James Madison Papers
Documents filtered by: Period="Revolutionary War" AND Period="Revolutionary War" AND Correspondent="Madison, James" AND Correspondent="Randolph, Edmund"
sorted by: recipient

To James Madison from Edmund Randolph, 15 May 1783

From Edmund Randolph

RC (LC: Madison Papers). Unsigned but in Randolph’s hand. Docket lacking. JM did not receive this letter until 9 June. See JM to Randolph, 10 June 1783.

Richmond May 15. 1783.

My dear friend

The assembly have plunged into business without delay;1 and the important question of the impost has occupied their first attention. Mr. Henry is its strenuous supporter, and was the author of the resolution, by which an impost is declared to be fit for adoption under certain limitations and restrictions. What those limitations & restrictions shall be remain unknown, as they are left to the preparation of the committee, appointed to bring in the bill, to be founded on that resolution. It is unfortunate that this subject has been discussed under the aspect, in which congress formerly presented it to the different legislatures. The odious parts of the scheme, which the new recommendations will correct, furnish a topic of declamation, if not of solid argument against it. The committee will therefore probably defer their report, until the arrival of Mr. Jones, or some other bearer of the late proposals, relative to the impost.2

Mr. H——y being fixed in his opinion, little need be apprehended from the Leeward quarter. I am informed, that much was said of the danger of introducing continental officers for the collection of the impost, and much was complained of this alteration for supplying the treasury of the U. S. against the provisions of the confederation. To these objections Mr. Henry ludicrously offered an easy remedy, by drawing the teeth and cutting the nails of the officers of revenue. The incroachment on the confederation met no serious answer.3

I wish for the sake of national honor, that the legislature had not been so rapid as they have been in repealing the acts against british merchandize. You will perceive, how eagle-winged they were in this business. I should be sorry for the eagerness after these proscribed commodities, if they did not tend to shew a determination to conform to the spirit of the treaty.4

The wiser opinion concerning the offensive branches of the treaty seems to be, at least to postpone any steps concerning them until the whole is laid open by the definitive one. Some ill-digested minds are daily belching out crude invectives, and determinations to oppose the collection of british debts. These however are checked by the moderation of better heads, which, howsoever they lament the recovery of these debts, will not violate the treaty; or in other words will not subject british executions to other impediments, than are imposed on those of our own citizens.

An exclusion of certain refugees is popular with some.5 Mr. H——y rejects with indignation every resentment against petty objects, as being unworthy of legislative enmity, and being too likely to put aside from the view of the members of the assembly the wide-extended field of legislation.

Religion, which has been hitherto treated with little respect by the assembly, was yesterday incorporated into their proceedings. Mr. H——ry moved for a chaplain; and that a prayer should be composed adapted to all persuasions. The prayer has not been reported, tho’ several trials, I am told, have been made.6

I have denied the mission of Payne to Rhode Island by an act of congress, as far as I was authorized so to do by the information, which I have as yet received. I wish to be authorized to go farther, even to a positive contradiction. For it carries an unfavourable impression. It leads the adversaries of congressional powers to declaim roundly against tampering &c.7

Colo. Nicholas has obtained leave to bring in a bill against the eligibility of members of congress to the assembly. It will succeed.8

I shall send you a copy of the journal, of every week, if the industry of the printer will suffer me. This second sheet is the only one relating to real business.9

2On 16 December 1782, after being apprised of Rhode Island’s refusal to approve the proposed 5 per cent impost amendment to the Articles of Confederation but before receiving word of the Virginia General Assembly’s recision of its ratification of that amendment, Congress adopted a long report, drafted by Hamilton, urging the Rhode Island legislature to reverse its action. By May 1783 the coming of peace, attended with a growing stress upon the sovereignty of each state, rendered Hamilton’s insistence upon the constitutional power of Congress to tax “the commerce of these states” and to appoint the collectors of the levy far more “odious” than it had been five months earlier (JCC description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds., Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789 (34 vols.; Washington, 1904–37). description ends , XXIII, 798–810; 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, 385, n. 12; 407, and n. 1; 442; 445, nn. 16–18; VI, 8–9).

In January 1783 Governor Harrison, who deplored the repeal of the ratifying resolution by his state’s legislature, received a copy of the Hamilton report from the Virginia delegates in Congress (ibid., VI, 11; 12, n. 1; 14; 20). In his message of 5 May, submitting the Hamilton report and other documents to the House of Delegates, Harrison implicitly criticized the General Assembly for its act of recision by referring to Rhode Island’s refusal as a severe blow to the credit of “the rising nation” (Executive Letter Book, 1783–1786, p. 106, MS in Va. State Library). Nine days later, following a recommendation by the “committee of the whole House on the state of the Commonwealth” that “an impost of five per cent on certain goods, imported, ought to be granted to discharge certain engagements made by Congress, under proper regulations,” the House of Delegates appointed a committee, Mann Page, Jr., chairman, and Patrick Henry among the other nine members, to prepare a bill for that purpose (JHDV description begins (1828 ed.). Journal of the House of Delegates of Virginia, Anno Domini, 1776 (Richmond, 1828). description ends , May 1783, p. 7).

The qualifications of “certain goods,” “certain arrangements,” and “under proper regulations,” if insisted upon by the General Assembly, obviously would render its adoption of the recommendations less than an equivalent of ratifying the impost amendment. See Jameson to JM, 24 May, and n. 3; Jones to JM, 25 May 1783. Furthermore, as Randolph remarked, the supporters of the bill were handicapped by being obliged to argue for it in the context of Hamilton’s nationalistic report rather than in that of the plan for restoring public credit. For the arrival of Joseph Jones bringing a copy of that plan together with JM’s “Address to the States,” see Ambler to JM, 3 May, n. 4; Pendleton to JM, 4 May, n. 8; Jefferson to JM, 7 May, n. 13; Instruction to President, 9 May, and n. 2; Randolph to JM, 9 May 1783, and n. 7.

3For the opposition of Arthur Lee and Richard Henry Lee to the proposed impost and their political rivalry with Patrick Henry, 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 , V, 401; 404, n. 18; 453; VI, 12, nn. 3, 4; 55; Jefferson to JM, 7 May, and n. 8; JM to Randolph, 13 May 1783, and n. 3.

5Pendleton to JM, 4 May, n. 6; 10 May, and n. 4; JM Notes, 9 May, and n. 3; Harrison to Delegates, 9 May, and n. 6; Randolph to JM, 9 May, nn. 4–5. Articles signed “Decius” and “A Whig” in the Virginia Gazette of 3 and 10 May 1783, respectively, also support Randolph’s reference to “crude invectives.”

6Although Henry’s motion of 14 May is not recorded in the journal, the House of Delegates the next day adopted a resolution stipulating: “That the chaplain do compose a form of prayer, to be approved by the committee for Religion, fit and proper to be used in this House; and that it be a standing order, that divine service be performed every day, by using the said form or any other as the House may from time to time direct; and that service begin in the House immediately after the bell shall be rang for calling the House” (JHDV description begins (1828 ed.). Journal of the House of Delegates of Virginia, Anno Domini, 1776 (Richmond, 1828). description ends , May 1783, p. 7). The chaplain was the Reverend Benjamin Blasgrove (1746–1793), who on 28 June 1783 was voted £80 for his services during the session (ibid., p. 96; Va. Gazette, and Weekly Advertiser, 13 Sept. 1793). The House of Delegates elected the standing “committee for Religion,” William Cabell of Amherst County, chairman, on 13 May (JHDV description begins (1828 ed.). Journal of the House of Delegates of Virginia, Anno Domini, 1776 (Richmond, 1828). description ends , May 1783, pp. 4–5; Swem and Williams, Register description begins Earl G. Swem and John W. Williams, eds., A Register of the General Assembly of Virginia, 1776–1918, and of the Constitutional Conventions (Richmond, 1918). description ends , p. 17).

At the opening of each session from 1777 through 1780 the House of Delegates had appointed a chaplain. Henry’s motion, therefore, was not original in asking for a resumption of the practice but in recommending that “a form of prayer” be composed and that the daily session open with a “divine service.” Although the journal of the session of May 1783 omits further mention of the matter, the terms of the resolutions presumably became effective. Until 1806 the “standing order” remained unrepealed in spite of protests that it invaded liberty of conscience, united church and state, and obliged tax money to be spent for religious purposes (Sadie Bell, The Church, the State, and Education in Virginia [Philadelphia, 1930], pp. 154–56).

7What Randolph had heard about Thomas Paine was accurate, except that Congress did not pass a resolution authorizing him to go to Rhode Island at Confederation expense to urge the General Assembly of that state to adopt the proposed impost amendment. After engaging in a newspaper controversy in Philadelphia on behalf of the amendment, Paine went to Rhode Island in December 1782 and had at least five articles of the same tenor published in the Providence Gazette (William R. Staples, Rhode Island in the Continental Congress, with the Journal of the Convention that Adopted the Constitution, 1765–1790 [Providence, 1870], pp. 428, 558; 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, 375, n. 12). There is no doubt that Robert Morris employed Paine “to write for Continental measures” (Clarence L. Ver Steeg, Robert Morris: Revolutionary Financier with an Analysis of His Earlier Career [Philadelphia, 1954], p. 172). See also JM to Randolph, 10 June 1783. By the reprinting in the Virginia Gazette on 3 and 10 May 1783 of his “The Last Crisis, No. XIII,” attention in Richmond had been drawn again to Paine, whom many Virginians heartily disliked because of his pamphlet in 1780 opposing the claim of their state to western lands. 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 , III, 14, n. 17; VI, 498, n. 38.

8On 15 May the House of Delegates appointed George Nicholas and Thomas Smith of Gloucester County as a committee to prepare a bill “to repeal so much of any act, or acts of Assembly, as allows the delegates in Congress to be eligible to either House of Assembly” (Swem and Williams, Register description begins Earl G. Swem and John W. Williams, eds., A Register of the General Assembly of Virginia, 1776–1918, and of the Constitutional Conventions (Richmond, 1918). description ends , p. 17; JHDV description begins (1828 ed.). Journal of the House of Delegates of Virginia, Anno Domini, 1776 (Richmond, 1828). description ends , May 1783, p. 7). The bill, which Nicholas introduced the next day, was adopted in amended form by the House of Delegates on 21 May and by the Senate three days later. Upon being signed by the speaker of the House on 4 June 1783, the bill became a law (ibid., pp. 9, 16, 18, 19, 34; 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, 249–50). See also Jones to JM, 25 May 1783, and n. 4.

9Enclosure not found. Lack of money and paper made the task of James Hayes, Jr., printer to the Commonwealth, very difficult. 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, 9; 10, n. 11; 218, n. 1. In view of Randolph’s comment in his letter of 24 May to JM (q.v., and n. 9), he probably did not mean a printed version by “second sheet” but rather a handwritten copy made in the office of John Beckley, clerk of the House of Delegates.

Index Entries