James Madison Papers

From James Madison to Edmund Randolph, 15 April 1787

To Edmund Randolph

N. York April 15. 1787

My dear friend

Your favor of Apl. 4. has been recd since my last. The probability of Genl. Washington’s coming to Philada. is in one point of view flattering. Would it not however be well for him to postpone his actual attendance untill some judgment can be formed of the result of the meeting. It ought not to be wished by any of his friends that he should participate in any abortive undertaking. It may occur perhaps that the delay would deprive the Convention of his presiding auspices and subject him on his arrival to a less conspicuous point of view than he ought on all occasions to stand in. Agst. this difficulty must be weighed the consideration above mentioned, to which may be added the opportunity which Penna. by the appt. of Docr. Franklin has afforded of putting sufficient dignity into the Chair.

The effect of the interposition of Congs. in favor of the Treaty at this crisis was foreseen by us.1 I would myself have preferred a little procrastination on the subject. But the manifest and undeniable propriety of the thing itself, with the chance that the Legislature here which will adjourn in a little time untill next winter, & which is one of the principal transgressors, may set an immediate example of reformation, overruled the arguments for delay.2 The difficulties which as you suggest may be left behind by a mere repeal of all existing impediments, will be probably found of a very serious nature to British Creditors. If no other advantage should be taken of them by the State, than the making the assent of the Creditors to the plan of instalments, a condition of such further provisions as may not come within the Treaty, I do not know that the existence of these difficulties ought to be matter of regret. In every view Congs. seem to have taken the most proper course for maintaining the national character, and if any deviations in particular States should be required by peculiar circumstances, it will be better that they should be chargeable on such States, than on the U. States.

The Maryd. Assembly met on the 2d. inst: being convened by proclamation. The expected delay therefore in her appointments for the Convention, can not be admitted among the considerations which are to decide the time of your setting out. I am sorry that punctuality on your part will oblige you to travel without the company of Mrs. Randolph. But the sacrifice seems to be the more necessary as Virga. ought not only to be on the ground in due time, but to be prepared with some materials for the work of the Convention. In this view I could wish that you might be able to reach Philada. some days before the 2d. Monday in May.

This City has been thrown into no small agitation by a motion made a few days ago for a short adjournment of Congs. and the appointment of Philada. as the place for its reassembly. No final question was taken but some preliminary questions showed that six States were in favor of it. R. Island the 7th. State was at first in the affirmative, but one of its delegates was overcome by the exertions made to convert him.3 As neither Maryland nor S. Carolina were present the vote is strong evidence of the precarious tenure by which N. York enjoys her metropolitan advantages. The motives which led to this attempt were probably with some of a local nature. With others they were certainly of a general nature. I found on my arrival here among the Southern Gentlemen a heavy complaint of the preponderance given to the Eastern Scale by the very excentric position of Congs. and a determination to seize the first moment for taking a position in which the equilibrium would be less violated. The indignation of N. Jersey & of R. Island agst. N. York, presented this moment, & the experiment was accordingly made. It can not be denied that very substantial inconveniences arise to the Southern States from their remoteness from the seat of Government, both with respect to the attendance of their delegates and the various intercourse of business within the federal administration, and that from the nature of things, the interests and views of the States nearest to Congs. will always press more on their attention, than those of more distant: Had Congs. been sitting last fall at Fort Pitt it is morally certain in my opinion that a surrender of the Missippi: wd. not have had two votes: to these considerations may be added the improbability that the Eastern States will ever consent to remove Congs. to a proper permanent seat whilst they can retain them here. But notwithstanding this view of the matter, the objections agst. the suddenness of the measure & the peculiarity of the present crisis, appeared to me in so strong a light that I should certainly have voted agst. it, had the probability been less that by waiting for a proper time, the proper measure might be lost altogether. The plan which appeared least objectionable to me was, to fix Philada. for the meeting of the ensuing Congs. in Novr. next, and if the immediate removal had been carried, I meant to have proposed such an alteration which would have been readily agreed to by the opposite side.

Mr. Jay was a few days ago instructed to communicate4 to Congress the state of the Spanish negotiation. An unwilling but5 silent assent was given by Massachusetts and Connecticut. The report shews that Jay viewed the act of seven states as valid & has even adjusted with Guardoqui an article for suspending our use of the Mississippi during the term of the Treaty.6 A subsequent report on a reference of western information from Virginia and North Carolina denotes little confidence in the event of the negotiation and considerable perplexity as to the steps proper to be taken by Congress.7 Wednesday is fixed for the consideration of these reports. We mean to propose that Jefferson be sent under a special commission to plead the cause of the Mississippi at Madrid.

RC (DLC). Unsigned. The italicized words, unless otherwise noted, are those encoded by JM using the code Randolph sent him 22 Nov. 1782. Many years later JM decoded this letter interlinearly.

1Notes on Debates, 20 and 21 Mar. 1787.

2In his report on infractions of the peace treaty, Jay had given extensive attention to the New York violations, notably the “trespass” laws (JCC description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds., Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789 (34 vols.; Washington, 1904–37). description ends , XXXI, 809–13, 855–62). On 21 Mar. 1787 the New York Assembly approved a bill repealing part of the Trespass Act of 1783, and this became law on 4 Apr. On 18 Apr. 1787 the Assembly, in accordance with the resolutions of Congress of 21 Mar., passed a bill repealing laws inconsistent with the peace treaty, but it was rejected by the Senate (Syrett and Cooke, Papers of Hamilton description begins Harold C. Syrett and Jacob E. Cooke, eds., The Papers of Alexander Hamilton (19 vols. to date; New York, 1961——). description ends , IV, 121–22, 150–53).

3See Notes on Debates, 11 [10] and 12 [11] Apr. 1787. The Rhode Island delegate was Peleg Arnold.

4JM originally wrote “246,” the code for “sl.” In his later interlineation he indicated that it should be “264,” the code for “t.”

5JM originally wrote “136,” the code for “bar,” instead of “156,” the code for “but,” the word he used in his later interlineation.

6JM referred to the vote of seven “eastern” states the previous August repealing Jay’s instruction to insist on the right of the U.S. to the free navigation of the Mississippi. JM and his southern colleagues argued that such a repeal required nine votes because the original instructions had been approved by nine states (Burnett, The Continental Congress, pp. 654–58). In his report Jay claimed that the adjusted article on the Mississippi navigation would “save the Right and only suspend the Use during the Term of the Treaty” (JCC description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds., Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789 (34 vols.; Washington, 1904–37). description ends , XXXII, 186).

7See Notes on Debates, 29 Mar. 1787 and n. 3; JCC description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds., Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789 (34 vols.; Washington, 1904–37). description ends , XXXII, 189–204. Jay pointed out that Congress had two alternatives—to make a treaty with Spain or to declare war—and that it would “be expedient to prepare without delay for the one or the other.” At the same time, however, he admitted that neither alternative was satisfactory, observing “that a Treaty disagreeable to one half of the Nation had better not be made, for it would be violated, and that a War disliked by the other half, would promise but little success, especially under a Government so greatly influenced and affected by popular Opinion.”

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