James Madison Papers

To James Madison from George Muter, 20 February 1787

From George Muter

Kentucky, Mercer County. Feby. 20th. 1787


I beg leave to return you my thanks, for your favour of the 7th. of January, which I received a few days ago.

Our Convention was sitting when the Act of last Session arrived.1 The moment the Convention received information of the act’s being come to hand, it was directed to be read; and on considering it’s contents, it was the opinion of the members generally, that the Convention by the passing of the act, was dissolved.2 I was doubtfull then, that that opinion was too hastily adopted, & that a dissolution of the Convention was not intended; in which opinion, since I received your letter, I am now satisfied I was right.3 I have showed your letter to several of the members; they are of the same opinion with me, but we can see no means of the Convention’s being able to act again during it’s continuance, or even of being called, let the meeting be ever so proper or necessary. A very considerable delay, must now take place, in the bussiness of separation; whether that will be attended with good, or bad consequences, I am at present unable to determine. Those of the people that were against a separation, exult exceedingly; they think they have gained a victory & plume themselves upon it, highly indeed. The friends to a separation, are rather displeased, they think the petition signed by about 70. obscure persons, had more influence, than it ought to have had; and they fear, disagreeable consequences may, arise from the delay. ’Tis remarkable, that the petition was drawn by a Dr. Brooke,4 who was a member of the first Convention, & moved that Kentucky should immediatly declare itself independant; and that Taylor5 who carried it in, from some expressions that I heard drop from him, I think there is reason to beleive, would wish for an unconditional separation. I am however of opinion, that the terms held out by the Act of separation will be accepted of, in spite of every thing that can be done to the contrary; & I am certain, that the Convention, would have voted the terms reasonable, in a few hours after the time they received the Act.

I am perfectly satisfied of the propriety of the 7th. Art: your reasonings have convinced me my doubts (for it went no farther with me) were wrong.6 I find too, that many others with whom I have conversed on that subject since I received your letter, agree with me in opinion.

There has, I firmly beleive, a great change taken place in the minds of the people since the last election; but, it is very different from what I have reason to beleive, it was represented to be in Richmond;7 I have not a doubt, that a great number of people who were against a seperation at the time of the election, are now for it, and I have not heard of a single person, who was inclined for a seperation then, having changed his mind.

Our people here are greatly alarmed at the prospect of the navigation of the Mississippi being given up. And I have not mett with one man, who would be willing to give the navigation up, for ever so short a time, on any terms whatever. For my own part, although I wish for the right of the navigation’s being secured to the Citizens of the United States, yit I could wish to see the people of the western country in general, & the people of Kentucky in particular, make, but a very sparing use of it.8 I am satisfied, foreign commerce can never be beneficial in any considerable degree, to a people so far removed from the sea; and that it must be ruinous, if the people are engaged in raising a rough materail, & that a bulky one & of little value too, to be improved by foreigners. This country, in my opinion, must be principally employed in manufacturing their own necessarys, or for ever be a poor one. If after supplying themselves with all their coarse goods they might stand in need of, the people could furnish some article of light carriage & high value, such as silk, to exchange for such fine goods as they wished to have & could not conveniently make, it might be well enough; but to go farther wou’d be acting contrary to their true interest; & I am inclined to think, contrary to the intention of Providence, who seems to have formed this country to live within itself—by furnishing it, with all the absolute necessarys of life, in such plenty, as to require only the industry of the people, to procure them in the greatest abundance.9

The situation of the people of this district, from the war with the Indians, is, really distressing. The expeditions of last fall, tho’ carried on at a vast expence, seem not to have been attended, with one single good consequence: on the contrary, there is reason to beleive, the Indians have rather gained a greater degree of confidence than they before possessed, & have been more irritated against us than they were.10 They seem now to be pushing us on every side; mischief has been done lately, on the frontiers of almost every County in the district, and partys have even ventured to committ their depredations, within about 15 miles of Danville; & one party, supposed to consist of about twenty, was seen last week, not much over 15 miles from Danville, & within about six or seven miles of Harrodsburgh. A great many poor people have already been forced to remove from their habitations, & it is not to be doubted, but that many more will be forced to follow their example. There seems to be no security at present, but in the very thickest settled parts of the Country, and how long there may be safety, even there, it is impossible to determine.11 The people however, do not seem dismayed; they keep up their spirits still, and they seem generally to be of opinion, that the strength of the Country, is fully sufficient for it’s defence, could it only be properly exerted. At the same time, they think Congress ought to make some exertions in their favour; but they have little hopes of any good arising to them, at least this spring & perhaps summer, either from the troops resolved to be raised by Congress for the defence of the western country,12 or from any other exertion by Congress in their favour whatever.

The situation of affairs in Massachusets seems to be distressing indeed. And it is, I think, to be feared, that the example, may be productive of mischief in some of the other states. Such a state of affairs is truely deplorable, more particularly as there is reason to suspect that British emmissarys are busying themselves on the occasion. How far the mischief may extend it is impossible to foresee; but, I would fain hope, it will produce an inclination in the minds of all men, to use every endeavour, to bring about such an amendment in the federal union as has, now, become absolutely necessary. Virginia has done herself honour in the choice of her deputies. I hope her example will be followed by the other states. And I pray, that the exertions of the deputies from the states of the Union, at their meeting, to amend the constitution, & thereby to secure to the people, the blessings, that may be reasonably expected from the revolution, may be blessed with the fullest success. I am with great respect Sir Your most obed & hle servt.

George Muter

RC (DLC). Docketed by JM.

1In late January 1787 (Watlington, The Partisan Spirit, p. 119).

3Technically Muter’s interpretation of the act and JM’s explanation were correct. If the convention had reached a decision and Congress had taken action on it before 1 June 1787, the deadline stipulated in the 1785 act, the convention’s procedure would have been legitimate. JM’s point was that the Virginia legislature had been led to believe by the rump convention’s petition in the fall of 1786 that there was not sufficient time for the convention and Congress to act under the authority of the 1785 statute. In the circumstances a new enabling act was needed to extend the time and to order the election of a new convention, which would then be authorized by the people of Kentucky to proceed under the new stipulations. Muter may well have hoped to get a decision for separation by the 1786 convention, whereupon the delegates could apply to Congress regardless of whether the time limit imposed by the 1785 act was exceeded or not (Bill Providing for Kentucky Statehood, 15 Dec. 1786 and n. 2; JM to Muter, 7 Jan. 1787).

4Ebenezer Brooks (ca. 1750–1799), a Presbyterian minister and physician. He came to Kentucky from Delaware around 1781. Well educated, he opened the first Latin school in Kentucky in 1784. He was an associate of Arthur Campbell and was not well regarded by the ruling faction in Kentucky. An early advocate of separation from Virginia, he was its most outspoken proponent at the first convention in which the ruling faction opposed the measure. During the elections in August 1786 for the fourth convention, Brooks changed his position, joining Samuel Taylor in opposing separation and the ruling faction. They accused him of reversing his position because of his defeat in the elections for the third convention as a proseparationist. He in turn charged his opponents with being “aristocrats” who wanted to rule Kentucky for their personal satisfaction and profit and who would impose taxes on Kentuckians, which Virginia had refrained from doing. After the fourth convention he continued to agitate against the “aristocrats” and separation (Watlington, The Partisan Spirit, pp. 48–50 and passim).

5Samuel Taylor of Lincoln County, formerly a deputy surveyor from Virginia. Originally for an unconditional separation, he began to oppose separation in 1785 when it was clear that the ruling faction was going to be in control of the movement (ibid., pp. 109–10). “While there was a prospect of trade through the Mississippi, I was myself in favor of a separation—and had no objection to the establishment of a detached government provided it was constructed on free liberal and democratical principles and sufficient resources appeared for the necessary arrangement of financies [sic]” (“A Real Friend to the People” [Taylor], Kentucky Gazette, 25 Apr. 1789), but now Kentucky needed the aid of Virginia to open the river and to protect the people from the self-interested “aristocrats” who wanted to control Kentucky for themselves (ibid.; Watlington, The Partisan Spirit, p. 110). Taylor represented Mercer County in the Virginia House of Delegates in the 1788, 1789, and 1791 sessions (Swem and Williams, Register description begins Earl G. Swem and John W. Williams, eds., A Register of the General Assembly of Virginia, 1776–1918, and of the Constitutional Conventions (Richmond, 1918). description ends , p. 436). He continued to oppose the “aristocrats” and separation down through the ninth and final statehood convention (Watlington, The Partisan Spirit, p. 198).

7Muter and other members of the dominant faction believed that Taylor convinced the members of the Virginia legislature that a majority of the people in Kentucky were against a separation (“A Farmer” [Harry Innes], Kentucke Gazette, 18 Oct. 1787; Watlington, The Partisan Spirit, p. 119; see Bill Providing for Kentucky Statehood, 15 Dec. 1786 and n. 2). The ruling faction was already frustrated and impatient over the delay imposed by the Virginia assembly on separation. The Mississippi question was the final irritant which turned their attention to the possibility of a “violent separation” (Watlington, The Partisan Spirit, pp. 120–21).

8Muter and his colleagues held a meeting in Danville in late March 1787 to consider a letter from a self-styled committee of correspondence in western Pennsylvania objecting to the Jay-Gardoqui negotiations and cession of the Mississippi as contrary to the interests of the people of the western country. Muter, Harry Innes, John Brown, and Benjamin Sebastian addressed a circular letter dated 29 Mar. 1787 to the people of Kentucky, which called for the election of representatives to a convention in Danville on the first Monday in May 1787 “to take up the consideration of this project of Congress; to prepare a spirited but decent remonstrance against the cession; to appoint a committee of correspondence, and to communicate with one already established on the Monongahela, or any other that may be constituted; to appoint delegates to meet representatives from the several districts on the western waters, in convention, should a convention be deemed necessary; and to adopt such other measures as shall be most conducive to our happiness.… As the inhabitants of this district wish to unite their efforts to oppose the cession of the navigation of the Mississippi, with those of their brethren residing on the western waters, we hope to see such an exertion made upon the important occasion, as may convince Congress that the inhabitants of the western country are united in the opposition and consider themselves entitled to all the privileges of freemen, and those blessings procured by the revolution, and will not tamely submit to an act of oppression which would tend to a deprivation of our just rights and privileges” (Green, Spanish Conspiracy, pp. 109–10). This revolutionary program was not enacted by the May convention. Little more was done than to appoint a committee of correspondence. The chief motivation of the ruling faction for calling this unofficial convention seems to have been to try to effect an immediate, illegal separation. They were unable to muster support among the people and had to confess to the representatives that the Virginia legislature had taken very forceful action against cession of the Mississippi six months earlier by passing several resolutions strongly opposing the treaty, which were to be forwarded to Congress. The separatists had known of the resolutions when they had called the convention (ibid., pp. 110–11; Watlington, The Partisan Spirit, pp. 120–24). Muter took a leading part in these unauthorized activities; his statement to JM was at best misleading concerning his position on separation and the Mississippi. This was not Muter’s first attempt to cast events and attitudes in Kentucky in a more favorable light to the eyes of public men in Virginia (see Muter to JM, 23 Sept. 1786).

9The leading party “was intrigued with the possibility of developing Kentucky as a commercial center … [and with] the hope that Kentucky might be a center of manufacturing” (Watlington, The Partisan Spirit, p. 95). In September 1787 Muter was to join Caleb Wallace, John Brown, Samuel McDowell, and other Kentuckians in forming the “Kentucke Society for Promoting Useful Knowledge,” which probably aimed at promoting manufacturing (ibid., p. 138). Muter’s argument was similar to that of those defending Jay’s proposed treaty (see Monroe to JM, 29 Sept. 1786, n. 3, and 2 Oct. 1786, n. 8). Muter may have been influenced by such men as Washington, or John Marshall, who wrote to him that should the communication between the James and Potomac rivers and the western waters be established and “should Mr. Rumsey’s scheme for making boats to work against the stream answer the expectation of our sanguine gentlemen, the communication between us will be easy, and we shall have but little occasion to contest the navigation of the Mississippi” (Marshall to Muter, 7 Jan. 1785, Tyler’s Quarterly description begins Tyler’s Quarterly Historical and Genealogical Magazine. description ends . I [1919–20], 28). Marshall later wrote, “People in general here are decidedly against it [cession of the Mississippi], and yet some who are chiefly interested in the prosperity of the western country appear to wish for it, as being beneficial to you” (Marshall to Muter, 11 Feb. 1787. ibid., I, 29).

10Colonel Logan’s attack on the Shawnee towns on the Great Miami early in October 1786 had wreaked havoc: seven towns burned, ten chiefs killed, extensive damage to crops and cattle. and the murder of a friendly Shawnee chieftain who had already been taken prisoner under a flag of truce. The Shawnee were naturally determined to avenge their people and to deliver them from such insults in the future (Downes, Council Fires on the Upper Ohio, p. 298). Each side thoroughly mistrusted the other. David Stuart wrote to Washington that “Col: Logan who defeated lately the Shawnee Indians and burnt their towns, is here—he seems to think. there can be no lasting peace with these unfortunate people” (19 Dec. 1786 [DLC: Washington Papers]). Given such deep-seated hostility and suspicion, an amicable settlement could hardly have been expected.

11Gov. Edmund Randolph received reports of Indian depredations throughout the winter of 1786–1787 from Col. Joseph Martin, Col. Levi Todd, Arthur Campbell, and other Virginia officials on the frontier (Cal. of Va. State Papers description begins William P. Palmer et al., eds., Calendar of Virginia State Papers and Other Manuscripts (11 vols.; Richmond, 1875–93). description ends , IV, 235 and passim). At the end of February. Logan and a party of Kentuckians again attacked friendly Cherokee near Cumberland Mountain. Enraged, the Indians blamed the Virginians and threatened reprisals (ibid., IV, 249, 254). The Indians had become increasingly dissatisfied with the trend of events since the signing of the peace treaty between the U.S. and Great Britain. In December 1786 a council of the Indian confederacy at Detroit had registered their discontent and resolved to make a stand for their rights (Downes, Council Fires on the Upper Ohio, pp. 299–301). The distrust was manifested in the restlessness of the Indians in the western country and was eloquently expressed in “A Talk for Colo. Joseph Martin—From Piomingo. One of the Cheifs [sic] of That Tribe [Chickasaw nation].” “We are sorry to hear that the white People are setling all the Lands Belonging to our Brothers, the Cherokees; we hope something will be Done to prevent it, as we Expect when all their lands Is settled our Lands will go the same way. I speak now for the Choctaws as well as my own People; we are all very uneasy about it, as we are told the Americans Intends to take all our Country Before they Done” (15 Feb. 1787, Cal. of Va. State Papers description begins William P. Palmer et al., eds., Calendar of Virginia State Papers and Other Manuscripts (11 vols.; Richmond, 1875–93). description ends , IV, 242).

12Ostensibly as a means of defending the frontier, Congress had resolved on 20 Oct. 1786 that an additional 1,340 troops be raised to form, with the troops already in service, a corps of 2,040 (JCC description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds., Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789 (34 vols.; Washington, 1904–37). description ends , XXXI, 891–93). Since the Massachusetts quota was 660 men and Virginia’s only sixty, the Indian scare was being used partially as a device to raise an army for the business closer at hand—Shays’s Rebellion (Prucha, Sword of the Republic, pp. 11–12).

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