From John Hatley Norton
Winchester Octr. 1st. 1785.
You cannot be a Stranger to the several Acts passed in our Assembly during the late War relative to Citizens of this State & british Subjects who had commercial Interests in this Country, as well as those who were Partners with them in this State; & that one was enacted preventing the latter from recovering their Debts, which at this Time is unrepealed, & another leaving them exposed to the full force of all judiciary proceedings in a[ccounts owed by them as] Debtors to Citizens of this State.1 This indulgence granted to the Citizens in our Case, & the oppression fixed on the British Subject in the othe[r], you will surely think repugnant to every principle of equity, & ought not to be countenanced in a Country which has been for so many years contending for Liberty founded in Justice, & the Rights of Mankind, & that your Laws shou’d not make any distinction between the Citizens of this State, & those of any other Country, as former Connections had placed them upon an equal footing as to Matters of a private nature. It is therefore to be wished that the most salutary Laws for the purpose of reforming some now in force, may have your Voice & support at the next Session of Assembly, & that a Majority of your House may second & promote your Interests & e[nd]eavours for having them enacted. In all Cases which can comprehend the true Interests of the Citizens of this State & british Subjects & those in Partnership with them res[i]d[in]g in the State, as well as the Rights of mankind in gen[eral. I think] you [as] a Man of Honour, Candour & Liberality will consider them on all Points without prejudice, & wherever you find either Defects or omissions in the Laws of our Country, you will be active in making such alterations or additions, as the Particular Cases may require; In attention to which you will do Justice to the Injured, & Honour to Yourself, being—Dr Sr Your most obedt Servt,
J. H. Norton
Dr. Sr. The foregoing is Submitted to your most Serious consideration, & as all our family have been uniformly attach[ed] to the Interests of this Country, & made every exertion in their Power as to Advances of money to this State, & at a Crisis when it was most wanted, & cou’d not have been procured from any other House in great Britain, I should hope that the peculiarity of their present Situation [w]ill [be attended] to by the Legislature, & followed by that Degree of [I]ndulgence & generosity which have ever Characterized the inhabitants of this State—being with Respect Dr Sr Your most obedt Servt
J. H. Norton
RC (DLC). Cover missing. The portions damaged by blotting and tears have been restored by conjectures enclosed within brackets.
1. The Virginia legislature passed an act at the Oct. 1782 session which forbade suits by British citizens for recovery of any debt contracted before 19 Apr. 1775 (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, 176–80). Though the law was originally scheduled to expire on 1 Dec. 1783, it had been retained through a series of “stay” laws and JM had failed to win over a majority to a more liberal policy, despite his efforts at the Oct. 1784 and subsequent sessions. JM reported that continued hostility toward repayment of British debts made efforts to pass a watered-down version of a debt-recovery bill impossible (JM to Monroe, 30 Dec. 1785). This bill was finally tabled and although a bill passed in 1787 permitting recovery of debts, its enforcement was contingent upon official notice that Great Britain had reimbursed America for slaves lost during the war and had evacuated the western forts still occupied (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 , XII, 528; Andrew C. McLaughlin, “The Western Posts and British Debts,” Annual Report of the American Historical Association for … 1894 [Washington, 1895], pp. 421–22). There the matter stood until the Constitution went into operation in 1789 and made legal action in federal courts possible (Harrell, Loyalism in Virginia, pp. 113–52; Papers of Madison description begins William T. Hutchinson et al., eds., The Papers of James Madison (8 vols. to date; Chicago, 1962——). description ends , I, 318 n.). For Norton’s postwar problems see Mason, John Norton & Sons (1968 ed.), pp. xxxi–xxxii, 459–81.
2. Norton wrote a postscript on the verso of his message.