James Madison Papers

To James Madison from John Francis Mercer, 26 November 1784

From John Francis Mercer

Trenton Novr 26th. 84

Dear Sir

The Gentlemen from the Eastward have at length made their appearance & I expect in a day or two a Congress will be once more form’d. This commencement however has discovered so great a relaxation in the Confœderal springs that I doubt the machine will not be long kept in motion, unless great & effectual repairs are made. For my part I have no hopes but in a convocation of the States.1 In this measure I yet see safety, it is the disposition of the people of America to place their Confœderal Government on the most respectable basis, & the patriot fire is not yet extinguish’d, but I do not know how long it will last—there will be a motion made early in the ensuing Congress for such a Convention.

I woud suggest to you a subject on which I find my Colleagues & myself concurr & indeed which we have determin’d to mention to our friends in the Legislature.2 The recess of Congress the last year, was the first I believe since the Revolution & the situation of the members consequently new & unexpected both by themselves & the State. I must confess that I consider the with drawing the allowance during that period, as unworthy the dignity of the Government & as it is injurious to her representatives, it will in the end prove detrimental to her interest. When Gentlemen quit home & their domestic employments—& are carried to a considerable distance from their own State—it cannot be expected that their presence for a Small interval, will be of any service to their private affairs—in fact they are by their appointments disengaged thoroughly from all pursuits but their public avocations & their style of expen[ces] cannot be temporarily suppress’d or altered for the time of this recess. I am therefore not only interestedly but politically of opinion that it woud be the wisest & most honourable conduct for the Legislatu[re] to pay us during the recess altogether. So. Carolina, make an allow[ance] by the year, nearly equal to the extent of our appointment on the supposition we charg’d for every day, & yet their Members complain of the inadequacy of the provision. Mr. Hardy & Colo. Monroe tell me they have suggested this matter to their friends. If they shoud view in the light I do the subject will be probably agitated. I know you have been so long subjected to the inconveniences of bad & insufficient pay, that I can add nothing your own reflections will not readily furnish.3 Believe me Dr. Sir Yr. very Affectionate frie[nd] & h[umbl]e Ser.

John F. Mercer

RC (DLC). Cover missing. Docketed by JM.

1There had been talk of “a convocation of the States” in Congress for over a year. The Massachusetts legislature had sounded the call for a national conclave to discuss “matters of common concern” in the spring of 1783. Then Mercer had opposed the idea “as a dangerous precedent” but JM had said he favored “a general Convention” if the purpose was “to strengthen the fœderal Constitution” (Papers of Madison description begins William T. Hutchinson et al., eds., The Papers of James Madison (8 vols. to date; Chicago, 1962——). description ends , VI, 424–25, 426 n. 7).

2The Committee of the States had dissolved—illegally—in mid-Aug., but delegate Mercer went on a vain search for a congressional headquarters almost a month later. He went to Annapolis and “thence to Philadelphia, in search of the committee, yet found never a vestige of it” (Burnett, The Continental Congress, p. 610). Mercer had expected to be paid a delegate’s $8.00 per diem salary despite the phantom nature of Congress. It seems obvious that the state treasurer had balked at advancing funds to Mercer on the ground that Congress had not been in session after 11 Aug. Perhaps in a missing letter JM had explained why the $400 owed him by Mercer still had not been paid (Mercer to JM, 12 Nov. 1784).

3JM had altogether too much knowledge of “the inconveniences of bad & insufficient pay” as a Virginia delegate from 1780 to 1783. During that time JM found the meager salary inadequate and had to draw on his father for supplementary income (Papers of Madison description begins William T. Hutchinson et al., eds., The Papers of James Madison (8 vols. to date; Chicago, 1962——). description ends , IV, 231, 256; V, 72–73; VI, 229).

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