James Madison Papers

From James Madison to Thomas Jefferson, 18 November 1781

To Thomas Jefferson

RC (LC: Madison Papers). Addressed to “Thomas Jefferson Esqr. Richmond.” Docketed, “Madison Nov. 18. 1781 recd. Jan. 9. 1782.”

Philada. Novr. 18th. 1781

Dear Sir

By the conveyance through which you will receive this the Delegates have communicated to the State the proceedings in Congress to which the territorial cessions have given birth.1 The complexion of them will I suppose be somewhat unexpected, & produce no small irritation. They clearly speak the hostile machinations of some of the States against our territorial claims, & afford suspicions that the predominant temper of Congress may coincide with them. It is proper to recollect however that the report of the Committee having not yet been taken into consideration, no certain inference can be drawn as to its issue, and that the report itself is not founded on the obnoxious doctrine of an inherent right in the U. States to the territory in question, but on the expediency of cloathing them with the title of New York which is supposed to be maintainable against all others.2 It is proper also to be considered that the proceedings of the Committee which we laboured in vain to arrest, were vindicated not by the pretext of a jurisdiction belonging to Congress in such cases, but alledged to have been made necessary by the conditions annexed to the Cession of Virginia. Although the Cession of Virginia will probably be rejected on the whole, I do not think it probable that all the principles & positions contained in the report of the Committee will be ratified. The Committee was composed of a Member from Maryland, Pennsylvania, N. Jersey, Rhode-Island & N. Hampshire3 all of which States except the last are systematically & notoriously adverse to the claims of the Western territory & particularly those of Virginia.4 The opinion of the Committee is therefore no just index of the opinion of Congress, and as it is a rule observed since the Confederation was completed, that seven votes are requisite in every question, & there are seldom more than 7. 8. 9. or 10. States present, even the opinion of a Majority of Congress is a very different thing from a Constitutional vote.5 I mention these particulars that you may be the better able to counteract any intemperate measures that may be urged in the legislature.6 I do not hesitate to declare my opinion that the State will not only find in the communications we have made to them ample justification for revoking or at least suspending their Act of Cession, and remonstrating against any interference with respect to cases within their jurisdiction,7 but that they ought in all their provisions for their future security, importance & interest to presume that the present Union will but little survive the present war.8 I am equally sensible nevertheless of the necessity of great temper & moderation with respect to the first point, and in the last that they ought to be as fully impressed with the necessity of the Union during the war as of its probable dissolution after it. If the State wishes any particular Steps to be pursued by the Delegates, it would be well for particular instructions to that effect to be given. These will not only be a guide to us, but will give greater weight to whatever is urged by us.

I inclose you a paper containing two of the many letters lately published in New York with the subscription of Mr. D[eane’s] nam[e]. The genuiness of some of them & particularly that to Mr. Morris9 is generally doubted. There are some who think the whole of them spurious. However this may be there is through another channel indubitable proof that no injustice is done in ascribing to him the sentiments advanced in these letters. Either from pique, interested projects of trade, or a traitorous correspondence with the Enemy, he has certainly apostatized from his first principles.10

Col. Willet has lately defeated & dispersed a party from Canada amounting 6 or 700 few of whom will escape captivity, the sword, or famine in the Wilderness. The action commenced near Johnstown.11

The Minister of France has dispatches from [Europe?] by a late arrival which confirm the expedition from Cadiz against Minorca, and the actual landing of the troops on the Island.12

With great respect & sincere regard I am Dr Sir Yr Obt & hbl Servt.

J Madison Junr.

1The “conveyance” is made clear by JM’s note on the cover, “Capt [Nathaniel] Irish is requested to deliver this to the Govr of Virga. with the letter addressed to him.” In other words, the present letter was included in the bundle containing the copies of documents relating to the western lands and the now missing dispatch of the Virginia delegates to Governor Nelson of 17 November (Motion on Western Lands, 14 November 1781, n. 1). Since Governor Harrison in his letter of 6 May 1782 to the speaker of the House of Delegates stated that this dispatch from the delegates, with its enclosures, “came to hand but a few minutes before the rising of the last Assembly” (5 January) and was rushed to the capitol “but did not get down in time” (McIlwaine, Official Letters description begins H. R. McIlwaine, ed., Official Letters of the Governors of the State of Virginia (3 vols.; Richmond, 1926–29). description ends , III, 213), JM’s letter to Jefferson must also have reached Richmond on that day. Evidently having heard of the resolution of the General Assembly on 12 June committing itself at the next session to investigate “the conduct of the Executive of this State for the last twelve months,” JM expected Jefferson to be in Richmond, where the letter would readily reach him. JM of course did not know that, after the date of his letter, Albemarle County would choose Jefferson to be a delegate to the General Assembly in the stead of a representative who had been disqualified. Jefferson was in Richmond from 10 December until at least 24 December 1781 (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 , May 1781, p. 15; October 1781, pp. 8, 9, 34, 39, 44, 46, 47, 53; 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 , VI, 134, and n.; 135, and n.; 143; 149 n.). He received the present letter on 9 January 1782, probably the day of his return to Richmond. For Jefferson’s vindication by the General Assembly, see JM to Pendleton, 25 December 1781, n. 3.

2See Motion on Western Lands, 14 November 1781, nn. 1 and 2.

4Among the various land issues before Congress, the one of Vermont naturally was of primary moment to the delegates from New Hampshire. JM’s temperate stand on this question perhaps had been a bid for, or a result of, an equally mild attitude on the part of the New Hampshire delegates toward Virginia’s western claims. The fact that New York had been New Hampshire’s main opponent with regard to Vermont, and that New York’s cession of her western claims had come principally into conflict with Virginia’s offer of cession, may also help to account for the friendliness of the New Hampshire and Virginia delegations on land issues. See JM to Pendleton, 14 August 1781, nn. 11 and 13.

7The Virginia General Assembly neither suspended the act of cession nor remonstrated against interference by Congress in territorial matters deemed to be solely within the jurisdiction of the Commonwealth, probably on the assumption that nothing needed to be added to the remonstrance of 14 December 1779 (Papers of Madison description begins William T. Hutchinson, William M. E. Rachal, et al., eds., The Papers of James Madison (2 vols. to date; Chicago, 1962——). description ends , II, 76).

8In other words, JM expressed doubt whether, after the bond of a common danger was broken by victory in the war, the discordant states could continue their confederation as “The United States in Congress Assembled.”

9Robert Morris.

10See JM to Pendleton, 13 November 1781, and n. 7. The “paper” was probably an issue of Rivington’s Royal Gazette. Late in his life, JM or someone in his family inserted a bracket at the close of this paragraph to complement the bracket which he had placed at the beginning of the first paragraph—thus indicating the portion of the letter to be published in Madison, Papers (Gilpin ed.) description begins Henry D. Gilpin, ed., The Papers of James Madison (3 vols.; Washington, 1840). description ends , I, 102–3.

11Marinus Willett’s rout of a force of British and Indians in several engagements between 25 and 27 October in the Mohawk Valley near Oneida Lake in New York State was reported by General Heath in his letter of 8 November, read in Congress five days later (NA: PCC, No. 157, fols. 395 ff.; JCC description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds., Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789 (34 vols.; Washington, 1904–37). description ends , XXI, 1113 nn.; Christopher Ward, War of the Revolution, II, 651–52).

12See Pendleton to JM, 23 July, n. 11; Virginia Delegates to Nelson, 14 August, and n. 4, and 28 August 1781, n. 6. Although the dispatch to La Luzerne telling of the siege of Minorca has not been identified, it probably was among the communications from the court of Louis XVI which reached Boston in a ship of the French navy on 30 October (Pennsylvania Packet, 20 November 1781). La Luzerne made known to Robert R. Livingston, secretary for foreign affairs, some of the information thus sent by Vergennes (JCC description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds., Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789 (34 vols.; Washington, 1904–37). description ends , XXI, 1137–40). An extract from a letter written in Bilbao, Spain, on 18 September, and published in the Pennsylvania Packet of 20 November, told of the reduction by a combined French and Spanish force of the entire island of Minorca except Fort St. Philip.

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