James Madison Papers

From James Madison to Thomas Jefferson, 16 April 1782

To Thomas Jefferson

RC (LC: Madison Papers). Addressed, “Ths. Jefferson Esqr.” Jefferson wrote “Madison Jas.” above the date at the beginning of the letter.

Phila. April 16th 1782

Dear Sir

Your favor of the 24 of March1 with a letter inclosed for Mr. Marbois came to hand yesterday.

I2 intreat that you will not suffer the chance of a speedy and final determination of the territorial question by Congress to affect your purpose of tracing the title of Virga. to her claims.3 It is in the first place very uncertain when a determination will take place, even if it takes place at all; & in the next it will assuredly not be a final one, unless Virga. means to be passive & silent under aggression on her rights. In every event therefore it is proper to be armed with every argument & document that can vindicate her title. Her adversaries will be either the U. States, or N.Y. or both. The former will either claim on the principle that the vacant country is not included in any particular State & consequently falls to the whole, or will cloath themselves with the title of the latter by accepting its cession.4 In both cases it will be alledged that the Charter of 1609 was annulled by the resumption of it into the hands of the Crown, and that the subsequent grants to Maryland &c. denote this to have been the construction of it;5 that the Proclamation of 1763 has constituted the Alleghany Ridge the Western limit of Virga. & that the letter of Presidt. Nelson on the subject of a New Colony on the Ohio, relinquishes6 on the part of Virga. all interference with the Authority of the Crown beyond that limit.7 In case the title of N.Y. should alone be opposed to that of Virginia,8 It will be further alledged agst. the latter that the treaties of 1684, 1701, 1726, 1744 & 1754 between the Govt. of the former & the 6 Nations have annexed to it all the Country claimed by those nations & their tributaries,9 and that the expence of N. York in defending & protecting them10 ought in equity to be reimbursed by this exclusive advantage. The original title of N.Y. is indeed drawn from the charter to the Duke of York in 1663–4, renewed after the treaty of Westminster in 1674.11 But this Charter will not I believe reach any territory claimed by Virga.12

Much stress will also be laid on the Treaty of Fort Stanwix particularly as a bar to any corroboration of the Claim of Virga. from the Treatys of Lancaster & Loggstown. It is under this Treaty that the companies of Inda. & Vandalia shelter their pretensions agst. the claims of Virga. &c. &c. see the pamphlets entitled “Public good” & “plain facts.”13 As these pretensions can be of no avail unless the Jurisdiction of Congress, or N. York at least can be established, they no otherwise deserve notice than as sources of calumny & influence in public councils; in both which respects14 it is the interest of Virga. that an antidote sd. be applied.

Mr. Randolph during his stay here was very industrious & successful in his researches into the territorial claims of all the States, and will be able to furnish you with many valuable hints. Your visit to Richmond in May will give him an opportunity.15

Our information from Europe has been peculiarly defective of late. It seems little probable that any decisive steps have been or will speedily be taken towards either a partial or general peace. The weight of the war will probably fall on the West Indies at least in the early part of the Campaign. Whither it will then be shifted is altogether uncertain.16

With very sincere regard I am Dr Sir Yr Obt. Servt

J Madison Jr


2Many years later JM, or someone at his direction, inserted a bracket at the beginning of this paragraph and another at the end of the next paragraph to designate the portion of this letter to be published (Madison, Papers [Gilpin ed.] description begins Henry D. Gilpin, ed., The Papers of James Madison (3 vols.; Washington, 1840). description ends , I, 119–20).

3JM probably was the more eager for Jefferson to begin preparing a defense of “the title of Virga.” because the issue, which had been quiescent in Congress since 14 November 1781, was about to be revived (Papers of Madison description begins William T. Hutchinson, William M. E. Rachal, et al., eds., The Papers of James Madison (4 vols. to date; Chicago, 1962——). description ends , III, 304; 304–5, and nn.; 307–8; 309, nn. 4, 7; JCC description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds., Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789 (34 vols.; Washington, 1904–37). description ends , XXII, 191).

4Having ended this sentence by adding three or four words after “cession,” JM crossed them out so completely that they cannot now be read.

5See Papers of Madison description begins William T. Hutchinson, William M. E. Rachal, et al., eds., The Papers of James Madison (4 vols. to date; Chicago, 1962——). description ends , II, 73–77; 138, n. 2; III, 210, n. 4; 281–95, and 304–9, passim; JM to Jefferson, 15 January, and nn. 8 and 10; Jefferson to JM, 24 March, and n. 2; JM to Pendleton, 2 April, and nn. 2 and 3; and JM to Randolph, 9 April 1782, n. 2.

6JM wrote this word above a deleted “recognizes.”

7William Nelson (1711–1772), president of the Virginia council, had written to the colonial secretary, Lord Hillsborough, on 18 October 1770 about the colony of Vandalia, which the Walpole Company proposed to establish on the Ohio River. By stating in that dispatch, “We do not presume to say to whom our gracious Sovereign shall grant his vacant lands,” Nelson appeared to view the area west of “the Alleghany Ridge” as outside the boundaries of Virginia, even though he expressed the hope “that all prior rights, whether equitable or legal may be preserved and protected” (John Pendleton Kennedy, ed., Journals of the House of Burgesses of Virginia, 1770–1772 [Richmond, 1906], p. xxiv). Nelson, a wealthy merchant of Yorktown and the father of Governor Thomas Nelson, served in the House of Burgesses from 1742 to 1744 and on the Council of State from 1744 until his death. He was the acting governor of the province during the interim of about one year between the death of the Baron de Botetourt on 15 October 1770 and the arrival of the Earl of Dunmore.

8Instead of this clause, JM first wrote, “In case the title of N.Y. should be brought into the question.”

9For the treaty of 1684, see Papers of Madison description begins William T. Hutchinson, William M. E. Rachal, et al., eds., The Papers of James Madison (4 vols. to date; Chicago, 1962——). description ends , II, 73–74. At Albany on 19 July 1701, at a conference with Lieutenant Governor John Nanfan of New York, representatives of the Iroquois signed a “Deed from the Five Nations to the King of their Beaver Hunting Ground.” This area was said to extend west about eight hundred miles and from north to south about four hundred, including virtually all of the region known later as the Northwest Territory (E[dmund] B. O’Callaghan, ed., Documents Relative to the Colonial History of the State of New-York [15 vols.; Albany, 1853–87], IV, 908–11). At Albany on 14 September 1726, after William Burnet, governor of New York and New Jersey, had reminded spokesmen of the Five (later Six) Nations that they had not fulfilled the terms of the cession of 1701, three tribes executed a new deed. The western limit of land embraced in this document, however, was about at the present site of Cleveland, Ohio, and south from there to the Ohio River (ibid., V, 799–801). This release of title, it should be noted, was to the king rather than to the province of New York and hence did not transfer to that colony whatever valid claim Virginia may have had to any of the territory. By the Treaty of Lancaster, Pa., in July 1744, the Six Nations signed a “Deed recognizing the King’s Right to all the Lands that are, or shall be, by his Majesty’s Appointment in the Colony of Virginia” (Julian P. Boyd, ed., Indian Treaties Printed by Benjamin Franklin, 1736–1762 [Philadelphia, 1938], p. 69).

At the Albany Conference in July 1754, commissioners from the four New England colonies and from New York, Pennsylvania, and Maryland reaffirmed the ancient alliance (“covenant chain”) with, as well as the suzerainty of the British Crown over, the Iroquois. After the Indians withdrew from the meeting, the commissioners agreed, “That the bounds of these Colonies which extend to the South sea, be contracted and limited by the Alleghenny or Apalachian mountains.” Governor Robert Dinwiddie of Virginia had declined to send representatives to the conference (E. B. O’Callaghan, ed., Documents Relative to Colonial History of New-York, VI, 828, 861–85, 888).

10JM at first wrote “those nations” instead of “them.”

11The Dutch, after reoccupying New Netherland for fifteen months, agreed in the Treaty of Westminster to return the colony to England (Frances G. Davenport and Charles O. Paullin, European Treaties, II, 232, 239).

13See Papers of Madison description begins William T. Hutchinson, William M. E. Rachal, et al., eds., The Papers of James Madison (4 vols. to date; Chicago, 1962——). description ends , II, 176–77; 178, nn. 1, 2, 6; 188; 190–91; 195; 196, n. 2; III, 14, n. 17; Instructions on Peace Negotiations, 7 January 1782, nn. 10, 16, 17. Thomas Paine’s pamphlet, Public Good, was still selling in Philadelphia for “one fourth of a dollar” (Pennsylvania Packet, 27 April 1782). Without comment, the Virginia Gazette description begins Virginia Gazette, or, the American Advertiser (Richmond, James Hayes, 1781–86). description ends of 6 April reported Philadelphia gossip to the effect that the Indiana Company had bestowed on Paine a “requital” of 12,000 acres of land for writing the pamphlet. See also Randolph to JM, 10 May 1782, n. 7.

14The four words following the semicolon were substituted by JM for a deleted “in the respect of the first.”

15See JM to Randolph, 9 April, and nn. 2 and 5; Randolph to JM, 11–13 April 1782, and n. 12. On 11 April the freeholders of Albemarle County had elected Jefferson and Thomas Walker as their representatives in the House of Delegates (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, 174–75, 179). JM must have taken Jefferson’s reelection for granted, because five days were hardly long enough for the news to reach Philadelphia.

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