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To James Madison from James McClurg, 22 August 1787

From James McClurg

Richmond Augt. 22. 87.

Dear Sir,

I have so much pleasure from your communications, that I shall be careful to acknowledge the reciept of them, with a view to secure their continuance.

I have still some hope that I shall hear from you of the reinstatement of the Negative—as it is certainly the only mean by which the several Legislatures can be restrain’d from disturbing the order & harmony of the whole; & the Governmt. render’d properly national, & one. I should suppose that some of its former opponents must by this time have seen the necessity of advocating it, if they wish to support their own principles.

We have been inform’d from Green-bryar that a number of Men in that county, to the amount, it is said, of 300, have sign’d an Association, to oppose the payment of the certificate Tax, & in genl. of all debts; & it is apprehended there, that they will attempt forcibly to stop the proceedings of the next court. The Ringleader of this riot, I apprehend from the Length & sound of his christian name, Adonijah Matthews, must have come from New-England.1

A News-paper writter, from Prince-Edward, has promised to investigate, & expose, the dangerous tendency, as well as unsoundness of John Adam’s doctrines—supposed by some to be Mr. H——y.2 This book is squibb’d at in almost every paper—but I have not heard that any body speaks of it with more acrimony than your namesake at Wmsburg.3

We have got the burner of one prison & a Mr. Posey of N. Kent, deposited in the goal of this city.4 I have told you all our domestic anecdotes that I can think of, & am with the most sincere regard, Dear Sir, Your most obedt. friend & Servt.

Jas. McClurg

RC (DLC). Docketed by JM.

1On 20 Aug. 1787 the Council of State received a letter dated 11 Aug. from George Clendenin, county lieutenant of Greenbrier, and an affidavit from Robert Renick setting forth the details of the so-called riot in that county. Clendenin hesitated to use force against Matthews and his followers, for “they Seemed the Strongest party.” Moreover, “some il[l-]minded person or persons had previou[s]ly burned the Jail.” The county lieutenant was fearful that if Matthews returned to Greenbrier and was placed in the new jail, it would “Immediately Experience the Same fate of the former” (enclosed in Edmund Randolph to Speaker of the House of Delegates, 15 Oct. 1787 [Vi: Executive Communications]; JCSV description begins H. R. McIlwaine et al., eds., Journals of the Council of the State of Virginia (4 vols. to date; Richmond, 1931——). description ends , IV, 144). The riot was short-lived, however, and by 1 Sept. the commotion had “totally subsided.” As proof that law and order had returned to Greenbrier, the governor was informed that Matthews was “now in Custody for Debt” (Henry Banks to Randolph, 1 Sept. 1787, CVSP description begins William P. Palmer et al., eds., Calendar of Virginia State Papers and Other Manuscripts (11 vols.; Richmond, 1875–93). description ends , IV, 336–37; Va. Gazette and Weekly Advertiser description begins Virginia Gazette and Weekly Advertiser (Richmond: Thomas Nicolson et al., 1781–97). description ends , 20 Sept. 1787).

The “certificate tax” was levied on lands and lots, free males, slaves, horses, cattle, carriages, billiard tables, and ordinary licenses. The fund arising from the tax was appropriated to the redemption of military certificates and certificates issued for impressed property (Hening, Statutes description begins William Waller Hening, ed., The Statutes at Large; Being a Collection of All the Laws of Virginia, from the First Session of the Legislature, in the Year 1619 (13 vols.; Richmond and Philadelphia, 1819–23). description ends , XI, 93–95, 417–19).

2McClurg referred to the piece by “Senex” in the Va. Independent Chronicle description begins Virginia Independent Chronicle (Richmond: Augustine Davis, 1786–90). Beginning on 13 May 1789 entitled, Virginia Independent Chronicle, and General Advertiser. description ends of 15 Aug. 1787. “Senex” denounced Adams’s Defence of the Constitutions of Government as “one of the most deep wrought systems of political deception, that ever was penn’d by the ingenuity of man” and added this warning: “Americans, beware!—for if you imbibe a particle of his political poison, you are undone for ever.” Patrick Henry’s authorship cannot be established.

4See the Va. Independent Chronicle description begins Virginia Independent Chronicle (Richmond: Augustine Davis, 1786–90). Beginning on 13 May 1789 entitled, Virginia Independent Chronicle, and General Advertiser. description ends of 22 Aug. 1787. John Price Posey, a former justice of the peace and delegate to the General Assembly from New Kent County, had long had a reputation as “a most consummate villain” (George Washington to Bartholomew Dandridge, 18 Dec. 1782, Fitzpatrick, Writings of Washington description begins John C. Fitzpatrick, ed., The Writings of George Washington, from the Original Sources, 1745–1799 (39 vols.; Washington, 1931–44). description ends , XXV, 443). In 1783 he was accused of “diverse gross misdemeanors,” apparently in connection with his management of the estate of the late John Parke Custis, son of Mrs. George Washington by her first marriage. The same year the General Court found Posey guilty of a misdemeanor and the Council of State accordingly stripped him of his commission as a justice of the peace. In 1786 Posey was convicted of another misdemeanor in defrauding Bartholomew Dandridge, brother of Mrs. Washington. The following year Posey, imprisoned for assaulting the sheriff, escaped from the New Kent jail. On the night of 15 July he persuaded one Thomas Green, a laborer, to help him “burn the Damn’d Prison down.” This mission accomplished, the arsonists proceeded to the clerk’s office, which apparently contained incriminating records, and Posey declared this “Damn’d object … must be destroyed, too, and Damn’d himself if that should not go.” The two men were arrested the same night and Green later turned state’s evidence. Posey was found guilty at the October 1787 session of the General Court, a verdict sustained by the Supreme Court of Appeals in December. On hearing the sentence of death. Posey, choked with tears, confessed his crime “and said he hoped through the merits of his Saviour, to obtain a pardon for the sins of his past life.” He died on the gallows on 25 Jan. 1788 (PJM description begins William T. Hutchinson et al., eds., The Papers of James Madison (10 vols. to date; Chicago, 1962——). description ends , VI, 347–48 n. 5; CVSP description begins William P. Palmer et al., eds., Calendar of Virginia State Papers and Other Manuscripts (11 vols.; Richmond, 1875–93). description ends , IV, 321, 329–30; Va. Gazette and Weekly Advertiser description begins Virginia Gazette and Weekly Advertiser (Richmond: Thomas Nicolson et al., 1781–97). description ends , 20 Dec. 1787 and 31 Jan. 1788; JCSV description begins H. R. McIlwaine et al., eds., Journals of the Council of the State of Virginia (4 vols. to date; Richmond, 1931——). description ends , IV, 201; Cullen, “St. George Tucker and Law in Virginia, 1772–1804” [Ph. D. diss., ViU, 1971], pp. 86–87).

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