James Madison Papers

From James Madison to James Monroe, 29 May 1785

To James Monroe

Orange May 29. 1785

Dear Sir

Your favor of May [8] came to hand a few days ago. It is fortunate that the variant ideas have been so easily accomodated touching the mode of surveying & selling the territorial fund. It will be equally so I think if you can dispossess the British of the Western posts, before the land office is opened. On this event and the navigation of the Mississippi will much depend the fiscal importance of the back Country to the U: States. The amount of the proposed requisition will I fear startle those to whom it will be addressed.1 The use of certificates as a medium for discharging the interest of the home debt, is a great evil, tho’ I suppose a necessary one.2 The advantage it gives to Sharpers & Collectors, can scarcely be described, and what is more noxious, it provokes violations of public faith, more than the weight of the Burden itself. The 1,000,000 Drs. to be paid in Specie, and the greatest part of it to be sent abroad, will equally try the virtue of the States. If they do not flinch however they will have the satisfaction of coming out of the trial with more honour, though with less money.

I have lately heard that the Kentucky Delegates will be instructed to propose to the next Session, the separation of that Country from this, and its being handed over to Congress for admission into the Confederacy.3 If they pursue their object through this channel, they will not only accomplish it without difficulty, but set a useful example to other Western Settlemts. which may chuse to be lopped off from other States. My information as to this matter is not authentic, but such as I am inclined to believe true. I hear also that a State is actually set up in the back Country of N. C. that it is organized, named, and has deputed representatives to Congress.4

It gives me much pleasure to observe by 2 printed reports sent me by Col. Grayson that in the latter Congs. had expunged a clause contained in the first for setting apart a district of land in each Township, for supporting the Religion of the Majority of inhabitants. How a regulation, so unjust in itself, so foreign to the Authority of Congs. so hurtful to the sale of the public land, and smelling so strongly of an antiquated Bigotry, could have received the countenance of a Commtee is truly matter of astonishment.5 In one view it might have been no disadvantage to this State in case the Genl. Assesst. should take place, as it would have given a repellent quality to the new Country, in the estimation of those whom our own encroachments on Religious Liberty would be calculated to banish to it. But the adversaries to the Assesst. begin to think the prospect here flattering to their wishes. The printed Bill has excited great discussion and is likely to prove the sense of the Community to be in favor of the liberty now enjoyed. I have heard of several Counties where the late representatives have been laid aside for voting for the Bill, and not of a single one where the reverse has happened. The Presbyterian Clergy too who were in general friends to the scheme, are already in another tone, either compelled by the laity of that sect, or alarmed at the probability of further interferences of the Legislature, if they once begin to dictate in matters of Religion. I am Dr. Sir Yrs. affecly.

J. Madison Jr.

The letter herewith inclosed is from Mrs. Carr, sister of Mr. Jefferson.

RC (DLC). Cover missing. Docketed by JM. Note by Monroe: “Correspondence with Mr Madison in my first mission to France.”

1The requisition was for $3 million, payable in indents if a third was paid in specie (Ferguson, Power of the Purse, p. 225).

2Beginning in 1782 with Pennsylvania, the states began issuing to public creditors certificates of interest which were receivable in taxes. By thus taking over payment of the interest on the public debt the states were undermining federal control of finances and at the same time indulging in a paper money scheme. From 1784 to the end of the Confederation, Congress allowed the states to pay the part of their requisitions (meant to service the public debt) in indents. or certificates of interest (ibid., pp. 221–23).

3This information was probably based upon a rumor preceding the convention held at Danville on 23 May 1785, where five resolutions were passed calling for constitutional separation, a petition to the Virginia legislature seeking a separation act, an address to the people of Kentucky, the election of delegates to another convention in July, and the holding of a convention in Aug. at Danville. At the Aug. convention (8 Aug. 1785) the petition was redrawn and George Muter (chief justice of the District Court) and Harry Innes (attorney general) were deputed to present the petition to the Virginia legislature (Lewis Collins and Richard H. Collins, History of Kentucky [2 vols.; Covington, Ky., 1878], I, 260–61). The petition was presented 28 Oct. 1785 (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. 1785, p. 10). For the first Kentucky convention, see JM to Randolph, 10 Mar. 1785 and n. 2; and Abernethy, “Journal of the First Kentucky Convention,” Journal of Southern History, I (1935), 67–78. Also, see Act Concerning Statehood for the Kentucky District, 22 Dec. 1785.

4A temporary constitution for the new state of Franklin had been prepared and prefaced with a declaration of independence. At the same time the North Carolina assembly had repealed the act providing for the cession of the western territory to Congress and formed the country into a separate district of Washington within the state under the command of John Sevier. The first assembly of the self-styled state met in Mar. 1785. John Sevier was elected governor and William Cocke elected commissioner of the state of Franklin to make an appeal before the Continental Congress and to present a memorial praying admission to the Union (Williams, History of the Lost State of Franklin [1933 ed.], pp. 41, 43–44, 57, 65).

5On 23 Apr. 1785 Congress debated the clauses in the 1785 Land Ordinance concerning the support of religion. William Ellery (R. I.) and Melancton Smith (N. Y.) led the successful assault against the appropriation of public lands for the use of religion. The question was oddly put so that the vote was taken on whether the religion clause should stand. In that way only a few noes were required to defeat the question and consequently strike the offensive phrases. Harry Ammon takes the view that by this manner, although few of the delegates favored the support of the religion clause, few had to go on record against it. Monroe seems never to have responded to JM’s condemnation of the clause, nor to have explained why he and his fellow Virginia delegates chose to vote for retention of the provision (JCC description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds., Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789 (34 vols.; Washington, 1904–37). description ends , XXVII, 293–96; Ammon, James Monroe, p. 52).

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