James Madison Papers
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To James Madison from George Washington, 28 November 1784

From George Washington

Mount Vernon 28th Novr. 84.

Gentlemen,

After the several conversations we have had on the subject of inland navigation; and the benefits which would, probably, be derived from a commercial intercourse with the Western territory; I shall make no apology for giving you the trouble of the enclosed.1

It is matter of regret to me, however, that I cannot accompany them with some explanations & observations. It was intended these papers should have met me at Richmond. They missed me on the road thither — travelled back to Baltimore — returned — and were put into my hands at the moment I was setting off for Annapolis; to which place I mean to accompany the Marqs. de la Fayette on his return to New York where he expects to embark, about the middle of next month, for France.

I could not think of withholding these Papers until my return, as I shall probably accompany the Marquis from Annapolis to Baltimore. Therefore, in the order I receive[d], I send them to you. Your own judgment in this business will be the best guide — but in one word, it should seem to me, that if the public cannot take it up with efficient funds, & without those delays which might be involved by a limping conduct, it had better be placed in the hands of a corporate Company. What encouragements, and what powers, to give this Company, deserve all that consideration which I perswade myself you, Gentlemen, will bestow.

The Maryland Assembly is now sitting. If I should return in time, I will have the honor of writing to you again on this subject — in the meanwhile, if your leizure will permit, I should be glad to know your Sentimts. on, and what will be the issue of, this business. With very sincere esteem and regard I have the honor to be Gentn. Yr. Most Obedt Hble Ser

Go: Washington

P. S. As your Assembly are upon a Militia Law, I send you the thoughts of the Baron de Steuben which I found here upon my return from Richmond2

GW.

RC (NNC). Addressed “James Madison Esquire—or in his absence Joseph Jones Esquire At Richmond.” Docketed by JM. The enclosure is missing.

1Washington’s enclosure was undoubtedly the memorial from “sundry inhabitants” of Virginia and Maryland which JM probably laid before the House of Delegates on 4 Dec. (JHDV 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 is the one in which the journals for 1777–1786 are brought together in two volumes, with each journal published in Richmond in either 1827 or 1828 and often called the “Thomas W. White reprint.” description ends , Oct. 1784, p. 58). Washington had been in Richmond earlier in the month lobbying for legislation that would establish a state-regulated, but privately owned Potomac navigation company. JM became floor manager for the legislation after Jones was elected to the Council of State and subsequently resigned his House seat. The memorial stressed “the practicability and importance of the work” and asked for an act of incorporation with a perpetual grant of tolls to the investors (JM to Jefferson, 9 Jan. 1785). JM was ill in late Dec. and some of the burden of managing the Potomac navigation bill fell on William Grayson when efforts were made to coordinate the Maryland legislature’s work into a Virginia law. For further information on the canal scheme see Alexander Crosby Brown, “America’s Greatest Eighteenth Century Engineering Achievement: The Potowmack Company’s Canal at Great Falls is Today’s ‘Magnificent Wreck,’” Virginia Cavalcade, XII, no. 4 (1963), 40–47; Corra Bacon-Foster, Early Chapters in the Development of the Potomac Route to the West (Washington, 1912), pp. 33–233; and Grace L. Nute, ed., “Washington and the Potomac: Manuscripts of the Minnesota Historical Society [1754] 1769–1796,” AHR description begins American Historical Review. description ends , XXVIII (1922–23), 497–519, 705–22.

2Von Steuben’s missing “thoughts” may have been useful for JM since he was serving on a committee appointed 2 Nov. to revise the militia laws (JHDV 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 is the one in which the journals for 1777–1786 are brought together in two volumes, with each journal published in Richmond in either 1827 or 1828 and often called the “Thomas W. White reprint.” description ends , Oct. 1784, p. 8). The antiquated militia statute, a carry-over from colonial days, was replaced by a comprehensive act passed during this session (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, 476–94).

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