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From James Madison to Edmund Randolph, 19 November 1782

To Edmund Randolph

RC (LC: Madison Papers). Unsigned but in JM’s hand. Cover franked by “J Madison Jr.” and addressed by him to “The honble Edmund Randolph Esqr. Richmond.” Docketed by Randolph, “James Madison Novr. 19 1782.”

Philada. Novr. 19th. 1782.

My dear Sir.

I1 find by your favor of the 8th. that your occupation with the Courts has continued to be a bar to the completion of the Cypher.2 It is very little missed however on my part as yet, the scantiness of intelligence being still unremoved. We have indeed reports without stint, but they are often most frequent when they have least foundation. Such of them as have the best title to notice, will be found in the newspapers.3 The proceedings of Congress for a week past have been equally unproductive of epistolary matter. For one half of the time we have failed in making a House, and the remaining half has been spent on minute objects.4

Col: Bland set out on friday last. He carried with him an official notification to Mr. J——n of his reappointment. I wrote to the latter, informing him of an excellent passage if he could be ready for it in about a month, but urging a previous visit to this place as indispensable.5 Altho’ strictly speaking such a visit may not be essential, since the commission & instructions referred to in his appointment are at the place of his destination,6 yet, I wish him to be made sensible of the salutary information which may here be added to them. Col: Bland also carried to the Govr. an extract of a letter from Genl. Irwin at Fort Pitt, which displays in full colours the avidity of the Western people for the vacant lands & for separate Govts.7 On this subject Richmond I suppose will afford better information. I take for granted that every material article of it, with the steps taken by the legislature with respect to Western affairs in general, will fall within your correspondence.8

The prospect derived from the impost of 5 PrCt. seems to be pretty thoroughly blasted by a unanimous & final veto by the Assembly of Rhode Island.9 This State by its Delegates (who fully represent the aversion of their Constituents to the impost) voted in Congress that 6 million of Dollars were necessary for the year 83. that 2 Million were as much as the States could raise & as ought to be required by Congress, and that applications for loans in Europe ought to be relied on for the residue.10 And yet they absolutely refuse the only fund which could be satisfactory to lenders. The indignation against this perverse sister is increased by her shameful delinquency in the constitutional requisitions.11

The Tribunal erected for the controversy between Connecticut & Pennsa. was I hear to be opened to day.12 The Judges who compose it are Mr. Whipple of N. Hamshire, Mr. Arnold of Rhode Island, the cheif Justice & another gentlemn. of N. Jersey & Mr. C. Griffin of Virga.13 Mr. Rutledge, Mr. Jones & Genl Nelson have declined the service.14 On the part of Penna. appear Mr. Wilson Mr Reed, Mr. Bradford & Mr. Sergeant. Mr. Osburne assists in the capacity of Solicitor.15 On the part of Connecticut are deputed Mr. Dyer, Mr. Root, & Docr. Saml. Johnson.16 The first & the last I am told are on the spot.17 It is supposed that the first object of Cont. will be to adjourn the cause to a distant day on the plea that many of their essential documents are beyond the Atlantic.18 In a national view it is not perhaps advisable to invalidate the title of this State however defective it may be, untill a more important controversy is terminated.19 I will make the earliest communication of the issue of this trial. You will not forget a like promise which your letter makes with respect [to] the case lately decided by the Court of Appeals.20

Mr. Jones ventured yesterday for the first time since his relapse, into Congress.21 The Representation of Virga. untill a reinforcement arrives will be precarious. Can you give me no encouragement on this occasion from your own purposes?22

1Many years later JM or someone at his bidding placed a bracket at the opening of this paragraph and another bracket at the close of the next to the last paragraph to indicate the portion of the letter which should be included in the first edition of his published works. See Madison, Papers description begins (Gilpin ed.). Henry D. Gilpin, ed., The Papers of James Madison (3 vols.; Washington, 1840). description ends (Gilpin ed.), I, 474–76.

4See Notes on Debates, 20 November 1782, headnote. Although JM’s statement is sustained in general by the printed journal, he probably would have agreed that the time devoted on 14 November to Vermont and on 18 November to the appointment of Thomas Barclay as commissioner “with full power and authority, to liquidate and finally to settle” the financial accounts of the United States in Europe had not been “spent on minute objects” (JCC description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds., Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789 (34 vols.; Washington, 1904–37). description ends , XXIII, 723–36; Papers of Madison description begins William T. Hutchinson, William M. E. Rachal, et al., eds., The Papers of James Madison (5 vols. to date; Chicago, 1962——). description ends , IV, 441–42; 442, n. 1; Notes on Debates, 14 November 1782).

5See JM to Randolph, 12 November (first letter), and n. 5; 14 November. JM’s letter of 14 November to Jefferson, acknowledged by the latter in his reply of 26 November 1782 (q.v.), has not been found. The “excellent passage” was a French “vessel of force” which “would be sailing about the middle of Dec.” (Boyd, Papers of Jefferson description begins Julian P. Boyd et al., eds., The Papers of Thomas Jefferson (17 vols. to date; Princeton, N.J., 1950——). description ends , VI, 203).

6Paris. See Motion To Renew Jefferson’s Appointment, 12 November 1782, and n. 1. The “instructions” were those of 14 August 1779, 18 October 1780, 6, 8, and 15 June 1781, and 10 September 1782 (JCC description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds., Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789 (34 vols.; Washington, 1904–37). description ends , XIV, 956–62; XVIII, 949–50; XX, 605–6, 616–17, 651–54; Motion on Slaves Taken by British, 10 September 1782, and n. 11). See also Papers of Madison description begins William T. Hutchinson, William M. E. Rachal, et al., eds., The Papers of James Madison (5 vols. to date; Chicago, 1962——). description ends , III, 147, and nn.

7See JM to Harrison, 15 November 1782, and nn. 1, 2, 4, 5, and 8.

8The session of the Virginia General Assembly of October 1782 enacted no legislation dealing with “Western affairs in general.” Among these “affairs,” the lands-cession question was undoubtedly of most interest to JM, especially since he and his fellow delegates from Virginia in Congress had been disappointed in their hope that the meeting of the Assembly of May 1782 would instruct them on that issue. JM may have feared that the exasperating tactics of Congress with relation to the western lands would impel the legislators at Richmond to repeal the statute of Virginia offering most of her lands north and west of the Ohio River to the United States (Papers of Madison description begins William T. Hutchinson, William M. E. Rachal, et al., eds., The Papers of James Madison (5 vols. to date; Chicago, 1962——). description ends , IV, 235–37; 238–39, nn. 1–13; 306; JM to Randolph, 10 September, n. 20; 5 November 1782, and nn. 2–14, 16).

9See JM to Randolph, 16–17 September 1782, and n. 11. On 10 October, over the opposition of the two delegates from Rhode Island, the one from Georgia, and one of the five from South Carolina, Congress called upon “Rhode Island and Georgia for an immediate definitive answer whether they will” adopt the impost amendment. Georgia had not responded by the date of the present letter, but the fifty-three members who were present on 1 November in the Rhode Island House of Representatives voted unanimously against ratifying the amendment (JCC description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds., Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789 (34 vols.; Washington, 1904–37). description ends , XXIII, 643–45; William R. Staples, Rhode Island in the Continental Congress, pp. 399–400). Congress did not receive official notification of this action until 11 December, but the vote was known in Philadelphia at least by 16 November 1782 (NA: PCC, No. 64, fols. 526–29; Burnett, Letters description begins Edmund C. Burnett, ed., Letters of Members of the Continental Congress (8 vols.; Washington, 1921–36). description ends , VI, 542–43).

10The resolutions to which JM referred had been adopted on 16 October. The votes on them are not shown in the printed journal (JCC description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds., Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789 (34 vols.; Washington, 1904–37). description ends , XXIII, 658–60). See also Virginia Delegates to Harrison, 22 October 1782, n. 5. The delegates from Rhode Island were David Howell and Jonathan Arnold. See Notes on Debates, 3 December 1782, n. 25.

11That is, although Howell and Arnold had favored the resolution to seek two-thirds of the needed $6,000,000 abroad, they opposed the levying of an impost—the only method in JM’s view whereby Congress could provide sufficient security to attract foreign countries or bankers to extend further loans totaling that amount. For Howell’s and Arnold’s insistence that adequate sums had been and still could be borrowed overseas without offering such security, see William R. Staples, Rhode Island in the Continental Congress, p. 396. In a letter of 17 November 1782 Howell wrote, “The Load of illwill, jealousy and envy drawn on me, by the part I have taken in this affair has placed me in a very disag[ree]able Situation” (Burnett, Letters description begins Edmund C. Burnett, ed., Letters of Members of the Continental Congress (8 vols.; Washington, 1921–36). description ends , VI, 543).

According to a statistical table submitted by Alexander Hamilton on 11 May 1790 to the Congress of the United States, Rhode Island had paid “from the commencement of the Revolution to the present period” the specie equivalent of about one–forty-third of the total sum contributed by the thirteen states for the support of the central government, and had received about one-tenth of the total sum paid by that government to the states. The corresponding fractions for Virginia were about one-seventh and one–twenty-second (Walter Lowrie and Matthew St. Clair Clarke, eds., American State Papers: Documents, Legislative and Executive of the Congress of the United States, Class III [Finance], I [Washington, 1832], 53).

12See Papers of Madison description begins William T. Hutchinson, William M. E. Rachal, et al., eds., The Papers of James Madison (5 vols. to date; Chicago, 1962——). description ends , IV, 389, n. 22; 421, n. 22; JM to Randolph, 13 August, and n. 13. Although 12 November had been stipulated by Congress as the date for the “Tribunal” to convene, a week passed before a sufficient number of the agents of the two states, their attorneys, and the judges assembled at Trenton to permit the “Court of Commissioners” to proceed with “the Trial of the Cause between the States of Connecticut & Pennsylvania relative to the Jurisdiction and property in certain lands lying west of Delaware river within the chartered boundaries of said States” (Pennsylvania Archives description begins Samuel Hazard et al., eds., Pennsylvania Archives (9 ser., 138 vols.; Philadelphia and Harrisburg, 1852–1949). description ends , 1st ser., IX, 696–97). For the record kept by the commissioners, including their decision, see JCC description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds., Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789 (34 vols.; Washington, 1904–37). description ends , XXIV, 6–32; JM to Randolph, 17 December 1782, and n. 23.

13William Whipple (1730–1785), Welcome Arnold (1745–1798), and David Brearley (1745–1790). Whipple, a Portsmouth merchant and a signer of the Declaration of Independence, was associate judge of the Superior Court of New Hampshire until his death. Arnold, a merchant-shipowner of Providence, was a prominent member of the Rhode Island legislature during the last twenty years of his life. For Whipple and Arnold, see also Pendleton to JM, 9 December 1782, and n. 6. Brearley, chief justice of the Supreme Court of New Jersey, was a delegate to the Constitutional Convention of 1787 and, from 1789 until his death, a United States district judge. For William Churchill Houston and Cyrus Griffin, respectively, see Papers of Madison description begins William T. Hutchinson, William M. E. Rachal, et al., eds., The Papers of James Madison (5 vols. to date; Chicago, 1962——). description ends , I, 44, n. 5; II, 13, n. 3. In 1782 Houston was continental receiver of taxes for New Jersey, and Griffin was a judge of the Court of Appeals in Cases of Capture.

14For Thomas Nelson, Jr., of Virginia, John Rutledge of South Carolina, and Joseph Jones of Virginia, see, respectively, ibid., I, 225, n. 5; 302, n. 6; 318, n. 1. In the last of these citations, Jones’s home is incorrectly given as in King William rather than in King George County, Va. For Rutledge’s declination, see JCC description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds., Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789 (34 vols.; Washington, 1904–37). description ends , XXIII, 528. The respective dates of Nelson’s and Jones’s declinations are unknown. The health of both men was precarious, and Nelson was struggling to retrieve his broken fortune (Emory G. Evans, “The Rise and Decline of the Virginia Aristocracy in the Eighteenth Century: The Nelsons,” in Darrett B. Rutman, ed., The Old Dominion: Essays for Thomas Perkins Abernethy [Charlottesville, Va., 1964], pp. 76–78).

15These five men all lived in Pennsylvania. For William Bradford, Jr., and Joseph Reed, see, respectively, Papers of Madison description begins William T. Hutchinson, William M. E. Rachal, et al., eds., The Papers of James Madison (5 vols. to date; Chicago, 1962——). description ends , I, 73, n. 1; II, 93, n. 2. For both Jonathan Dickinson Sergeant and James Wilson, see ibid., III, 21, n. 2. Henry Osborne, escheator general of Pennsylvania and judge advocate of militia, was an Irish immigrant. He had married a woman of that commonwealth who owned considerable property. On 10 June 1783, when his legal wife arrived from Ireland, he was summarily dismissed from his public offices and “quickly disappeared into oblivion” (Colonial Records of Pennsylvania, XIII, 596; Robert L. Brunhouse, Counter-Revolution in Pennsylvania, p. 142).

16Jesse Root (1736–1822), like Eliphalet Dyer (1721–1807), was a delegate in Congress from Connecticut in 1782. Root served as state’s attorney, 1785–1789, as associate judge of the state Superior Court, 1789–1796, and as chief justice, 1796–1807. In 1766 Dyer had begun a tenure of twenty-seven years on the bench of this court, including four years as chief justice from 1789 to 1793. By 1782 William Samuel Johnson (1727–1819) had been prominent in the political life of Connecticut for twenty years. Later he was a delegate in Congress, 1784–1787, and to the Constitutional Convention of 1787; first president of Columbia (formerly King’s) College in New York City, 1787–1800; and United States senator, 1789–1791. Dyer and Johnson were graduated by Yale College, and Root was an alumnus of the College of New Jersey.

17By this date all of the agents of Connecticut were “on the spot” in Trenton (Pennsylvania Archives description begins Samuel Hazard et al., eds., Pennsylvania Archives (9 ser., 138 vols.; Philadelphia and Harrisburg, 1852–1949). description ends , 1st ser., IX, 697).

19JM’s “national view” was focused upon the imperative need of giving new cohesion to the union through common ownership of the western lands. That achieved, the disgruntlement of Connecticut with the decision of a tribunal of the Confederation might more easily be risked (n. 12, above). Although acceptance of common ownership upon a basis satisfactory to Virginia seemed more remote than ever (n. 8, above), JM was more sanguine than he had been a year earlier, when he doubted that continuing the Virginia offer of cession was wise or that maintaining the union beyond the end of the war was probable (Papers of Madison description begins William T. Hutchinson, William M. E. Rachal, et al., eds., The Papers of James Madison (5 vols. to date; Chicago, 1962——). description ends , III, 308; 309, n. 8; IV, 6–7; 55–56; 57, n. 7).

21See JM to Randolph 12 November 1782 (first letter), and n. 4.

22See Randolph to JM, 22 November 1782. Until Theodorick Bland resumed his seat about 22 January 1783, JM and Joseph Jones were the sole delegates in Congress from Virginia, and illness frequently obliged Jones to be absent. See JM to Randolph, 22 January and 28 January 1783 (LC: Madison Papers).

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