James Madison Papers

From James Madison to Edmund Randolph, 25 March 1787

To Edmund Randolph

New York Mar. 25. 1787

My dear Sir

I have had the pleasure of your two favors of the 1 and 7. instant. The refusal of Mr. Henry to join in the task of revising the Confederation is ominous; and the more so I fear if he means to be governed by the event which you conjecture.1 There seems to be little hope at present of being able to quash the proceedings relative to the affair2 which is so obnoxious to him; tho’ on the other hand there is reason to believe that they will never reach the object at which they aimed.

Congress have not changed the day for meeting at Philada. as you imagine. The Act of Va. I find has done so in substituting the 2d day for the 2d Monday in May, the time recommended from Annapolis.3

I can not suppose that Mr. Otto has equivocated in his explanation to the public, touching the Floridas.4 Nothing on that subject has been mentioned here as far as I know. Supposing the exchange in question to have really been intended I do not see the inference to be unfavorable to France. Her views as they occur to me would most probably be, to conciliate the Western people in common with the Atlantic States, and to extend her commerce, by reversing the Spanish policy. I have always wished to see the Misspi. in the hands of France or of any Nation which would be more liberally disposed than the present holders of it.

Mr Jay’s Report on the Treaty of peace has at length been decided on. It Resolves & declares that the Treaty having been constitutionally formed is the law of the land, and urges a repeal of all laws contravening it, as well to stop the complaints of their existing as legal impediments, as to avoid needless questions touching their validity.5 Mr. Jay is preparing a circular address to accompany the Resolutions, & the latter will not be forwarded till the former is ready.

FC (DLC). Unsigned.

1JM and Randolph speculated upon Henry’s refusal to serve on the state delegation, and owing to their dislike of Henry they may have placed his recalcitrance in the worst light. Randolph indicated Henry was standing aloof from the convention until the issue of American rights on the Mississippi had been finally asserted by Congress. JM thought Henry avoided convention duty so that he could keep his options open at home, and thus remain free to oppose the work of the convention if it displeased him. Apart from these speculations there are several facts that lend credence to Henry’s professed reason for refusing to serve—he was short on cash and pressed by creditors (Randolph to JM, 1 Mar. 1787; 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 , 20 June 1787, quoted in Meade, Patrick Henry, II, 329).

2Many years later JM placed an asterisk here and wrote in the margin, “*Jay’s project for shutting the Mississippi for 25 years.”

3Randolph to JM, 7 Mar. 1787 and n. 1; 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, 256.

4See Randolph to JM, 7 Mar. 1787 and n. 7. The French chargé d’affaires in New York had written Jay several months earlier to deny any secret diplomacy regarding Florida. Otto quoted his 21 Dec. 1786 letter to John Jay: “Several members of Congress having inquired of me with a degree of earnestness, whether the news concerning the pretended exchange with Spain, in the southern part of this continent was well founded; I cannot answer that question better than by communicating to you the following passage in a dispatch from Count de Vergennes, of the 25th of August last.

“The exchange of Louisiana for a French possession in the West-Indies has never been in question: and if any thing should be again said of it, you will be pleased to contradict it formally” (N. Y. Journal, and Weekly Register, 18 Jan. 1787).

5Notes on Debates, 20 and 21 Mar. 1787.

Index Entries