevalr. Luzerne has taken his leave of us. He makes a tour to the lakes before he leaves the continent. Marbois acts as Chargé des affaires till the arrival of a successor.

As it is certain that Congress will shortly adjourn, to meet again in Nov. it is desireable that the assembly should at as early a day as convenient appoint their delegation for the ensuing year, in order that such gentlemen as shall be continued, may receive notice of it while here, as this will enable them to take measures for their accomodation at the next meeting, determine them whether to send their baggage Northwardly or Southwardly &c.

Apr. 30. a London ship is arrived here which left that port the 25th: of March. Pitt was still in place, supported by the King, Lords, & nation in general, the city of London enthusiastically in his favor. Still there was a majority of 12 in favor of Fox who was supported by the Prince of Wales. It was thought the parliament would be dissolved. Congress has determined to adjourn on the 3d of June to meet in November at Trenton. Adieu Yours affectionately

Th: Jefferson

RC (DLC). Cover missing. The italicized words, unless otherwise noted, are those encoded by Jefferson in the code he first used on 14 Apr. 1783.

1Jefferson underlined “to be ceded.” On 3 Feb. 1784 Congress appointed Jefferson chairman of a committee including Jeremiah T. Chase and David Howell “to prepare a plan for temporary governmt. of western territory” (PCC). Although on 15 Oct. 1783 Congress had named James Duane, chairman, JM, and Samuel Huntington as a committee with that directive as an important part of its duties, the committee had not submitted a report and no one on it was a member of Congress by 1784. The report drafted by Jefferson and approved by Chase and Howell was submitted to Congress on 1 Mar. 1784. After being debated and amended it was recommitted on 17 Mar., redelivered five days later, debated both by a grand committee and Congress, amended and finally adopted on 23 Apr. 1784. By “no quota has been fixed on us unalterably,” Jefferson meant that the plan including a quota provision for restoring public credit, mainly drafted by JM and adopted by Congress about a year earlier, had not yet been sanctioned by all the states and that Congress had not yet allocated financial quotas for 1784 among the states. When Jefferson wrote this letter Congress was considering his report on the national debt “and a requisition of money on the states for discharging the same.” After amending the report Congress adopted it on 27 Apr. By adopting the report Congress resolved to requisition no additional quotas but to call on each state to send money to an amount sufficient, when added to any money the state had already paid of its quota for 1782, to equal 50 percent of that quota (JCC description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds., Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789 (34 vols.; Washington, 1904–37). description ends , XXVI, 185–98, 211, 297–309, and esp. 304–6, 308–9). Thus, as Jefferson implied, any temporary or permanent government which Congress might sanction in the West during 1784 would not be called upon for money during that year. The copy “now inclosed” has not been found. It was probably a broadside of the committee’s revised report of 22 Mar., perhaps with marginalia by Jefferson to make it conform with the ordinance adopted by Congress on 23 Apr. 1784 (JCC description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds., Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789 (34 vols.; Washington, 1904–37). description ends , XXVII, 719; 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 , VI, 581–617). The Richmond Va. Gazette description begins Virginia Gazette, or, the American Advertiser (Richmond, James Hayes 1781–86). description ends , 15 May 1784, includes an unaltered copy of the committee’s revised report.

2On the day before the antislavery proviso was eliminated by a sectional vote of six states to three (Maryland, Virginia, South Carolina), North Carolina’s vote was lost owing to a deadlock between its two delegates. Delaware and Georgia were unrepresented in Congress. Of the Virginia delegation Samuel Hardy and John Francis Mercer voted to excise and Jefferson to retain. The illness of Dr. John Beatty, a delegate of New Jersey, was decisive in the outcome of the poll. If illness had not kept him from Congress, he would have concurred with his New Jersey colleagues, thus assuring the retention of the proviso by the required vote of 7 to 3 (JCC description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds., Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789 (34 vols.; Washington, 1904–37). description ends , XXVI, 247; 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 , VI, 611 n. 21; VII, 121 n.; Burnett, Letters description begins Edmund C. Burnett, ed., Letters of Members of the Continental Congress (8 vols.; Washington, 1921–36). description ends , VII, xxxviii–xl; Burnett, The Continental Congress, pp. 599–600, 630).

3For the background of the Committee of the States issue prior to the 26 Apr. 1784 decision see JCC description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds., Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789 (34 vols.; Washington, 1904–37). description ends , XIX, 219, 220, 221. For the doubt until about 17 Apr. whether Congress would appoint such a committee before adjourning, and the subsequent regret of some delegates, including David Howell, that the committee would be created, see Burnett, Letters description begins Edmund C. Burnett, ed., Letters of Members of the Continental Congress (8 vols.; Washington, 1921–36). description ends , VII, 463, 480 and passim. See also Edmund C. Burnett, “The Committee of the States, 1784,” Annual Report of the American Historical Association for the Year 1913 (2 vols.; Washington, 1915), I, 141–52.

4William Short was then a member of the Virginia Council of State.

5A review of the journal of Congress makes evident the fact that Mercer’s voting record was often duplicated by Richard Dobbs Spaight, a twenty-six-year-old “young fool from North Carolina,” and by Ephraim Paine, at fifty-four an “old one from New York” (JCC description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds., Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789 (34 vols.; Washington, 1904–37). description ends , XXVI, 177, 355). Jacob Read represented South Carolina.

6The concern of eighteenth-century public men over both state and the continental debt was nearly uniform. “Most people then regarded a public debt much as they regarded a private one—something that should be paid in full within a reasonably short time. They did not as yet accept the idea that the principal of a public debt might conveniently be permanent” (Curtis Nettels, The Emergence of a National Economy, 1775–1815 [New York, 1962], pp. 76–77). Jefferson’s dismay over the unrealistic 1780 quota came during congressional deliberations on a fair solution to the problem of debt retirement (JCC description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds., Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789 (34 vols.; Washington, 1904–37). description ends , XVI, 262–67; XXIV, 39–42, 357–58; XXVII, 394–96, 472–74, 540–46). Williamson of North Carolina had thoughts parallel to Jefferson’s, a likely circumstance, since both states had huge land reserves and a scarcity of old continental dollars (Burnett, Letters description begins Edmund C. Burnett, ed., Letters of Members of the Continental Congress (8 vols.; Washington, 1921–36). description ends , VII, 597–98). As E. James Ferguson notes, “All the southern states cherished the notion … that they had contributed more than their share to the prosecution of the war and that they would emerge from the final settlement of accounts with large balances in their favor” (Power of the Purse, p. 212).

7Eliza House Trist was then bound for the Louisiana country, where she hoped to join her husband, Nicholas Trist. She reported to Jefferson her “tedious journey [was] allmost compleated … when I received the dreadfull account of his being no more” (25 Dec. 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, 583).

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