James Madison Papers

Motion of Virginia Delegates on Western Lands, [26 October] 1781

Motion of Virginia Delegates on Western Lands

MS (NA: PCC, No. 36, I, 229–30). Written by Edmund Randolph. Docketed, “Motion of Delegates of Virginia—Octr. 26h. 1781. Negatived.”

[26 October 1781]

Resolved that,

inasmuch as it appears1 from the journal of the 27th. of november 1775, the 28th. of July, the 12th. of August, the 12th. of september, the 10th. and 20th. of october and the 2d. of november 1778, the 22d and 26th. of January, the 16th. and 23d of february, the first of March the 15th. of April, the 11th. and 28th. of may, the 1st. of June, the 5th. and 28th. of July, the 27th. of september, the 20th. and 22d of december 1779,2 that after orders for referring papers to a committee, or for the recommitment of a report, it was expressly provided in some of the preceding instances, that the committee should be instructed, in others that they should be directed, and in others, that they should be authorized, to hear evidence and reduce to writing such parts thereof, as they should think proper, to confer with persons, not members of congress, or to send for persons or papers:

and as it appears to be the usage of congress in cases of moment or difficulty, or in which it may be their pleasure, that committees should have recourse to documents, proofs or evidence, other than those, which are to be found among the records or on the files of congress, to instruct them specially for this purpose:

and as the delegates of Virginia, having received notice from the committee, to whom was recommited the report on the cessions of Connecticut, New-York and Virginia and on the memorials of the Vandalia, Illinois, Ouabache and Indiana companies, that they should confer with the agents thereof on a day3 now past; they did for the reasons assigned in their motion of  4 last request the said committee to postpone such conference, until the sense of congress should be taken, how far they were warranted by the terms of their5 appointment to enter thereon;6

it be declared, that the recommitment of the said report does not authorize the said committee to admit counsel, or to hear documents, proofs or evidence, not among the records nor on the files of congress, which have not been specially referred to them.7

1Here Randolph crossed out “upon a review of the past proceedings of congress, and particularly of.”

2The passages mentioned are in JCC description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds., Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789 (34 vols.; Washington, 1904–37). description ends , III, 377; XI, 725, 776; XII, 905, 998, 1026, 1090; XIII, 103, 115, 188, 238, 262, 453; XIV, 569, 661–62, 674, 803; XV, 1111, 1396, 1403.

5That is, the members of the committee.

6Neither the original committee under John Witherspoon’s chairmanship, nor the new committee, with Elias Boudinot as chairman, to which the Witherspoon report was referred, operated under a congressional directive specifically defining its powers (JCC description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds., Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789 (34 vols.; Washington, 1904–37). description ends , XIX, 99–100; XXI, 1032). If the journal entries from May 1775 to October 1781 can be relied upon, Congress had never defined the authority of its special committees. On the other hand, as the delegates from Virginia admit at the beginning of this paragraph, these committees had frequently exercised the powers which the present motion asked Congress to deny to the Boudinot committee. Randolph and his colleagues were primarily concerned, of course, with restricting the jurisdiction of this committee merely as a means of achieving far more important ends—protecting the sovereignty of Virginia, the title of her western lands, and the terms of her act ceding most of that territory to Congress. Obviously, they also sought to delay a congressional decision inimical to Virginia, which, by exasperating the General Assembly to the point of adopting retaliatory measures, might encourage the British, endanger the union of states, lessen their co-operation against the common enemy, and make France reluctant to extend further aid.

7On the demand of JM and Randolph, the only Virginia delegates in attendance, a roll-call vote was taken. The motion was defeated, five states to three. Georgia and South Carolina stood with Virginia (JCC description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds., Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789 (34 vols.; Washington, 1904–37). description ends , XXI, 1077–78).

In LC: Papers of Thomas Jefferson, VII, 1164–66, are three full sheets and a part-sheet of writing by JM about the Grand Ohio Company, better known as the Vandalia or Walpole Company. The first page is headed: “A list of the names of the proprietors, and their shares of the land for which a patent was ordered to be made out by the privy Council of England [in October 1773]. These lands were to be held in seventy two shares and the expences and charges were paid accordingly—Viz—.” Then follows the names of the proprietors and the shares of each. On the concluding part-sheet, JM wrote, “Besides these there are many under Grants from several of the original proprietors to several persons residing in the different States Philada Oct 28th 1781.” This list, together with other papers relating to western lands, may have been enclosed by the Virginia delegates to Governor Nelson in their missing dispatch of 17 November (Motion on Western Lands, 14 November 1781, n. 1). How this list, together with copies made later by JM of other documents bearing upon the western lands controversy, came into Jefferson’s hands early in 1782 is explained by Julian P. Boyd in Papers of Jefferson, VI, 647–55, especially 654–55. Except for the above quotations, JM’s list is merely a roster and hence will not be included in this volume.

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