James Madison Papers

Benjamin Harrison to Virginia Delegates, 4 January 1783

Benjamin Harrison to Virginia Delegates

FC (Virginia State Library). In the hand of Thomas Lyttleton Savage, assistant clerk of the Council of State. Addressed to “Virginia Delegates in Congress.”

In Council Januy: 4th. 1783

Gentlemen

Your favors of the 17th. & 24th. of last Month1 came to hand by Post one of them was not franked, and of course Postage was demanded on it2 this was as usual but there were two other packets from General Washington and the Secretary of foreign Affairs3 that were both franked, and yet Postage was demanded on them, is this a regulation of Congress? if it is, is it right, that States at such a distance who must necessarily correspond with your public Officers should be at so much greater expence than those that are nearer.4 You have herewith several resolutions of the Assembly which relate to you,5 one of them respects the Tobacco for which mr. Thomson granted a passport you will find his Letter to mr. Clark has been laid before the Assembly but that it is by no means satisfactory. they granted the Indulgence of exporting 685 hhds: of Tobacco at the request of Congress with great reluctance and to accomodate the financier who had received the Money for it, but this seems to be a private affair between the Secretary and the Shipper in which the public had no Interest, and therefore requires explanation, and the more so as the Manner in which it was done by the agent here seems to justify a suspition that it would not bear examination. I mean not to reflect on your Secretary I know him well and have a very high Opinion of him, yet I fear he has been taken in; if such Things are permitted to be done by the Servants of Congress, how shall we be able to put a Stop to the illicit Trade so much complained off.6 I have the mortification to send you an Act pass’d the last session of Assembly repealing the former one giving Congress a Duty of five per centum on imported Articles &ca. their reasons for doing it I only know from the preamble, having never heard a word of it till the Bill was laid on my Table after the rising of the Assembly7 I dread the Consequence of the Measure but it being my province to acquiese in it I shall drop the Subject.

Nathan has agreed to an arbitration of his demands against the State. I shall therefore again trouble you with the papers either by this or the next Post and beg the favor of you to have the Business settled in the Manner formerly proposed, that is of submitting it to Gentlemen of the Law. the Acceptance of the Bills will otherwise be look’d on as binding the State which from what I have heard will not be doing it Justice.8 I beg the favor of you to send us the Journals of Congress for the Year 1780 which will complete our set.9

I am &c.

B. H.

1Papers of Madison description begins William T. Hutchinson, William M. E. Rachal, et al., eds., The Papers of James Madison (6 vols. to date; Chicago, 1962——). description ends , V, 412–13; 446–47.

2On 2 January 1783 Harrison addressed a note to James Hayes, Jr., the postmaster at Richmond, curtly admonishing him not to “withhold the public Letters in your Office till the Postage is paid” (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, 418).

3Washington’s letter of 11 December was in response to one from Harrison on 23 November 1782 and dealt largely with clothing the troops in the southern army (Fitzpatrick, Writings of Washington description begins John C. Fitzpatrick, ed., The Writings of George Washington, from the Original Sources, 1745–1799 (39 vols.; Washington, 1931–44). description ends , XXV, 419). The dispatch from Livingston was his circular letter of 23 December 1782 to the executive of each state, which enclosed a copy of Richard Oswald’s “commission to treat with the thirteen United States of America,” requested that it be withheld from publication as possibly only “another of those artifices so often practiced to deceive and put us off our guard,” and gave assurance that a treaty of commerce between the Netherlands and the United States had been almost certainly signed on 7 October 1782 (Wharton, Revol. Dipl. Corr description begins Francis Wharton, ed., The Revolutionary Diplomatic Correspondence of the United States (6 vols.; Washington, 1889). description ends ., VI, 161). See also Papers of Madison description begins William T. Hutchinson, William M. E. Rachal, et al., eds., The Papers of James Madison (6 vols. to date; Chicago, 1962——). description ends , IV, 403, n. 3; 410–11; V, 447, and n. 8; JM to James Madison, Sr., 1 Jan., and n. 3; Randolph to JM, 3 Jan.; JM Notes, 17 to 21 Jan. 1783.

4The Virginia delegates apparently made no reply to these two questions. Although a deputy postmaster was forbidden by ordinances of Congress of 18 and 28 October to collect postage on a franked letter, he could charge its recipient a commission of “not exceeding twenty per centum” of what the postage fee would have been for the same letter, if unfranked. The recipient of an unfranked letter was obliged to pay an amount of postage proportionate to the weight of the letter and his distance from the place where it had been mailed. The 20 per cent fee was somewhat modified by a supplementary ordinance of 24 December 1782, but the postmaster at Richmond probably did not know of this change when he asked for his fee from the governor (JCC description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds., Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789 (34 vols.; Washington, 1904–37). description ends , XXIII, 676, 678, 688–89, 830).

5Probably enclosed with the dispatch were several instructions from the Virginia General Assembly. These were instructions in re peace negotiations, 17 December; confiscated property, 17 December; financial quota, 28 December; settlement of accounts, 28 December; and possibly, artillery, 25–26 December (Papers of Madison description begins William T. Hutchinson, William M. E. Rachal, et al., eds., The Papers of James Madison (6 vols. to date; Chicago, 1962——). description ends , V, 408–10; 451–52; 459–60). See also Harrison to Delegates, 19 Apr. 1783, and n. 5.

6Papers of Madison description begins William T. Hutchinson, William M. E. Rachal, et al., eds., The Papers of James Madison (6 vols. to date; Chicago, 1962——). description ends , V, 461–63; 464, nn. 2, 3, 7–9.

7Ibid., V, 401; 431, n. 3; 442; 445, nn. 16, 17; 449; 472; 474, n. 5; 477–78; also Randolph to JM, 3 Jan. 1783, and n. 2.

8For the financial claim of Simon Nathan against Virginia, see Index to Papers of Madison description begins William T. Hutchinson, William M. E. Rachal, et al., eds., The Papers of James Madison (6 vols. to date; Chicago, 1962——). description ends , V, under Nathan, Simon; also, Harrison to Delegates, 11 Jan. 1783.

9The journal of Congress for 1781 was published in that year, and for 1782 in 1783, but the journal for 1780, which originally was issued only in monthly parts, was not brought together in one volume, and that considerably abridged, until 1786 or 1787 (JCC description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds., Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789 (34 vols.; Washington, 1904–37). description ends , XVIII, 1237; XXI, 1203; XXV, 991). As early as January 1782 Harrison had in his possession the monthly installments of 1780 through July, but when, if ever, he received those for the last five months of that year is not known. See Papers of Madison description begins William T. Hutchinson, William M. E. Rachal, et al., eds., The Papers of James Madison (6 vols. to date; Chicago, 1962——). description ends , IV, 25.

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