James Madison Papers

Virginia Delegates to Thomas Nelson, 23 October 1781

Virginia Delegates to Thomas Nelson

RC (Historical Society of Pennsylvania). Written and franked by Edmund Randolph, signed by JM and Joseph Jones. Addressed, “Public service His excellency The governor of Virginia Richmond.”

Philadelphia October 23. 1781.


The committee, to whom was referred the cession of Virginia, have been industrious in the audience of counsel, and investigation of the claims of the several great land companies.1 We refused to attend their summons, and our reasons will be transmitted to your excellency, as soon as a full state of this proceeding can be prepared.2 In the mean time, altho’ we cannot but view with a suspicious eye the conduct, hitherto observed by congress towards our country3 on the subject of western territory, we wish, that every public act, having this conduct for its object, may be postponed,4 until a particular account of this matter shall be received from us. We should not have intruded this observation upon your excellency, had we not reason from some private dispatches to believe, that our country is highly inflamed against congress on this ground.5 Perhaps our success in the capture of Cornwallis, upon which we cordially rejoice with your excellency, may dictate, from motives of prudence, the suppression of every wrathful measure, until an opportunity more fit.

We shall endeavour to forward by the next mail a cypher, for the communication of secret intelligence without danger of detection.6

We have the honor Sir to be with great respect your most obedient servants

Jos: Jones.

James Madison Junr.

Edmund Randolph.

1See Virginia Delegates to Nelson, 9 October, and n. 6, and 16 October 1781, and n. 5.

2See Virginia Delegates to Nelson, 9 October, and n. 7; and Protest of Virginia Delegates, 10 October 1781.


4The delegates evidently were recommending not only that the governor and Council of State take no retaliatory action but that they seek to restrain the General Assembly at its autumn session from adopting any measures which might further alienate the opponents of Virginia in Congress. Similar advice was given by JM in his letters of 30 October to Pendleton and of 18 November to Jefferson (q.v.). Randolph, in private letters to Bland on 23 October and to Nelson on 7 November 1781, again wrote in the same cautionary vein (Burnett, Letters description begins Edmund C. Burnett, ed., Letters of Members of the Continental Congress (8 vols.; Washington, 1921–36). description ends , VI, 247, 260). On the date of the present letter and for nearly a month thereafter, the government of Virginia was compelled to exercise forbearance, no matter what may have been its inclination, because the members of the Council of State seldom came together in sufficient numbers to transact important business and the General Assembly lacked a quorum until 19 November (Journal of the House of Delegates description begins Journal of the House of Delegates of Virginia, March 1781 Session in Bulletin of the Virginia State Library, XVII, No. 1 (January 1928). description ends , October 1781, p. 6; Journals of the Council of State description begins H. R. McIlwaine et al., eds., Journals of the Council of the State of Virginia (Richmond, 1931——). description ends , II, 393–404).

5The “private dispatches” have not been identified, but see Pendleton to JM, 8 October 1781.

6Edmund Randolph finally sent this cipher to Governor Benjamin Harrison on 21 April 1782 (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 , III, 133).

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