To George Washington
Richmond Jany. 1. 1785
I was yesterday honored with your favor of the 28 Ult: accompanying the Report of the Conferees &c. &c.1 The latter have been laid before the H. of Delegates, and a Com[mitte]e app[ointe]d. to report a bill & Resolutions corresponding with those of Maryland. The only danger of miscarriage arises from the impatience of the members to depart, & the bare competency of the present numbers. By great efforts only they have been detained thus long. I am not without hopes however that the business of the Potowmac at least will be provided for before the adjournment, and some provision now depending be compleated in favor of James River. Before the rect. of your despatches a bill had been passed by the H. of D. for surveying the former as well as the latter river on a plan, which we shall endeavour by concert with the Senate, to accomodate to the provisions of Maryland.2 A Resolution has passed both Houses instructing the Commissrs. app[ointe]d. in June last to settle with Maryd. Commissrs. the jurisdiction & navigation of the Potowmac, to join in a representation to Pena. on the subject of the Waters of the Ohio within her limits.3 This instruction ought rather to have been committed to the late Conference; but when the Commission under which you attended it passed, I was confined to my room and it did not occur to any other member. And indeed if I had been well the haste which necessarily prevailed might have precluded me from comprehending the object within your Mission, especially as I had not previously digested any ideas on the subject nor accurately examined the text of the Confederation. It were to be wished too I think that the application to Pa. on the subject of the Road cd. have been blended with that of the Rivers. As it is it will I think be best to refer it after the example of Maryld. to the Executive. I beg you Sir to excuse the brevity which our hurry has imposed upon me. As soon as I have leisure I will endeavour to make amends for it by a fuller communication on this subject—remaining in the mean time with the most perfect esteem & sincerest regard Yr. Obedt. & humble Servt.
J. Madison Jr.
RC (DLC: Washington Papers); FC (DLC). RC docketed by Washington.
1. After Washington wrote Governor Harrison on 10 Oct. 1784 on ways and means of building James and Potomac canals the letter had been sent to the House of Delegates to provide a kind of blueprint for creating the required public corporations (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, 471–80). To implement Washington’s suggestions the House of Delegates appointed three Virginia “Conferees”—Washington, Horatio Gates, and Thomas Blackburn—who were to meet with Maryland appointees(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. 68). A good account of Washington’s activities is found in Freeman, George Washington, VI, 25–27. As Washington explained in his letter to JM on 28 Dec., the whole business fell on his shoulders, “Genl. Gates having been Sick the whole time, & Colo. Blackburn not attending” (Washington to JM, 28 Dec. 1784). Washington relayed to Richmond the bill which had resulted from his talks with the Maryland conferees and this legislation became the model for two laws enacted by the Virginia General Assembly in its waning hours. JM’s bill of 18 Dec. (which was scrapped when the Maryland measure arrived) represented the first ideas on how the canals should be financed.
2. The survey bill, passed before Washington’s dispatches arrived, was introduced on 21 Dec. but had not become law when JM received the general’s 28 Dec. letter. A House-Senate conference committee had been trying to iron out differences between the two bodies on 31 Dec., when Washington’s letter arrived, and on 1 Jan. 1785 JM was ordered to inform the Senate its amendments were not acceptable (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. 102). This bill seems to have been allowed to die, however, for JM introduced a resolution imitative of that adopted in Maryland, which provided for a survey of the James and a link with “the nearest navigable part of the waters running into the Ohio” (ibid.).
3. The resolution which had “passed both Houses” dealing with Potomac navigation was JM’s. He introduced the resolution creating an interstate commission three days before Washington’s letter arrived. JM was appointed to serve on this commission, which met at Mount Vernon in Mar. 1785, but JM did not attend its sessions. See George Mason to JM, 9 Aug. 1785.