James Madison Papers

Benjamin Harrison to Virginia Delegates, 27 September 1783

Benjamin Harrison to Virginia Delegates

FC (Virginia State Library). In the hand of Samuel Patteson. Addressed to “The Honorable Virginia Delegates in Congress.”

Council Chamber Sepr. 27th. 1783.


Since I wrote to you yesterday1 I have seen the Attorney who tells me his performance respecting our claim to the western Country is ready for the inspection of the Committee and that as soon as it meets their approbation it will be transmitted to you.2

I am &.

B. H.


2On 1 June 1782 the Virginia General Assembly appointed a committee including Attorney General Edmund Randolph and four other men “to collect all Documents” required to establish “the Right of this State” to its “Western Territory,” especially that north and west of the Ohio River. Various circumstances thrust this unexpectedly difficult assignment upon Randolph alone. Of his committee colleagues, Thomas Jefferson declined to take “an active part,” George Mason refused the appointment but agreed “to contribute his aid privately,” and Thomas Walker joined Arthur Lee, whose appointment to Congress obliged him to be in Philadelphia or Princeton much of the time, in persuading Randolph to do all the research and writing (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, 90, and n. 4; 147; 154–55; 161; 208; 226; 227; 228, n. 7; 305; 306, n. 3; 389, n. 19; V, 30; 264; 309; 312, n. 18; VI, 244–45; 245, nn. 5, 6; 246, n. 7).

Although about “a third” of the report was “approved” by Mason before its completion in August 1783, none of it seems to have been reviewed by Jefferson or Walker. As late as November in that year, Lee remained unavailable, for, contrary to Randolph’s hope, he did not attend the Virginia General Assembly during the session convening on 20 October in Richmond. On 25 November, although still lacking the committee’s approval of his draft, Randolph wrote to the speaker of the House of Delegates, accounting for the long delay and requesting authorization to have the report “go into print under the correction of Mr. Mason and myself” (MS in Va. State Library). The next day, after the letter was read, the House “ordered” that it “lie on the table” (JHDV description begins (1828 ed.). Journal of the House of Delegates of Virginia, Anno Domini, 1776 (Richmond, 1828). description ends , Oct. 1783, p. 35).

This anticlimax to Randolph’s extensive labors may reflect the delegates’ opinion that, by agreeing to the congressional resolutions concerning Virginia’s offer of cession, a detailed defense of the state’s title to the Northwest Territory was no longer relevant (JM to Jefferson, 20 Sept., and n. 3; Harrison to Delegates, 26 Sept. 1783, n. 5). Whether the report was ever printed or whether a copy of it was sent by Harrison to the Virginia delegates in Congress is unknown. The manuscript has not been found. Randolph probably retained a personal copy and drew on it in composing his manuscript history of Virginia (Edmund Randolph, History of Virginia, ed. Arthur H. Shaffer [Charlottesville, 1970], pp. 8–9, 17–19, 32–35, 61–62, 149, 154, 275, 276, 285; 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, 259–60, 293).

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