James Madison Papers

To James Madison from Edmund Randolph, 7 March 1787

From Edmund Randolph

Richmond March 7. 1787.

My dear sir

This moment your favor of 26th. ulto. was handed to me.

I intended constantly to inclose the gazettes to you, and was prevented only by a supposition, that the printer performed that office. It shall be remembered with pleasure hereafter.

Why has congress changed the day for meeting in Phila.? I rejoice at the alteration; because it removes the terror on my spirits, that the prospect of my departure from home, gravidâ uxore, has been raising in my mind. I wish it could be postponed still [l]ater in the month, that I might carry her with me.1 I have communicated the alteration of the day to the deputies, and tomorrow press in warmest terms our friend at Mt. Vernon to assent to join us.2

Some inflammatory summonses have been posted at several roads in Henrico and Hanover, addressed to the people, and feeling their pulse on taxes and executions. They have brought forth no malignant symptom: and if they do generate such, my maxim is “principiis obsta.”3

The late house tax has excited clamour: some say opposition, in Petersburg.4 The truth seems rather to be, a determination to try the firmness of the courts on the validity of the law.

Colo. Arthur Campbell has forwarded to us an anonymous exhortation, to the spurious state of Franklin to arm vs the Spaniards. A copy will be sent to you, as soon as it is complete. One Green is the reputed author, of indifferent Character,5 but great enterprize.6 A publication of Timon, in the New-York journals, renders the friends of that country on the Mississippi somewhat jealous of France, and will probably give fresh vigour to Mr. Green’s movements. But I cannot believe that Mr. Otto has equivocated, as is there represented.7

That Messrs Wythe and Blai[r] may not be prevented from joining the corps at Phila. from the badness of their cavalry; we have ordered a state boat to convey them to the head of the bay.

In a few days I shall send you a copy of our instructions to the Naval officers. Yrs Mo. afftely

E. R.

RC (DLC). Addressed by Randolph. Docketed by JM. Brackets enclose letters obscured by a tear in the Ms.

1Randolph was confused because the Virginia act appointing delegates to the convention had mistakenly substituted “second day” in place of “second Monday” in May, the day recommended by the Annapolis convention as the time for the Philadelphia meeting. Congress followed the report of the Annapolis convention in setting a day for the Philadelphia convention (JM to Randolph, 25 Mar. 1787). Mrs. Randolph gave birth to a daughter in April and did not join her husband in Philadelphia until the middle of June (Eliza House Trist to Jefferson, 6 June 1787. Boyd, Papers of Jefferson description begins Julian P. Boyd et al., eds., The Papers of Thomas Jefferson (19 vols. to date; Princeton, N. J., 1950——). description ends , XI, 405).

2JM and Randolph deftly maneuvered to overcome Washington’s reluctance to attend the Philadelphia convention (JM to Washington, 24 Dec. 1786, n. 2). After receiving the General’s initial refusal to accept the appointment, Randolph continued to “press in earnest terms” to Washington to reconsider (Randolph to Washington, 4 Jan. and 11 Mar. 1787 [DLC: Washington Papers]). In late March, Washington consented to go if his health would permit (Washington to Randolph, 28 Mar. 1787, Fitzpatrick, Writings of Washington description begins John C. Fitzpatrick, ed., The Writings of George Washington, from the Original Sources, 1745–1799 (39 vols.; Washington, 1931–44). description ends , XXIX, 186–88). As if to make sure the General would not change his mind again, Randolph informed him that on the day set for the meeting, “it is my purpose to take you by the hand” (Randolph to Washington, 2 Apr. 1787 [DLC: Washington Papers]).

3JM had reported to Jefferson that attempted tax reductions at the last session of the legislature “were baffled, and sundry new taxes added,” some of which were “liable to objections, and were much complained of” (JM to Jefferson, 15 Feb. 1787). See “An act imposing new Taxes,” 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, 283–87. “Obsta principiis” is a legal term meaning “withstand beginnings; resist the first approaches or encroachments” (Henry C. Black, Black’s Law Dictionary [4th ed. rev.; St. Paul, 1968], p. 1227).

4The “act imposing new Taxes” included a tax of 5 percent on the annual rental value of houses and lots in towns (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, 286).

5Randolph wrote “Xaracter.”

6See Arthur Campbell to Randolph, 16 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. The “anonymous exhortation” was “A Copy of a letter from a Gentleman at the Falls of Ohio to his friend in New England, dated Dec. 4th 1786” (extract, ibid., IV, 242–43; complete version in Green, Spanish Conspiracy, pp. 387–88). Copies of this letter circulated with “an air of secrecy” in the West during the winter of 1786–1787. Randolph forwarded a copy on 10 Mar. to the Virginia delegates, who included it among the papers turned over to Congress on 28 Mar. relating to Clark’s conduct at Vincennes (Randolph to JM, 1 Mar. 1787 and n. 1). The author was apparently Thomas Green, a Georgia land speculator and adventurer formerly residing at Natchez (Papers of Madison description begins William T. Hutchinson et al., eds., The Papers of James Madison (9 vols. to date; Chicago, 1962——). description ends , VIII, 308 n. 2). The letter has also been attributed to James Wilkinson as part of a plot to discredit Clark (Temple Bodley, George Rogers Clark: His Life and Public Services [Boston, 1926], pp. 379–82).

7The “publication of Timon” was reprinted “from a late New-York paper” in the Richmond 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 of 7 Mar. 1787. “Timon” wrote in response to a letter of French chargé d’affaires Louis Otto in the N.Y. Packet of 19 Jan. 1787, where Otto denied that Spain had agreed to cede East and West Florida to France in exchange for a French possession in the West Indies (Burnett, Letters description begins Edmund C. Burnett, ed., Letters of Members of the Continental Congress (8 vols.; Washington, 1921–36). description ends , VIII, 533–34 n. 7).

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