James Madison Papers

From James Madison to Thomas Jefferson, 11 February 1784

To Thomas Jefferson

RC (LC: Madison Papers). Lacks docket and cover.

Orange Feby. 11. 1784

Dear Sir

Your favor of the 11. of Decr. ulto.1 came safe to hand after a very tedious conveyance. Mr. W. Maury having broken up his school in this Neighbourhood in order to attempt a superior one in Williamsburg & his pupils being dispersed, I have sent the book for Mr. P. Carr into the neighbourhood of Doctr. Walker whence I supposed it would most easily find its way to him.2 I thank you for the mark of attention afforded by your order for Smith’s Hist: of N.Y. for me. If it should be in every respect convenient I could wish a copy of Blairs Lectures to be added to it.3

We have had a severer season & particularly a greater quantity of snow than is remembered to have distinguished any preceding winter.4 The effect of it on the price of grain & other provisions is much dreaded. It has been as yet so far favorable to me that I have pursued my intended course of law-reading with fewer interruptions than I had presupposed:5 but on the other hand it has deprived me entirely of the philosophical books which I had allotted for incidental reading: all my Trunks sent from Philada. both by Myself, & by Mr. House after I left it, being still at Fredericksg.6

I have been thinking whether the present situation of the Report of the Revisors of the Laws does not render the printing of it for public consideration advisable. Such a step would not only ensure the preservation of the work & gain us credit abroad, but the sanction which it would probably procure to the Legislature might incline them to adopt it the more readily in the gross. If any material objections occur to you, you will be so good as to mention them7 I sincerely sympathize with the worthy family left behind us in Philada. but am not without hopes that the vacancies produced by our departure were of short duration. If a visit to Miss Patsy should carry you to Philada. I beg you to remember me in the most affectionate terms to the old lady & to Mrs. Trist if the persecutions of fortune should have so long frustrated her meditated voyage.8 You will also be so good as to tender my respects to Mr. Mercer if he be at Annapolis & to your other Colleagues, and to be assured of my sincerest wishes for your happiness.9

I am Dr. Sir Your friend & servt.

J. Madison Jr.

In the Supplement to the 45. vol. of the Universal Magazine page 373. I find it mentioned by Docr. Hunter that there are in the British Museum grinders of the Incognitum which were found in Brasil & Lima. If I do not misremember your Hypothesis it supposes no bones of that animal to have been met with so far to the South.10


2Jefferson to JM, 11 Dec. 1783, and n. 8. For Dr. Thomas Walker of Castle Hill, Albemarle County, see 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 , I, 241; 242, n. 3; IV, 157, n. 15; 306, n. 3; VI, 416; 417, n. 6; Edgar Woods, Albemarle County in Virginia, pp. 271, 334–35; Natalie J. Disbrow, “Thomas Walker of Albemarle,” Papers of the Albemarle County Historical Society, I (1940–41), 5–18. Mrs. Dabney Carr, the sister of Jefferson and mother of Peter Carr, was living at Monticello (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 , I, 98 n.; VI, 199 n.).

3Jefferson to JM, 11 Dec. 1783, and n. 6. JM referred to the Reverend Dr. Hugh Blair (1718–1800), Lectures on Rhetoric and Belles Lettres (2 vols.; London, 1783). During the next seventy-five years this work appeared in many editions, including translations into French, Italian, Spanish, and Russian. Probably the copy purchased for thirty-five shillings in May 1784 by Jefferson for JM was one printed “in a beautiful quarto volume, on very fine paper” by Robert Aitken in his bookstore “at Pope’s Head, near the Coffee-House, Market Street,” Philadelphia (Pa. Gazette, 7 Apr. 1784; 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, 288, 290 n.).

4Almost every issue of the weekly Virginia Gazette between 17 January and 10 April, with its references to the “extreme severity of the season,” “no mail from the north,” or travels prevented by ice, high water, or mud, confirms JM’s remarks (Va. Gazette description begins Virginia Gazette, or, the American Advertiser (Richmond, James Hayes, 1781–86). description ends , 17, 24, and 31 Jan., 7, 14, 21, and 28 Feb., 10 Apr. 1784).

5JM to Jefferson, 10 Dec. 1783, and n. 12. JM no doubt meant that the impassable condition of the roads had lessened the usual number of winter visits to and from friends.

6Samuel House (JM to Randolph, 8 Sept., and n. 10). For the arrival of JM’s trunks at Montpelier, see JM to Jefferson, 10 Dec. 1783, n. 15.

7On 24 October 1776 the Virginia General Assembly, responding to a motion offered by Jefferson in the House of Delegates, enacted a statute providing for a “Committee of Revisors.” This committee, elected twelve days later by the General Assembly, was composed of Jefferson, chairman, Edmund Pendleton, George Wythe, George Mason, and Thomas Ludwell Lee. Of these, Mason declined to serve and Lee died on 13 April 1778 without sharing in the work. The instructions by the legislature obliged a review of all Virginia statutes for the purpose of recommending repeal of laws “inapplicable to the powers of Government as now organized,” or “founded on principles heterogeneous to the republican spirit,” or “oppressive to the people.” The committee was also directed to propose “certain other laws, which though proved by the experience of other states to be friendly to liberty and the rights of mankind, we have not heretofore been permitted to adopt” (JHDV [1828 ed.] description begins Journal of the House of Delegates of the Commonwealth of Virginia; Begun and Held at the Capitol, in the City of Williamsburg. Beginning in 1780, the portion after the semicolon reads, Begun and Held in the Town of Richmond. In the County of Henrico. The journal for each session has its own title page and is individually paginated. The edition used is the one in which the journals for 1777–1786 are brought together in two volumes, with each journal published in Richmond in 1827 or 1828, and often called the “Thomas W. White reprint.” description ends , Oct. 1776, pp. 10, 13, 14, 16, 26, 28, 41; 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 , IX, 175–77).

On 18 June 1779 Jefferson and Wythe sent to Benjamin Harrison, then speaker of the House of Delegates, a “catalogue” listing the titles of the “126 bills” proposed by the committee (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 , II, 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 , II, 301–2). Very few of these were given consideration by the Virginia General Assembly during the next five years. On the other hand, the Assembly at its session of May 1783 provided for a codification of existing laws. Pendleton and Wythe of the “Committee of Revisors” also shared prominently in that work (Randolph to JM, 18 July 1783, and n. 8). For Jefferson’s response to JM’s suggestion, see Jefferson to JM, 20 Feb.; 25 Apr. 1784 (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, 119–20).

8JM to Jefferson, 10 Dec., and n. 25; Jefferson to JM, 11 Dec. 1783, and n. 7; 1 Jan. 1784, and n. 9. For Martha (Patsy) Jefferson, see JM to Jefferson, 20 Sept.; 30 Sept. 1783, and n. 6.

9Although the Virginia delegation consisted of Jefferson, James Monroe, Arthur Lee, John Francis Mercer, and Samuel Hardy, only Jefferson, Monroe, and Lee seem to have been attending Congress during the first half of February. Mercer did not appear until 19 March 1784 (Jones to JM, 8 June 1783, and 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 , XXVI, 73, 75–78, 150).

10William Hunter, M.D., F.R.S., “Observations on, with an accurately engraved Copper-plate Representation of the bones, commonly supposed to be Elephants Bones, which have been found near the River Ohio in America,” The Universal Magazine of Knowledge and Pleasure … (a monthly, published by John Hinton; London, 1st ser., Vols. I–CXIII [1747–1803]), XLV (1769, supplement), 112, 371–75, and esp. 373. See also Jefferson to JM, 20 Feb. 1784.

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