From John Francis Mercer
RC (LC: Madison Papers). Cover franked by Mercer and addressed to “Honble James Madison Esq. Philadelphia.” Cover docketed twice by JM—once, “Mercer J. F Aug. 14 1783,” and once, “Augst. 14. 1783. Jno. F. Mercer.”
[Princeton 14 August 1783]
Before I left Phila. I made enquiry for a Bill on me for 200 Dollars & wch had been presented & accepted but by whom had entirely escaped my recollection. according to the perverse order of human affairs a Letter waiting here informs me of what I wished to know there. it is in the hands of a Mr. J. Ross whom I have directed to apply to you & request the favor of you to discharge it.1
The Question for the return to Phila. had been decided in the negative prior to my arrival I must think a worthy colleague hurried this matter on with an unbecoming precipitation, & I am at a loss to reconcile with his professed candor & openness, his making a motion with an intention of voting agt. it, supported by Mr. Howell the inventer of this ingenious & Honourable device.2 This said worthy Gentleman Mr. Howell, made a motion seconded by our other colleague Mr. Lee, to strike out Government after cofœderal & insert Union, in an Act of Congress.3 this will give you the complexion of our affairs.4
Mr. Laurens writes us from London dated the 17th of June, & suggests that there is no prospect that the mission of Mr. Hartley wd terminate either in a commercial or definitive Treaty.5
It will be well for you to advise Mrs. House what steps she shoud take. had I any Idea that the sentiment of Congress coud be so absurdly fixed I woud not hesitate to give my opinion that she shoud remove to where they may plan their residence. I am no doubt disposed by my desire of living with her myself.6 Does my friend Mrs. Trist pursue the plan of her Indies expedition I wish she wd. write me when she hears from Havanna.7
My best respects to Genl. Howe & the Gentn. of his family. the Gnl. will receive official notice of the present aims of Congress which supersedes the propriety of my writing.8 Come & bring Mr. Jones. your presence wd. be of essential utility.9
I am with respect [&] esteem Dr Sir, Yr. mo: Ob. St
John F. Mercer
2. Delegates to Harrison. 14–15 Aug.. and n. 7; JM to Randolph, 18 Aug. 1783, and n. 3. Mercer’s “worthy colleague” was Theodorick Bland (JCC description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds., Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789 (34 vols.; Washington, 1904–37). description ends , XXIV, 506, and n. 2, 509).
3. The journal of Congress does not fully sustain Mercer’s statement. On 12 August in a reply suggested by a committee to “an address from the inhabitants of New Brunswick and its vicinity” appeared the words “affection and respect for the federal government” (JCC description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds., Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789 (34 vols.; Washington, 1904–37). description ends , XXIV, 501–2). On 13 August David Howell, seconded by William Ellery, not by Arthur Lee, moved that the word “union” be substituted for “government.” Thereupon David Howell “required” a tallied poll to be taken “on the question for re-considering” whether the substitution should be made. In the poll the move to reconsider failed by a vote of 7 to 1. Of the twenty-four delegates who shared in the poll, only Ellery, Holten, Howell, and Lee voted “ay.” Mercer was reporting what someone had told him, for he was not in Congress on 13 August 1783 (JCC description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds., Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789 (34 vols.; Washington, 1904–37). description ends , XXIV, 504–5).
4. By “complexion of our affairs.” Mercer probably meant the divisiveness within the ranks of the congressional delegation from Virginia. and perhaps, too, the refusal of a few members of Congress even to designate that assemblage as a “government.”
6. JM had retained his accommodations in Mrs. Mary House’s boardinghouse, but the move of Congress from Philadelphia to Princeton vacated many of her rooms and also reduced her income from providing meals for her tenants. See JM to Mercer, 16 July 1783, and n. 8; 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 , VI. 375.
7. Mercer referred to Mrs. Nicholas Trist. the daughter of Mrs. House. For at least six years, beginning in 1770, Mrs. Trist’s husband was a medical officer in the Eighteenth (or Royal Irish) Regiment of Foot of the British Army. This regiment, shattered by the Battle of Bunker Hill and further worn down in the siege of Boston, left the American states in the summer of 1776 and for the rest of the war was stationed in England and the Channel Islands. Trist, however, appears to have remained in America (Worthington C. Ford, comp., British Officers Serving in the American Revolution, pp. 4, 11, 174; G[eorge] Le M[esurier] Gretton and Stannus Geoghegan, The Campaigns and History of the Royal Irish Regiment. From 1684 [to 1922] [2 vols.; Edinburgh and London, 1911–27], I, 83–85, 87).
In 1783 Mrs. Trist was most anxious to rejoin her husband, who by then had settled or expected to settle in or near New Orleans. Although in August she hoped to reach him by going first to Havana, this evidently proved to be impracticable, for in December 1783 she left Philadelphia for New Orleans by way of Pittsburgh. Upon her arrival on the “Accadian Coast Mississippi” early in the summer of the next year, she was told that Dr. Trist had died. The exact date and place of his death have not been ascertained. She returned to Philadelphia in August 1785 (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 , VI, 375–76, 383 n., 418; VII, 86–87, 289, 447, 583; VIII, 581; XI, 404; JM to Randolph, 8 Sept.; Jefferson to JM, 11 Dec. 1783).
8. Mercer’s acquaintance with General Robert Howe and “the Gentln. of his family” was probably recent, for during Mercer’s military service, he and Howe had been in different geographical “departments.” Mercer either wrote this final paragraph on 15 August or he anticipated that a motion introduced on the preceding day, but not brought to a vote, would be adopted by Congress. On 15 August President Boudinot was directed to inform Howe of “the pleasure of Congress” to suspend “the execution of the sentences against the several offenders who have been convicted of mutiny” until “ten days after a full report of all the proceedings of the said court-martial” should be laid before Congress (JCC description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds., Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789 (34 vols.; Washington, 1904–37). description ends , XXIV, 509–10, 510, n. 1). See also Delegates to Harrison, 5 July 1783, n. 5.
9. JM and Joseph Jones were in Congress on 27 August, and may have been in attendance two days before (JCC description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds., Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789 (34 vols.; Washington, 1904–37). description ends , XXIV, 521, n. 1, 525). See also JM to Randolph, 8 July 1783, and n. 2.