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Benjamin Harrison to Virginia Delegates, 9 May 1783

Benjamin Harrison to Virginia Delegates

FC (Virginia State Library). In the hand of Thomas Meriwether. Addressed to “Virginia Delegates in Congress.”

Richmond May 9th. 1783.

Gentlemen

I duly received your favor of the 29th. of last Month.1 In my last I requested you to let Mr. Thompson know I would send by this Post an Act of Assembly repealing the Cession of the Western Teretory. I then thought there had been one, but the Clerk of the Delegates informs me I was mistaken, which you’l please to let him know, if you have delivered the Message.2

I find private Letters frequently full of interesting Intelligence respecting the Politics of Europe, and the fears and expectations of Congress from that quarter, and many other things of Moment which would be of advantage to the State if known to the Executive, to obtain such Communications, appears to me to have been the principal Intention in establishing a weekly Correspondence between the Governor and the Delegates, and that without them it is scarcely worth the Continuance. I would not be understood to entertain a wish to be let into Secrets which ought not to be devulged, or to trespass so far on your Time, as to take you from the Duties of your Appointment, but I think as you write in turn, the Member to whose lot it falls might spend a few Minutes each Day between the Posts, in such Communications, which would be particularly useful to me during the setting of the Assembly as I am frequently applied to by the Members for Intelligence on Subjects which they know have been received by particular Gentlemen and on which they expect at least as full Information from their Governor as they can obtain from others.3

There are not Members of Assembly enough met to proceed to Business, nor will there be before Munday,4 from the Tember5 of those I have conversed with it is to be apprehended, the Article of British Debts in the Treaty, will be but illy digested, tho’ I have my Hopes they will not enter on that Subject this Session.6

I am with respect Gentlemen Yrs: &c.

B. H.

1Papers 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, 501.

2Harrison to Delegates, 3 May 1783, and n. 4. The clerk of the Virginia House of Delegates was John Beckley (JHDV description begins (1828 ed.). Journal of the House of Delegates of Virginia, Anno Domini, 1776 (Richmond, 1828). description ends , Oct. 1782, p. 89; E. Griffith Dodson, Speakers and Clerks of the Virginia House of Delegates, 1776–1955 [Richmond, 1956], pp. 19, 140). For Beckley, 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 , I, 318, n. 2.

3In letters of 6 April 1782 and 15 February 1783, Governor Harrison had also chided the delegates either for the sparseness of their letters or for failure to enclose a Philadelphia newspaper with them (ibid., IV, 139–40; VI, 241; 242, n. 3). Only in a limited sense did the delegates write in turn, although their ideal seems to have been that one delegate should draft four letters in succession before being relieved of the task by another delegate.

Taking, for example, the sixteen letters of which the draftsmen are known, posted by the delegates to Harrison between 1 January and 30 April 1783, Mercer and Bland each wrote five; JM, three; Lee, two; and Jones, one. Harrison’s criticism may have been especially directed at Bland, who had drafted the four letters most recently received by the governor. The response of the delegates to his criticism is in their letter of 20 May 1783, of which only a printed extract is available to the editors (q.v.). The delegates could also have partially justified the brevity of their letters in April by remarking that Lee and Jones, soon returning to Richmond for the session of the Virginia General Assembly, would inform Harrison as fully about the proceedings of Congress as their discretion permitted (Ambler to JM, 3 May, n. 4; Pendleton to JM, 4 May, n. 3; JM to Randolph, 6 May, n. 9; Delegates to Harrison, 27 May 1783). Among the “private Letters,” the governor may have included not only those written to him, but also those sent by JM to Randolph and perhaps to Pendleton, who was then in Richmond.

5For the sake of clarity, the clerk should have placed a period rather than a comma after “Munday” and capitalized the first letter of “from.” By “Tember” he probably meant “Timbre” or “Tembre.”

6Article IV of the preliminary articles of peace stipulated “that creditors on either side shall meet with no lawful impediment to the recovery of the full value in sterling money, of all bona fide debts heretofore contracted” (JCC description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds., Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789 (34 vols.; Washington, 1904–37). description ends , XXIV, 248). See also 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, 47; 48, nn. 2, 4; 334; 340; 341, n. 5; 370; 439; 440, n. 2.

Although the governor had submitted a copy of the preliminary articles of peace to the speaker of the House of Delegates on 5 May, he omitted mention of the debts issue until 3 June 1783. On that day he sent the speaker an account of debts owed to British creditors, “which this Moment came to hand” (Executive Letter Book, 1783–1786, p. 149, MS in Va. State Library). Two petitions from residents of Essex County and one from Fairfax County, protesting against the procedure which probably would be used if that article of the treaty were enforced, were received by the House of Delegates and referred to the committee of the whole house on the state of the Commonwealth. The session adjourned, however, without either resolutions or a statute relating directly to the subject being offered or adopted by the General Assembly (JHDV description begins (1828 ed.). Journal of the House of Delegates of Virginia, Anno Domini, 1776 (Richmond, 1828). description ends , May 1783, pp. 12, 37, 65).

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