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To James Madison from Joseph Jones, 14 July 1783

From Joseph Jones

RC (LC: Madison Papers). Undocketed and cover missing but undoubtedly written to JM.

Fredericksburg 14th: July 1783.

Dr. Sir.

Your favor of the 30th. ult. I have duly recd. giving the history of the proceedings that brought about the removal of Congress to Princeton.1 that two of the members of the Comtee: were disposed to advise the Predsident to the Measure which his inclination encouraged them to adopt I have no doubt,2 but why so important a step shod. rest with the Com: and the president I am at a loss to comprehend unless Congress were so intimidated by the conduct of the soldiery as to fear mischievous consequences from their coming together, and so left the business to the Com: & President.3 Mr. H——’s excuse for concuring in the measure is by no means satisfactory. to be indifferent in a matter of such consequence or to yield oneself up to the guidance of others is a conduct in my judgment reprehensible and has precipitated that Body into a situation I apprehend not very agreeable as well as exposed them to censure and ridicule.4 altho’ judging by the event is not a fair conclusion, it is but too commonly the case and on the present occasion will give force to the censures of those who wish to divert them from the Executive of the State, who from the report of the Com: were justly blameable for declining to give those assurances of support which the circumstances of the case and the dignity of Government required. I wish Congress had shewn more firmness in their conduct with respect to the Soldiery, especially as no just cause of personal danger presented itself and had remained in Philadelphia, notwithstanding the refusal of support by the Executive,5 and have afterwards taken up the matter of indignity and disrespect on the part of the State with temper and coolness, and have made that the ground of serio[us] removal to one of the places tendered them by the other States.6 the public opinion wod. have gone with them more generally than as the affair has been conducted. they are now thought to have been too timid, at the same time that the Executive are blamed for their remissness. To return to Phila is I suppose now out of the question. princeton I presume cannot long serve the purpose. where then will you fix? pray inform me what is likely to be done in the matter & how you are accommodated in Princeton. If I visit you can a tolera[ble] birth be procured. The sickly Season is approaching and if I move at all it will be in abt. a fortnight or three weeks especially if Mr. Treasurer can furnish the needfull.7 Mr. L. we hear is to be Minister for foreign affairs.8 Heaven smiles upon us this year, as the Crops are in general very promising.9 Mrs. Jones begs her Compliments.

Yr. Friend & Servt.

Jos: Jones.

1The contents of JM’s missing letter of 30 June to Jones probably resembled those of the one JM wrote to Randolph on the same day (q.v.). The present letter and Jones’s letter of 21 July 1783 (q.v.) may have reached JM simultaneously.

2Jones inadvertently misspelled “President.” Of the committee composed of Hamilton, chairman, Richard Peters, and Oliver Ellsworth (JCC description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds., Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789 (34 vols.; Washington, 1904–37). description ends , XXIV, 405, n. 1), Jones probably excepted Peters, whose estate, Belmont, was near Philadelphia (Harold Donaldson Eberlein and Horace Mather Lippincott, The Colonial Homes of Philadelphia and Its Neighbourhood [Philadelphia, 1912], pp. 141–49). JM was reported as telling Jared Sparks in 1830 that when Peters was informed that only “a flash in the pan” had threatened Congress in Philadelphia, Peters replied, “Yes, but they went off” (Va. Mag. of Hist. and Biog., LX [1952], 262). Hamilton, on the other hand, would have excluded himself (Hamilton to JM, 6 July, n. 6). For President Elias Boudinot’s “inclination” to have Congress move to his own state, see JM Notes, 21 June 1783, n. 7. Two months later Charles Thomson wrote to his wife that Elizabethtown, N.J., had been “talked of” at the president’s “table as a proper place” for Congress to meet. Boudinot, Thomson continued, had a house of twenty rooms there, and if Congress acceded to the suggestion, “the value of his estate will be increased and he will have an opportunity of letting his house at a good rent” as the residence of the president (Burnett, Letters description begins Edmund C. Burnett, ed., Letters of Members of the Continental Congress (8 vols.; Washington, 1921–36). description ends , VI, 270–71; Delegates to Harrison, 23 Aug. 1783, n. 7).

3Jones’s supposition was well warranted. On 21 June after “the authority of the United States” had “been this day grossly insulted by the disorderly and menacing appearance of a body of armed soldiers” outside the State House, Congress adopted resolutions submitted by the committee empowering and directing Boudinot “on the advice of the committee” to call upon “the members of Congress to meet on Thursday next at Trenton or Princeton.” Opponents of the move could plausibly hold that by 24 June, when Boudinot issued the proclamation, the mutiny was virtually at an end. Jones’s complaint that “so important a step” should not have been entrusted to the judgment of four men was reasonable, except that effective delegations of seven states, let alone nine, could probably not have been assembled on 21, 22. 23, or 24 June (JCC description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds., Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789 (34 vols.; Washington, 1904–37). description ends , XXIV, 407, 410; JM Notes, 21 June, nn. 18; JM to Randolph, 30 June 1783, and n. 3).

4Although the resolutions of the committee are in Hamilton’s hand, he insisted that he had not originated the portion of them providing, in case of a prolongation of the emergency, for Congress to leave Philadelphia, and that he had objected to the issuance of the proclamation on 24 June (Hamilton to JM, 6 July, and nn. 2, 5). See also Delegates to Harrison, 5 July; JM to Randolph, 8 July; Harrison to Delegates, 12 July, and n. 2; Randolph to JM, 12 July 1783.

5Boudinot, JM, and many other members of Congress would have challenged the truth of Jones’s statement that they were in no “personal danger” between 21 and 24 June (JM Notes. 21 June, and nn. 1–6; Bland to JM, 22 June; Delegates to Harrison, 24 June; 5 July 1783; Burnett, Letters description begins Edmund C. Burnett, ed., Letters of Members of the Continental Congress (8 vols.; Washington, 1921–36). description ends , VII, 195).

6Offers of a permanent site for the capital of the Confederation had been made to Congress by New York, Maryland, New Jersey, and Virginia. See Instructions to Delegates, 28 June, and n. 6; Harrison to Delegates, 4 July, and n. 2; 12 July, and n. 3; JM to Randolph, 8 July 1783; JCC description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds., Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789 (34 vols.; Washington, 1904–37). description ends , XXIV, 422 n.. 438. n. 2.

7JM to Randolph, 8 July, n. 2. Having been provided with funds by “Mr. Treasurer,” Jacquelin Ambler, early in August. Jones reached Philadelphia about the eighteenth of that month. See JM to Randolph, 6 May, n. 9; 18 Aug.; Ambler to JM, 1 June, and n. 4; Jones to JM, 4 Aug. 1783.

8“Mr. L.” was probably Arthur Lee, even though Jones should have realized how unlikely it was that Congress would elect an anti-Gallican to the office. He could hardly have meant Robert R. Livingston. 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, 224, n. 7; JM Notes, 10 June, and n. 12; JM to Jefferson, 10 June; Livingston to JM, 19 July 1783, n. 6.

9Papers 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, 280; Pendleton to JM, 10 May, 23 June, and 14 July, 1783.

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