James Madison Papers
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From James Madison to Edmund Randolph, 8 September 1783

To Edmund Randolph

RC (LC: Madison Papers). In JM’s hand but lacks complimentary close and signature. Cover franked by “J. Madison Jr,” and addressed to “Edmund Randolph Esqr. Richmond.” Docketed by Randolph, “J. Madison Sep. 8. 1783.”

Philada. Sepr. 8. 1783.

My dear Sir

Mr. Jones & myself having come down to this City the end of the past week for the purpose of negociating some pecuniary matters, I am here to date my acknowledgment of your favor of the 30th. ulto.1 We return again tomorrow.2

The delay of the definitive Treaty altho not fully explained to Congress, excites less disquietude here than I find it does in Virginia.3 Our latest official advices were from Mr. Laurens of the   day of June. The Conduct of the British administration was far from explicit, according to his State of it, but probably proceeded more from the discordant materials of which it is composed & doubts as to the commercial footing on which America ought to be placed, than from any insidious views.4 Why indeed a Commercial Treaty should be made to clog the Treaty of peace is left to conjecture. Perhaps the fact may not be true & the delay of the latter may be owing still to the old cause, to wit, a discussion of the intricate points with the Dutch.5 The situation of G.B. is such that nothing but some signal change in the aspect of things in this hemisphere can inspire a fresh disposition for war; notwithstandg the menacing tone of Sr. G. Carlton6

The Legislature of Pa. have taken every possible step to expiate the default of the Executive short of an impeachment of its members, which the rigor of some members of Congs. included among the terms of reconciliation with the State. They have expressly invited Congs: back, assured them of honorable protection, and given up the State-House with the appendages for their temporary use. They have also made German Town a competitor for the permanent abode of Congress.7

The opposition in the N. England States to the Grant of half pay instead of subsiding has increased to such a degree as to produce almost a general anarchy. In what shape it will issue is altogether uncertain. Those who are interested in the event look forward with very poignant apprehensions. Nothing but some continental provision can obtain for them this part of their reward.8

The lady whose husband makes a subject of one of your paragraphs has lately recd. letters from him which breathe a warm affection for her, state the impracticability of his coming for her, or leaving that Country altogether at present, and press her to lose no time in getting to him, which she means to attempt in the course of next month. Some traits in his character which were related to you, have come to my knowledge through other channels, particularly his attachment to pelf; But in other respects he has been represented as a man of honesty & worth. His Medical profession is not entirely usurped, being founded on a partial education in that line. My friendship for her estimable qualities makes me regret upon the whole that her prospect of happiness is not more flattering. The removal of Congress has been of some disadvantage to the old Lady, but the established reputation of her House will always command the means of support.9 She has lately too had the good fortune to have with her one of her sons whom she had not heard of for 4 or 5 years. He has engaged to accompany his sister in her voyage to her husband.10

Why did not the Assembly stop the sale of land warrants? They bring no profit to the public Treasury, are a source of constant speculation on the ignorant, and and will finally arm numbers of Citizens of other States & even foreigners with claims & clamors against the faith of Virginia. Immense quantities have from time to time been vended in this place at immense profit, and in no small proportion to the subjects of our Ally. The credulity here being exhausted I am told the land Jobbers are going on with their commodity to Boston & other places to[o?]11

1Not found.

3This statement may reflect JM’s reading of Harrison to Delegates, 9 August, and of the issues of the Virginia Gazette for 2, 16, and 30 August. See also JM to Randolph, 13 Sept. 1783, and nn. 2, 3.

4For Henry Laurens’ dispatch of 17 and 18 June, insofar as it concerned a treaty of commerce and a definitive treaty of peace with Great Britain, see Delegates to Harrison, 14–15 Aug., and n. 9; Mercer to JM, 14 Aug.; JM to Randolph, 18 Aug.; 30 Aug. 1783, and n. 2. Congress on 1 September took no action on the report offered by a committee to which Laurens’ dispatch had been referred on 15 August. On 12 September, however, the report was consigned to a newly appointed committee, James Duane, chairman, instructed “to consider the dispatches from the ministers of the United States at Foreign Courts.” Thirteen days later Congress agreed to the Duane committee’s proposal that it was “highly necessary that the Report already made on Mr. Laurens’ letters should be taken into consideration and proper instructions dispatched to our ministers to enable them to pursue the very important objects recommended in that report”—that is, the report on 1 September. The “objects” were to commission Adams, Franklin, Jay, and Laurens “or any two of them to negotiate a treaty of amity and commerce” with Great Britain “upon terms of the most perfect reciprocity” (NA: PCC, No. 186, fol. 123; JCC description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds., Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789 (34 vols.; Washington, 1904–37). description ends , XXV, 531–32, 532, n. 1, 587–88, 588, n. 1, 620, and n. 1). 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 , XXV, 821, 824–25; JM to Randolph, 13 Sept. 1783, and n. 1.

Commenting upon the Portland-Fox-North ministry, which had taken office on 1 April about five weeks after the resignation of the ministry of the Earl of Shelburne, Laurens wrote: “I have just received an intimation of the tottering state of the present ministry, from their own quarter. Should the late premier recover the reins, which were plucked out of his hands, I apprehend everything in his power will be attempted to embarrass our proceeding” (Wharton, Revol. Dipl. Corr description begins Francis Wharton, ed., The Revolutionary Diplomatic Correspondence of the United States (6 vols.; Washington, 1889). description ends ., VI, 493). See also Jones to JM, 8 June, and n. 22; JM to Jefferson, 10 June 1783, and n. 4.

5Rights of Neutral Nations, 12 June, nn. 3, 4; JM to Jefferson, 11 Aug., and n. 8; JM to Randolph, 30 Aug. 1783, and n. 2.

7JM to James Madison, Sr., 30 Aug., and n. 9; JM to Pendleton, 8 Sept. 1783, and n. 5. Among the members of Congress who apparently favored the impeachment of President John Dickinson and the Supreme Executive Council was Oliver Ellsworth. In a letter of 7 August, he expressed the belief that the Pennsylvania General Assembly should “explicitly condemn” their “highly culpable” conduct during the mutiny (Burnett, Letters description begins Edmund C. Burnett, ed., Letters of Members of the Continental Congress (8 vols.; Washington, 1921–36). description ends , VII, 253–54). See also ibid., VII, 275.

8By “them” in the last sentence of this paragraph, JM referred to the officers of the continental army from New England, and probably above all from Massachusetts (ibid., VII, 288, 296; JM to Pendleton, 8 Sept. 1783, and n. 6). Many years later JM or someone by his direction placed a bracket at the close of the paragraph to signify that the first four paragraphs of the letter should be included in the earliest extensive edition of his writings, but Henry D. Gilpin, either by oversight or choice, published the second, third, fourth, and sixth paragraphs (Madison, Papers [Gilpin ed.] description begins Henry D. Gilpin, ed., The Papers of James Madison (3 vols.; Washington, 1840). description ends , I, 569–70).

9The “old Lady” was Mrs. Mary House (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 , II, 92, n. 8; 123, n. 7; Mercer to JM, 14 Aug., and n. 7; Jefferson to JM, 31 Aug. 1783).

10JM referred to Samuel House, a trader in the western counties of Virginia who later became a shopkeeper in Philadelphia. Although it is not certain where House had been “for 4 or 5 years,” he may have been a ranger on the Pennsylvania frontier (Pa. Archives description begins Samuel Hazard et al., eds., Pennsylvania Archives (9 ser.; 138 vols.; Philadelphia and Harrisburg, 1852–1949). description ends , 3d ser., XXXIII, 245, 247, 351; Brant, Madison description begins Irving Brant, James Madison (6 vols.; Indianapolis and New York, 1941–61). description ends , II, 16; 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, 373; VIII, 169). If House accompanied his sister, Mrs. Nicholas Trist, in December 1783 when she began her journey to New Orleans, he went with her no farther than Fort Pitt (ibid., VII, 393).

11After “ignorant,” JM inadvertently repeated the word “and.”

On 23 and 25 June 1779 the House of Delegates and the Senate, respectively, of the Virginia General Assembly passed legislation “for adjusting and settling the titles of claimers to unpatented lands under the present and former government” and for opening a land office (JHDV description begins (1828 ed.). Journal of the House of Delegates of Virginia, Anno Domini, 1776 (Richmond, 1828). description ends , May 1779, pp. 63, 66; 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 , X, 35–65). That office was empowered to issue assignable warrants for land to many varieties of past and future “claimers,” including veterans of the French and Indian War and the Revolutionary War, shareholders in the Loyal Company of colonial origin, settlers along the “Western waters” prior to 1763, owners of “head-rights” for transporting at their own expense indentured servants from Europe before the Revolution, squatters who had gained or should gain pre-emption rights by living on and improving public land unencumbered by earlier private titles, and persons not in any of these categories who wished to purchase land and could demonstrate that, no matter whether American or foreign-born, they were friendly to the patriot cause in the war. To make these two laws widely known, the Virginia General Assembly provided that printed copies of both should be distributed throughout all the counties of the state, and that one hundred copies of the land-office law should also be sent to the Virginia delegates in Congress, accompanied by a request from Governor Thomas Jefferson that they “take the most speedy and effectual measures for dispersing and publishing the same in the different States” (JHDV description begins (1828 ed.). Journal of the House of Delegates of Virginia, Anno Domini, 1776 (Richmond, 1828). description ends , May 1779, pp. 63, 68, 69).

From 23 October 1779, when Jefferson signed the first warrant, until the time of the present letter the Virginia land office issued warrants or patents for many thousands of acres in spite of early protests both from Congress and Washington. The boundaries of these grants often overlapped not only in an area, such as Kentucky, undoubtedly owned by Virginia, but, much more seriously for promoting discord among the states, in acreage claimed by Maryland or Pennsylvania or by land speculators resident therein (JCC description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds., Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789 (34 vols.; Washington, 1904–37). description ends , XV, 1223–24, 1226–30; McIlwaine, Official Letters description begins H. R. McIlwaine, ed., Official Letters of the Governors of the State of Virginia (3 vols.; Richmond, 1926–29). description ends , II, 4, n. 1; 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 , III, 147, 206–8, 262, 266–67; VI, 640; 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 , I, 189, n. 2; II, 74–76; 100–101; V, 119, n. 20; 286, n. 16; VI, 472, n. 3; Jones to JM, 25 May, n. 12; JM Notes, 20 June 1783, n. 10; Thomas P. Abernethy, Western Lands and the American Revolution, pp. 224–25, 228–29).

By 1780 the patents, and especially the warrants issued by the Virginia land office, had become a “source of constant speculation,” often by purchasers fated to discover that the validity of their titles could be contested by other claimants to the same acreage. With the close of the war greatly accelerating the westward movement of settlers and the issuance of transferable military-bounty land warrants to needy Virginia veterans, who often had little choice but to sell them for a pittance, the pace and amount of speculation, centering chiefly at Philadelphia, rapidly increased (ibid., pp. 250, 263–64, 368–69; 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 , I, 298, n. 2; II, 65, n. 1; III, 275, n. 8; 349, n. 9). For advertisements by Virginia and Pennsylvania dealers offering Virginia “treasury Land Warrants” and military-bounty land warrants, located in Kentucky, the “Ohio Country,” or “any county in the state of Virginia,” see Pennsylvania Packet, 3, 7, 14, 19, 21, 23, 30 Aug., 2 and 6 Sept. 1783. Most of these same issues also contained notices by the Illinois Land Company and the Wabash Land Company, which, mainly on the basis of titles derived from Indian tribes, claimed large acreages north of the Ohio River in territory within the charter-based boundaries of Virginia.

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