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From James Madison to Edmund Randolph, 18 February 1783

To Edmund Randolph

RC (LC: Madison Papers). Unsigned but in JM’s hand. Cover franked by “J. Madison Jr.” and addressed by him to “Edmund Randolph Esqr. Richmond.” Docketed by Randolph, “James Madison Feby 18. 1783.” In the first paragraph, the words are italicized which JM enciphered in the Randolph code.

Philada. Feby. 18th. 1783.

My dear friend

I am glad to find by your favor of the 7th. instant that the necessity of a readoption of the impost presses so strongly on your mind. To give it a fair experiment with the ensuing assembly it will be indispensable that you should be its advocate on the floor. Those who effected its repeal will never inactively suffer it to be reinstated in our Code.1 Mercer from what motive God knows says that he will crawl to R——d on his bare knees to prevt it. Having already changed his opinion on the subject he fears perhaps the charge of unsteaddiness.2 Perhaps too his zeal against a general revenue may be cooled by the accomplishment in congress of a plan for a valuation of land, on the ruins of which he among others suspected the former was to be established.3 This plan passed Congress yesterday. It proposes that the States shall return to Congs. before Jany next their respective quantities of land the number of houses thereon distinguishing dwelling houses from others, and the no. of Inhabitants distinguishing whites from blacks. These data are to be referred to a Grand Come. by whom a report in which nine voices must unite, is to be made to Congress which report is to settle the proportions of each State, & to be ratified or rejected by Congs. without alteration. Who could have supposed that such a measure could ever have been the offspring of a zealous and scrupulous respect for the Confederation?4

The residue of my extract from Mr. J——s remarks is I am persuaded less interesting to your present purposes than you infer from the specimen you have received. The labor of gratifying you however I can assure you will bear no proportion to the pleasure of it, and you may calculate on being shortly furnished with it. I understand from Mr. J. that he has materials for enlarging the whole plan. My expectation of getting from him some day or other a full copy, reduced my extract to parts of immediate use to me, or such as consisting of reflections, not of facts might not be obtained otherwise.5

To the Speech of the B. King of which I sent you copy by the Express, I now add in the inclosed gazette a further token of approaching peace. It seems a little mysterious nevertheless that Mr. Secy. Townsend should speak of the preliminaries with the United States as signed & those with France as to be signed. The former being only provisional may in some measure explain it, but in that case it would seem to be without real use.6

In consequence of this prospect the departure of —— has been suspended untill the further orders of Congress. I had a letter from him yesterday but he had not then been apprized of this resolution. He had seen the Speech & had I doubt not anticipated it.7 What course he will take during the suspense—I can not say. My wish is that he may return to this place where he will be able at least to pass away the time with less tedium.8

1In his letter of 7 February (q.v.), Randolph had predicted that if the April elections in Virginia returned enough “sound Whigs” to the General Assembly, it would reverse the “fatal repeal” of Virginia’s ratification of the proposed impost amendment. JM adroitly used this forecast to designate as “indispensable” what he had called “a duty” in his letter of 11 February to Randolph (q.v., and n. 3), namely, for him to become a member of the House of Delegates. Jefferson, although for different reasons, willingly joined JM in urging Randolph to qualify “for a seat in the legislature” (JM to Jefferson, 11 Feb., and n. 14; Jefferson to JM, 14 Feb. (1st letter), and n. 4; Boyd, Papers of Jefferson description begins Julian P. Boyd et al., eds., The Papers of Thomas Jefferson (18 vols. to date; Princeton, N.J., 1950——). description ends , VI, 246–49). See also Randolph to JM, 3 Jan., and n. 10; 15 Jan., and n. 7; 1 Feb. 1783.

2R——d” stands for Richmond. On 12 February 1783 Mercer spoke in Congress against submitting an altered version of the amendment to the states before the debts of Congress had been “liquidated & apportioned.” Failing to have his way in this particular, he appeared willing six days later to support the amendment, provided that the revenue produced by the impost should be allocated first of all to pay the “interest of the debt to the army” (Papers of Madison description begins William T. Hutchinson, William M. E. Rachal, et al., eds., The Papers of James Madison (6 vols. to date; Chicago, 1962——). description ends , V, 283, n. 3; 427, n. 7; 455, n. 5; Harrison to JM, 4 Jan., n. 3; JM Notes, 12 Feb., and nn. 1, 12; 18 Feb. 1783; JCC description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds., Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789 (34 vols.; Washington, 1904–37). description ends , XXIV, 126–27). Judging from JM’s letters of 25 February and 4 March 1783 to Randolph (qq.v.), Mercer soon “changed” again in his stand on the impost and “a general revenue.”

3See n. 2. JM placed a caret after the comma, interlineated an asterisk, and followed it with the ciphers for “on the ruins of.” The meaning of the sentence will be largely clarified by JM Notes, 7 Feb., and n. 14; 8 Feb., and nn. 3, 4; 17 Feb., and nn. 1, 3, 4. Even as early as 6 February, before most of the revisions were made, JM had noted that the report of the committee of the whole “lay in a great degree of confusion” (JM Notes, 9–10 Jan., and n. 2; 13 Jan., and n. 1; 14 Jan., and nn. 4–7; 29 Jan., and nn. 7–9, 11, 13; 31 Jan., and nn. 11, 17; 4 Feb., and n. 20; 5–6 Feb., and nn. 9–11, 13; 7 Feb. 1783, and nn. 3, 11). The report of a committee, instructed by Congress on 11 February to assemble these disparate motions and recommendations “into a proper act,” was debated three days later and rejected on 17 February. The “accomplishment in congress” on that date was the acceptance of the Dyer-Mercer substitute proposal (JM Notes, 17 Feb. 1783, and n. 1; JCC description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds., Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789 (34 vols.; Washington, 1904–37). description ends , XXIV, 124, 129–37).

4In his comments about Mercer, JM reflects his scorn of the worth of the “accomplishment” and his unshaken conviction that Congress, both for its own sake and that of the union of states, must be provided with “a general revenue” (JM Notes, 9–10 Jan.; 14 Jan.; 28 Jan., and nn. 5, 19; 17 Feb.; JM to Randolph, 14 Jan.; 28 Jan.; 4 Feb. 1783). See also JCC description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds., Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789 (34 vols.; Washington, 1904–37). description ends , XXIV, 135–37.

5JM to Randolph, 28 Jan., hdn., and n. 3. JM was fulfilling a promise made on 30 Dec. 1782 (Papers of Madison description begins William T. Hutchinson, William M. E. Rachal, et al., eds., The Papers of James Madison (6 vols. to date; Chicago, 1962——). description ends , V, 473). How large a “specimen” of his notes on Jefferson’s memorandum for Barbé-Marbois JM had forwarded is unknown, but “the residue” of the extract was enclosed in his letter of 25 February 1783 to Randolph (q.v.).

7Jefferson to JM, 14 Feb. (2d letter), and nn. 39, 41. JM assumed that Randolph would know that Jefferson was meant. For “this resolution,” see JM Notes, 14 Feb., and n. 6; JM to Jefferson, 15 Feb. 1783.

8Ibid., and n. 5.

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