James Madison Papers

Virginia Delegates to Benjamin Harrison, 14–15 August 1783

Virginia Delegates to Benjamin Harrison

RC (Virginia State Library). Cover missing. In the hand of Arthur Lee, except for the signatures of the other two delegates and the first sentence of the postscript, written by Mercer. Addressed to “His Excellency The Govr. of Virginia.” Docketed, “Virga Delegates L. Augt 14th 1783.” For the absence of JM’s signature, see Delegates to Harrison, 24 June 1783, ed. n.

Lee’s draft of the letter, differing frequently in phraseology but not in substance, and lacking the complimentary close and postscript, is in the library of Harvard University.

Princeton Augt. 14th. 1783


It is three posts since we have had the honor of hearing from your Excellency, which alarms us about your health.1

The Assembly in their last Session passd an Instruction to us, which we have not receivd. It relates to the Accounts of Mr. Finie.2

It is now a year since a Commissioner was appointed to settle the Accounts of the State with the U. S. We shoud be obligd to your Excellency for information whether any such Commissioner has been in the State, and whether the Accounts are ready for Settling.3

Congress have not yet determind any of the points submitted to them on the part of the State.4 No Advices from our Ministers abroad relative to the definitive treaty, have reachd us.5 The Empress of Russia has declind receiving our Minister as inconsistent with her character as Mediatrix, ’till the definitive treaty shall have been signd. A Minister receivd in G. B. from the U. S. & letters of Credence sent bearing a date subsequent to the acknowlegment of our Independence by G. B.6

The question for adjourning to Philadelphia, after long debate & mature consideration, was carried in the negative by Six States to two. We have the honor of inclosing a copy of the yeas & nays on this important question.7

Two of the ring-leaders in the late Mutiny, have been condemn’d to death by their Courts-martial.8

We have the honor to be, with the greatest respect, your Excellency’s most obedt[?] Servts.

Theok: Bland jr.

Arthur Lee

John F. Mercer

P. S. Augt. 15th. 1783

A Letter is just recd from Mr. Laurens, dated London June 17. 1783 informs that the Mission of Mr. Hartley will not in all likelihood terminate in a commercial treaty. that the present Ministry is tottering & the restoration of Ld. Shelburne as prime Minister he apprehend woud embarrass the Negociation. The british Court he says has very much changd its tone with regard to reciprocity in commercial stipulations, & seem inclind to have them all in their own favor. He makes no mention of the definitive treaty. But Mr. Fox assurd him that orders were actually sent for the evacuation of N. York.9

A. Lee

1Governor Harrison’s letter of 9 August, not yet received by the delegates, was the first written by him to them since 12 July. For Harrison’s illness, see Randolph to JM, 18 July 1783, and n. 7.

2The delegates were under a misimpression. The instruction of 4–7 June related to “Accounts” in general, including those of William Finnie but not specifically mentioning him (Instruction to Delegates, 4 and 7 June, and n. 1; Harrison to Delegates, 20 June, and n. 4; 28 Aug. 1783).

3By resolutions on 20 and 27 February 1782, Congress provided for the appointment to each state, upon nomination by Robert Morris and subsequent approval by the executive of that state, of a “Commissioner” to concert with executive officers of the state in settling its public accounts with the Confederation treasury. That “Commissioner” is to be distinguished from the five commissioners, one for each of the departments of the armed forces, also authorized by those resolutions to settle the private claims for goods provided, or other services rendered, to the continental army and marine (JCC description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds., Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789 (34 vols.; Washington, 1904–37). description ends , XXII, 83–86, 102–4; XXIII, 590–91; 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 , IV, 55; 56, n. 6; 71; 72, nn. 1, 3; 333, n. 2; 431, n. 1; V, 58, n. 4; 293, and n. 2; 349, n. 5; 356–57; 459; VI, 215, n. 14; 468, and n. 1; 469, n. 5).

In May 1782 Morris selected Zephaniah Turner of Maryland as his agent for Virginia. Although the Virginia General Assembly on 2 July 1782 extended to Turner “the necessary Aid” of a legal nature to enable him to fulfill his duties effectively, the executive of Virginia by August of the next year had not assembled, and in many instances, owing to the destruction of public papers by the British, could never assemble, all the vouchers and other written evidence required for determining how much the United States and Virginia owed each other (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 , III, 174; 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, 112; 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, 253; 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, 32–33; Va. Gazette description begins Virginia Gazette, or, the American Advertiser (Richmond, James Hayes, 1781–86). description ends , 23 Aug. 1783; Executive Letter Book, 1783–1786, p. 202, MS in Va. State Library). In a letter of 25 September Governor Harrison stated that Turner had arrived in Richmond. Leighton Wood, the solicitor general of Virginia, had been designated by the Virginia General Assembly as the official to work with Turner (Executive Letter Book, 1783–1786, pp. 202, 206).

4Delegates to Harrison, 1 Aug. 1783, citations in n. 4.

5JM to Jefferson, 11 Aug. 1783, and nn. 7, 8.

7JM to Randolph, 5 Aug., and nn. 4, 5. Lee enclosed an accurate copy of the tallied poll entered in the journal of Congress for 14 August. The Pennsylvania and Maryland delegates voted unanimously in the affirmative. Preceding the poll, David Howell’s motion to postpone “farther consideration” of the issue failed to carry by a vote of 5 ayes to 3 noes. Bland and Lee, the only Virginia delegates attending Congress on that day, voted “no” in both polls (JCC description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds., Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789 (34 vols.; Washington, 1904–37). description ends , XXIV, 508–9). In a letter of 14 August to a friend in Virginia, Bland wrote that his vote was alleged to be “contrary to the sense of the State—is it so?” (Burnett, Letters description begins Edmund C. Burnett, ed., Letters of Members of the Continental Congress (8 vols.; Washington, 1921–36). description ends , VII, 264). See also Harrison to Delegates, 12 July; Jones to JM, 14 July; 21 July; Randolph to JM, 18 July 1783. Although Mercer had not participated in the polls, he wrote to JM on 14 August (q.v., and n. 2), criticizing Bland for “making a motion with an intention of voting agt. it.” In fact, Bland had not made but seconded, and then voted against, David Howell’s motion of 11 August. For comments of JM on Howell’s, Bland’s, and Lee’s actions in Congress on the issue, see JM to Randolph, 18 Aug. 1783, and nn. 3, 4.

9Upon receiving Henry Laurens’ letter of 17–18 June, unnoted in the journal, Congress referred it to a committee, Stephen Higginson, chairman, for consideration and report. With the letter Laurens enclosed: “Copy of Articles proposed [29 Apr.] by Amr. Ministers for openg. intercourse or Commerce wth. G. Britain”; “Art: proposed by Mr Hartly—Observations & propositions made [21 May] by Mr. Hartly relative to a free intercourse between G. B. & the Ud. States”; and “Copy Order of the King & Council 14th May allowing unmanufactd goods or Merchandize to be imported into G. B. from America” (NA: PCC, No. 185, III, 75; No. 186, fol. 118; Wharton, Revol. Dipl. Corr description begins Francis Wharton, ed., The Revolutionary Diplomatic Correspondence of the United States (6 vols.; Washington, 1889). description ends ., VI, 396–97, 442–44, 491–93). Contrary to the encouraging tenor of the enclosures, Laurens noted in his letter: “Reciprocity appears now to mean enjoyment on one side and restrictions on the other. This change may have been wrought by the sudden and unexpected arrival of divers ships and cargoes from different ports in the United States.” “Hence,” continued Laurens, “I infer that the last instructions to Mr. Hartley are either calculated for gaining further time, or are such as the American ministers can not accede to” (ibid., VI, 492). See also JM to Randolph, 18 Aug.; 30 Aug. 1783, and n. 12.

On 26 August Congress dismissed the FitzSimons committee, including JM, that had been appointed on 6 May and reconstituted on 5 August for the purpose of submitting a plan of a commercial treaty with Great Britain and suggestions of other commercial treaties to be negotiated. Having been charged on 26 August with these unfulfilled directives, the Higginson committee reported on 1 September (JM to Randolph, 20 May, n. 4; 8 Sept. 1783, and n. 4; NA: PCC, No. 186, fols. 99, 116; JCC description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds., Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789 (34 vols.; Washington, 1904–37). description ends , XXV, 531–32).

For David Hartley, see JM to Jefferson, 10 June, and n. 8. For Charles James Fox and the evacuation of New York City by British troops, see Pendleton to JM, 4 May, n. 5; JM to Jefferson, 10 June, n. 7. For the fall of the Shelburne ministry and the duration of the Portland-North coalition ministry, see JM to Jones, 8 June, n. 22; to Jefferson, 10 June 1783, n. 4.

Index Entries