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Benjamin Harrison to Virginia Delegates, 26 September 1783

Benjamin Harrison to Virginia Delegates

FC (Virginia State Library). In the hand of Samuel Patteson. Addressed to “The Honorable the Virginia Delegates in Congress.”

Council Chamber Sept. 26th. 1783.

Gentlemen,

Your two favors of the 8th.1 and 13th.2 instant came to hand by the last post one of them has been detained in the post office which I suppose has also been the case with one of mine.3 General Irvine’s complaint of the Virginians crossing the Ohio reached me I suppose on the same day that mine against the Pennsylvanians got to you which of them is right I will not undertake to say, but it is most likely that they are both so I shall use every endeavor to stop the people from this country tho’ I am confident I shall not succeed,4 there being no powers in the Executive to punish any kind of offenders, nor do the assembly incline to give them. I can order the militia to drive the people in and they may refuse obedience to the orders and escape all kinds of punishment; for five shillings in short Virginia will very soon be the Seat of anarchy and confusion unless our law makers find out that Government cannot be supported without lodging powers somewhere to enforce obedience to the laws.5

I am not disappointed by the conduct of the english respecting our trade. I always thought they intended to amuse us ’till they could form a judgment of the temper we were in with respect to it, and therefore wished in some measure to curb the violent inclination there seemed to be for opening every avenue to them before a treaty of commerce was entered into. I look on the locusts that are crouding here as so many emissaries sent to sound our inclinations and to poison the minds of our people and if possible bring them back to their old and destructive paths; and I am sorry to say that I fear they will succeed unless Congress interfere.6

I shall lay the resolutions of Congress on the proposed session of the back country before the assembly and suppose with you they will approve them as they differ very little from their proposals. the Guaranty required was too humiliating for me.7

I am &c.

B H

1Q.v.

3Delegates to Harrison, 8 Sept. 1783, and citations in n. 1.

4The delegates’ letter of 8 September to Harrison (q.v., and n. 2), in which they mentioned “Irvine’s complaint,” probably had been delayed in reaching the governor until about 23 September. On approximately that date the delegates received Harrison’s letter of 13 September (q.v., and n. 4), warning that settlements “beyond the ohio” by Pennsylvanians were thwarting efforts to conclude peace with the Indians there. See also Harrison to Delegates, 19 Sept., and n. 3; Delegates to Harrison, 4 Oct. 1783.

5The “five shillings” was the amount levied by Virginia law against a private who failed to report for “any muster” (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 , IX, 30; XI, 174). In a letter of 20 October 1783, addressed to the speaker of the House of Delegates for presentation to that chamber, Harrison emphasized his lack of legal authority to employ militia to remove the squatters, even though their incursions made Indian hostilities a certainty. He urged the Virginia General Assembly to revise the militia laws so as to enable him effectively to preserve the “tranquility” and thereby “the safety of the Commonwealth” (Executive Letter Book, 1783–1786, p. 217, MS in Va. State Library). On this occasion the governor was probably the more cautious, because, during a similar crisis in August and September 1782 when Indians menaced Fort Pitt, he seems to have been threatened with impeachment if he violated the laws by dispatching militia “out of the state” to the aid of that garrison (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, 74–75; 75, nn. 8–11; 260; 264, n. 4; 318).

In contrast with Harrison’s eagerness to avoid war with the Indians, the Virginia General Assembly on 22 December 1783 enacted a measure directing the survey of military bounty lands both in Kentucky and between the Scioto and Little Miami rivers, northwest of the Ohio River. By this law the executive was required, if necessary, to protect the surveyors with militia, provided that such aid “be from the Kentucky country, and not exceed one hundred men” (JHDV description begins (1828 ed.). Journal of the House of Delegates of Virginia, Anno Domini, 1776 (Richmond, 1828). description ends , Oct. 1783, pp. 27–28, 40, 47, 57, 59, 61, 63, 67, 83; 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, 309–13). Except for this statute, the Virginia General Assembly during its session of October 1783 failed to comply with Harrison’s request for more authority over the militia.

The members of the Assembly, besides being unwilling to enhance the powers of the executive, may have concluded that their acquiescence on 19 and 20 December 1783 with the congressional resolutions concerning Virginia’s offer to cede, except in the military district just mentioned, its territorial and jurisdictional claims to the Old Northwest would on acceptance transfer from the state to the Confederation the entire burden of maintaining peace in that vast area (JHDV description begins (1828 ed.). Journal of the House of Delegates of Virginia, Anno Domini, 1776 (Richmond, 1828). description ends , Oct. 1783, pp. 71, 79, 81–82, 83; 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, 326–28; NA: PCC, No. 75, fols. 388–90; Delegates to Harrison, 20 Sept., and n. 4; JM to Jefferson, 20 Sept. 1783, and n. 3; 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, 414, 428; JCC description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds., Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789 (34 vols.; Washington, 1904–37). description ends , XXVI, 112–17). If so, they were mistaken, for by August 1784 Congress operated only through a Committee of the States, and the Indians were so aroused that Harrison feared Virginia would soon be plunged into “a most bloody and expensive war, which we are at this time not in any degree able to support or are prepared for” (Executive Letter Book, 1783–1786, pp. 377–78, 379–80, 382, 401–2, MS in Va. State Library; JCSV description begins H. R. McIlwaine et al., eds., Journals of the Council of the State of Virginia (4 vols. to date; Richmond, 1931——). description ends , III, 372; Cal. of Va. State Papers description begins William P. Palmer et al., eds., Calendar of Virginia State Papers and Other Manuscripts (11 vols.; Richmond, 1875–93). description ends , III, 599). In the autumn of 1784 JM was a member of a committee of the General Assembly that successfully introduced a bill “authorizing the Governor, with the advice of the Council, to suspend, when necessary, the surveying of certain lands in the western country” (JHDV description begins (1828 ed.). Journal of the House of Delegates of Virginia, Anno Domini, 1776 (Richmond, 1828). description ends , Oct. 1784, pp. 11, 22, 24, 36, 109; 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, 447–48).

7For “the Guaranty,” see JM to Jefferson, 20 Sept., n. 3. For the approval by the Virginia General Assembly, see Delegates to Harrison, 4 Oct. 1783, n. 5.

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