James Madison Papers

From James Madison to Thomas Jefferson, 16 April 1781

To Thomas Jefferson

RC (LC: Madison Papers). Docketed, “Madison Jas,” by Jefferson.

Philada. April 16th. 1781

Dear Sir

The inclosed paper is a copy of a report from a Committee now lying on the table of Congress for Consideration.1 The delicacy and importance of the subject makes me wish for your judgment on it before it undergoes the final decision of Congress.

The necessity of arming Congress with coercive powers arises from the shameful deficiency of some of the States which are most capable of yielding their apportioned supplies, and the military exactions to which others already exhausted by the enemy and our own troops are in consequence exposed.2 Without such powers too in the general government, the whole confederacy may be insulted and the most salutary measures frustrated by the most inconsiderable State in the Union. At a time when all the other States were submitting to the loss and inconveniency of an embargo on their exports, Delaware absolutely declined coming into the measure, and not only defeated the general object of it,3 but enriched herself at the expence of those who did their duty.4

The expediency however of making the proposed application to the States will depend on the probability of their complying with it. If they should refuse, Congress will be in a worse situation than at present: for as the confederation now stands, and according to the nature even of alliances5 much less intimate, there is an implied right of coer[c]io[n] against the delinquent party, and the exercise of it by Congress whenever a palpable necessity occurs will probably be acquiesced in.

It may be asked perhaps by what means Congress could exercise such a power if the States were to invest them with it? As long as there is a regular army on foot a small detachment from it, acting under6 Civil authority, would at any time render a voluntary contribution of supplies due from a State, an eligible alternative. But there is a still more easy and efficacious mode. The situation of most of the States is such, that two or three vessels of force employed against their trade will make it their interest to yield prompt obidience to all just requisitions on them. With respect to those States that have little or no foreign trade of their own it is provided that all inland trade with such states as supply them with foreign merchandize may be interdicted and the concurrence of the latter may be enforced in case of refusal by7 operations on their foreign trade.

There is a collateral reason which interests the States who are feeble in maritime resources, in such a plan. If a naval armament was considered as the proper instrument of general Government, it would be both preserved in a respectable State in8 time of peace, and it would be an object to mann it with Citizens taken in due proportio[ns] from every State. A Navy so formed and under the orders of the general Council of the States, would not only be a guard against aggression & insults from abroad; but without it what is to protect the Southern States for many years to come against the insults & aggressions of their N. Brethren.9

I am Dear [Sir] Yr. sincere friend & obt. servt.

J. Madison Junr.

1Proposed Amendment of Articles of Confederation, 12 March 1781, and nn. 1, 8, 11. At one time the copy which JM enclosed to Jefferson may have been in the Madison Papers. In LC: Madison Miscellany is a list, probably prepared by Peter Force, which refers to the “Draft of an amendment to the 13th Article of the Confederation relating to the enforcement of the requisitions of the Congress of the United States on the several states,” dated only “1781 April.” See 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 , V, 471 n.

2JM’s statement calls to mind the abortive “representation to Congress” summarized in Pendleton to JM, 26 March 1781, n. 12.

3Following “defeated” JM at first wrote “its operation on the exports,” before he substituted the phrase in the text. Least populous of the states, Delaware probably had few more than fifty thousand inhabitants in 1781. Its population, according to the federal census of 1790, numbered only 59,094 (Stella H. Sutherland, Population Distribution in Colonial America [New York, 1936], p. 135).

4Shortly after Delaware lifted its embargo on the exportation of foodstuffs, Congress on 22 May 1780 “earnestly recommended” that the state reimpose its ban until “the public safety” no longer required any state to prohibit the exportation of provisions (JCC description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds., Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789 (34 vols.; Washington, 1904–37). description ends , XVII, 446). Delaware soon complied and enforced its embargo fairly rigidly throughout the summer. Influenced, however, by the knowledge of considerable smuggling and by the belief that the weight of the embargo affected Delaware more adversely than some of the other states, and that both the dearth of provisions and the quantity of them captured by the British at sea had been exaggerated, the Delaware legislature in the autumn of 1780 authorized Caesar Rodney, the president of the state, to proclaim a suspension of the embargo at his option. By November 1780 little effort was being expended in the ports of Delaware to halt shipments of flour (JCC description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds., Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789 (34 vols.; Washington, 1904–37). description ends , XVII, 480, 504, 1076–78; George Herbert Ryden, ed., Letters to and from Caesar Rodney, 1756–1784 [Philadelphia, 1933], pp. 346, 363, 379–80, 388).

5Instead of “alliances,” JM first wrote and then so thoroughly crossed out another word that it cannot be deciphered with certainty, but it may have been “ententes.”

6JM interlineated “under” above a deleted “by the.”

7Between “by” and “operations,” JM struck out a word which seems to be “usual.”

8JM wrote “in” above a crossed-out “at all.”

9Here JM interestingly argues as a sectionalist in order to underscore the need for a nationalistic measure.

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