From Edmund Randolph
RC (LC: Madison Papers). Unsigned but in Randolph’s hand. Cover addressed by him to “The honble James Madison Jr. esq of congress Philadelphia.” Docketed by JM, “March 15. 1783.”
Pettus’s1 March 15 1783
My dear sir
I have not been able as yet to procure your expected favor from the post;2 nor shall I, until the return of the messenger, who carries this letter to the mail.
We make considerable progress in the detection of the forgeries of the tobacco notes, & Mr. Morris’s notes. Of the offenders in the former case, it is hoped, that some considerable examples will be made: and unfortunately for the continent, Morris’s notes are not protected by any law, rendering the counterfeiting of them felonious. We must therefore content ourselves with taking a lesser punishment in this case: but the criminal, tho convicted, will still continue to live.3
There is a report, that Mr. Morris has actually resigned his superintendancy: and the speculations are various on the subject. Some impute the step to weariness and fatigue; others to an excess of private business; while others, whose disposition is not cordial towards him, ascribe it to a more disagreeable motive. For my part, I conjecture, that he must have been led to this measure by disgust, & want of due support. But even my respect for him will not suffer me to acquit him for resigning at this hour, when fresh vigor may be added to the arms of the enemy, by an assurance, that he abandoned the office thro’ despair of our finances; and the affections of France herself, or rather her inclination to succour us with seasonable loans, may be diminished, from the apprehension of her aid, being misapplied, if thrown into other hands than his.4
The spirit of opposing laws, as being contrary to the constitution, has reached the executive. They have lately refused to examine into complaints, of a heavy and heinous kind, against a magistrate; alledging, that this would be to assume judiciary power, and that the act of assembly delegating it to the executive, is therefore void. The governor conceives himself obliged to report this bold, and, as I think, mistaken step, to the assembly; by which means you will probably hear more of it. He urged the council to execute the law.5
4. Pendleton to JM, 15 Mar. 1783, and citations in n. 9. For Vergennes’ respect for Robert Morris as superintendent of finance, 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, 316, n. 10. Randolph evidently surmised that the “disgust” of Morris reflected Congress’ refusal, owing to the opposition of Arthur Lee and other anti-French and pro-state-sovereignty delegates, to adopt his recommendations for funding the debt and providing a “general revenue.” Being unable to pay even the interest due on earlier loans from King Louis XVI, Congress could hardly expect him to extend further monetary aid. For Vergennes’ “fear” of Lee, 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 , V, 427, n. 7.
5. For the provision of Article III of the Form of Government to which Randolph referred, see Pendleton to JM, 15 Mar. 1783, n. 12. It was probably on 2 December 1778 that the speaker of the Virginia House of Delegates signed into law a bill empowering the governor with the advice of the Council of State to remove any justice of peace from office if they decided that a charge against him of “misconduct, neglect of duty, or mal-practices” had been “proved” (JHDV 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 , Oct. 1778, pp. 14, 20, 31–32, 36, 94; Hening, Statutes description begins William Waller Hening, ed., The Statutes at Large; Being a Collection of All the Laws of Virginia, from the First Session of the Legislature, in the Year 1619 (13 vols.; Richmond and Philadelphia, 1819–23). description ends , IX, 478).
On 20 February 1783 Governor Benjamin Harrison laid before Samuel Hardy, Beverley Randolph, and John Marshall, councilors, a memorial from Bartholemew Dandridge, a brother of Mrs. George Washington, accusing John Price Posey, a justice of the peace who in 1780–1781 had been a delegate in the General Assembly from New Kent County, of “diverse gross misdemeanors.” These probably comprised alleged thefts by Posey from the estate of the late John Parke Custis, a son of Martha Dandridge Custis Washington by her first husband. Posey may also have condoned “the most shameful Neglect of every species of discipline” by the militia officers of the county. Contrary to the governor’s opinion, the councilors held that, because the statute, cited above, violated “the fundamental principles of our constitution” by investing the Executive with judicial power, no consideration should be given to Dandridge’s complaint “unless the facts are found in a Court of Justice” (JCSV description begins H. R. McIlwaine et al., eds., Journals of the Council of the State of Virginia (4 vols. to date; Richmond, 1931——). description ends , III, 186–87, 197, 221–22; 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 , p. 11; 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, 395, 423; 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 , XXIII, 352–53; XXIV, 139–44, 386–87, 485–87; 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, 429, n. 3; V, 265, nn. 9, 18).
Having received from the governor and the Council separate statements defending their opposing constitutional views, the Virginia General Assembly at its session of May 1783 took no action except to refer them to the committee of the whole house on the state of the commonwealth. Evidently, however, the position of the councilors prevailed, for on 10 December of that year the General Court found Posey guilty of a misdemeanor and fined him £200. Consequently, on 25 October 1784, the Council of State advised the governor to vacate Posey’s commission as justice of peace (JCSV description begins H. R. McIlwaine et al., eds., Journals of the Council of the State of Virginia (4 vols. to date; Richmond, 1931——). description ends , III, 386, 548). See also ibid., III, 497–98; 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, 443–46.
In March 1786 Posey was convicted of defrauding Dandridge, the administrator of John Parke Custis’ estate. In July of the next year Posey was imprisoned in New Kent County for assaulting the sheriff. Soon escaping from his cell, Posey and some accomplices on the night of 15 July 1787 totally destroyed by fire the county’s jail and clerk’s office with all its records. Found guilty of arson, he was hanged in Richmond on 25 January 1788 (Cal. of Va. State Papers description begins William P. Palmer et al., eds., Calendar of Virginia State Papers and Other Manuscripts (11 vols.; Richmond, 1875–93). description ends , IV, 95, 225, 329–30, 367, 376, 459; Hening, Statutes description begins William Waller Hening, ed., The Statutes at Large; Being a Collection of All the Laws of Virginia, from the First Session of the Legislature, in the Year 1619 (13 vols.; Richmond and Philadelphia, 1819–23). description ends , XII, 692; William and Mary Quarterly, 1st ser., IV [1895–96], 115–16; C[hurchill] G[ibson] Chamberlayne, ed., The Vestry Book and Register of St. Peter’s Parish, New Kent and James City Counties, Virginia, 1684–1786 [Richmond, 1937], p. 591; Va. Gazette, and Weekly Advertiser, 19 July, 23 Aug., 18 Oct., 15 Nov., 20 Dec. 1787, 31 Jan. 1788).