James Madison Papers

To James Madison from Edmund Randolph, 2 November 1782

From Edmund Randolph

RC (LC: Madison Papers). Unsigned but in Randolph’s hand. Cover addressed by a clerk to “the Honble. James Madison of Congress Philadelphia.” Docketed by JM, “Novr. 2. 1782.”

Richmond Novr. 2. 1782.

My dear sir

The great constitutional question, which was mentioned in my last letter, as having been adjourned from the general court to the court of appeals, received a second solemn hearing on thursday. The Judges, impressed with the dignity of it, have taken time until this day, when it will be finally decided, if some collateral objections should not prevent the dicision.1

Dr. Lee came to town the day before yesterday, and by the last post a very scurrilous account of his having left Phila. for Richmond followed him, in one of the newspapers.2 Does the sacred liberty of the press justify such invectives against men in high office? Freedom of writing is designed for the scrutiny of public measures, and even of private characters, if connected with them. But what will be said in those countries, where the reputation of congress is synonomous with the reputation of the American cause, when a pasquinade against a member of that body is virulent and uncensured, altho’ no reason drawn from his public conduct, is assigned for it? Provision however will I suppose never be made against this mischief; as the states will not of themselves take it up, and congress must forbear to recommend it thro’ delicacy. The newspaper, which contains this piece3 is in great demand here: such is the propensity to scandal.

The assembly have not met, fifteen delegates being deficient yesterday. On Monday perhaps the season of warm debate will commence.4 Mr. Jefferson is coming down, but whether as a delegate or not, it is yet doubtful.5

I am absolutely ashamed to repay your copious letters and particularly the last of 22: Ulto. by my short scraps: but the pressure of the court, added to the yet uninteresting matter of our country, must procure me a credit with you until the assembly get into full business.6

1See Randolph to JM, 26 October, and n. 9; Virginia Gazette description begins Virginia Gazette, or, the American Advertiser (Richmond, James Hayes, 1781–86). description ends , 9 November 1782.

2See JM to Randolph, 8 October 1782, and nn. 24 and 25.

3Probably the excoriation of Arthur Lee by “Civis,” writing in the 5 October 1782 issue of the Independent Gazetteer; or the Chronicle of Freedom (Philadelphia). See JM to Randolph, 8 October 1782, n. 24.

4Having a total membership of 150 delegates, the Virginia House of Delegates needed a minimum of 76 in attendance to make a quorum (Swem and Williams, Register description begins Earl G. Swem and John W. Williams, eds., A Register of the General Assembly of Virginia, 1776–1918, and of the Constitutional Conventions (Richmond, 1918). description ends , pp. 15–16). “Monday” was 4 November, or five days before the House of Delegates mustered its first quorum after convening on 21 October 1782 (Journal of the House of Delegates description begins Journal of the House of Delegates of the Commonwealth of Virginia; Begun and Held at the Capitol, in the City of Williamsburg. Beginning in 1780, the portion after the semicolon reads, Begun and Held in the Town of Richmond. In the County of Henrico. The journal for each session has its own title page and is individually paginated. The edition used is the one in which the journals for 1777–1786 are brought together in two volumes, with each journal published in Richmond in 1827 or 1828, and often called the “Thomas W. White reprint.” description ends , October 1782, pp. 3, 9).

6See Randolph to JM, 26 October 1782, and n. 9; and n. 4, above.

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