James Madison Papers

To James Madison from George Washington, 28 December 1784

From George Washington

Annapolis 28th. Decr 1784.

Dear Sir,

I have been favored with your letter of the 11th.

The proceedings of the Conference, and the Act & Resolutions of this Legislature consequent thereupon (herewith transmitted to the Assembly) are so full, & explanatory of the motives which governed in this business, that it is scarcely necessary for me to say any thing in addition to them; except that this State seem highly impressed with the importance of the objects wch. we have had under consideration, and are very desirous of seeing them accomplished.1

We have reduced most of the Tolls from what they were in the first Bill, and have added something to a few others—upon the whole, we have made them as low as we conceived from the best information before us, and such estimates as we had means to calculate upon, as they can be fixed, without hazarding the plan altogether. We made the value of the commodity the governing principle in the establishment of the Tolls; but having had an eye to some bulky articles of produce, & to the encouragement of the growth & Manufacture of some others, as well as to prevent a tedeous ennumeration of the different species of all, we departed from the genl. Rule in many instances.

The Rates of tollage as now fixed, may still appear high to some of the Southern Gentlemen, when they compare them with those on James River; but as there is no comparison in the expence & Risk of the two undertakings so neither ought there to be in the Tolls. I am fully perswaded that the Gentlemen who were appointed, and have had this matter under consideration, were actuated by no other motives than to hit (if they could do so) upon such a happy medium as would not be burthensome to indiv. or give Jealousy to the public on one hand, nor discouragement to Adventurers on the other. To secure success, and to give vigor to the undertaking, it was judged advisable for each State to contribute (upon the terms of private subscribers) to the expence of it; especially as it might have a happy influence on the Minds of the Western Settlers and it may be observed here, that only part of this money can be called for immediately, provided the work goes on—and afterwards, only in the proportion of its progression.

Though there is no obligation upon the State to adopt this (if it is inconvenient, or repugnant to their wishes) yet I should be highly pleased to hear that they had done so—(Our advantages will, most assuredly, be equal to those of Maryland and our public spirit ought not, in my opinion, to be less)—as also the Resolutions respecting the Roads of Communication—both of which, tho they look in some degree to different objects, are both very important; that by the Yohiogany (thro’ Pensylvania) is particularly so for the Fur & Peltry of the Lakes, because it is the most direct Rout by which they can be transported; whilst it is exceedingly convenient to the people who inhabit the Ohio (or Alligany) above Fort Pitt—the lower part of the Monongahela—and all the Yohiogany.

Matters might perhaps have been better digested if more time had been taken, but the fear of not getting the report to Richmond before the Assembly would have risen, occasioned more hurry than accuracy—or even real dispatch. But to alter the Act now, further than to accomodate it to circumstances where it is essential, or to remedy an obvious error if any should be discovered will not do. The Bill passed this Assembly with only 9 dissenting voices—and got thro’ both Houses in a day, so earnest were the members of getting it to you in time.

It is now near 12 at night, and I am writing with an Aching head, having been constantly employed in this business since the 22d. without assistance from my Colleagues—Genl. Gates having been Sick the whole time, & Colo. Blackburn not attending. But for this I would be more explicit. I am, with great esteem & regard—Dr Sir Yr. Most Obedt. Servt

Go: Washington

I am ashamed to send such a letter, but cannot give you a fairer one. GW.

RC (owned by Dr. Joseph E. Fields, Joliet, Illinois, 1958); Tr (DLC). Cover missing. Docketed by JM.

1The enclosures, now widely dispersed, included a holograph letter from Washington (also signed by General Gates) addressed to the General Assembly (Vi); and Washington’s schedule of canal tolls, which bears JM’s endorsement: “Rates of Tollage” (ICU). As JM soon explained to Jefferson, Washington was the prime mover of the Potomac canal bill and the enclosed bill from Maryland “arrived just in time for the session” (9 Jan. 1785). Washington probably sent them by an express rider, for the whole bundle was before the legislature three days later. JM apparently went through channels by turning the enclosures over to the governor, who relayed them to the Speaker of the House. Washington’s report was turned over to a committee that included JM and William Grayson (JHDV 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 either 1827 or 1828 and often called the “Thomas W. White reprint.” description ends , Oct. 1784, p. 99). Grayson introduced the Virginia version of the Maryland act, which was hurriedly “passed without opposition” (compare Laws of Maryland … at the Session of … 1784 [Annapolis, 1785], chap. XXXIII, and 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 , XI, 510–25).

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