James Madison Papers

Instructions to Virginia Delegates in re Permanent Site for Congress, 28 June 1783

Instructions to Virginia Delegates
in re Permanent Site for Congress

RC (NA: PCC, No. 46, fols. 55–58). Docketed: “Resolutions of the Genl Assembly of Virginia. Offers to induce Congress to fix their residence in that State. Read July 16. 1783. Copies to be made out & sent to the several States.”

In the House of Delegates

Saturday June 28th 1783

Whereas1 the Legislature of Virginia are fully convinced of the advantages that would result to the United States by having some fixed place of residence for Congress2

Resolved therefore unanimously that if the Honorable the Congress should esteem the city of Williamsburg in this State to be a fit Place for their session this Assembly will present them on their Removal thereto and during their continuance therein with the Palace the Capitol and all the public buildings3 and three hundred Acres of land adjoining the said city together with a Sum of money not exceeding one hundred thousand pounds this States Currency to be paid at five annual Installments and to be expended in erecting thirteen Hotels for the Use of the Delegates in Congress.4

This Assembly will also cede to Congress during their residence therein a district of Territory contiguous to the said City not exceeding five miles square with such exempt Jurisdiction within the said Limits as the inhabitants residing therein shall consent to yield to Congress to obtain which the Governor with Advice of Council is directed to make application to the said Citizens and when obtained to notify to the Delegates of this State such assent5

Resolved unanimously that if the Honorable the Congress should think it more convenient to hold their Sessions at any place on the River Potowmack within this Commonwealth this Assembly will on the above terms cede the like district of Territory at the Place Congress shall so choose and will also appropriate a sum not exceeding one hundred thousand pounds to be paid in five annual installments for the purpose of erecting the said Hotels and will moreover purchase one hundred Acres of Land for the Purpose of erecting such public Buildings as Congress may direct thereon

Resolved unanimously that if the Legislature of Maryland are willing to join in a Cession of territory for the above purpose with this State (the said territory to be on the river Potowmack)6 that this Assembly will cede to the Honorable the Congress the like District of Territory opposite to that ceded by the State of Maryland freely leaving it with Congress to fix their residence on either Side of the said River as they may see proper: but that if Congress shall reside on the North Side of the said River that then this Assembly will contribute forty thousand Pounds for the aforesaid Purposes in full confidence that the State of Maryland will supply the Deficiency Provided that should Congress thereafter remove from the City of Williamsburg or from the Lands beforementioned that in such Case the lands so ceded with the Buildings shall revert to the Commonwealth

1783 June 28th Teste
Agreed to by the Senate John Beckley CHD
Will Drew CS
A Copy
John Beckley CHD7

1Papers of Madison description begins William T. Hutchinson, William M. E. Rachal, et al., eds., The Papers of James Madison (7 vols. to date; Chicago, 1962——). description ends , VI, 447; 448, nn. 4–7; Harrison to Delegates, 17 May; Delegates to Harrison, 27 May, and n. 2; 17 June 1783, n. 1.

2On 12 June, upon receiving from Governor Harrison the Virginia delegates’ letter, probably written on 3 June, enclosing copies of the offers made by New York and Maryland, the House of Delegates referred those documents to the “committee of the whole House on the state of the Commonwealth” (Executive Letter Book, 1783–1786, p. 152, MS in Va. State Library; JHDV description begins (1828 ed.). Journal of the House of Delegates of Virginia, Anno Domini, 1776 (Richmond, 1828). description ends , May 1783, p. 50). Although the present resolutions must have been drafted before 28 June, it was not until then, the final day of the session, that they were submitted by the committee and adopted unanimously by each house of the General Assembly. On 27 June a motion in the House of Delegates asserting that “the seat of government [of Virginia] ought to be removed from the city of Richmond to the city of Williamsburg” failed to carry by a vote of 55 to 39 (JHDV description begins (1828 ed.). Journal of the House of Delegates of Virginia, Anno Domini, 1776 (Richmond, 1828). description ends , May 1783, pp. 92–93, 96–97, 98).

3The Palace, begun in 1706, had been the residence of the royal governors of Virginia until 1775, and then of Patrick Henry and Thomas Jefferson, the first two governors of the Commonwealth. After the removal of the capital to Richmond in 1780, the Palace became a military hospital. The Capitol, the second such building on the site, was in use by 1753. Besides chambers for the House of Burgesses, the Council, and the General Court, it contained committee rooms and offices. Among other public buildings in Williamsburg were the gaol, the powder magazine, and the secretary’s office (Marcus Whiffen, The Public Buildings of Williamsburg, Colonial Capital of Virginia [Williamsburg, 1958], passim).

4The “three hundred Acres” may have comprised the “Palace lands adjoining the city of Williamsburg” (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, 406).

5For the compliance of the Governor in Council with this request, see Harrison to Virginia Delegates, 4 July 1783, and n. 5.

6The offer of the Maryland General Assembly on 30 May had been confined to Annapolis (NA: PCC, No. 46, fols. 16–23). See also Pendleton to JM, 16 June 1783.

7On 1 July Beckley was elected mayor of Richmond (Records of the Common Hall, City of Richmond, 1782–1806 [2 vols.; MS in Va. State Library], II, 42; Va. Gazette description begins Virginia Gazette, or, the American Advertiser (Richmond, James Hayes, 1781–86). description ends , 5 July 1783). Harrison enclosed the present copy of the instructions in his letter of 4 July to the delegates (q.v.). For the reception of the instructions by Congress see JCC description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds., Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789 (34 vols.; Washington, 1904–37). description ends , XXIV, 438, n. 2.

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