James Madison Papers
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From James Madison to Thomas Jefferson, 20 September 1783

To Thomas Jefferson

RC (LC: Madison Papers). Cover missing. Many years later, after the return of the letter to him, JM wrote “Sepr. 20. 1783” at the top of the last page.

Princeton Sepr. 20. 1783.

Dear Sir

Your favor of the 31 ult:1 came to hand yesterday. As the reason which chiefly urged my departure for Virga. has ceased2 I have been led to protract my attendance on Congress by the interest I felt in some measures on foot, and the particular interest which my Constituents have in them. Two of these were the territorial cession and the permanent seat of Congress. The former was a few days ago put into a form which I hope will meet the ultimatum of Virginia.3 The first monday in next month is fixed for a decision of the latter; after which it may still be necessary to choose a temporary residence untill the permanent one can be made ready. I am utterly unable to foretell how either of these points will be determined. It is not impossible that an effective vote may be found attainable on neither; in which case the winter must be spent in this village where the public business can neither be conveniently done, the members of Congress decently provided for nor those connected with Congress provided for at all.4 I shall lose no time in looking out for quarters for you & entering into provisional engagements in your favor. Your other request relative to Miss Patsy shall be equally attended to as soon as I go to Philada. which will probably be towards the end of next week.5

It will give me real concern if we should miss of one another altogether in the journies before us; and yet I foresee the danger of it. Mr. Jones & myself will probably be on the road by the middle of next month or a few days later. This is the time about which you expect to commence your journey. Unless therefore we travel the same road a disappointment of even an interview will be unavoidable. At present our plan is to proceed thro’ Baltimore & Alexandria & Fredericksbg. and we may possibly be at the races of the second place.6 I am at a loss by what regulation I can obey your wishes with regard to the notes I have on hand; having not yet made any copy of them, having no time now for that purpose, and being unwilling for severa[l] reasons to leave them all behind me.7 A disappointment however will be of the less consequence, as they have been much briefer & more interrupted since the period at which you ran them over, and have been altogether discontinued since the arrival of Congs. here.8

My plan of spending this winter in Philada in close reading was not entirely abandoned untill Congress left that City and shewed an utter disinclination to returning to it.9 The prospect of agreeable & even instructive society was an original consideration with me;10 and the subsequent one of having yours added to it would have confirmed my intention after the abortive issue of another plan, had not the solicitude of a tender & infirm parent exacted a visit to Virga. and an uncertainty of returning been thereby incurred.11 Even at present, if Congs. sd make Philada. their seat this winter & I can decline a visit to Virga. or speedily get away from it my anxiety on the subject will be renewed.

Our last information from Europe is dated the 27th. July. France & Spain were then ready for the definitive signing of the Peace. Holland was on the point of being so. The American Plenipos. had done nothing on the subject and in case of emergency could only sign the provisional Treaty as final.12 Their negociations had been spent chiefly on commercial stipulations from which G.B. after very different professions & appearances, altogether drew back. The ready admission she found into our commerce without paying any price for it has suggested the policy of aiming at the entire benefit of it, and at the same time saving the carriage of the W. India trade the price she at first bid for it. The supposed contrariety of interests among the States and the impotence of the fœderal Govt. are urged by the ministerial pamphleteers as a safeguard agst. retaliation.13 The other nations of Europe seem to have more honorable views towards our commerce, sundry advances having been made to our Ministers on that subject.14

Congress have come to no decision even as yet on any of the great branches of the peace establishment. The military branch is supported and quickened by the presence of the Commander in chief, but without any prospect of a hasty issue.15 The department of foreign affairs both internal & external remains as it has long done: The election of a Secy. has been an order of the day for many months without a vote being taken.16 The importance of the marine department has been diminished by the sale of almost all the Vessels belonging to the U.S. The department of Finance is an object of almost daily attack and will be reduced to its crisis on the final resignation of Mr. M. which will take place in a few months.17 The War office is connected with the Military establishment & will be regulated I suppose in conformity to what that may be. Among other subjects which divide Congress, their Constitutional authority touching such an establishment in time of peace is one.18 Another still more puzzling is the precise jurisdiction proper for Congress within the limits of their permanent seat.19 As these points may possibly remain undecided till Novr. I mention them particularly that your aid may be prepared.20 The investigation of the Mutiny ended in the condemnation of several Sergeants who were stimulated to the measure without being apprized of the object by the two officers who escaped. They have all recd. a pardon from Congress. The real plan & object of the mutiny lies in profound darkness.21 I have written this in hopes that it may get to Monticello before you leave it.22 It might have been made more interesting if I had brought the Cypher from Philada.23 tho’ my present situation required a great effort to accomplish as much as I have. I am obliged to write in a position that scarcely admits the use of any of my limbs, Mr. Jones & myself being lodged in this room not 10 feet square and without a single accommodation for writing.24

I am Dear Sir, Your sincere friend & Obt Servt.

J. Madison Jr.

1Q.v.

3On 4 June 1783 Congress appointed a committee of five delegates, including John Rutledge, chairman, and JM, to consider the report of a committee, submitted 3 November 1781, on the offer by the Virginia General Assembly on 2 January 1781 to cede the territory north and west of the Ohio River to the United States. The committee’s report, drafted by Rutledge, was laid before Congress on 6 June 1783 and debated two weeks later (JCC description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds., Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789 (34 vols.; Washington, 1904–37). description ends , XXIV, 381, and n. 1, 406–9; JM to Randolph, 10 June, and n. 16; JM Notes, 20 June 1783, and nn. 2–5, 10). For the prolonged controversy in Congress, prior to 20 June 1783, over the validity of Virginia’s claims and the provisos included in its offer of cession, see the indexes of 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 , Vols. II, III, V, and VI under Continental Congress, actions on western lands, and of Vol. IV under Continental Congress, actions on cessions of land; Jefferson to JM, 7 May. and n. 3; JM to Jefferson, 20 May, and n. 8; JM Notes, 4 June, n. 2; 5 June, n. 1; 9 June, and nn. 2, 3; 10 June 1783.

From 20 June until 11 September, Congress delayed giving further attention to the Rutledge report, although the issue continued to be of much concern to the government in Richmond, the Virginia delegates in Congress, and the influential opponents of Virginia’s territorial claims, especially those resident in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and Maryland (Instruction to Delegates, 27 June, and n. 3; Delegates to Harrison, 8 Sept. 1783). On 13 September, after unsuccessful efforts by the Maryland delegates two days before to delay consideration of the Rutledge report for another week, and by those of Maryland and New Jersey on the thirteenth to substitute for that report a resolution wholly adverse to Virginia’s claims, Congress adopted the report by a vote of 8 to 2 (Maryland and New Jersey). Thereby Congress promised to accept Virginia’s offer of cession, if the state would recede from three of its eight provisos. Congress refused to declare “absolutely void” all land claims resting solely upon purchases from Indians or from “royal grants” traversing “the chartered rights, laws and customs of Virginia.” Rejected also as “either unnecessary or unreasonable” was the proviso requiring Congress to guarantee to Virginia all its territory not included in the cession. Instead of pledging, as one of Virginia’s provisos stipulated, to reimburse the state for all its financial costs “since the commencement of the present war” in the area ceded, Congress proposed that three commissioners should be appointed—one by Congress, one by Virginia, “and another by those two commissioners”—to “adjust and liquidate the account of the necessary and reasonable expenses” in the territory north and west of the Ohio River (JCC description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds., Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789 (34 vols.; Washington, 1904–37). description ends , XXV, 552–53, 554–64, 563, n. 1).

In a letter of 19 September 1783 to Governor George Clinton, the New York delegates somewhat inaccurately remarked that Congress had accepted Virginia’s “hard Terms” so as to gain “an immense Tract of Country” which “might be improved to great public Advantage” and “to silence Questions respecting the Western Territories which have proved a great Obstacle to public Business, and might have been a source of internal Contention and Convulsion” (Burnett, Letters description begins Edmund C. Burnett, ed., Letters of Members of the Continental Congress (8 vols.; Washington, 1921–36). description ends , VII, 300–301). See also ibid., VII, 312–13, 325–26; Delegates to Harrison, 20 Sept., and n. 4; Harrison to Delegates, 26 Sept. 1783, and n. 5.

4Instructions to Delegates, 28 June, and nn. 6, 7; JM to Jefferson, 17 July, and n. 9; Jones to JM, 21 July, n. 4; JM to Pendleton, 28 July, and nn. 1–3; 8 Sept., and n. 1; to Randolph, 5 Aug., and n. 4; 18 Aug., and nn. 3, 4; 30 Aug.; 8 Sept.; Delegates to Harrison, 23 Aug., and n. 7; JM to James Madison, Sr., 30 Aug. 1783, n. 7. Although 12 September had been scheduled by Congress as the day on which it would choose the “place proper for a temporary residence,” it was not until 6 October that the subject was revived, and not until 21 October that a resolution passed directing the president “to adjourn Congress on the 12th day of November next, to meet at Annapolis on the 26th of the same month” (JCC description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds., Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789 (34 vols.; Washington, 1904–37). description ends , XXV, 649–54, 712).

5Jefferson to JM, 31 Aug., and n. 13; JM to Jefferson, 30 Sept. 1783. Upon recovering this letter many years later, JM or someone by his direction placed a bracket after “favor” and another bracket at the beginning of the fourth paragraph to signify that all the text except the last sentence of the first paragraph and all that of the second and third paragraphs should be included in the first extensive edition of his writings. Henry D. Gilpin, the editor, complied (Madison, Papers [Gilpin ed.] description begins Henry D. Gilpin, ed., The Papers of James Madison (3 vols.; Washington, 1840). description ends , I, 571–74).

6Jefferson to JM, 7 May, n. 19; 31 Aug. The races under the auspices of the Jockey Club of Fredericksburg were scheduled to begin on 6 October, and of the Jockey Club of Alexandria on 21 October (Va. Gazette description begins Virginia Gazette, or, the American Advertiser (Richmond, James Hayes, 1781–86). description ends , 23 Aug.). Jones, upon being informed of a death in his family, left Philadelphia alone about 14 October and reached his Spring Hill plantation on 23 October (JM to Randolph, 13 Oct., and n. 3; Jones to JM, 30 Oct. 1783).

7Jefferson to JM, 31 Aug. By “notes,” JM meant his notes on debates in Congress, 4 November 1782 to 21 June 1783 (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 , V, 231–35; JM Notes, 21 June 1783, and ed. n.).

8Instead of “ran them over,” JM at first wrote and canceled, “left Philada.” On some occasion or occasions during Jefferson’s stay in Philadelphia from 27 December 1782 to 26 January 1783, and from 26 February to 12 April 1783, he had scanned JM’s notes (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, 4, nn. 2, 4; 243, n. 5; 327, n. 6).

9Although Congress last met in Philadelphia on 21 June, President Boudinot delayed for three more days before summoning the delegates to reconvene in Princeton (JM Notes, 21 June, and n. 7). See also JM to Jefferson, 17 July, and n. 7; Mercer to JM, 14 Aug.; JM to James Madison, Sr., 30 Aug. 1783, and n. 9.

11JM to Jefferson, 17 July, n. 10; to James Madison, Sr., 8 Sept., and citations in n. 2. The other “plan” had been rendered “abortive” by the ending of the engagement of JM and Catherine Floyd to marry.

13Delegates to Harrison, 14–15 Aug., and n. 9; 20 Sept., and n. 3; JM to Randolph, 30 Aug., and n. 2; 13 Sept., and nn. 5, 6; Burnett, Letters description begins Edmund C. Burnett, ed., Letters of Members of the Continental Congress (8 vols.; Washington, 1921–36). description ends , VII, 309–10. On 18 September 1783 the Chevalier de La Luzerne informed a committee of Congress “That it seems that the Americans by admitting too precipitately English vessels in their ports have deprived themselves of a powerful weapon to induce England to a conclusion of the Treaty. By a continuation of the former prohibitory Laws until the final settlement of peace it is probable that they would have furnished the most pungent arms to the party who sincerely wishes that the Treaty with America might be concluded. However, the Court [of France] is disposed to believe, that it will not be much delayed” (JCC description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds., Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789 (34 vols.; Washington, 1904–37). description ends , XXV, 589).

14Among the “other nations” reported to be making “advances” for the negotiation of commercial treaties with the United States were Denmark, Portugal, Spain, Tuscany, Austria, and Prussia (JCC description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds., Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789 (34 vols.; Washington, 1904–37). description ends , XXV, 618, 753–55).

17Among the four ships of considerable size comprising the United States Navy at the cessation of hostilities with Great Britain was the frigate “Bourbon,” still on the stocks at Middletown, Conn. Congress on 21 April ordered Robert Morris, agent of marine, to have the frigate “Duc De Lauzun” sold upon her arrival in France. In like manner he was instructed on 16 July to sell the ship “Hague.” At his suggestion ten days later, Congress authorized him to dispose of the “Bourbon.” By then this frigate was ready for launching but had not been rigged. Thus, when the present letter was written, there remained only the packet “Washington,” which had recently docked in Philadelphia with dispatches from France, and the “old” frigate “Alliance,” unable to leave port because her hull leaked. On 27 March and 8 April 1784, respectively, Congress ordered the “Alliance” to be made seaworthy and the “Washington” to be sold (NA: PCC, No. 137, III, 45, 49, 131; 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 , II, 9, n. 3; VI, 432–33; 434, n. 9; JM Notes, 15 May, n. 1; JM to Randolph, 17 June 1783, n. 10; JCC description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds., Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789 (34 vols.; Washington, 1904–37). description ends , XXIV, 263, 438, 446, 447, n. 1; XXV, 536, n. 1, 537–38, 571–72, 573, 622, n. 2, 695, 839–40, 840, n. 1; XXVI, 171, 210).

Although Morris was expected to resign “in a few months,” he continued to serve as superintendent of finance until November 1784 (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, 306, n. 11). For his frequent harassment by Arthur Lee, Theodorick Bland, and many of the New England delegates, see ibid., VI, 304–5; 305, n. 4; 306, n. 6; 409, n. 1; Delegates to Harrison, 1 Aug., n. 1; JM to Randolph, 30 Aug. 1783, and n. 6; JCC description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds., Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789 (34 vols.; Washington, 1904–37). description ends , XXV, 506, 536–37, 541–43, 573–77.

18JM to Randolph, 17 June, and nn. 10–12; Memorial of Massachusetts General Court, 19 Sept. 1783, and n. 3; JCC description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds., Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789 (34 vols.; Washington, 1904–37). description ends , XXV, 548–51, 571–72.

20Jefferson’s term as a delegate from Virginia in Congress began on 3 November 1783 (JCC description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds., Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789 (34 vols.; Washington, 1904–37). description ends , XXV, 797–99, 803).

21JM Notes, 21 June, n. 8; Delegates to Harrison, 5 July, nn. 35; Mercer to JM, 14 Aug. 1783, and n. 8; JCC description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds., Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789 (34 vols.; Washington, 1904–37). description ends , XXV, 564–67; Burnett, Letters description begins Edmund C. Burnett, ed., Letters of Members of the Continental Congress (8 vols.; Washington, 1921–36). description ends , VII, 297.

22Jefferson on 16 October 1783 left Monticello to attend Congress (Jefferson to JM, 7 May 1783, n. 19).

24JM’s irritation with his and Jones’s cramped quarters appears to have caused the size of the room to diminish, for on 30 August he had written to Randolph that the room was “not more than ten feet square” (JM to Randolph, 30 Aug. 1783).

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