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From James Madison to Thomas Jefferson, 15 January 1782

To Thomas Jefferson

RC (LC: Madison Papers). The cover is missing, but the letter was docketed by Jefferson, “Madison Jas. Jany. 15. 1782.”

Philada: Jany. 15th. 1782

Dear Sir

Your favor of the   day of   written on the eve of your departure from Richmond came safe to hand by the last week’s post.1 The result of the attack on your administration was so fully anticipated that it made little impression on me.2 If it had been consistent with your sentiments & views to engage in the new service to which you were called, it wd. have afforded me both unexpected & singular satisfaction, not only from the personal interest I felt in it but from the important aid which the interests of the state would probably have derived from it.3 What I particularly refer to is her claim to Western territory. The machinations which have long been practised by interested individuals agst. this claim are well known to you. The late proceedings within the walls of Congress in consequence of the territorial cessions produced4 by their recommendations5 to the States claiming the Western Country were many weeks ago transmitted for the Legislature by a Capt. Irish. By the same conveyance I wrote to you on the subject.6 We have the mortification to find by our latest letters from Richmond that this Gentleman had not at the date of them appeared there.7 As it is uncertain whether that information may not have totally miscarried it will be proper to repeat to you that the States besides Virga. from which the cessions came were Connecticut & N York. The cession of the former consisted of all her claim west of N. York as far as the Missippi. That of the latter of all her claims beyond a certain western limit drawn on the occasion. The cession of Cont. extended to the soil only expressly reserving the jurisdiction. That of N.Y. made no reservation.8 These cessions with that of Virga. & sundry memorials from the Inda. & other land Companies were referred to a Committee composed of a Member from N.H. R.I. N.J. Pa. & Maryld. The ingredients of this composition prepared us for the complexion of their proceedings.9 Their first step was to investigate & discuss the respective titles of the States to the territory ceded[.] as this was directly in the face of the recommendation of Congress which professed to bury all such discussions & might prejudge future controversies between individual members of the Union, we refused to exhibit any evidence in favor of the title of Va. and endeavoured though in vain to prevail on Congress to interdict the Committee from proceeding in the enquiry.10 The next step of the Committee was still more obnoxious. They went fully into a hearing of the Memorialists through their Agents, & received all the evidence adduced in support of their pretensions. On this occasion we renewed our remonstrances to the Committee & our complaints to Congress, but with as little effect as on the first occasion. The upshot of the whole was a report to Congress rejecting the Cessions of Virga. & Cont. and accepting that of N.Y.; disallowing also, the claims of the Companies N.W. of the Ohio but justifying that of the Inda. Compy. The report seems to distrust the doctrine hitherto maintained, of territorial rights being incident to the U.S. Collectively which are not comprehended within any individual State; substituting the expedient of recognizing the title of N.Y. stretching it over the whole country claimed by the other ceding States, & then accepting a transfer of it to the U.S.11 In this state the business now rests, the report having never been taken into consideration, nor do we wish it should, till it shall have undergone the consideration of Virga.

In whatever light the policy of this proceeding may be viewed it affords an additional proof of the industry & perseverance with which the territorial rights of Virga. are persecuted, & of the necessity of fortifying them with every precaution which their importance demands. As a very obvious & necessary one we long since recommended to the State an accurate & full collection of the documents which relate to the subject. If the arrival of Capt. Irish had taken place before the adjournt. of the Assembly & during your stay with it we flattered ourselves that this recommendation wd. have been attended to12 & that the task wd. have fallen on you. As this was not the case we have no hope at present of being enabled from any other sources than the voluntary aids of individuals to contradict even verbally the misrepresentations & calumnies which are daily levelled agst. the claims of Va. & which can not fail to prepossess the public with errors injurious at present to her reputation & which may affect a future decision on her rights. Col. Masons industry & kindness have supplied us with some valuable papers & remarks. Mr. Jones has also recd. from Mr. Pendleton some judicious remarks on the subject.13 We are still notwithstandg. far from possessing a complete view of it. Will you permit me to ask of you such information as your researches have yielded, with the observations which you have made in the course of them. I would not obtrude such a request on you if the subject were not of public importance & if it could have been addressed with equal prospect of advantage elsewhere. Indeed if you cd. prevail on yourself to spare as much time as would Survey the whole subject, beginning with the original charter, pursuing it thro’ the subsequent charters & other public acts of the crown thro’ the Govs. of Virga., & referring to all the transactions with the Indians which have been drawn into the question, the public utility I am persuaded wd sufficiently reward you for the labor.14

pray did you ever receive a letter from me inclosing a proposition declaratory of the coercive power of Congress over the States? It went by an Express while you were at the head of the Exec.15

We have not a word of new[s] from Europe. The French are assemblg a force in the W. Indies which presages further calamities to the English. The Spaniards are also in motion but their Object will probably be both a small & a selfish one.16 I shall cheerfully send you a line as often as I have a subject for it, tho’ I shall be so selfish as to hope for some return for it.

I am Dr Sir Yrs sincerely

J. Madison Jr.

1The letter which Jefferson wrote before leaving Richmond on 24 December 1781 for Monticello has not been found.

2See 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, 338, n. 3; 347–48; 348, n. 1. Many years later JM, or someone at his direction, inserted a bracket at the beginning of this sentence and another at the close of the second from the last paragraph of the letter, thus indicating the portion to be published. See Madison, Papers (Gilpin ed.) description begins Henry D. Gilpin, ed., The Papers of James Madison (3 vols.; Washington, 1840). description ends , I, 106–8.

3See 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, 338, n. 3. JM’s use of the word “unexpected” may reflect his surprise that the General Assembly had elected to a seat in Congress a man whose weariness with public life had been so positively stated (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, 45–47). Probably even more “unexpected,” this confidence in Jefferson had been expressed only four days after the General Assembly set the date for investigating his administration as governor and nearly two weeks before exonerating him (Journal of the House of Delegates description begins Journal of the House of Delegates of the Commonwealth of Virginia; Begun and Held at the Capitol, in the City of Williamsburg. Beginning in 1780, the portion after the semicolon reads, Begun and Held in the Town of Richmond. In the County of Henrico. The journal for each session has its own title page and is individually paginated. The edition used, unless otherwise noted, is the one in which the journals for 1777–1786 are brought together in two volumes, with each journal published in Richmond in 1827 or 1828, and often called the “Thomas W. White reprint.” description ends , June 1781, p. 15; October 1781, pp. 17, 23–24, 37).

4Between “cessions” and “produced,” JM at first wrote, then deleted, “offered by several States.”

5Following this word, JM crossed out “on the subject.”

6See 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. 1.

7See Virginia Delegates to Harrison, 8 January; and Harrison to Virginia Delegates, 11 January 1782. Of course, this latter dispatch, reporting the receipt of the material sent by Captain Nathaniel Irish, had not reached the delegates when JM wrote the present letter.

8On 19 February 1780 the New York legislature had empowered its delegates in Congress “to limit and restrict the boundaries of this State, in the western part thereof, by such line or lines, and in such manner and form, as they shall judge to be expedient; either with respect to the Jurisdiction as well as the right or preemption of soil.” Upon laying this offer of cession before Congress on 1 March 1781, the New York delegation “recited, proceeded and executed in due form in behalf of their State,” a written “instrument” defining the boundaries of the area to be relinquished solely for the “use and benefit of such of the states as are or shall become parties to the Articles of Confederation” (JCC description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds., Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789 (34 vols.; Washington, 1904–37). description ends , XIX, 208–13). When Congress finally accepted the offer on 29 October 1782, JM and Theodorick Bland, Jr., the only Virginia delegates then in Congress, voted “no” (JCC description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds., Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789 (34 vols.; Washington, 1904–37). description ends , XXIII, 694). In October 1780 the General Court of Connecticut, in order to help remove “the obstacle that prevents a Ratification of the Articles of Confederation,” ceded to Congress its claim to land situated “westward of the Susquehannah Purchase, so called, and eastward of the river Misisipi.” Although in this statute, which was laid before Congress on 31 January 1781, Connecticut relinquished title to the property, she explicitly reserved political jurisdiction over it (Charles J. Hoadly, ed., The Public Records of the State of Connecticut [3 vols.; Hartford, Conn., 1894–1922], III, 177–78; JCC description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds., Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789 (34 vols.; Washington, 1904–37). description ends , XIX, 99). A prolonged and acrimonious boundary dispute between Pennsylvania and Connecticut kept Congress from accepting Connecticut’s offer of cession until 1786.

9The five members of this committee were Elias Boudinot, James Mitchell Varnum (R.I.), Daniel of St. Thomas Jenifer (Md.), Thomas Smith (Pa.), and Samuel Livermore (N.H.). Except for Livermore, they were hostile to Virginia’s western claims and disposed to favor the memorials of land-speculator companies asking Congress to recognize as valid their alleged titles to much of the territory embraced within Virginia’s offer of cession. 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, 210, n. 4; 283, n. 5. The latter footnote cites the many references in 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, which trace the long background of the land problem up to 1 March 1781.

10JM here refers to the decision of Congress on 6 September 1780 not to discuss or attempt to decide the validity of Virginia’s title to the West or the merits of Maryland’s arguments against that title, because “such questions” could not “be now revived with any prospect of conciliation” (JCC description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds., Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789 (34 vols.; Washington, 1904–37). description ends , XVII, 806). On 26 October 1781 Congress by a vote of five states to three had defeated Randolph’s motion to forbid the Boudinot committee “to admit counsel” or to “hear documents, proofs, or evidence, not among the records, nor on the files of Congress, which have not been specially referred to them” (JCC description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds., Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789 (34 vols.; Washington, 1904–37). description ends , XXI, 1077–78).

11The latter half of this paragraph summarizes the course and nature of the discussions of the western lands problem in Congress and at the hearings of the Boudinot committee between 2 October 1781 and the close of the year. See index of 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, under Continental Congress, actions on western lands; Madison, James, Jr., views of western lands of Va. and their government.

12See 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, 286–88. JM implies that the delegates had repeated their recommendation in the dispatch, now missing, of 17 November 1781 to Governor Nelson (ibid., III, 305, n. 1).

13On 27 July 1780 George Mason had written at length to Joseph Jones on “the Subject of our back Lands” and asked Jones to share the letter with his colleagues from Virginia in Congress (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, 52–53, and n. 3). Insofar as is known, Mason did not correspond further about this matter with Jones or any of his colleagues at Philadelphia during the next eighteen months. Pendleton’s letter to Jones has not been found. Judging from JM’s reply, Pendleton had commented on the western issue in his now missing letter of 5 November, as he would do again when writing to JM on 3 December 1781 (ibid., III, 301–3, 324–25).

14In his letter of 24 March 1782 (q.v.), Jefferson explained why, at that time, he could not accede to JM’s request.

15See 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, 71–72. On five separate occasions between 16 April 1781 and 15 January 1782, either JM or Jones tried in vain to elicit from Jefferson an opinion about JM’s proposal to empower Congress to use naval vessels to force a recalcitrant state to fulfill its financial or other obligations to the United States (Brant, Madison description begins Irving Brant, James Madison (6 vols.; Indianapolis and New York, 1941–61). description ends , II, 110, and n. 9).

16See JM to Pendleton, 8 January 1782, and n. 10. In the Caribbean at this time, the French and Spanish naval commanders were planning a combined operation against Jamaica. They were unable to launch this expedition because of the decisive defeat in April of the French fleet by the British in the Battle of the Saints and the subsequent loss of many troops from illness. See JM to Pendleton, 23 April, n. 3; Pendleton to JM, 20 May 1782, n. 10. The Pennsylvania Packet of 15 January 1782 reported that early in December the Spaniards in Cuba were about to attack the “infernal nest of pirates” in the Bahama Islands and probably would also try to drive the British from St. Augustine, Fla. See also ibid., 19 January 1782. The same newspaper in its issue of 31 January included an item from Norwich, Conn., under a 10 January date line, stating that New Providence Island in the Bahamas had “lately” been captured by Spain. See Report on Foreign Dispatches, 20 March 1782, n. 6.

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