Virginia Delegates to Benjamin Harrison
RC (Virginia State Library). Cover missing. Addressed to “His Excellency Benjamin Harrison Esqr.” In the hand of John Francis Mercer, except for Arthur Lee’s signature. For the absence of JM’s signature, see Delegates to Harrison, 24 June 1783, ed. n. The present letter and the other one of the same date from the delegates to Governor Harrison were given a single docket, reading “Delegates letters. Nov. 1st 1783.”
In Congress Novr. 1. 1783.
We have the honor of transmitting to your Excellency two Resolutions of Congress respecting their permanent & temporary residence. We consider it as superfluous to enter into a minute detail of the progress of questions, the determinations of which (involving in ’em the general & particular interests of States) were protracted to a tedious length of time in order to give them the most mature deliberation. We therefore submit the result & will only generally remark, (that considering the present population of the Continent, so unfavorable as it is to an exclusive residence of the general Council at George Town & the votes of the Confederacy so unfriendly as they are to a southern station & observing that the negativing any other place, was an affirmative in favor of Princeton in which we sat, a situation every way agreable to the Eastern & middle States) we are led to hope, that our conduct as far as it tended to establish the present votes will be satisfactory to our constituents.1
Congress have agreed to a Report on Indian Affairs, which we also enclose to Yr. Excellency.2 The very critical situation in which we found ourselves, with respect to those Savages, render’d it necessary to decide on a state of Peace or War. They in expectation of our determination in favor of the former, were already assembling in order to hold a Treaty.3 a moment so favorable was embrac’d in order to exact from ’em as a compensation for their unprovok’d & merciless ravages a district of Country, which might satisfy the claims of the Army & contribute towards alleviating the public burthens. other circumstances were also very pressing. We had before us authentic information of continual & extensive emigrations made into a Country which unless otherwise dispos’d of, wou’d not only remain profitless to the United States, but woud become a prey to lawless banditti & adventurers who must necessarily have involv’d us in continued Indian wars & perhaps have form’d Establishments not only on dissimilar principles to those which form the basis of our Republican Constitutions, but such as might eventually prove destructive to them. It was judg’d that a delay untill the Spring without taking the intermediate steps necessary to the then settling this Country with the Army & others, under the protection, direction & for the use of the United States, wou’d be sacrificing too much to that scrupulous delicacy, which might suggest a passive Conduct to Congress, as proper untill the State of Virginia shou’d have acceded to some alterations in the conditions of her Cession—which were indeed consider’d as of so trivial a nature as not to prevent her Delegates in Congress giving their unanimous assent to them.4
To these Reasons which were continually press’d on our minds by the entreaties of the Army, urged by the Commander in Chief may be attributed the Proclamation issued by Congress, respecting the illicit Settlement of these Lands.5 The Delegates of Virginia were in a delicate situation not convinc’d of the necessity or propriety of their opposing measures generally thought to be for the public good & which perhaps it will be the future policy of the State to direct to be pursued with vigor & effect.6
Yr. Excellency will find among the enclosures a state of the payments of the respective States & an account as far as has yet been compleated of the expenditures of Public Monies, with such other papers as we thought woud tend to elucidate our general Affairs.7
Congress have had long before them a Report on those arrangements which may be necessary for our security in time of Peace. it is the result of the wisdom & experience of the Commander in Chief assisted by every Officer whose rank & reputation promis’d lights on the subject.8 the temporary adoption of such part of it, as may be necessary to provide Garrisons for the Western Posts which G. Britain has ceded & the guarding the Continental Stores, which it appears to be the present idea of Congress shou’d be distributed in five equal portions thro’ the States from North to South, may not admit of delay,9 but permanent measures on so important & delicate a subject, will no doubt be postpon’d untill our Constituents have time to deliberate & to express their sense on such plans as may be submitted to their consideration; & even what we are compell’d now to do, we think will have referrence to what they may hereafter generally direct.
We also transmit to your Excellency a Copy of a Letter from the Honble Jno: Adams. the subject is so important & interesting & at the same time the reflections made, so very evident & uncontrovertible, that to yr. Excellency all comment wd. be unnecessary. We will still add [?] that we have but too certain grounds to beleive that his prognostications are fast fulfilling.10 The late ordinance publish’d by the French Governor at Hispaniola (for which we refer to the Paper enclos’d) taken with the British Acts of Council, we cannot but consider as the preludes of a concerted System for imposing pernicious & cruel restrain[t] on our Commerce.11 Massachusetts as we hear by private Letters, has at length agreed to the Recommendations of Congress.12 If we once regain the reputation of mutual confidence & concertion, we can no longer dread the resentment of determined foes or the interested policy of undetermined friends & we cannot but rely, on the virtue, wisdom & temper which we know pervade the Continent & which have heretofore rendered us superiour to force, machination or intrigue.
We have the honor to be with every Sentiment of Respect Yr. Excellency’s most Obt. Servt.
John F Mercer
1. Following “constituents” are four lines of text so heavily deleted with ink as to be illegible. Although the “two Resolutions,” probably those adopted by Congress on 30 October, are missing, they apparently were among the “sundry other papers of consequence” which the delegates enclosed in this and their other letter of 1 November to Harrison, and which he submitted, along with the covering letters, to the Virginia House of Delegates on 13 November (Executive Letter Book, 1783–1786, p. 231, MS in Va. State Library; JHDV description begins (1828 ed.). Journal of the House of Delegates of Virginia, Anno Domini, 1776 (Richmond, 1828). description ends , Oct. 1783, p. 17). One of those resolutions, in part embodying a motion of Arthur Lee, provided for a committee of five delegates, including Mercer, to proceed “to the lower falls of Potomac, to view the situation of the country in the vicinity of the same, and report a proper district” for locating a permanent site at which Congress should meet. The same resolution instructed the committee, Elbridge Gerry, chairman, appointed on 7 October, “to report as soon as may be” concerning “the most suitable place for erecting buildings for the accommodation of Congress, near the falls of the Delaware” during the other half of each year.
The second resolution, which had been moved by David Howell and seconded by Mercer, instructed President Boudinot to send to the executives of the thirteen states copies of the congressional acts of 7 and 21 October that provided, respectively, for permanent sites at the two places mentioned above. The act of the latter date also stipulated that Congress would adjourn at Princeton on 12 November 1783 and convene two weeks later at Annapolis (JCC description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds., Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789 (34 vols.; Washington, 1904–37). description ends , XXV, 657, 658–59, 714, 768, 770–71). See also JM to Randolph, 13 Oct., and nn. 2–6, 8–12; Note on Congress’ Place of Residence, 14 Oct., and nn. 3–5, 14–17; Harrison to Delegates, 25 Oct., and ed. n., n. 1; Jones to JM, 30 Oct. 1783, and nn. 3–5.
2. The enclosure, seven pages written by a clerk and signed by “Chas Thomson Secy,” and an additional page bearing the notation “To the honbl. Mr. Mercer Oct 1783,” is a copy of the report on 14 October of the committee, James Duane, chairman, and Lee among its other four members, first appointed on 19 August to consider Indian and British affairs west of the Appalachian Mountains and on the New York frontier, including the outcome of Ephraim Douglass’ mission (NA: PCC, No. 186, fol. 119; Delegates to Harrison, 8 Sept., and n. 3). From the time of its appointment, or at least within a few weeks thereafter, this committee was considered a standing committee to which Congress from time to time referred a variety of particular issues relating to the Indians. Prior to its comprehensive recommendations submitted on 14 October and in part adopted in amended form the next day, the committee had been unable to gain Congress’ acceptance of its reports on specific aspects of the general problem (NA: PCC, No. 186, fols. 120, 121, 122, 123, 124; JCC description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds., Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789 (34 vols.; Washington, 1904–37). description ends , XXV, 591–96, 640–44, 692, and n. 1, 695). See also Harrison to Delegates, 19 Sept., and n. 3; 26 Sept., and nn. 4, 5; Delegates to Harrison, 4 Oct. 1783, and n. 2.
At the outset of its report, which strongly reflected Washington’s advice, the committee stated that, although the Indians in the Northwest Territory seemed “seriously disposed to a pacification,” they were “not in a temper” to cede land “without further struggles” (Fitzpatrick, Writings of Washington description begins John C. Fitzpatrick, ed., The Writings of George Washington, from the Original Sources, 1745–1799 (39 vols.; Washington, 1931–44). description ends , XXVII, 133–40, 192, n. 87). Nevertheless, the tribes which had broken their pledges of neutrality, given in 1775, by allying with the enemy and destroying lives and property should “make atonement” by yielding territory “commensurate to the public wants” of the United States. Congress, lacking money, needed a large area north and west of the Ohio River to provide bounty lands for veterans of the continental army, cash from land sales for paying the Confederation’s debts, and home sites for immigrants from Europe, as well as for the increasing “domestic population” of the United States. Although the hostile Indians deserved to be driven “beyond the Lakes” as punishment for their ravages during the Revolution, a war for that purpose would be far too costly, not only because the British probably would aid them, but also because if the United States was victorious, the Indians would divert all their fur trade into Canadian channels. Whether the United States won or lost the struggle, it would be obliged to maintain “numerous garrisons” throughout the Northwest Territory. For these reasons, Congress should prefer “clemency to rigour,” strive to convince the Indians that “their true interest and safety must depend upon our friendship,” and at the same time demand land from them, as reparations for their “fatal experience” between 1776 and 1783. If the Indians were willing to relinquish some acreage to the United States but not the required amount, Congress should agree to pay for the excess rather than “hazard a War which will be much more expensive.”
The committee, therefore, recommended that Congress seek at once to have a commission assemble representatives of all the tribes on the New York frontier and between the Ohio River and Lake Erie in one “Convention.” Besides requiring that they immediately release all their prisoners, the commissioners should endeavor to have them by a treaty cede approximately all, except the northwestern portion, of the territory which later would include the state of Ohio. No land, however, should be demanded from the friendly Oneidas and Tuscarawas, nor should the commissioners admit into the treaty any stipulation confirming grants made by Indians “to any Individual or Individuals.” The Indians should be assured that, for reasons of trade and other peaceful purposes, they could continue to enter the ceded area, but that any unauthorized white man who ventured into their territory would be guilty of trespass. Although the commissioners should make known “the displeasure of Congress” to all white squatters on either side of the proposed boundary line, they should assure the French settlers everywhere throughout the Northwest Territory that upon professing “allegiance to the United States,” Congress would protect their “Liberty” and “just & lawful property.” The copy of the report in the Virginia State Library is signed by Charles Thomson and is docketed “For the honbl. Mr. Mercer.”
On 15 October, the day that the report was spread on the journal, Congress adopted and referred to a committee, Abraham Clark, chairman, a proposal of the committee on Indian affairs to have an ordinance drafted “for regulating the Indian trade” (JCC description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds., Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789 (34 vols.; Washington, 1904–37). description ends , XXV, 677–94, and esp. 693). On the same day Congress also entertained a motion by Elbridge Gerry to make clear that “the legislative rights” and “territorial claims” in the area embraced by the committee’s proposals would not be traversed by their adoption (JCC description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds., Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789 (34 vols.; Washington, 1904–37). description ends , XXV, 693). Before adjournment on 15 October, Congress named a committee—Duane, chairman, JM, and Samuel Huntington—to consider the recommendations of the committee on Indian affairs which had not yet been adopted or otherwise disposed of, and also an amended proposal of that committee, first submitted on 14 October, “to erect a district of the western territory into a distinct government.” This proposal further recommended that whenever the settlers in the “district” became sufficiently numerous, they should draft a “permanent constitution for themselves” on “republican principles” and “be admitted to a representation in the Union” as “citizens of a free, sovereign and independent State” (JCC description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds., Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789 (34 vols.; Washington, 1904–37). description ends , XXV, 677, 694–95). JM was among the five members of a committee, Benjamin Hawkins, chairman, appointed on 16 October to report on the state of affairs with “the Cherokees and all the Indians within the United States to the southward of that tribe” (JCC description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds., Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789 (34 vols.; Washington, 1904–37). description ends , XXV, 692, and n. 1).
Prior to the expiration of JM’s term on 2 November, Congress neither received any report from those two committees nor took any further action affecting Indian affairs, except to reject for the “present” a plea from veterans for bounty land allotments in the West and, after much debate, to permit Pennsylvania commissioners, “for the sole purpose” of buying land within that state from the Indians, to attend the expected “convention” (JCC description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds., Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789 (34 vols.; Washington, 1904–37). description ends , XXV, 717–19, 752, 762–67).
3. Mercer’s “expectation” of an early conference with the Indians, probably the Iroquois tribes in New York, was not fulfilled. Congress delayed until 4 March 1784 before appointing commissioners “to negotiate,” and no treaties were concluded with the Iroquois and with the Indians in the Ohio country until October and December, respectively, of that year (JCC description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds., Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789 (34 vols.; Washington, 1904–37). description ends , XXVI, 124–25; Solon J. Buck and Elizabeth Hawthorn Buck, Planting of Civilization in Western Pennsylvania, p. 200). Virginia’s agents to the Indians made a treaty of peace with the Chickasaws on 6 November and expected—vainly as it turned out—to confer for the same purpose with the Shawnees at Louisville on 18 November 1783 (MS copy of treaty in Va. State Library; Robert S. Cotterill, “The Virginia-Chickasaw Treaty of 1783,” Journal of Southern History, VIII , 483–96; 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, 536, 539, 544–45, 548; Executive Letter Book, 1783–1786, pp. 189–90, 193–95, 197–98, 222, 229–30, 231–32, MS in Va. State Library). See also Delegates to Harrison, 8 Sept. 1783, n. 2.
5. Harrison to Delegates, 19 Sept. 1783, n. 3. Washington, who was residing near Princeton, supported “the entreaties of the Army” for its pay and bounty lands (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, 377, n. 2; Delegates to Harrison, 23 Aug., n. 8; JM to Jefferson, 20 Sept. 1783; Fitzpatrick, Writings of Washington description begins John C. Fitzpatrick, ed., The Writings of George Washington, from the Original Sources, 1745–1799 (39 vols.; Washington, 1931–44). description ends , XXVII, 136–37, 156, 163–64, 167–68, 172, 188, 224–25, 227, 232–33).
6. JCC description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds., Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789 (34 vols.; Washington, 1904–37). description ends , XXV, 591–96, 640–44, 677–80, 717–19, 762–67; Harrison to Delegates, 19 Sept. 1783, n. 3.
7. Enclosure is missing. Mercer appears to have referred in part to the elaborate report of Robert Morris, superintendent of finance, submitted to Congress on 22 October in fulfillment of its instructions resulting from Lee’s motions of 18 and 19 August (JCC description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds., Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789 (34 vols.; Washington, 1904–37). description ends , XXIV, 512, 514–15; XXV, 715–16; NA: PCC, No. 144, fols. 133, 136, 140, 145, 147, 151–67). As of 14 October 1783 the foreign debt of the United States was $7,907,037, and the domestic, $41,207,861 (NA: PCC, No. 144, fols. 133, 140). Not included in the report was a list “of the payments of the respective States.” By the close of 1783, they had paid $1,486,511.71 of a total requisition of $8,000,000. Delaware, North Carolina, and Georgia had forwarded none of their respective quotas. Virginia was $1,192,490.47 in arrears in meeting its quota of $1,307,594.00 (NA: PCC, No. 144, fol. 93).
8. JM to Randolph, 17 June 1783, and n. 10. On 18 June, after gathering the recommendations of Washington and other general officers, Hamilton, the chairman of the committee on peace arrangements, submitted its detailed report to Congress. Thereafter the matter was in abeyance until 7 August. On that day, knowing that Washington would soon come to Princeton after making an extended visit to the garrisons on the New York frontier, Congress appointed a committee to confer further with him “on the peace arrangement.” On 10 September the committee reported the “observations of the General,” which somewhat modified his earlier proposals, and was discharged. Congress then appointed another committee on the subject, consisting of James Duane, chairman, and Lee among the other four members (JCC description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds., Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789 (34 vols.; Washington, 1904–37). description ends , XXIV, 494, 501, n. 1, 522, 523, 524–26; XXV, 549–51). The report, as drafted originally by Hamilton, was spread on the journal of Congress on 23 October 1783 and referred at once to a committee of the whole (JCC description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds., Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789 (34 vols.; Washington, 1904–37). description ends , XXV, 722–44). The next day a recommendation of the Duane committee concerning the purchase of “goods and articles proper and necessary for the Indians” was entered and read (JCC description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds., Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789 (34 vols.; Washington, 1904–37). description ends , XXV, 747, and n. 2).
9. Before adjourning its first session on 23 October, the committee of the whole agreed that “some garrisons ought to be maintained in time of peace at the expence of the United States for their security and defense under their present circumstances” (JCC description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds., Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789 (34 vols.; Washington, 1904–37). description ends , XXV, 745). Thereafter, prior to 2 November 1783, the journal records no further report by this committee. For the recommendation by the Hamilton committee (n. 2, above) of five sites for “Arsenals and Magazines,” see JM to Randolph, 17 June 1783, n. 10; JCC description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds., Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789 (34 vols.; Washington, 1904–37). description ends , XXV, 738.
10. Enclosure not found, but it probably was a copy of John Adams’ dispatch of 18 July 1783. Among Adams’ “apprehensions,” which he feared would be realized unless Congress possessed power for “governing the trade of the whole” union of states, was that Great Britain and France, separately rather than in concert, would invade “our natural right to the carrying trade.” To counter this, continued Adams, negotiations must be undertaken “with the Dutch, Danes, Portuguese, and even with the empires.” “If,” he concluded, “the United States do not soon show to the world a proof that they can command a common revenue to satisfy their creditors at home and abroad, that they can act as one people, as one nation, as one man, in their transactions with foreign nations, we shall be soon so far despised that it will be but a few years, perhaps but a few months only, before we are involved in another war” (Wharton, Revol. Dipl. Corr description begins Francis Wharton, ed., The Revolutionary Diplomatic Correspondence of the United States (6 vols.; Washington, 1889). description ends ., VI, 560–62; JCC description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds., Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789 (34 vols.; Washington, 1904–37). description ends , XXV, 617–19, 621–22, 628–32, 661–64, 664, n. 1; Burnett, Letters description begins Edmund C. Burnett, ed., Letters of Members of the Continental Congress (8 vols.; Washington, 1921–36). description ends , VII, 304–7).
11. JM to Randolph, 13 Sept., n. 5; to Jefferson, 20 Sept., n. 13; Delegates to Harrison, 4 Oct. 1783, and n. 10. Following “Commerce,” about six lines of text are so heavily deleted with ink as to be illegible. The delegates probably enclosed copies of the Pennsylvania Journal of 25 October and 1 November. The earlier of these included an item relating to British Orders in Council concerning foreign commerce; the latter published an ordinance, which had become effective on 1 July 1783, stopping “the admission of foreign vessels belonging to neutral powers, into the ports of admiralty” of Haiti and the other French Leeward Islands.