James Madison Papers
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To James Madison from Archibald Stuart, 2 December 1787

From Archibald Stuart

Richmond Decr. 2d. 1787

Dr Sir

I find by yrs. of the 18th. Novr.1 that one of my letters prior in date to the One of the 2d. Novr. has miscaried.2 This Gives me some uneasiness on account of its contents which possibly may transpire. An Absence of ten days prevented my writing last week. The legislature have taken up the subject of British debts and after four days debate on the subject passed a Vote for the payment of them by a Majority of thirty.3 In this business P H: took a Very Active part. His anxiety was too great to be concealed & had such an effect upon his whole frame as to make him sweat at every pore & appear to a greater disadvantage—in short when the question was decided disappointment was painted in strikeing colours in the Countenances of the Minority. A proposition for installing the Debts similar to the One made in 84 was also rejected by the same Majority.4

P: H: Brought forward some time ago resolutions prohibiting the farther importation of All distilled Spirits & Carried the Same by a very large majority. We have passed An Act for the Receipt of Tobo. in the taxes of the present yr. at 30/ P[er] H for the first quality &c notwithstanding there is a loss of £2:700 in what is already sold of the Last years collection.

We counted the money in the Treasury yesterday & found there £30.136:6.5. & Tobo. to the Amount of £9.692:7:4.½. Of this we have appropriated six thousand pounds Cash & the Whole of the Tobo. to the purchase of Government securities to be laid out under the Direction of the Executive. It is true the Bill for this purpose is not actually passed but it is ordered to be read the third time & its friends are as 3 to 1.5

It is my Opinion from conversing with the Members that we shall comply with the Requisitions of Congress so far as to pass an Act on the subject but I believe the funds will be doubtfull, it being the General wish to possess ourselves of a large proportion of the Publick securities before an Appreciation takes place under the New Government.6

A Resolution was brought forward the day before yesterday for paying the members to Convention in June their Wages & securing to them Certain priviledges &c seconded by P: H: & Mason which after making Provision for the purposes aforesaid goes farther & sais that should the Convention think proper to propose Amendments to the Constitution this state will make provision for carrying the same into effect & that Money shall be advanced for the Support of Deputies to the Neighbouring States &c. This Many of us opposed as improper & proposed that the same provision should be made in General terms which should not discover the sense of the house on the Subject but after a Long Debate the point was carried against us by a Majority of sixteen.7 In the Course of the Debate P: Hy: Observed that if this Idea was not held forth our southern neighbours might be driven to despair seeing no door open to safety should they disapprove the new Constitution. Mason on the subject was less candid than ever I knew him to be. From the above mentioned Vote there appears to be a Majority vs the Govt. as it now Stands & I fear since they have discovered their Strength they will adopt other Measures tending to its prejudice. From this circumstance I am happy to find Most of the States will have decided on the Question before Virginia for I now have my doubts whether She would afford them as usual a good Example. Installments are yet in Statu quo. The form of the Courts is despaired of except some amendments to the County Court Bill.

Yesterday a Boat with sixteen men was brought down the Canall from West Ham, to its termination which is within one mile & an half of Richmond.

Mathews & Selden are removed from Council & Wm Heth & Jos. Egglestone reign in their stead.

I do not Wish you to forget that yr friends are all anxious that you should come into the Convention.

Colo. T Mathews will Write to you his intentions of having you elected for the Borough of Norfolk should you think it proper.8 I am Dr Sir yr most obt H Servant

Archd Stuart

RC (DLC). Docketed by JM.

1Letter not found.

2The only extant letter from Stuart to JM before 2 Nov. 1787 is that of 21 Oct. 1787. Stuart evidently referred to another letter, however, for JM acknowledged receipt of the 21 Oct. letter on 30 Oct. JM eventually received the letter Stuart believed had miscarried (JM to Stuart, 14 Dec. 1787).

3At a later time, JM placed an asterisk here and wrote the following note in the left margin: “*A letter from another Gentleman dated 2 days later mentions that notwithstanding this majority of 30 for paying the debts, a Resolution had just passed by a majority of 50 on the other side suspending payment till G.B. sd. first comply with the Treaty.” The letter from “another Gentleman,” evidently dated 4 Dec. 1787, has not been found. The resolution of 17 Nov. 1787 calling for repeal of all acts contrary to the peace treaty, to take effect when all the other states passed similar repealing acts, had passed by a vote of 72 to 42. When the bill pursuant to this resolution was debated on 3 Dec., however, an amendment was offered suspending the act of repeal until Great Britain evacuated the western posts and compensated Virginians for the loss of slaves taken during the war. This amendment was adopted by a vote of 80 to 31 (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 1777–1790 are brought together in three volumes, with each journal published in Richmond in either 1827 or 1828 and often called the “Thomas W. White reprint.” description ends , Oct. 1787, pp. 51–52, 79–80; 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 , XII, 528). Monroe attributed this sudden reversal to George Nicholas, who “chang’d his former ground in every instance” under the sway of Henry’s arguments (Monroe to JM, 6 Dec. 1787).

4JM had introduced a plan at the May 1784 session for the installment of debts owed to British citizens. This plan was defeated, as was JM’s subsequent bill for that purpose in the fall of 1785 (PJM description begins William T. Hutchinson et al., eds., The Papers of James Madison (10 vols. to date; Chicago, 1962——). description ends , VIII, 58–63, 229–31, 445–50; Evans, “Private Indebtedness and the Revolution in Virginia, 1776 to 1796,” WMQ description begins William and Mary Quarterly. description ends , 3d ser., XXVIII [1971], 363–65). The House journal does not record any vote on a plan to install British debts in 1787. The proposal most likely came up while the British debt bill was under consideration in the Committee of the Whole on 30 Nov. and 1 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 1777–1790 are brought together in three volumes, with each journal published in Richmond in either 1827 or 1828 and often called the “Thomas W. White reprint.” description ends , Oct. 1787, pp. 77, 78–79).

5The “Bill for this purpose” was that “providing a sinking fund for the gradual redemption of the public debt.” A third reading of the bill was ordered on 1 Dec. and it became law on 14 Dec. (ibid., p. 78; 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 , XII, 452–54). George Mason seems to have been a principal sponsor of the sinking fund bill. “I shall use my best Endeavours,” he wrote Washington on 27 Nov. 1787, “to prevent the Rect. of public Securities of any kind in Taxes (as the only effectual Means of digging up Speculation by the Roots) and appropriating a good Fund for purchasing them up at the Market Price” (Rutland, Papers of George Mason, III, 1021).

6See Jones to JM, 7 June 1787 and n. 2. Stuart meant that much of the revenue previously applied to the Continental treasury would be diverted to the sinking fund for the purpose of buying public securities. The revenue act of 1786 had appropriated half the slave tax, most of the land tax, and all specie collected from “An act imposing new taxes” to meet the requisition of Congress (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 , XII, 324–25). The revenue act of 1787, however, omitted from the Continental fund the half tax on slaves and the land tax (except for $150,000). This act appropriated the entire slave tax to the payment of interest on military certificates. That part of the land tax formerly appropriated to Congress now became “a fund for the support of civil government” (ibid., XII, 425–28). Any surplus revenue or unappropriated money in the public treasury, instead of being sent to the Continental treasury, was henceforth assigned to the sinking fund. The duty of six shillings per hogshead on tobacco exported, formerly levied to meet the special requisition of Congress of 21 Oct. 1786, was also to be applied “in aid of the sinking fund” (ibid., XII, 452–54).

7The resolutions of 25 Oct. 1787 calling for a convention failed to provide for the pay of delegates. When the House sought to remedy this oversight on 30 Nov., opponents of the Constitution seized the opportunity for registering their dissent by pushing through resolutions providing for the pay of deputies to another federal convention (if one were called) and providing for the expenses in case the Virginia convention “should deem it necessary to hold any communications with any of the sister states or the conventions thereof” (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 1777–1790 are brought together in three volumes, with each journal published in Richmond in either 1827 or 1828 and often called the “Thomas W. White reprint.” description ends , Oct. 1787, pp. 15, 77; 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 , XII, 462–63).

8If Thomas Mathews wrote to JM, his letter has not been found. Mathews had represented Norfolk borough in the House of Delegates since 1781 and was its delegate to the convention of 1788 (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. 406).

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