James Madison Papers

To James Madison from Edmund Randolph, 12 July 1783

From Edmund Randolph

RC (LC: Madison Papers). Unsigned but in Randolph’s hand. Addressed by him to “The honble James Madison jr. esq of congress Princeton New Jersey.” Docketed by JM, “July 12. 17[83].”

Richmond July 12. 1783

My dear friend

Your flight to Princeton has, I presume, been the cause of the post of thursday bringing no letter from you.1

The proclamation, issued by the executive last week, has occasioned much uneasiness in the minds of those, whose british friends are affected by it. Indeed it wants precision to so great a degree, as to subject it to the justest and severest criticism. After a description of the persons, who are to be expelled, it prohibits the return as well of those, as of all others coming within the like description. It does no more, than to prohibit the return and direct the departure of those persons, and yet commands all officers civil and military to obey it. In what?—It also forbids the return of traitors. Can any act prevent a traiterous citizen from risquing his head upon a trial?2 It is true, that the penalties of the law are not yet removed from the return of these people: but the proclamation carries the disagreeable idea, that the executive have adopted the spirit of the resolutions of the committees to the northward, who act, as if the treaty were within their power of repeal.3

By the next post, I probably shall be able to inclose to you a copy of Colo. Meriwether Smith’s pamphlet on british debts. It is now in the press.4

It is whispered, that C——ss repent of their abandonment of Phila.5 I cannot believe, that passion would have dictated the measure, and therefore I presume, that the intelligence of your contrition has passed thro’ the impure channel of some interested pen.


1In his letter of 18 July, Randolph acknowledged the receipt in the “last mail” of JM’s “favors of June 30. & July 8.” (qq.v.). Although directed to Princeton, the present letter reached JM in Philadelphia on 21 July (JM to Randolph, 21 July 1783).

2In the proclamation of 2 July, issued by Harrison with the advice of the Council of State, the governor declared that, contrary to law, “many evil disposed persons” had come to Virginia and “many others would follow their example.” He commanded “all Officers, civil and military” and “all others concerned” to compel those persons “forthwith to depart the State.” Among “those persons” were some who had “voluntarily left this country” since 19 April 1775 and “adhered to the enemy”; some who had been expelled by legislative act or executive order; some who as “natives” had returned to Virginia, without permission, after serving in the British armed forces; and “all others coming within the like description” (Va. Gazette description begins Virginia Gazette, or, the American Advertiser (Richmond, James Hayes, 1781–86). description ends , 5, 12, 19 July; Va. Gazette, and Weekly Advertiser, 5 July 1783). Besides believing, along with JM, Pendleton, and Randolph, that the signing of the preliminary articles of peace had not ended “the state of war,” Harrison evidently assumed that an ordinance of 1776 and two statutes of 1780 and 1782, respectively, which were to continue in force “during the war,” and which the Virginia General Assembly in its session of May 1783 had refused to repeal, amply justified the contents of his proclamation (Papers 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, 365; 439; 456; 458, nn. 2, 3; Pendleton to JM, 4 May; 17 May; Randolph to JM, 9 May; Jones to JM, 31 May, and n. 14; 21 July 1783, and n. 6; 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, 170–71; X, 268–70; XII, 136–38).

On the other hand, as Randolph suggested, Harrison in the proclamation was vague, illogical, and seemingly heedless of the provisions of the statutes just mentioned, and even of Virginia’s Form of Government and Declaration of Rights (ibid., IX, 109, 110, 112, 115–16). Whom, except those persons referred to earlier in the proclamation, could he mean by “all others coming within the like description”? By what methods were “all Officers, civil and military,” and “all others concerned” expected to compel the “evil disposed” individuals “forthwith to depart”? Did not he thereby arrogate to himself and also delegate to “others” the arbitrary power of forcibly ejecting or excluding a suspected person from the state, thus denying him the rights guaranteed both in the Declaration of Rights and in the laws, cited above, of being heard in his own defense and tried before a jury? Furthermore, by prescribing banishment for offenses of less gravity than treason, Harrison unwarrantably had added to the punishments stipulated in those laws.

3Papers of Madison, V, 182, n. 5; 282; 286, n. 14; 409–10; VI, 370; Harrison to Delegates, 3 May, and n. 2; 9 May, and n. 6; Randolph to JM, 15 May; 13 Sept., and n. 1; Jones to JM, 8 June, and nn. 26, 27; 14 June; 21 June, and nn. 4, 19; 28 June; 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, 279. For “the resolutions” of New England towns, see Pendleton to JM, 10 May, and n. 4; Delegates to Harrison, 23 Aug. 1783, and n. 2.

4On 4 August JM received Randolph’s missing letter of 25 July, enclosing Meriwether Smith’s pamphlet, Observations on the Fourth and Fifth Articles of the Preliminaries for a Peace with Great Britain (Richmond, 1783). Smith, a member of the Virginia Council of State at that time, opposed the payment of private debts and the return of confiscated property to British subjects, including Loyalists, until Great Britain had executed all the stipulations favorable to the United States in the preliminary articles of peace and in the definitive treaty. As late as November 1787 Smith still adhered to this position. See Jones to JM, 8 June 1783, and n. 26; Boyd, Papers of Jefferson description begins Julian P. Boyd et al., eds., The Papers of Thomas Jefferson (18 vols. to date; Princeton, N.J., 1950——). description ends , VII, 117 n.; Kate Mason Rowland, The Life of George Mason, 1725–1792 (2 vols.; New York, 1892), II, 205.

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