From George Mason
RC (LC: Madison Papers).
Gunston-Hall, August 2d. 1780
By late Letters from Europe I1 understand a Treaty of Alliance will soon be concluded between his Catholic Majesty & the United American States, upon which it is presumed Congress will find it necessary to appoint a Consul in Spain, for the Superintendance & protection of our Trade: Shou’d this be the Case, I beg leave to recommend Mr. Richard Harrison as a very proper person for the Office. This Gentleman is a native of Maryland, but about the Beginning of the present Troubles, removed to the Island of Martinique, where He resided about two Years, learned the french Language, & transacted a good deal of Business for Virginia & some other of the United States, in a Manner that gave general Satisfaction. He is now setled at Cadiz, but when I heard from him last was in Madrid, & I am authorised to say will undertake the Office, if he is appointed to it; presuming that Congress will think Cadiz the most proper place for the Residence of an American Consul. I have always been cautious in giving Recommendations for public Offices; but my Knowledge of Mr. Harrison’s Diligence, Integrity & commercial Knowledge, from a personal Acquaintance with him, convinces me He will discharge such an Office with Reputation to himself, & Advantage to the Commercial Interest of America.2
I have written a long letter to Mr. Jones (who desired my Sentiments) upon the Subject of our back Lands; not doubting the Harmony and Confidence subsisting between him & his Colleagues in the Delegation, I have desired him to communicate the Contents, & must beg Leave to recommend the Subject to your particular Attention.3
Our Assembly considered Mr. Griffin’s Appointment to the Office of a Judge in the new Court of Admiralty established by Congress, not only as vacating his Seat in Congress, but rendering him ineligible, during his Continuance in [office]4 and therefore elected Colo. The: Bland to succeed him; who has accepted the Appointment, & will soon attend Congress.5
I am Dr. Sir Yr. most obdt. Sert.
1. As a member of the Virginia House of Delegates, Mason (1725–1792) had been in Richmond until the adjournment of the Assembly on 14 July. He then returned to his Potomac River plantation not far from Alexandria.
2. Richard Harrison (1750–1841), a merchant in Cadiz, performed all the duties of a consul from 1780 to 1786 without being formally appointed by Congress (Boyd, Papers of Jefferson description begins Julian P. Boyd et al., eds., The Papers of Thomas Jefferson (16 vols. to date; Princeton, N.J., 1950——). description ends , IX, 223). JM nominated him for the office on 7 May 1781, according to Charles Thomson’s records, but apparently no final action was ever taken (NA: PCC, No. 186, fol. 2). In June 1790, with the consent of the Senate, President Washington appointed Harrison, then a merchant at Alexandria, Va., as consul “for the port of Cadiz.” Whether he returned to that city is unknown, but on 29 November 1791 the Senate confirmed his appointment as auditor in the Treasury Department of the United States (Journal of the Executive Proceedings of the Senate of the United States of America [Washington, D.C., 1828 ——], I, 47, 49, 90–91). He continued in this office until 1836 (ibid., IV, 579).
3. The original letter of 27 July 1780 from Mason to Joseph Jones, a delegate from Virginia in Congress, is apparently lost, but at least a considerable portion of what Mason wrote is in Charles Campbell, ed., The Bland Papers, Being a Selection from the Manuscripts of Colonel Theodorick Bland, Jr., of Prince George County, Virginia (2 vols.; Petersburg, Va., 1840–43), II, 125–30. Mason’s letter was of importance in the sequence of steps leading to Virginia’s offer to cede most of her western lands to the United States, to Maryland’s consequent ratification of the Articles of Confederation (thus inaugurating the first legal union of the thirteen states), to the eventual agreement between the United States and Virginia (1784) over the terms of cession, and to the growth of the Confederation and later federal Union through the admission of states formed west of the Appalachians (Ordinances of 1784, 1785, and 1787). In Mason’s view, the recent solution of the longstanding dispute between Pennsylvania and Virginia over their common boundary (Journal of the House of Delegates description begins Journal of the House of Delegates of the Commonwealth of Virginia; Begun and Held At the Capitol, in the City of Williamsburg.Beginning in 1780, the portion after the semicolon reads, Begun and Held in the Town of Richmond. In the County of Henrico. The journal for each session has its own title page and is individually paginated. The edition used, unless otherwise noted, is the one in which the journals for 1777–1781 are brought together in one volume, with each journal published in Richmond in 1827 or 1828, and often called the “Thomas W. White reprint.” description ends , May 1780, p. 74; and Hening, Statutes description begins William Waller Hening, ed., The Statutes at Large; being a Collection of all the Laws of Virginia, from the First Session of the Legislature, in the Year 1619 (13 vols.; Richmond and Philadelphia, 1819–23). description ends , X, 239) made it opportune for Congress to propose that if Virginia would cede to the United States the “panhandle” between the western boundary of Pennsylvania and the Ohio River, and the vast area north and west of that stream and east of the Mississippi River, which were claimed under the London Company’s charter of 1609, the United States would agree to a number of stipulations very similar to those finally accepted in 1784. The United States was (a) to guarantee that at least two states would be made from this “Old Northwest”; (b) to confirm titles given by Virginia to land privately owned in the ceded area; (c) to recompense Virginia for its military and other expenses in that area during the Revolution; (d) to confer liberal land grants there upon George Rogers Clark and his troops; (e) to protect the French and Canadian inhabitants in their rightful liberties and possessions; (f) to allow the bounty land promises to the troops of Virginia to be satisfied in the ceded territory, if the state’s reserve in Kentucky for this purpose proved to be too small; and (g) to forbid individuals or companies to purchase land in the area from Indians. Furthermore, Mason asked that the area ceded by Virginia “be considered as a common fund for the use and benefit” of the present and future states of the United States “and for no other use or purpose whatsoever.” He admitted that many Virginians would resist his proposals, but he believed that if Congress would offer them in time to be laid before the session of the Assembly of Virginia beginning on 6 November 1780, his influence as a member of that body would be sufficient to gain their acceptance. He closed by stating—probably as a warning for Congress not to delay—that since he expected to withdraw from the state legislature after the coming session, he was “anxious” before then “to do this last piece of service to the American union.” Mason’s leadership in this matter was the more creditable because of his membership in a group of Virginian speculators claiming land north of the Ohio. If control of that area were transferred to Congress, the claims of Maryland and Pennsylvania speculators to the same area would more likely be acquiesced in than if the title remained in Virginia. See Jones-Madison resolutions of 6 September 1780.
4. Manuscript torn.
5. Journal of the House of Delegates description begins Journal of the House of Delegates of the Commonwealth of Virginia; Begun and Held At the Capitol, in the City of Williamsburg.Beginning in 1780, the portion after the semicolon reads, Begun and Held in the Town of Richmond. In the County of Henrico. The journal for each session has its own title page and is individually paginated. The edition used, unless otherwise noted, is the one in which the journals for 1777–1781 are brought together in one volume, with each journal published in Richmond in 1827 or 1828, and often called the “Thomas W. White reprint.” description ends , May 1780, pp. 55, 57. On 27 April 1780, Congress appointed Cyrus Griffin one of the three judges of the recently established Court of Appeals from the various courts of Admiralty. His last recorded vote in Congress was on 13 June, and he apparently left Philadelphia for Virginia shortly thereafter. Bland replaced him in Congress, beginning on 30 August (Journals of the Continental Congress, XVI, 61–62, 397; XVII, 507, 554, 792).