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To James Madison from Edmund Randolph, 24 May 1783

From Edmund Randolph

RC (LC: Madison Papers). Unsigned but in Randolph’s hand. Cover missing.

Richmond May 24. 1783.

My dear friend.

The address of congress has at length arrived, and received the commendations to which it is so justly intitled, and some of which I should enumerate here with cordiality, did I not perceive the marks, which it bears of your pen.1 Dr. Lee, who came yesterday, delivered me the copy, intrusted by you to him for my use.2

A nice division took place about three days ago, whether the taxes should be postponed in their collection until october or december. The majority was in favor of the latter day but was too small to furnish a decided opinion, as to the final issue. The numbers were, I believe, 53 & 50.3 One of the reasons against the postponing of the collection was, that the revenue from the impost could not reach congress early enough for those immediate demands of money, which their necessities daily create. This fell from an unauspicious mouth, not well addicted to the impost itself. It was answered by Mr. Henry, who remains the firm friend of this measure, that it was unavoidable, it being out of the power of the people to pay the taxes so quickly, and that his favorite scheme of the impost must supply congress from the pockets of the wealthy consumer.4 But there is a considerable hesitation, when the impost is urged to be irrevocable: and with some the objection can never be subdued, unless credit should be allowed for the surplus of our just quota:5 I find it difficult to repel the false reasoning of those, who use this language by the clear doctrine on this head: and it is now a cant phrase on the tongues of the disaffected to the impost, that we cannot rate our ability to pay by our consumption, as the other states fairly may.6 After all, I trust the recommendation of congress will work its way.

Œconomy is driven at by every member of the assembly: and a bill is now before the committee of the whole house for reducing the salaries of the different officers. The governor’s 1000 £ per annum keeps its ground by a majority of 5, the council have lost 100 £ per annum, & the judges have received by addition 100 £ per annum. Thus far the change has gone by shifting from the council to the judges 100 £ per annum.7 A bill for the reduction of the number of members of congress has miscarried.8 It is presumed that you will not object to remain in Philadelphia until the completion of the term, allotted for your existence by the confederation. It is the general wish, that you should continue until March 1784.9

Our ports are fully open to British ships: and I am sorry to see a general ardor after those commodities which public acts have so lately proscribed. For our national reputation is too dear to be lost in the opinion of those people, who beyond the water have admired our self-denial, by a hunger and thirst after cheese and porter.10

The exclusion of members of congress from seats in the legislature will, I believe, certainly take effect.11

I inclose to you two sheets of the journal: the first, which I omitted to send to you last week and the third. I shall go to Wmsburg. for a week, but shall instruct George Hay to apply to the clerk, who has promised me to transcribe every thing, occurring in the day worthy of notice, and to supply my absence.12

At Mr. Ambler’s request I drew a warrant the other day in your name for £300, 200 £ of which he has already remitted to you, and the balance goes on this week, as I am informed.13

Adieu: for at present I can add nothing certain as to the repeal of the cession:14 the being wholly new to me; and I have not time this morning to satisfy myself. This is the last day of the court and they are urgent for my attendance.15

3Jones to JM, 25 May, and n. 3; Pendleton to JM, 26 May 1783. The close “division” probably occurred during a debate in a “committee of the whole House on the state of the Commonwealth” and therefore was not entered in the journal of the Virginia House of Delegates (JHDV description begins (1828 ed.). Journal of the House of Delegates of Virginia, Anno Domini, 1776 (Richmond, 1828). description ends , May 1783, pp. 16, 17). For the measure to which Randolph referred, see also 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 , VI, 500; 501, n. 8; Randolph to JM, 9 May 1783, and n. 4.

4Ibid. For the impost, see Randolph to JM, 15 May, and n. 2; Jameson to JM, 24 May, and n. 3; Jones to JM, 25 May 1783.

5In the plan for restoring public credit, adopted by Congress on 18 April, the first five paragraphs dealing with impost duties and financial requisitions upon the states were declared by the sixth paragraph, once they had been adopted by all the states, to be “irrevocable by any one or more of them without the concurrence of the whole, or of a majority of the United States in Congress assembled” (JCC description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds., Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789 (34 vols.; Washington, 1904–37). description ends , XXIV, 257–59). The third paragraph, contrary to what the opponents of the plan speciously argued, provided that if Congress should receive in any year more revenue from a state than its just proportion, the excess would be refunded (JCC description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds., Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789 (34 vols.; Washington, 1904–37). description ends , XXIV, 258).

6Randolph to JM, 9 May 1783, and n. 7. The argument could certainly be advanced that Virginians, as compared with the residents of most other states, had so much property destroyed during the British invasions of 1780 and 1781 that they would be obliged to repair their losses by purchasing goods abroad on credit. Hence their “consumption” in this regard would be an unfair gauge of their “ability to pay” Congress.

7This bill, which had been introduced on 19 May by George Nicholas, was passed by the House of Delegates in amended form on 4 June but failed of acceptance by the Senate (JHDV description begins (1828 ed.). Journal of the House of Delegates of Virginia, Anno Domini, 1776 (Richmond, 1828). description ends , May 1783, pp. 11, 12, 18, 30, 33).

8On 14 December 1782 the House of Delegates voted to postpone until the General Assembly’s session of May 1783 further consideration of a bill to reduce the number of Virginia delegates in Congress from 5 to 3 (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, 401, and nn. 18, 19). Being among the matters “depending and undetermined,” this bill was referred on 13 May to the “Committee for Courts of Justice.” Four days later all these matters were transferred for decision to the “committee of the whole House on the state of the Commonwealth.” It was this committee that quashed the bill (JHDV description begins (1828 ed.). Journal of the House of Delegates of Virginia, Anno Domini, 1776 (Richmond, 1828). description ends , May 1783, pp. 5, 9; Jones to JM, 25 May 1783).

9Papers 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 , VI, 464, n. 6; JM to Jefferson, 20 May 1783, and n. 10.

12Ibid., and n. 9. See also the Rev. James Madison to JM, 4 June 1783. George Hay (1765–1830), son of a former proprietor of the Raleigh tavern in Williamsburg, and brother of Charles Hay, was reading law under Randolph (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, 340, n. 14; 426, n. 3). In 1803, having distinguished himself as a lawyer, political polemicist, and ardent Republican, he was appointed by President Jefferson United States attorney for the district of Virginia. In that capacity he served as prosecutor in the trial of Aaron Burr for treason. After representing Henrico County in the Virginia House of Delegates during the session of 1816–1817, Hay was a state senator for four years (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. 93, 97, 100, 102, 105). In 1825 he became United States judge for the district of eastern Virginia (Journal of the Executive Proceedings of the Senate of the United States of America [Washington, 1828——], I, 458, 459; III, 449, 525; Va. Advocate [Charlottesville], 1 Oct. 1830). His second wife, whom he married in 1808, was Eliza, a daughter of James Monroe (Virginia Argus [Richmond], 7 Oct. 1808). It is said of Hay that he was a “man of fine personal appearance, of very dignified manners and withal, rather pompous” (Samuel Mordecai, Virginia, Especially Richmond, in By-Gone Days … [2d ed.; Richmond, 1860], pp. 90–91). JM and Hay occasionally exchanged letters between 1804 and 1823.

15Randolph to JM, 9 May 1783, and n. 2. The High Court of Chancery was in session. Before “being” Randolph surely meant to write “this,” not “the.”

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