Resolution of Thanks to Jefferson by the Virginia General Assembly
Wednesday the 12th. of December 1781.
A Motion was made that the House do come to the following Resolution
Resolved, that the sincere Thanks of the General Assembly be given to our former Governor Thomas Jefferson Esquire for his impartial, upright, and attentive administration of the powers of the Executive, whilst in office; popular rumours, gaining some degree of credence, by more pointed Accusations, rendered it necessary to make an enquirey into his conduct, and delayed that retribution of public gratitude, so eminently merited; but that conduct having become the object of open scrutiny, tenfold value is added to an approbation founded on a cool and deliberate discussion. The Assembly wish therefore in the strongest manner to declare the high opinion which they entertain of Mr. Jefferson’s Ability, Rectitude, and Integrity as cheif Magistrate of this Commonwealth, and mean by thus publicly avowing their Opinion, to obviate all future, and to remove all former unmerited Censure.
And the said Resolution being read a second time was on the question thereupon agreed to by the House Nemine Contradicente.
John Beckley C.H.d.
1781. Decr. 15th.
Agreed to by the Senate with amendments unanimously.
W. Drew. C.S.
MS (Vi). The body of the Resolution is in Beckley’s hand and bears his signature and a note below signed by William Drew, clerk of the Senate. The amendments, five in number, suggesting text to be canceled, were all made by the Senate and are indicated in MS by being underscored and here by being italicized; they are listed in Drew’s hand on a separate leaf and are signed by him and by Beckley: “1781 December 19th. Agreed to. J. Beckley, C.H.D.” Endorsement on verso of resolutions reads: “Reso. of thanks to Thomas Jefferson Esqr. former Governor of this State. 12 Decr. 1781.” Two copies of the Resolution as amended by the Senate’s deletions and agreed to by the House (i.e., the text above without the italicized words and without the final paragraph, which was not part of the Resolution) are in DLC; one of these (TJ Papers, 7: 1185) is in John Beckley’s hand and was originally enclosed in Nathaniel Harrison’s letter to TJ, 22 Dec. 1781, q.v.; the other (TJ Papers, 7: 1186) is a copy in the hand of William Drew and is endorsed in the hand of Henry Tazewell.
In accordance with the resolution of 26 Nov. (see enclosure in John Harvie’s letter to TJ, 27 Nov.), the committee appointed to state charges and receive information respecting the conduct of the executive, reported on 12 Dec. John Banister read the report, which was as follows:
“that the committee did, according to order, convene for that purpose, and no information being offered on the subject matter of the said inquiry, except that some rumors prevailed, which appeared to the committee to have been the cause of the original order of the 12th of June, directing the said inquiry; that the committee had come to a resolution thereupon, which he read in his place, and afterwards delivered in at the clerk’s table, where the same was again twice read, and agreed to by the House, as followeth: Resolved, that it is the opinion of this committee, That the said rumors were groundless” (JHD description begins Journal of the House of Delegates of the Commonwealth of Virginia (cited by session and date of publication) description ends , Oct. 1781, 1828 edn., p. 37).
Presumably it was at this point (though the Journal does not record it) that, since Nicholas had absented himself “and no other undertaking to bring them forward,” TJ himself rose in his place and read Nicholas’ charges, “from his paper, answering them seriatim to the house” (above, Vol. 4: 262; see Nicholas’ charges and Jefferson’s answers, printed under 31 July 1781). The motion herewith printed was then made (the mover not being named), and, having been read a second time, was agreed to unanimously. John Talbot, a member from Bedford, was ordered to carry it to the Senate. The MS here printed was, of course, the one that Talbot carried. The Senate’s amendments were made on 15 Dec. and on the 19th “The House proceeded to consider the amendments of the Senate … and the same being read, were agreed to” (JHD description begins Journal of the House of Delegates of the Commonwealth of Virginia (cited by session and date of publication) description ends , Oct. 1781, 1828 edn., p. 42, 48). On the same day TJ resigned his appointment as delegate to Congress in place of John Blair, to which he had been elected on 30 Nov. before coming into the House (same, p. 49, 23; copy of resolution of appointment in DLC). Having obtained what he desired from the legislature, he immediately turned to pursuits he loved better than politics (see his letters of 19 and 20 Dec. 1781 to Clark, Marbois, and Thomson). On the 22d, the day he received from Speaker Harrison of the Senate a copy of the resolution of thanks, he stopped attending the Assembly; and on the 24th he expressed his innermost feelings on the whole affair of the investigation with a bitterness probably unmatched anywhere else in his surviving writings (see letter to Isaac Zane under that date).
The comment of an interested spectator of these events is found in a letter from Edmund Pendleton to James Madison of 31 Dec. 1781: “Since my last Mr. Jefferson’s honorable acquittal of the loose censure thrown out at random on his character, hath come to my hand, which I doubt not you’ll have published in one of the Philadelphia papers, that this stain may be wiped out wherever it may have reached. I am assured by a member of the assembly that it was entered unanimously in the House of Delegates, and he believes in the Senate, tho’ the clerk has omitted it in my copy.” Pendleton goes on, significantly, to report that Gov. Thomas Nelson, who had resigned earlier in the month, will also probably “receive a vote of thanks and approbation of his conduct, from a conviction that what he did wrong was imputable to a mistake in his judgment, and not from a corrupt heart. I am satisfied of the integrity of his mind, but whether that should intitle to more than indemnity, I doubt” (“Unpublished Letters of Edmund Pendleton,” Mass. Hist. Soc., Procs., 2d ser., XIX , 144–5). The resolution of thanks to TJ was printed in Hayes’ Va. Gaz., 22 Dec. 1781.