Thomas Jefferson Papers

To Thomas Jefferson from James Madison, 22 April 1783

From James Madison

Philada. Apl. 22. 1783.

Dear Sir

Your favor of the 14. inst: written in the Susquehanna with the several letters inclosed were safely delivered to me. I did not fail to present as you desired your particular compliments to Miss K. Your inference on that subject was not groundless. Before you left us I had sufficiently ascertained her sentiments. Since your departure the affair has been pursued. Most preliminary arrangements, although definitive, will be postponed untill the end of the year in Congress. At some period of the interval I shall probably make a visit to Virginia. The interest which your friendship takes on this occasion in my happiness is a pleasing proof that the dispositions which I feel are reciprocal.1

The report on funds &c. passed Congress on Saturday last with the dissent of R. Island and the division of N. York only. The latter vote was lost by the rigid adherence of Mr. Hamilton to a plan which he supposed more perfect. The clause providing for unauthorized expenditures, could not be reinstated, and consequently no attempt was made to link all the parts of the act inseparably together. As it now stands it has I fear no bait for Virga. which is not particularly interested either in the object or mode of the revenues recommended, nor in the territorial cessions, nor in the change of the constitutional rule of dividing the public burdens. A respect for justice, good faith and national honor is the only consideration which can obtain her compliance.

We have received no intelligence from abroad which deserves to be noted, since your departure. The interval between the preliminary and definitive Treaties, has produced several nice and interesting questions. One is whether laws prohibiting commerce with British Ports during the war, have expired with the cessation of Hostilities. A similar one is whether the soldiers enlisted for the war are entitled to a discharge. At least half of the army under Genl. Washington are under this description and are urgent for such a construction of their engagements. A third question is whether the preliminary treaty between F. and G.B. has given such effect to the provisional articles between the latter and the U.S. as to require an execution of the stipulations in the 6 and 7 articles or whether a definitive Treaty only can produce this effect.

The system for foreign affairs is not yet digested: and I apprehend will be long on the anvil, unless the actual return of our Ministers from Europe should stimulate Congress on the subject.

I am charged with many compliments from the whole family for yourself and Miss Patsy, which you will accept with an assurance of sincere friendship from Yr Obt. & Hbl Servt.,

J. Madison Jr.

RC (DLC: Madison Papers); endorsed; partly in cipher.

It seems not to have been particularly noted that, on this matter of The report on funds &c. and the political conflicts engendered by it, TJ found himself supporting the idea of an assumption of state debts by the United States (see TJ to Madison, 7 May), whereas Alexander Hamilton opposed in 1783 what he so ardently advocated in 1790. Both, however, along with Madison, took the position they did in 1783 in order to strengthen the bonds of union. Following the defeat of the impost of 1781 because of the intransigence of David Howell and other extremist states’ rights delegates from Rhode Island, a committee consisting of Nathaniel Gorham, Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, Thomas FitzSimons, and John Rutledge who had been appointed “to consider the means of restoring and supporting public credit and of obtaining from the States substantial funds for funding the whole debt of the United States” reported on 6 Mch. 1783 (JCC description begins Worthington C. Ford and others, eds., Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789, Washington, D.C., 1904–37, 34 vols. description ends , xxiv, 170–4). The report was printed as a resolution and debated for the next few weeks (a copy of this printed report—obviously made subsequent to 6 Mch., though P. L. Ford assigns it the date 18 Apr. and Hunt gives it the date of 6 Mch. when the committee reported [same, xxv, 983–4]—is in DLC: TJ Papers, 9: 1458, bearing marginal notations in the hand of Madison). There was included at this stage of the Report the following paragraph providing for unauthorized expenditures: “That conformably to the liberal principles on which these recommendations are founded, and with a view to a more amicable, complete adjustment of all accounts between the united states and individual states, all reasonable expences which shall have been incurred by the states without the sanction of congress, in their defence against, or attacks upon British or Savage enemies, either by sea or by land, and which shall be supported by satisfactory proofs, shall be considered as part of the common charges incident to the present war, and be allowed as such” (JCC description begins Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789, ed. W. C. Ford and others, Washington, 1904–1937 description ends , xxiv, 172–3). This was the “conversion of state into federal debts” that TJ believed to be “one palatable ingredient at least in the pill we were to swallow” (TJ to Madison, 7 May 1783). When TJ left Philadelphia on 12 Apr. he thought “This proposition … hopeful” but between 18 Mch. and 18 Apr. the “palatable ingredient” was deleted (JCC description begins Worthington C. Ford and others, eds., Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789, Washington, D.C., 1904–37, 34 vols. description ends , xxiv, 195–8, 257–60; a copy of the printed resolution in broadside form as it existed after 18 Mch. and before 18 Apr., though headed by the former date and so described by Hunt, same, p. 984, is in DLC: TJ Papers, 9: 1446 and was probably given by Madison to TJ before he left Philadelphia; it did not contain the clause for conversion of state debts, but TJ and Madison both seemed to have thought that it would be possible for it to be “reinstated,” a hope which the present letter shows was groundless). The plan which … [Hamilton] supposed more perfect was the alternative plan that he submitted on 18 Mch.; it took away the 25-year limitation on the impost and proposed both a land tax and a house tax (though revenues from the latter were to be credited to the states in which they arose), but there was nothing in his plan providing for the assumption of state debts. Thus when the report on funds &c. came up for final vote on 18 Apr., the roll-call listing of noes and ayes showed that Alexander Hamilton was the only member of Congress voting with the states’ rights delegation from Rhode Island which, though intransigent in the extreme, had at least been thoroughly consistent in its opposition to the nationalist position in matters of finance. Though Madison agreed with TJ about the deletion of the “palatable ingredient” and for the same reasons, he was the one who wrote the eloquent address to the states with which the report was accompanied (26> Apr. 1783; JCC description begins Worthington C. Ford and others, eds., Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789, Washington, D.C., 1904–37, 34 vols. description ends , xxiv, 277–83). For an excellent account of this and other aspects of “The Politics of Demobilization,” see Merrill Jensen, The New Nation, 1950, p. 73ff. and 411–21.

1Most of this paragraph, beginning with “Miss K.,” was written in cipher, except for “the” (twice). Almost half a century later Madison obliterated the passage and then wrote in the margin: “Undecypherable” (see reproduction in Brant, Madison, ii, p. 223 and p. 284, where the passage was first decoded for publication). The code employed was our Code No. 3; the decoding by the editors differs slightly from that by Brant.

Index Entries