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To James Madison from Thomas Jefferson, 17 June 1783

From Thomas Jefferson

RC (LC: Madison Papers). Docketed by JM, “Ths. Jefferson 17 June. 1783,” also “June 17. 1783. ideas of Constitution.” Many years later William Cabell Rives, author of a detailed biography of Madison’s career to 1797, as well as an editor of his papers, added to the docket, “Mr. Henry’s course as to the Impost Act.”

Monticello June 17. 1783.

Dear Sir

Your favours of the 13th. & 20th. Ult. came to hand about a week ago.1 I am informed the assembly determined against the capacity of reelection in those gentlemen of the delegation who could not serve a complete year. I do not know on what this decision could be founded.2 my hopes of the success of the Congressional propositions here have lessened exceedingly. mr. Henry had declared in favor of the impost: but when the question came on he was utterly silent. I understand it will certainly be lost if it be not already.3 instead of ceding more lands to the U.S. a proposition is made to revoke the former cession. mr. Henry is for bounding our state reasonably enough, but instead of ceding the parts lopped off he is for laying them off into small republics. what further his plan is I do not hear.4 however you get the parliamentary news so much more directly from Richmond that it is idle for me to give it you from hence.5

A Convention for the amendment of our Constitution having been much the topic of conversation for some time, I have turned my Thoughts to the amendments necessary. The result I inclose to you. you will have opportunities during your stay in Philadelphia of enquiring into the success of some of the parts of it which tho’ new to us have been tried in other states. I shall only except against your communicating it to any one of my own country, as I have found prejudices frequently produced against propositions handed to the world without explanation or support. I trust that you will either now or in some future situation turn your attention to this subject in time to give your aid when it shall be finally discussed. the paper inclosed may serve as a basis for your amendment, or may suggest amendments to a better groundwork.6 I further learn that the assembly are excluding members of Congress from among them. whether the information they may derive from their presence, or their being marked by the confidence of the people, is the cause of this exclusion I cannot tell.7

Be pleased to present me with affection to my acquaintances of the house8 & to receive yourself the sincerest assurances of the esteem with which I am Dr. Sir

Your friend & servt

Th: Jefferson

P.S. I will take the first opportunity of forwarding the pamphlet to your father.9

1Qq.v.

2Papers 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, 464, n. 6; Jefferson to JM, 7 May; JM to Jefferson, 20 May; Randolph to JM, 24 May; JM to Randolph, 3 June, and n. 4; Pendleton to JM, 9 June 1783.

5Jefferson had left Richmond on 7 May (Jefferson to JM, 7 May 1783). Except for hearsay, Jefferson may have had to rely mostly upon Isaac Zane for “parliamentary news” (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, 317; Roger W. Moss, Jr., “Isaac Zane, Jr., a Quaker for the Times,” Va. Mag. Hist. and Biog., LXXVII [1969], 291–306).

6For Jefferson’s earlier criticism of the Form of Government of Virginia, adopted in June 1776 by a convention which simultaneously served as the legislature, 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, 319; 320, n. 7; 321, n. 8; 441, n. 10; Jefferson to JM, 7 May, and nn. 12, 13. In the present letter Jefferson enclosed nine and a half closely written folios, entitled by him, “To the citizens of the Commonwealth of Virginia & all others whom it may concern, their Delegates of the said Commonwealth send greeting” (LC: Rives Collection of Madison Papers). This was a caption that might be used if his draft of a new Form of Government had been the work of a constitutional convention obliged to refer the document to the sovereign citizens of Virginia for approval or rejection. Although Jefferson wrote “[1783. May–June]” at the top of the first folio, JM some years later evidently forgot when he had received the document and docketed the ninth folio, “Constitution 1784 of Virginia.” To his docket William Cabell Rives added, “Drawn by Mr. Jefferson.” Julian P. Boyd’s edition of the document carefully annotates its contents, places it in its earlier and later contexts, and demonstrates that Jefferson’s suggestion of a “Council of Revision” was derived from the New York constitution of 1777 (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, 278–84, 294–308; An Occasional Bulletin, Va. Historical Society, XV [1967], 7–8). See also JM to Jefferson, 17 July 1783.

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