James Madison Papers

From James Madison to Edmund Pendleton, 24 February 1787

To Edmund Pendleton

New York Feby. 24. 1787.

Dear Sir

If the contents of the Newspapers of this place find their way into the gazettes of Richmond you will have learnt that the expedition of Genl: Lincoln against the insurgents has effectually dispersed the main body of them.1 It appears however that there are still some detachments which remain to be subdued. & that the Government of Massts. consider very strong precautions as necessary agst. further eruptions. The principal incendiaries have unluckily made off. By some it is said they are gone to Canada: by others that they have taken shelter in Vermont, and by some that they are opening a communication with the upper parts of this State. The latter suggestion has probably some color, as the Governor here has thought proper to offer rewards for them after the example of Govr. Bowdoin.2 We have no interesting information from Europe.

The only step of moment taken by Congs. since my arrival has been a recommendation of the proposed meeting in May for revising the federal articles. Some of the States, considering this measure as an extraconstitutional one, had scruples agst. concurring in it without some regular sanction. By others it was thought best that Congs. should remain neutral in the business, as the best antidote for the jealousy of an ambitious desire in them to get more powers into their hands. This suspence was at length removed by an instruction from this State to its delegates to urge a Recommendatory Resolution in Congress which accordingly passed a few days ago.3 Notwithstanding this instruction from N. York, there is room to suspect her disposition not to be very federal, a large majority of her House of delegates having very lately entered into a definitive refusal of the impost, and the instruction itself having passed in the Senate by a casting vote only.4 In consequence of the sanction given by Congs. Massts. it is said will send deputies to the Convention, and her example will have great weight with the other N. England States. The States from N. Ca. to N. Jersey inclusive have made their appointments, except Maryd. who has as yet only determined that she will make them. The Gentlemen here from S. Ca. & Georgia, expect that those States will follow the general example. Upon the whole therefore it seems probable that a meeting will take place, and that it will be a pretty full one. What the issue of it will be is among the other arcana of futurity and nearly as inscrutable as any of them. In general I find men of reflection much less sanguine as to a new than despondent as to the present System. Indeed the present System neither has nor deserves advocates; and if some very strong props are not applied will quickly tumble to the ground. No money is paid into the public Treasury; no respect is paid to the federal authority. Not a single State complies with the requisitions, several pass them over in silence, and some positively reject them. The payments ever since the peace have been decreasing, and of late fall short even of the pittance necessary for the Civil list of the Confederacy. It is not possible that a Government can last long under these circumstances. If the appro[a]ching Convention should not agree on some remedy, I am persuaded that some very different arrangement will ensue. The late turbulent scenes in Massts. & infamous ones in Rhode Island, have done inexpressible injury to the republican character in that part of the U. States; and a propensity towards Monarchy is said to have been produced by it in some leading minds. The bulk of the people will probably prefer the lesser evil of a partition of the Union into three more practicable and energetic Governments. The latter idea I find after long confinement to individual speculations & private circles, is beginning to shew itself in the Newspapers. But tho’ it is a lesser evil, it is so great a one that I hope the danger of it will rouse all the real friends to the Revolution to exert themselves in favor of such an organization of the Confederacy, as will perpetuate the Union, and redeem the honor of the Republican name.

I shall follow this introductory letter with a few lines from time to time as a proper subject for them occurs. The only stipulation I exact on your part is that you will not consider them as claiming either answers or acknowledgments; and that you will believe me to be with sincerest wishes for your health and every other happiness Yr. Affecte. friend & servt.

Js. Madison Jr

RC (DLC). Addressed by JM, “to the care of Col. Holmes / Boling Green, Caroline County, Virginia.” Docketed by Pendleton with the note, “Answd. April 7th.”

1Both the Va. Independent Chronicle description begins Virginia Independent Chronicle (Richmond: Augustine Davis, 1786–90). Beginning on 13 May 1789 entitled, Virginia Independent Chronicle, and General Advertiser. description ends (28 Feb. 1787) and the Va. Gazette and Weekly Advertiser description begins Virginia Gazette, and General Advertiser (Richmond: Augustine Davis, 1790–1809). Formerly Virginia Independent Chronicle. description ends (1 Mar. 1787) carried an extract of a letter from New York, dated 12 Feb. 1787, reporting that Lincoln had suppressed the rebellion. The 7 and 14 Mar. issues of the Va. Independent Chronicle description begins Virginia Independent Chronicle (Richmond: Augustine Davis, 1786–90). Beginning on 13 May 1789 entitled, Virginia Independent Chronicle, and General Advertiser. description ends carried further details of the events in Massachusetts.

2The General Court of Massachusetts passed a resolution on 8 Feb. 1787 for reenlisting troops and offering a bounty to encourage men to do so. The legislature also requested Governor Bowdoin to issue a proclamation offering a reward for the capture of the leaders of the Shays insurrection and directed him to request the governors of appropriate states to issue similar proclamations with the assurance that any money advanced by them would be repaid by Massachusetts. Bowdoin issued the proclamation on the following day, offering a reward of £150 to anyone for apprehending Daniel Shays and £100 each for Luke Day, Adam Wheeler, and Eli Parsons. Upon receipt of Bowdoin’s proclamation and request, Gov. George Clinton forwarded them to the New York Senate on 19 Feb. and asked the legislature to give their sanction before he issued the decree. Consequently the Senate and Assembly resolved that the governor should make a similar proclamation, which Clinton proceeded to do on 24 Feb., apparently more in compliance with Massachusetts’s wishes, than in fear of the insurrection’s spreading to New York (Resolves of the General Court of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts: Together with the Speech and Messages of his Excellency and Governor to the said Court … Begun … the 31st Day of May,… 1786; and from thence continued by Prorogation and Adjournment, to … the thirty-first Day of January, 1787 [Boston, 1787; Evans description begins Charles Evans, ed., American Bibliography … 1639 … 1820 (12 vols.; Chicago. 1903–34). description ends 20514], pp. 182–83; Boston Gazette, and the Country Journal, 12 Feb. 1787; Journal of the Senate of the State of New-York, At their Tenth Session, begun … the Twelfth Day of January, 1787 [New York, 1787], pp. 35–36; Journal of the Assembly of New-York begun the Twelfth Day of January, 1787, p. 62; N. Y. Journal, and Weekly Register, 1 Mar. 1787; see also JM to Monroe, 25 Feb. 1787).

3The New York Assembly on 17 Feb. instructed their delegates in Congress to recommend the calling of a convention to consider revising the Articles of Confederation. The Senate passed the resolution by a vote of 10 to 9 on 20 Feb. The next day Congress passed a resolution, endorsing the Federal Convention to be held in May. The instructions to the New York delegates initiated action in Congress, but the resolution as passed was actually a compromise of one proposed by the Massachusetts delegates (Journal of the Assembly of New-York begun the Twelfth Day of January, 1787, p. 55; JCC description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds., Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789 (34 vols.; Washington, 1904–37). description ends , XXXII, 71–74).

4JM was not the only one who thought New York’s “disposition not to be very federal.” William Blount had written to Governor Caswell on 28 Jan. that New York had elected to Congress a delegation who “are except one antifederal Peasants notwithstanding the great Choice the state affords of Gentlemen of abilities and who are Candidates” (Burnett, Letters description begins Edmund C. Burnett, ed., Letters of Members of the Continental Congress (8 vols.; Washington, 1921–36). description ends , VIII, 533).

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