James Madison Papers

From James Madison to Ambrose Madison, 7 August 1786

To Ambrose Madison

New York Aug. 7th, 1786.

Dear Brother,

The business depending before Congress not permitting Jas. Monroe1 to make a trip up the North River and a solitary trip being very disagreeable to me as well as likely to be less satisfactory in the result, I have declined for the present going further Northward than this City. I have however concerted some arrangements with Col. M: which have for their object, the extension of our speculations on the Mohawk. The purchase we have already made is so well ascertained to be a judicious one that I am confirmed in my wishes to add to it if possible. The crisis also is unquestionably favorable. Nothing can bear a worse aspect than our federal affairs as viewed from this position. No money comes into the public treasury, trade is on a wretched footing, and the States are running mad after paper money, which among other evils disables them from all contributions of specie for paying the public debts, particularly the foreign one. In Rhode Island a large sum has been struck and made a tender, and a severe penalty imposed on any attempt to discriminate between it and coin. The consequence is that provisions are witheld from the Market, the Shops shut up—a general distress and tumultuous meetings.2 The prices of produce seem to be lower here than in Philada. Tobo. is no exception to this remark.

The country suffers much from a want of rain. I understand by some persons just arrived here from Virga. that you have latterly been seasonable, or at least that the lower Country has been so. My next will be from Philada. Adieu

J. M. Jr.

Tr (DLC: Carnegie Institution of Washington Papers). Partially printed in Burnett, Letters description begins Edmund C. Burnett, ed., Letters of Members of the Continental Congress (8 vols.; Washington, 1921–36). description ends , VIII, 417 n. The original was in the possession of Stan. V. Henkels when Burnett’s copy was made. Location of RC in 1974 was unknown.

1“Pres. Monroe” in the transcript, with a marginal question mark inserted by Burnett.

2An often-quoted item concerning Rhode Island which appeared in the New-Haven Chronicle (12 Sept. 1786) and elsewhere, seems to have echoed JM. “A traveller from the eastward informs, that the towns of Providence and Newport, Rhode-Island, make a most doleful appearance, half the shops being shut, and little or no business done. The corners of the streets are crowded with paper money politicians of opposed ideas, chatting like magpies.… Many of the inhabitants have been greatly distressed.” The cause for this effort to discredit Rhode Island was the act of April 1786 which the country party forced through the state legislature to authorize a loan of £100,000 to landowners at 4 percent interest, with the borrower’s property accepted as collateral. The funds thus obtained were used to pay off old debts, and those who refused to accept the paper were denied legal means of collecting the debt. Farmers tried to boycott markets in an effort to force acceptance of the paper money thus obtained, and some merchants shut up their shops while others took to back alleys to avoid meeting debtors in the streets (Frank G. Bates, Rhode Island and the Formation of the Union [New York, 1898], pp. 118–48). JM, as a hard-money man, must have sympathized with the creditors and with the author of an essay in the Philadelphia newspaper who shared JM’s attitude on specie. “The cry of the scarcity of money, is generally putting the effect for the cause. No business can be done, say some, because money is scarce. It may be said with more truth, money is scarce, because little business is done.… Those who refuse doubtful paper … are not enemies, but friends to their country” (“A Friend to Public Credit,” Philadelphia Independent Gazetteer, 29 July 1786).

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