Thomas Jefferson Papers

To Thomas Jefferson from the Virginia Delegates in Congress, 5 May 1781

From the Virginia Delegates in Congress

Philadelphia May 5th. 1781.


The Executive of New Jersey in consequence of authority vested in them by the Legislature for that purpose by an Act of the 27th. Ulto. established the rate of exchange between the old Continental currency and the bills issued pursuant to the Act of Congress of the 18th. of March 1780. to be 150 for 1. The speculation arising from this measure to the prejudice of this State with the other reasons stated in the inclosed publication by the Executive Council led to their act of the 2d instant therein referred to declaring the rate between the two kinds of money abovementioned to be 175 for 1. The effect of this declaration has been a confusion among the people of this City approaching nearly to tumult, a total Stop to the circulation of the old money, and a considerable stagnation and increased depreciation of the new. The difference between the latter and hard money is at present vibrating from 4 to 1 downwards. Should the circulation of the former therefore revive, its value cannot exceed 1/700 of that of hard money. The opportunity which this circumstance gives and which we have reason to beleive many are already taking measures to improve, of fraudulent speculation not only on the Citizens of Virginia, but on the State itself, is so obvious and alarming that we thought it our duty to set an Express in immediate motion to put you on your guard against the mischief.

The inclosed list of prisoners taken by Capt: Tilly has been communicated to us by the Minister of France in consequence of our application. We shall select such of the names as have already been mentioned by your Excellency as obnoxious and dangerous to the State, and put them into the hands of the Minister, who as well as the French Commander is entirely disposed to secure the State from all further apprehension from their malice. If there are any other names which you would wish to add to your former list we beg to be informed of them by the first opportunity. If there are any of the Prisoners who are not considered as objects of much dread, particularly of those who hold commissions we beleive our Allies would chuse not to be deprived of the use of them as subjects of exchange.

We have the honor to be with the highest respect & esteem Yr. Excellency’s obt. & humble Servts., (By order of the Delegation)

J. Madison Junr.

RC (PHi); endorsed. Enclosures (missing): (1) A handbill issued by the Executive Council of Pennsylvania explaining their “motives and reasons” for establishing the new official rate of exchange (see Burnett, Letters of Members description begins Edmund C. Burnett, ed., Letters of Members of the Continental Congress description ends , vi, No. 92); (2) list of refugees taken by De Tilly; see Madison to TJ, 3 Apr. 1781 and also note below.

For communications from Daniel of St. Thomas Jenifer and others respecting these actions of New Jersey and Pennsylvania and the danger that private speculators would take advantage of individuals in Maryland and Virginia, see Burnett, Letters of Members description begins Edmund C. Burnett, ed., Letters of Members of the Continental Congress description ends , vi, Nos. 92, 93, 95–8. Confusion … approaching nearly to tumult: On 12 May 1781 Rivington’s Royal Gazette (N.Y.) gave the following description of events in Philadelphia two days after the present letter was written: “By a person arrived from Philadelphia, we are informed that last Saturday [7 Apr.] a large body of the inhabitants with paper dollars in their hats by way of cockades, paraded the streets of Philadelphia, carrying colours flying, with a dog tarr’d, and instead of the usual appendage and ornament of feathers, his back was covered with the Congress’s paper Dollars, this example of disaffection immediately under the eyes of the rulers of the revolted provinces in solemn session at the State House assembled, was directly followed by the Jailor, who refused accepting bills in purchase of a glass of rum, and afterwards by the traders of the city, who shut up their shops, declining to sell any more goods but for gold or silver; it was declared also by the popular voice, that if the opposition to Great Britain was not in future carried on by solid money instead of paper bills, all further resistance to the mother country were vain and must be given up. The above is the most accurate account of the annihilation of the Congressional currency that we have yet been able to obtain.” In the same issue “A Jerseyman” proposed that the states of Pennsylvania and Virginia be exempted from joining with other states in observing the fast day set for 3 May, since “They have both established iniquity by law, in their late unjust and cruel Tender Acts: Their prayers therefore must be a public affront to the God of Justice, and Cannot fail of adding greatly to the sins, which have drawn down the vengeance of heaven upon our country” (JCC description begins Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789, ed. W. C. Ford and others, Washington, 1904–1937 description ends , xix, 284–5).

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