Thomas Jefferson Papers

To Thomas Jefferson from Edmund Randolph, 24 April 1784

From Edmund Randolph

Richmond April 24. 1784.

Dear Sir

I have been forbidden by an unusual sensation in my head for some time past, to write a line, which the duties of my profession did not extort from me. This circumstance alone has hitherto prevented an answer to your last favor.

The elections for this year have proved the readiness of the citizens to incorporate the military with the civil. I have heard of the success of seven military candidates in different counties, and of the rejection of one only. This repudiation was affected by Burk’s pamphlet against the Cincinnati; which had circulated very widely thro’ the southern parts of Virginia, and particularly in Mecklenburg. Perhaps the indisposition of the people towards the society in general was much heightened when applied to Colo. Hopkins, the candidate who miscarried, by a report, that he was a deputy to the convention, shortly to be holden in Phila. How far General W. patronizes the association, is, as yet, an impenetrable secret. It has, however, been said for him, that in his opinion, neither Burk nor the author, who answered him, understood the principles of the institution.

You must remember the inveteracy, discovered by the inhabitants of Essex, against the return of British subjects. In order to shew, how firmly they are resolved in this instance, they have elected Mr. Gatewood, who stands foremost in an indictment found against those, who tarred and feathered one Williamson, while he had the governor’s protection in his pocket. What the issue of this ferment may be will probably depend on the views of those, who first set these violences into motion. For I believe, that the father of them is indefatigable in his endeavours to suppress the payment of british debts, conceives, that a fixed antipathy against such british subjects, as were formerly here, will more certainly tend to the other purpose, and seems powerful in his influence.

The arrearages of the sheriffs amount to an alarming sum. Many excuse themselves by the severity of the past winter, and a greater number by the poverty of the people. But the auditors have not prepared the necessary documents, on which to ground motions against those, who have actually completed their collections. This neglect, added to a rooted hatred of some men in office, will probably induce the next assembly to give a new form to the department of accounts.

Mr. Meriwether Smith has on the anvil, I am told, a tract, parallelizing the conduct of the Dutch during their struggles with Spain, and our own in the late dispute with G. B. From thence he designs to prove the propriety of confiscating debts. This chef d’oeuvre will probably be as eminent for historical learning, as his former pamphlet was for sound policy.

I have not heard since the election, but I am confident from what reached me before, that our friend Madison will certainly be a member. His aid will be necessary to correct the extravagancies of some plausible men, who have many schemes of romance much at heart.

I am Dr Sr. with every sentiment of affection yr. friend & serv.,

Edm: Randolph

RC (DLC); endorsed by TJ. Noted in SJL as received 24 May 1784.

Mr. Gatewood … one Williamson: These were William Gatewood and Joseph Williamson; the latter had been a merchant in Essex but had joined the British, had made an attempt to burn Tappahannock during the war, and had obtained Harrison’s permission to carry a cargo of merchandise up the Rappahannock. He was warned to leave, but did not do so, and on 10 Oct. 1782 was mobbed. The Council ordered indictments brought against the offenders, but the response of the inhabitants was to elect Gatewood. In May 1784, Spencer Roane, also a member of the House of Delegates from Essex, pushed through a bill indemnifying all who had directly or indirectly “committed any insult or injury against the person of … Joseph Williamson”; the ostensible reason for this was that the tarring and feathering had occurred prior to the ratification of the Definitive Treaty (MS Va. Council Jour. 1782, p. 290; Hening, xi, 373; Harrell, Loyalism in Virginia, p. 137 –8). The father of them (i.e., “these violences”) is an allusion that Randolph knew TJ would recognize. Patrick Henry was the leader of the opposition to the payment of British debts and it is almost certain that he is the one Randolph had in mind. His former pamphlet: This was Meriwether Smith’s Observations on the Fourth and Fifth Articles of the Preliminaries for a Peace with Great Britain (Richmond [1783]; Sabin, description begins Joseph Sabin and others, Bibliotheca Americana. A Dictionary of Books Relating to America description ends No. 83609). The Chef D’Oeuvre, if published at all, has not been identified.

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