Instruction to Virginia Delegates
in re Treaty of Commerce
FC (Virginia State Library).
On 22 May 1783 the Virginia House of Delegates referred to the Committee of Commerce the letter of 13 May from the delegates in Congress to Governor Benjamin Harrison (Delegates to Harrison, 13 May 1783, ed. n.; JHDV description begins (1828 ed.). Journal of the House of Delegates of Virginia, Anno Domini, 1776 (Richmond, 1828). description ends , May 1783, p. 16). On 23 May, instead of the committee’s recommendation, the House of Delegates unanimously adopted a resolution of instruction drafted by Joseph Jones. The Senate concurred the next day (JHDV description begins (1828 ed.). Journal of the House of Delegates of Virginia, Anno Domini, 1776 (Richmond, 1828). description ends , May 1783, pp. 17–18, 19; Jones to JM, 25 May 1783).
Friday 23d. of May 1783
Resolved that the Delegates from this State to Congress be instructed that the Legislature approve a treaty of Commerce with Great Britain upon principles of reciprocity desiring however that no treaty of Commerce between these States and any power whatsoever may be finally concluded on, before the same shall have been sent to Congress for approbation and the different States have had an opportunity of considering it, that in the mean time the Legislature approve of a provisional treaty with Great Britain whereby the Commercial intercourse between the two Countries may be facilitated.1
1. The recommendation of the Committee of Commerce, which was discussed in “a committee of the whole House,” read: “That it be recommended to the members of Congress of this State, in the instructions they are about to give to our plenipotentiaries abroad, respecting a treaty of commerce to be entered into by them with Great Britain, that it is the desire of the legislature of this State to act upon liberal and generous principles, allowing to that nation the same advantages in point of commerce, which they are willing to allow us, reserving to ourselves the right of giving any bounty in tonnage or otherwise, to vessels built within this State.” Perhaps the most striking contrast between this proposal and the resolution of instruction adopted by the committee of the whole House and thereafter by the House of Delegates was in the matter of preferential tonnage duties. By a statute of the Virginia General Assembly, enacted in the session of October 1782, all vessels, no matter whether owned by Virginians, residents of other states, or by foreigners, were obliged, upon entering or clearing from a Virginia port, to pay a tax of 1s. 3d. per ton (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 , XI, 121). This tonnage tax, insofar as it applied to vessels of under “the burthen of sixty tons” owned by citizens of Virginia or Maryland, was abolished by the Virginia legislature on 28 June 1783 (ibid., XI, 289; JHDV description begins (1828 ed.). Journal of the House of Delegates of Virginia, Anno Domini, 1776 (Richmond, 1828). description ends , May 1783, p. 99).
A copy of the instruction, with which the Senate had concurred on 24 May, was enclosed by Governor Harrison to the Virginia delegates in his letter of 31 May (q.v., and n. 4). On 10 June JM commented in his letter to Randolph (q.v.) that “The principle on which” the resolution “is founded corresponds precisely with my idea.” By then JM almost certainly knew that Joseph Jones had drafted the instruction (Jones to JM, 25 May 1783). No evidence has been found that the Virginia delegates submitted the resolutions to Congress. They probably regarded the instruction as a standing order to guide their actions in the event that a provisional commercial treaty should be received by Congress.
2. Clerk of the House of Delegates.
3. Clerk of the Senate.