James Madison Papers

Instruction to Virginia Delegates in re Guards for Public Buildings, [20 June] 1783

Instruction to Virginia Delegates
in re Guards for Public Buildings

RC (NA: PCC, No. 75, fols. 384–85). Docketed: “An act of the State of Virginia for the enlisting Guards June 20. 1783 Recd in Congress July 23 Referred to the Secretary at War.”

[20 June 1783]

General Assembly begun and held at the City of Richmond on Monday the fifth Day of May in the year of our Lord 1783

An Act directing the enlistment of Guards for the public prison & Stores

Whereas it is necessary that proper Guards should be kept at this time over the public prison and certain places where public Stores are deposited and it is meant by this Assembly to take measures for relieving the militia from such Duty as soon as possible Be it therefore enacted that it shall and may be lawful for the Governor with Advice of Council to cause as many men not exceeding twenty five with proper Officers to be enlisted as Guards for public Service as he the said Governor with advice of Council may deem necessary and may retain the same in Service so long as the public exigencies may require Provided always that if the Delegates representing this State in General Congress shall on application procure such a number of the soldiers of the line of this State enlisted for three years in the Continental Army as may be sufficient for the purposes aforesaid then the said Guards and Officers enlisted to command the same shall be discharged1

1783 June 20 June 20th 1783
Passed the House of Delegates Passed the Senate
John Beckley CHD Will Drew CS2
A true Copy Teste John Beckley CHD3

1On 6 June, after agreeing to this proposal of the committee of the whole house on the state of the commonwealth, the Virginia House of Delegates appointed William Ronald of Powhatan County chairman of a committee of six members, including Richard Henry Lee, Joseph Jones, and Patrick Henry, to draft an appropriate measure. They submitted a bill on 18 June (JHDV description begins (1828 ed.). Journal of the House of Delegates of Virginia, Anno Domini, 1776 (Richmond, 1828). description ends , May 1783, pp. 40, 41, 65, 68, 69, 72). The preamble, besides justifying the law as a means of “relieving the militia,” might aptly have added the saving of expense by shifting the cost of the “Guards” from the treasury of Virginia to that of Congress. In his letter to the delegates, forwarding a copy of the act, Governor Harrison stated that he viewed it with “Mortification” (Harrison to Delegates, 4 July). Its supporters may have held that the “public stores” included some property owned by the Confederation, and that the inmates of the “public prison” included or in the future would include alleged offenders against the ordinances of Congress. On 30 June 1783, with the advice of the Council of State, Harrison directed Lieutenant David Mann to recruit twenty-five men as guards, promising each of them the wages and rations assured to soldiers in the continental service (Executive Letter Book, War Office, 1783–1786, p. 57, MS in Va. State Library).

2William Drew and John Beckley, clerks of the Senate and House of Delegates, respectively.

3In his report on 28 July, Benjamin Lincoln, secretary at war, pointed out that “it would be inexpedient to order any of the Troops of the Virginia line, inlisted for three years” to perform the requested guard duty, for they would be discharged from service shortly after a copy of the definitive treaty of peace, which was “hourly expected,” had reached Congress. Lincoln added that if “Congress approve these sentiments,” it “will please to resolve” that, in its opinion, the number of troops proposed by Virginia as “Guards for the public prisons and stores” was “not more” than was necessary for that purpose (JCC description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds., Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789 (34 vols.; Washington, 1904–37). description ends , XXIV, 455). Lincoln’s recommendation reflected his interpretation of the following portion of Article VI of the Articles of Confederation: “nor shall any body of forces be kept up by any state, in time of peace, except such number only, as in the judgment of the united states, in congress assembled, shall be deemed requisite to garrison the forts necessary for the defence of such state” (JCC description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds., Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789 (34 vols.; Washington, 1904–37). description ends , XIX, 216). For the outcome of Lincoln’s proposal, see Motion in re Armed Vessels, 28 July 1783; also 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, 338, 363.

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