James Madison Papers

From James Madison to James Madison, Sr., 1 November 1786

To James Madison, Sr.

Richmond Novr. 1. 1786.

Hon’d Sir

Jno. Lusher & Joe got down this forenoon, with the articles sent. I shall execute your instructions as to the advertisements,1 and the Revised laws, if I can get at the latter time eno’ in the morning. I will do the same as to the French Dicty. for Mr. Taylor if I can effect it in time; if not I will make use of the first succeeding opportunity. I can give you no account of the Key of the Trunk. I suppose it must have been dropped or taken off & not replaced, for keys in such cases are usually fastened to the Trunks. I omitted in my letter from Fredg. to mention that I had directed 2 bolts of Oznabergs to be sent along with the other articles from Philada. but as I did it on the like condition of the price & quality being approved by Mr. H.2 it is uncertain whether any of the articles will come. I intended it merely as an experiment.

Paper money was the subject of discussion this day, and was voted by a Majority of 84 vs. 17. to be “unjust, impolitic, destructive of public & private confidence, and of that virtue which is the basis of Republican Governments.”3 Our Revenue matters have also been on the Anvil. Several changes in our taxes are proposed, and it is not unlikely that some will take place. Duties on imports will be urged as far as they can be guarded agst. smugling by land, as well as by water. Govr. Henry declines a reappointmt. but does not come into the Assembly. The Attorney or R. H. Lee, probably the former, will supply his place. We learn that great commotions are prevailing in Massts. An appeal to the Sword is exceedingly dreaded. The discontented it is said are as numerous as the friends of Govt. and more decided in their measures. Should they get uppermost, it is uncertain what may be the effect. They profess to aim only at a reform of their Consti[tu]tion and of certain abuses in the public administration, but an abolition of debts public & private, and a new division of property are strongly suspected to be in contemplation.4 We also learn that a general combination of the Indians threatens the frontier of the U. S. Congs. are planning measures for warding off the blow, one of which is an augmentation of the federal troops to upwards of 2000 men. In addition to these ills it is pretty certain that a formidable party in Congs. are bent on surrendering the Missispi. to Spain for the sake of some commercial stipulations. The project has already excited much heat within that Assembly & if pursued will not fail to alienate the Western Country & confirm the animosity & jealousy already subsisting between the Atlantic States. I fear that altho it should be frustrated, the effects already produced will be a great bar to an amendment of the Confederacy which I consider as essential to its continuance. I have letters from Kentucky which inform me that the expedition agst. the Indians has prevented the meeting which was to decide the question of their Independence. It is probable the news relative to the surrender of the Misspi. will lessen the disposition to separate. If the bacon left behind by Jno. should not have been sent, it need not be sent at all. Fresh butter will from time to time continue to be very acceptable. My best regards to my Mother & the family. Yr. Affete & dutiful son

Js. Madison Jr.


1The senior Madison was attempting to recover a runaway slave. JM placed his father’s advertisement in the Va. Gazette description begins Virginia Gazette and Weekly Advertiser (Richmond: Thomas Nicolson et al., 1781–97). description ends (8, 15, 22 Nov. 1786) offering ten dollars for seizing and holding “a Mulatto Slave, named Anthony, about 17 years old,” and a twenty-dollar reward “if brought home to me.” The “instructions,” if written, have not been found.

2Samuel House of Philadelphia, who was acting as the Madison family business agent.

3The House of Delegates journal placed the vote count at 85 to 17. The resolution rejecting the petitions favoring an emission of paper money had been voted upon earlier in the day, and has a Madisonian cut to it, but whether JM wrote it or simply admired its spirit is a matter of conjecture (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. 1786, p. 15).

4The same language JM uses here regarding Shays’s Rebellion is found in Charles Pettit’s report for Congress, 18 Oct. 1786 (Burnett, Letters description begins Edmund C. Burnett, ed., Letters of Members of the Continental Congress (8 vols.; Washington, 1921–36). description ends , VIII, 487). Henry Lee reported the Shays affair with great alarm, while General Knox (who was closer to the scene) also sent an overdrawn account to Washington (ibid., VIII, 506; F. S. Drake, Life and Correspondence of Henry Knox [Boston, 1873], p. 91). Other public men hoped the insurrection would spur federal reform. Stephen Higginson wrote Knox on 12 Nov. that the furor caused by the Shays incident “must be used as a Stock upon which the best Fruits are to be ingrafted. The public mind is now in a fit State … to come forward with a System competent to the great purpose of all Civil Arrangements, that of promoting and securing the happiness of Society” (Jameson, ed., “Letters of Stephen Higginson,” Annual Report of the American Historical Association for the Year 1896, I, 741–42).

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