James Madison Papers

To James Madison from William Grayson, 28 May 1785

From William Grayson

New York May 28th. 1785.

Dear Sir

I did myself the pleasure some time since of writing to you; and I expect by this time you have recieved my letter; since which nothing has happened of any consequence except the passage of the Land Ordinance & the arrival of Don Diego de Gardoqui at Philadelphia. I inclose you a copy of the Ordinance: & if it is not the best in the world, it is I am confident the best that could be procured for the present.1 There was such a variety of interests most of them imaginary, that I am only surprised it is not more defective.

The Eastern people who before the revolution never had an idea of any quantity of Earth above a hundred acres, were for selling in large tracts of 30,000 acres while the Southern people who formerly could scarce bring their imaginations down so low as to comprehended the meaning of a hundred Acres of ground were for selling the whole territory in lots of a mile square.2

In this situation we remained for eight days, with great obstinacy on both sides, untill a kind of compromise took effect.

As to foreign news we are entirely uninformed: neither can [any] body here say with certainty what will be the event of the present hostile preparations in Europe.3

I imagine you have heard of the arrival of an American vessel at this place in four months from Canton in China laden with the commodities of that country.4

It seems our Countrymen were treated with as much respect as the Subjects of any other nation: i.e. the whole are looked upon by the Chinese as Barberians: & they have too much Asiactic hauteur to descend to any discrimination. Most of the mercantile people here are of opinion, this commerce can be carried on, on betters5 from America than Europe: & that we may be able not only to supply our own wants, but to smuggle a very considerable quantity to the West Indies.6 I could heartily wish to see the merchts. of our State engaged in this business.

Don’t you think an exemption from duty on all goods imported immediately from India in Virga. bottoms to our State might have a good affect?

Willm. Grayson7

RC (DLC). Cover and enclosure missing. Docketed by JM. The closing and original signature were clipped.

1The missing enclosure was the “Land Ordinance” as passed by Congress on 20 May 1785. Grayson, being a leading member of the committee appointed to draw up the ordinance, was privy to all the proposals for its makeup.

2The “Eastern people”—the New England delegates—were anxious to peddle the public domain before it drained population from the older states. The western settlers were hostile to the sale of “large tracts of 30,000 acres” however, as their resolution at the Kentucky convention of Dec. 1784 proved. “That to grant any Person a larger quantity of Land than he designs Bona Fide to seat himself or his Family on, is a greevance, Because it is subversive of the fundamental Principles of a free republican Government” (Abernethy, Western Lands and the American Revolution, p. 305).

3Joseph II, emperor of Austria, was trying his strength against the Dutch, but France had thus far been able to keep the peace. See Grayson to JM, 1 May 1785, and Lafayette to JM, 16 Mar. 1785.

4The American ship Empress of China reached New York from Canton on 11 May 1785 (Pa. Gazette, 18 May 1785).

5Commerce “carried on, on betters,” i.e., better trading terms.

6Grayson first wrote, “but to smuggle in at [sic] very considerable degree to the West Indies.”

7Grayson’s name was written by an unidentified hand.

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