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To Thomas Jefferson from James Madison, 21 September 1788

From James Madison

New York Sepr. 21. 1788

Dear Sir

Being informed of a circuitous opportunity to France I make use of it to forward the inclosures. By one of them you will find that Congress have been at length brought into the true policy which is demanded by the situation of the Western Country. An additional resolution on the secret1 journal puts an end to all negotiation with Spain, referring the subject of a treaty after this assertion of right to the Missisipi to the new government. The communication in my last will have shewn you the crisis of things in that quarter; a crisis however not particularly known to Congress and will be a key to some of the Kentucky toasts in the Virga. gazette.

The Circular letter from the New York Convention has rekindled an ardor among the opponents of the federal Constitution for an immediate2 revision of it by another General Convention. You will find in one of the papers inclosed the result of the consultations in Pensylvania on that subject. Mr. Henry and his friends in Virginia enter with great zeal into the scheme. Governour Randolph also espouses it; but with a wish to prevent if possible danger to the article which extends the power of the Government to internal as well as external taxation. It is observable that the views of the Pennsylva. meeting do not rhyme very well with those of the Southern advocates for a Convention; the objects most eagerly pursued by the latter being unnoticed in the Harrisburg proceedings. The effect of the Circular letter on other States is less known. I conclude that it will be the same every where among those who opposed the Constitution, or contended for a conditional ratification of it. Whether an early Convention will be the result of this united effort is more than can at this moment be foretold. The measure will certainly be industriously opposed in some parts of the Union, not only by those who wish for no alterations, but by others who would prefer the other mode provided in the Constitution, as most expedient at present for introducing those supplemental safeguards to liberty against which no objections can be raised; and who would moreover approve of a Convention for amending the frame of the Government itself, as soon as time shall have somewhat corrected the feverish state of the public mind and trial have pointed its attention to the true defects of the system.

You will find also by one of the papers enclosed that the arrangements have been compleated for bringing the new Government into action. The dispute concerning the place of its meeting was the principal cause of delay, the Eastern States with N. Jersey and S. Carolina being attached to N. York, and the others strenuous for a more central position. Philadelphia, Wilmington, Lancaster and Baltimore were successively tendered without effect by the latter, before they finally yielded to the superiority of members in favor of this City. I am afraid the decision will give a great handle to the Southern Antifederalists who have inculcated a jealousy of this end of the Continent. It is to be regretted also as entailing this pernicious question on the new Congress who will have enough to do in adjusting the other delicate matters submitted to them. Another consideration of great weight with me is that the temporary residence here will probably end in a permanent one at Trenton, or at the farthest on the Susquehannah. A removal in the first instance beyond the Delaware would have removed the alternative to the Susquehannah and the Potowmac. The best chance of the latter depends on a delay of the permanent establishment for a few years, untill the Western and South Western population comes more into view. This delay can not take place if so excentric a place as N. York is to be the intermediate seat of business.

To the other papers is added a little pamphlet on the Mohegan language. The observations deserve the more attention as they are made by a man of known learning and character, and may aid reserches into the primitive structure of language as well as those on foot for comparing the American tribes with those on the Eastern Frontier of the other Continent.

In consequence of your letter to Mr. Jay on the subject of “outfit” &c. I had a conference with him, and he agreed to suggest the matter to Congress. This was done and his letter referred back to be reported on. The idea between us was that the reference should be to a committee but3 his letter coming in at a moment when I happened to be out it was as in course referred to his department.

His answer suggested that as he might be thought eventually concerned in the question it was most proper for the consideration of a committee. I had discovered that he was not struck with the peculiarities of your case even when insinuated to him. How far the committee will be so is more than I can yet say. In general I have no doubt that both it and Congress are well disposed. But it is probable that the idea of a precedent4 will beget much caution and what is worse there is little probability of again having a quorum of states for the business.

I learn from Virginia that our Crops both of Corn and Tobacco, (except in the lower Country where a storm has been hurtful) are likely to be very good. The latter has suffered in some degree from superfluous rains, but the former has been proportionally benefitted. Accept my most fervent wishes for your happiness. Yrs affecty.,

Js. Madison Jr.

RC (DLC: Madison Papers) partly in code and decoded interlineally by TJ, two minor, obvious errors in coding were corrected by TJ; endorsed. Enclosures: (1) Tr (DLC: Madison Papers) of the first two of three resolutions of Congress, 16 Sep. 1788, on the navigation of the Mississippi. (2) The enclosed newspapers have not been identified. (3) Jonathan Edwards, Observations on the language of the Muhhekaneew Indians, in which the extent of that language in North-America is shewn; its genius is grammatically traced; some of its peculiarities, and some instances of analogy between that and the Hebrew are pointed out. Communicated to the Connecticut Society of Arts and Sciences, and published at the request of the Society, New Haven, Josiah Meigs, 1788 (Sabin No. 21971). This pamphlet must have been of great interest to TJ, who was, himself, a pioneer in linguistic research. An excellent treatment of this subject is found in Clark Wissler, “The American Indian and the American Philosophical Society,” Am. Phil. Society, Proceedings, lxxxvi (1942), 189–204. Wissler says the following about Edwards’ pamphlet: “He was on the threshold of a great discovery but did not know it.”

Madison was free to send TJ a transcript of the first two resolutions concerning the western country because they were intended for publication to remove apprehensions produced by a report that “Congress are disposed to treat with Spain for the surrender of their claim to the navigation of the river Mississippi”; the first stated “that the said report not being founded in fact, the Delegates be at liberty to communicate all such circumstances as may be necessary to contradict the same and to remove misconceptions”; the second “Resolved that the free navigation of the river Mississippi is a clear and essential right of the United States, and that the same ought to be considered and supported as such.” Since the additional resolution was under restrictions of secrecy, Madison summarized its contents in code; as adopted it read: “Resolved That no further progress be made in the negotiations with Spain by the Secretary for foreign affairs, but that the subject to which they relate be referred to the federal government which is to assemble in March next” (JCC description begins Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789, ed. W. C. Ford and others, Washington, 1904–1937, 34 vols. description ends , xxxiv, 534–5). The Kentucky Toasts (printed in Burnett, viii, No. 934, Note 4, from the Virginia Independent Chronicle of 3 Sep. 1788), were made at a banquet on 4 July. The 4th toast was to the “Navigation of the Mississippi, at any price but that of liberty”; the 5th to “Harmony with Spain and a reciprocity of good offices”; the 11th, “May the Atlantic be just, the Western States be free, and both be happy”; and the 14th to the “Commonwealth of Kentucke, the Fourteenth luminary in the American constellation, may she reflect upon the original States the wisdom she has borrowed from them.”

1This and subsequent words in italics are written in code and were decoded interlineally by TJ; his decoding has been verified by the Editors, employing Code No. 9.

2This word interlined and underscored; Madison deleted “early.”

3This word not decoded by TJ.

4Madison wrote the code symbol for “president,” but TJ corrected this to “precedent.”

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