James Madison Papers
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From James Madison to James Monroe, 13 May 1786

To James Monroe

Orange May 13th. 1786

Dear Sir

I was favored a few days ago with yours of the 28th. ult. I am under great obligations for your kindness in the affair with Taylor. My late letters will have informed you of my wishes that you may fully partake of the bargain entered into already, as well as of every future adventure in that quarter.1 The encouragement you give me to expect your company has in a manner determined me to encounter a journey as soon as I can conveniently make preparation for it. I am the rather induced to it as I shall be the more able by that means to accelerate a repayment of your kind advances, having some little resources in Philada. of wch. I must avail myself for that purpose.2 My next will probably tell you when I shall be able to set out.

I think with you that it would have an odd appearance for two Conventions to be sitting at the same time, with powers in part concurrent.3 The reasons you give seem also to be valid against augmenting the powers of that which is to meet at Annapolis. I am not surprised therefore at the embarrassment of Congress in the present conjuncture. Will it not be best on the whole to suspend measures for a more thorough cure of our federal system, till the partial experiment shall have been made. If the spirit of the Conventioners should be friendly to the Union, and their proceedings well conducted, their return into the Councils of their respective States will greatly facilitate any subsequent measures which may be set on foot by Congress, or by any of the States.

Great changes have taken place in the late elections. I regret much that we are not to have your aid. It will be greatly needed I am sure. Mercer it seems lost his election by the same number of votes as left you out. He was absent at the time or he would no doubt have been elected. Have you seen his pamphlet?4 You will have heard of the election of Col. Mason, Genl. Nelson, Mann Page, G. Nicholas, Jno. Nicholas & Col. Bland.5 Col. Mason will be an inestimable acquisition on most of the great points. On the port bill he is to be equally dreaded. In fact I consider that measure6 as lost almost at any rate. There was a majority agst. it last Session if it had been skilfully made use of. To force the trade to Norfolk & Alexandria without preparations for it at those places, will be considered as injurious, and so little ground is there for confidence in the stability of the Legislature that no preparations will ever be made in consequence of a preceding law. The transition must of necessity therefore be at any time abrupt & inconvenient. I am somewhat apprehensive likewise that Col. Mason may not be fully cured of his Antifederal prejudices.7

We hear from Kentucky that the Savages continue to disquiet them. Col. W. Christian it is said lately lost his life in pursuing a few who had made an inroad on the settlement. We are told too that the proposed separation is growing very unpopular among them.8 I am Dr. Sir with great affection Yr friend & Servt.

J Madison Jr.

Pray forward the herewith inclosed to Mr. J. I sent one for him about the last of March which I hope you recd. & put into the proper channel.

RC (DLC). Addressed by JM.

1“The bargain entered into” was a purchase of 900 acres at $1.50 per acre. Monroe paid half down ($675), with the balance due in May 1787. JM held a half interest in the tract—Lot 2 in the Sedachqueda Patent, north of the Mohawk River, near the mouths of Oriskany and Nine Mile creeks and nine miles from old Fort Stanwix (Arthur Breese to JM, 11 Apr. 1794 [DLC]; Articles of Agreement with Theodorus Bailey, 5 Jan. 1796 [DLC]; Monroe to JM, 18 May and 15 July 1786).

2JM owed Monroe $337.50, half of the down payment. JM meant to collect money due under contracts made through Samuel House with purchasers of the family’s tobacco (JM to Ambrose Madison, 8 Sept. 1786).

3The movement within Congress for a convention to alter the Confederation originated with Charles Pinckney of South Carolina. He placed a motion before Congress on 7 Feb. in which he emphasized the financial crisis of the national government and the ineffectuality of Congress. As part of the congressional delegation sent to the New Jersey legislature in March to request payment of the requisition, Pinckney had then urged that state instead to call for a general convention to revise and amend the federal system (JCC description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds., Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789 (34 vols.; Washington, 1904–37). description ends , XXX, 49–52; Burnett, Letters description begins Edmund C. Burnett, ed., Letters of Members of the Continental Congress (8 vols.; Washington, 1921–36). description ends , VIII, 323–24). In his 22 Mar. letter to JM, Grayson apparently was referring to Pinckney’s 7 Feb. motion, which he said was still under consideration and which, along with Pinckney’s consequent politicking for reform, had turned some members of Congress to considering seriously a recommendation of a general convention to the states (Papers of Madison description begins William T. Hutchinson et al., eds., The Papers of James Madison (9 vols. to date; Chicago, 1962——). description ends , VIII, 509–10). It appears that no further action had been taken on such a convocation when Monroe wrote of it to JM on 28 Apr. and that Monroe must have related the discussions among the delegates stimulated by Pinckney’s agitation of the issue. Pinckney did not make a formal motion to take under consideration the necessity for a convention until 3 May (JCC description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds., Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789 (34 vols.; Washington, 1904–37). description ends , XXX, 230; Burnett, Letters description begins Edmund C. Burnett, ed., Letters of Members of the Continental Congress (8 vols.; Washington, 1921–36). description ends , VIII, 350–51).

4Monroe and Mercer both lost their elections by six votes. Monroe also was absent and probably lost because of it, although biographer Harry Ammon attributed Monroe’s defeat to his marriage with Elizabeth Kortright of New York. Unable to leave Congress, Monroe had not returned to Virginia to reassure the voters that he would not move permanently to the North (JM to Jefferson, 12 May 1786; Ammon, James Monroe, p. 65). Monroe had tried for a seat from King George, but both William Thornton and Daniel Fitzhugh were reelected to represent the county. Mercer and William Garrard were turned out by Andrew Buchannan and Gustavus Brown Wallace in Stafford County (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 , pp. 22, 24, 25). Mercer’s pamphlet must have been his statement of “political doctrines” which he sent to JM and which he dispersed throughout Stafford County to acquaint his constituents with his political opinions (Mercer to JM, 28 Mar. 1786, Papers of Madison description begins William T. Hutchinson et al., eds., The Papers of James Madison (9 vols. to date; Chicago, 1962——). description ends , VIII, 511). The pamphlet has not been found.

5George Mason replaced Charles Simms as delegate for Fairfax County; Thomas Nelson, Jr., replaced Nathaniel Nelson for York; Mann Page (and John Dawson) replaced John Whitaker Willis and George Stubblefield for Spotsylvania; George Nicholas and John Nicholas replaced Joshua Fry and Wilson Cary Nicholas for Albemarle; Col. Theodorick Bland replaced Edward Bland for Prince George (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 , pp. 21–25). John Nicholas probably was the brother of Wilson Cary and George Nicholas.

6At a later time, either JM or an editor wrote above “that measure,” “the port bill” and enclosed the phrase in brackets.

8The Wabash Indians and most of the Shawnees were reportedly at war with American settlers in the western country. The Indians were encouraged in their depredations by the Spanish and British; Congress’s inability to protect the settlers or to force the British to give up the posts further kept alive the hostilities. William Christian, brother-in-law of Patrick Henry, had moved to Kentucky in 1785. Disturbed by the constant danger from Indian raiders and the failure of Congress to provide adequate defense, Christian took the initiative in leading armed parties against the natives. He was killed on 8 Apr. while fighting them in the Ohio country (Meade, Patrick Henry, II, 290–92).

Enthusiasm for separation among Kentuckians was dimmed upon reception of the Virginia act providing for separation. Many found the terms objectionable: the guarantee of Virginia titles, the provision against higher taxes on nonresident landholders, the assurance of concurrent jurisdiction of all states lying on the Ohio over that river, and the delay imposed before independence could take place. JM anticipated their reaction in a letter to George Washington during the 1785 session of the legislature when the terms of separation were being fixed. “The apparent coolness of the Representatives of Kentucky as to a separation since these terms have been defined indicates that they had some views which will not be favored by them. They disliked much to be hung up on the will of Congs.” The fact became increasingly evident that the statehood issue was tied to internal political struggles in Kentucky. Shifting factions viewed separation according to whether they would gain in political power as a result of statehood. Men’s attitudes also were influenced by the origins of their land claims. Virginians whose titles were granted by their native state wanted a legal separation in which their titles were guaranteed. The landless and landowners from other states saw an opportunity for gain through immediate or congressional action. As the balance of power and advantages to be gained changed, the various factions’ positions on the issue of independence shifted (Patricia Watlington, The Partisan Spirit: Kentucky Politics, 1779–1792 [New York, 1972], pp. 106–9; JM to Washington, 9 Dec. 1785, Papers of Madison description begins William T. Hutchinson et al., eds., The Papers of James Madison (9 vols. to date; Chicago, 1962——). description ends , VIII, 440; Caleb Wallace to JM, 30 Sept. 1786).

On the other hand, Kentuckians would become increasingly disaffected with the Confederation, not only because of impotency demonstrated in regard to controlling the Indians and to forcing relinquishment of the posts, but also because of Congress’s disposition to yield the right of navigation of the Mississippi River in return for trading rights in Spain. As the turn in the Jay-Gardoqui negotiations in the spring of 1786 became known, westerners would increasingly distrust a national government which was willing to sacrifice their imperative needs to the interests of the eastern states. The prospect of becoming a state in a union which discriminated against them, kept them cut off from the sea, and left them defenseless was less than appealing; alienated from the U. S., Kentuckians would turn their attention to the possibilities of establishing themselves independently (Meade, Patrick Henry, II, 291; Collins, History of Kentucky, I, 261–62, 265–66).

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