James Madison Papers

Virginia Delegates to Joseph Reed, 13 July 1781

Virginia Delegates to Joseph Reed

RC (Historical Society of Pennsylvania). Written by JM, except for the other delegates’ signatures. Docketed, “1781 July 13th. from Honble Delegates of Virginia.”

Philadelphia July 13th. 1781

The Underwritten Delegates from the State of Virginia have the honor to acknowledge the receipt of your Excellency’s letters of the 10th. & 12th instant,1 and to express their entire satisfaction at the readiness shewn by the Supreme Executive Council to arrest & punish the attempt made on the rights and dignity of the State they represent in the presumptuous siezure of its property.2 They will take the earliest opportunity of communicating the whole transaction to their constituents,3 and have no doubt that it will be equally satisfactory to them, and that they will embrace with pleasure every occasion of manifesting a correspondent attention & respect to the State over which Your Excellency presides.

As this is the first instance known to us in which it has been necessary to assert the sacredness of the property of a Confederate State it is the wish of the Underwritten that the offending parties should have the full benefit of this mitigating circumstance, and that no further notice should be taken of their misconduct than the Supreme Executive Council may judge necessary for the purpose of example.4

Jos: Jones

James Madison

Theok: Bland


3In a letter of 24 July, initiating their correspondence with Governor Thomas Nelson, the delegates would omit all mention of their exchange of letters with Reed. Long before Nelson received the delegates’ letter of 20 August (q.v.), enclosing copies of their correspondence with Reed, the governor had become somewhat acquainted with Nathan’s litigation. In a letter of 19 July to Nelson, David Ross mentioned the suit and confidently predicted that it would be quashed (Calendar of Virginia State Papers description begins William P. Palmer et al., eds., Calendar of Virginia State Papers and Other Manuscripts (11 vols.; Richmond, 1875–93). description ends , II, 230).

4At its session of 13 July the Supreme Executive Council, after summarizing in its minutes the Virginia delegates’ “memorial” of 9 July (q.v.), adopted two resolutions embodying Attorney General Bradford’s opinion (Reed to Virginia Delegates, 10 July 1781, n. 2). The council concluded its action upon the matter by stating:

And whereas, The said Simon Nathan, the plaintiff in said suit, having been brought before this Board, examined touching his conduct, and having declared that he had taken out the said process merely as a matter supposed of right, and being ignorant of the priviledges of the State in this respect: The Sheriff and Prothonotary alledging the same, and the delegates of Virginia having signified their desire that as this is the first instance of such aggression, no farther notice may be taken of any of the parties.

Resolved, That the said plaintiff, Simon Nathan, be discharged from farther attendance” (Colonial Records of Pennsylvania, XIII, 2).

This controversy obviously presents interesting parallels to and contrasts with the background of Chisholm v. Georgia (2 Dallas 419), the decision of the United States Supreme Court in that case, and its denouement in the Eleventh Amendment of the Constitution of the United States.

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