James Madison Papers

Notes on Congress’ Place of Residence, [ca. 14 October] 1783

Notes on Congress’ Place of Residence

MS (LC: Jefferson Papers). Undated. Unsigned but in JM’s hand.

Editorial Note

JM’s letter of 13 October 1783 to Randolph (q.v.) and this memorandum are sufficiently alike in their contents to suggest that they were written at about the same time. In the paragraph beginning with “Philada” in the margin, JM stated that Congress had resolved to fix its place of permanent residence at “the Falls of Delaware.” This decision had been reached on 7 October; hence these notes could not have been prepared before that date. They also appear to reflect the inconclusive debates during the next four days on the choice of a temporary meeting place of Congress. If JM had delayed until 21 October before summarizing the arguments for and against each of the towns or other locations proposed as a suitable site for the ad interim capital of the Confederation, he almost surely would have noted the important resolution adopted on that day (Jones to JM, 30 Oct., n. 5). Furthermore, he probably did not attend Congress on 19, 20, and 21 October (Motion in re Preliminary Peace Treaty, 18 Oct. 1783, ed. n.).

It is a reasonable assumption that JM gave these notes to Jefferson between 29 October and 3 November, when Jefferson stopped in Philadelphia before proceeding to Congress in Princeton. The memorandum was designed to inform him about issues which by then had not been entirely settled (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, 349 n.; Delegates to Harrison, 1 Nov. 1783 [1st letter]). In a letter of 11 November 1783 to Governor Harrison, devoted in part to summarizing the earlier competition among the delegates in Congress to have the temporary or permanent capital of the Confederation located at their preferred sites, Jefferson seems to have drawn some of his information from the present memorandum (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, 351–53).

[ca. 14 October 1783]

Permanent seat of Congress

North River—recommended for the permanent seat of Congs. chiefly by its security against foreign danger1

Falls of Potowmac—By 1. geographical centrality—2. proximity to western Country already ceded—2. inducement to further Cessions from N.C. S.C. & Georgia.2 4 remoteness from the influence of any overgrown commercial city.

Falls of Delaware—By 1. centrality with regard to number of inhabitants. 2 centrality as to no. of States & of Delegates. 3 facility of obtaining intelligence from sea.3

Temporary seat of Congress

Princeton—in favor of it, 1. its neighbourhood to the Permanent [se]at, 2. inconveniency of a removal.4 3. beneficial effect of a frug[al] situation of Congs. on their popularity throughout the States. 4 the risque in case of removal from Princeton of returning under the commercial & corrupt influence of Philada.5—against it—1. unfitness for transacting the public business. 2 deficiency of accomodation, exposing the attending members to the danger of indignities & extortions, discouraging perhaps the fitest men from undertaking the service & amounting to a prohibition of such as had families from which they would not part.6

Trenton. argts. in favor & agst. it similar to those respecting Princeton. It was particularly remarked that when the option lay with the President & committee between Trenton & Princeton the latter was preferred as least unfit to receive Congs. on their removal from Philada.7

Philada. In favor of it. 1. its unrivalled conveniency for transacting the public business, & accomodating Congress. 2 its being the only place where all the public offices particularly that of Finance could be kept under the inspection & controul of & proper intercourse with Congs.8 3. its conveniency for F. Ministers, to which, cæteris paribus,9 some regard would be expected. 4. the circumstances which produced a removal from Philada. which rendered a return as soon as the insult had been expiated, expedient for supporting in the eyes of foreign nations the appearance of internal harmony, and preventing an appearance of resentment in Congs. agst. the State of Pa. or City of Philada.10 an appearance which was very much strengthened by some of their proceedings at Princeton—particularly by an unnecessary & irregular declaration not to return to Phi[l]a. In addition to these overt reasons, it was concluded by sundry of the members who were most anxious to fix Congs. permanently at11 the falls of the Potowmac that a temporary residence in Philada. would be most likely to prepare a sufficient number of votes for that place in preference to the Falls of Delaware,12 and to produce a reconsideration of the vote in favor of the latter13—Agst. Philada. were alledged. 1. the difficulty & uncertainty of getting away from it at the time limited.14 2. the influence of a large comercial & wealthy city on the public Councils. In addition to these objections, the hatred agst. Mr. M. and hope of accelerating his final r[esigna]tion were latent motives with some, as perhaps envy of the prom[inence of] Philada. and dislike of the support of Pa to obnoxious recomendations of Congs. were with others.15

Annapolis—in favor of it. 1st. its capacity for accomodating Congs. and its conveniences for the public business. 2. the soothing tendency of so Southern a position on the temper of the S. States.—agst. it, 1st. the preposterousness of taking a temporary station so distant from the permanent seat fixed on, especially as better accomodations were to be passed by at Philada. which was less than 4/5ths of the distance from the Permanent Seat. 2d. the peculiar force such a step would give to the charge agst. Congs. of being swayed by improper motives.16 Besides these considerations it was the opinion of some that a removal of Congs. to Annapolis would inspire Maryland with hopes that wd. prevent a cooperation in favor of George town, & favor the commerce of that State at the expence of Virginia17

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, n. 4; JM to Randolph, 10 June, and n. 14; 28 July, and n. 6; 13 Oct., and n. 3; Livingston to JM, 19 July, n. 9; Pendleton to JM, 21 July 1783. New York had offered the town of Kingston for a permanent residence of Congress. Situated ninety miles up the Hudson River, its capture, unless by envelopment over rugged terrain, would necessitate control of both New York City and West Point.

2Instructions to Delegates, 28 June, and nn. 2, 6; Harrison to Delegates, 4 July, and n. 3; 25 Oct.; Pendleton to JM, 28 July; JM to Randolph, 28 July; 13 Oct. 1783, and nn. 2, 3, 11. By “already ceded,” JM meant that the Virginia General Assembly during its session of October 1783 probably would accept the modifications insisted upon by Congress in the offer of cession extended by the Assembly on 2 January 1781 (Delegates to Harrison, 13 Sept., ed. n.; 20 Sept., and n. 4; 4 Oct., n. 5; JM to Jefferson, 20 Sept. 1783, n. 3). He may also have had in mind the cession by New York in 1782 (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 , V, 201, n. 9; 225; 227, n. 13). For the cessions of western lands by North Carolina and South Carolina, see ibid., IV, 203, n. 16; JM Notes, 19 June 1783, n. 2. Georgia delayed until 1802 before surrendering its western territory to the United States.

3JM to Randolph, 28 July; 13 Oct. 1783, and nn. 2, 3, 5, 9, 11. If JM had drawn a parallel of latitude from the Atlantic Ocean through the “Falls of Delaware” and across Pennsylvania, most of the inhabitants in New Jersey would have been north of that line, and, in Pennsylvania, south of it. Counting Pennsylvania with the more southerly states and New Jersey with the more northerly ones, the seven states of the north in 1783 had a population of about 1,370,000, and the six of the south, about 1,018,600 (Evarts B. Greene and Virginia D. Harrington, American Population before the Federal Census of 1790 [New York, 1932], pp. 7–8). Article V of the Articles of Confederation stipulated that, although each state should not have less than two or more than seven delegates in Congress, each state counted only as one in tallying a vote (JCC description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds., Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789 (34 vols.; Washington, 1904–37). description ends , XIX, 215). Among the three sites competing to be the place where Congress would locate permanently, New York City, from the standpoint “of obtaining intelligence from sea,” obviously was the most advantageously situated, and the “Falls of Potowmac” the least.

4Princeton is about ten miles northeast of the “Falls of Delaware.” Whenever the permanent capital at these “Falls” should be ready for occupancy, a “removal” there from Princeton would be less inconvenient and expensive than from any other proposed temporary site except Trenton.

5The New England delegates, especially, favored Princeton as “a frugal situation,” far preferable to returning temporarily to “the commercial & corrupt influence” of Philadelphia (JM to Randolph, 13 Oct. 1783, and nn. 3, 4). See also Pendleton to JM, 16 June, and n. 10; JM to Jefferson, 17 July 1783, and n. 9.

9Other things being equal.

11Immediately after “at,” JM wrote and canceled “Georgetown.”

12Between “Delaware” and the comma, JM wrote and canceled “for the permanent.”

14By “time limited” JM meant either 7 June 1784 or the day when the proposed accommodations at the falls of the Delaware River should be ready for occupancy (JM to Randolph, 13 Oct. 1783, nn. 3, 5, 10).

15“Mr. M.” was Robert Morris, superintendent of finance (JM to Randolph, 30 Aug., and n. 6; Burnett, Letters description begins Edmund C. Burnett, ed., Letters of Members of the Continental Congress (8 vols.; Washington, 1921–36). description ends , VII, 378–80). For the termination of his service in that office, see JM to Jefferson, 20 Sept. 1783, n. 17. Among the principal “recommendations” supported by the Pennsylvania delegation, but opposed as “obnoxious” by delegates from some of the other states, had been the proposed impost amendment, and half pay for life or full pay for five years to officers of the continental army who served for the duration of the war. For these issues, consult the index of this volume under Continental Congress, actions on furloughing or discharging troops, plan for restoring public credit; Imposts.

16JM to Jefferson, 17 July, and n. 9; Pendleton to JM, 28 July; JM to Randolph, 13 Oct. 1783, and nn. 9, 11. Annapolis is about 155 miles from the falls of the Delaware River; Philadelphia, about 30 miles. Immediately following “being,” JM wrote and heavily canceled four or five words. Of these only the last two, “by resentment,” are discernible.

17JM to Randolph, 13 Oct. 1783, and n. 3. In 1782 Anne Arundel County, Md., in which Annapolis was the principal town, had 18,081 inhabitants—51.82 per cent of whom were white, and 48.18 per cent were black. In the same year, Fairfax County, with a part of its northern line running the length of the falls of the Potomac, had 8,763 inhabitants, with a white-black ratio of 58.82:41.18 per cent (Stella H. Sutherland, Population Distribution in Colonial America [New York, 1936], pp. 173–75). Both Annapolis and Alexandria were busy ports. The sailing distance from the Chesapeake Capes to Annapolis is shorter than to Alexandria.

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