James Madison Papers

To James Madison from George Washington, 10 October 1787

From George Washington

Mount Vernon Octr., 10th. 1787

My dear Sir,

I thank you for your letter of the 30th. Ult. It came by the last Post. I am better pleased that the proceedings of the Convention is handed from Congress by a unanimous vote (feeble as it is) than if it had appeared under stronger marks of approbation without it. This apparent unanimity will have its effect. Not every one has opportunities to peep behind the curtain; and as the multitude often judge from externals, the appearance of unanimity in that body, on this occasn, will be of great importance.

The political tenets of Colo M.1 & Colo R. H. L. are always in unison. It may be asked which of them gives the tone? Without hesitation, I answer the latter; because the latter, I believe, will receive it from no one.2 He has, I am informed, rendered himself obnoxious in Philadelphia by the pains he took to dissiminate his objections amongst some [of] the leaders of the seceding members of the legislature of that State.3 His conduct is not less reprobated in this County. How it will be relished, generally, is yet to be learnt, by me. As far as accts. have been received from the Southern & Western Counties, the Sentiment with respect to the proceedings of the Convention is favourable. Whether the knowledge of this, or conviction of the impropriety of withholding the Constitution from State Conventions has worked most in the breast of Col M I will not decide; but the fact is, he has declared unequivocally (in a letter to me) for its going to the people.4 Had his sentiments however been opposed to the measure, Instructions, which are given by the freeholders of this County to their representatives, would have secured his vote for it.5 Yet, I have no doubt but that this assent will be accompanied by the most tremendous apprehensions, and highest colourings to his objections. To alarm the people, seems to be the ground work of his plan. The want of a qualified Navigation Act, is already declared to be a mean by which the produce of the Southern States will be reduced to nothing, & will become a monopoly of the Northern & Eastern States. To enumerate all his objections, is unnecessary; because they are detailed in the address of the seceding members of the Assembly of Pensylvania; which, no doubt you have seen.6

I scarcely think that any powerful opposition will be made to the Constitution’s being submitted to a Convention of the people of this State. If it is given, it will be at that meeting—In which I hope you will make it convenient to attend;7 explanations will be wanting—none can give them with more precision and accuracy than yourself.

The Sentiments of Mr. Henry with respect to the Constitution which is submitted, are not known in these parts. Mr. Josh. Jones (who it seems was in Alexandr. a few days before my return home) was of opinion that they would not be inemical to it—others however conceive, that as the advocate of a paper emission, he cannot be friendly to a Constn. wch. is an effectual bar.

From circumstances which have been related, it is conjectured that the Governor wishes he had been among the subscribing members, but time will disclose more than we know at present with respect to the whole of this business; and when I hear more, I will write to you again. In the mean while I pray you to be assured of the sincere regard and affection with which I am, My dear Sir Yr. Most Obedt. & Very Hble Serv

Go: Washington

PS. Having received (in a letter) from Colo. Mason, a detail of his objections to the proposed Constitution I enclose you a copy of them.8

RC (MA); FC (DLC: Washington Papers). RC docketed by JM. FC in a clerk’s hand. Minor variations between the FC and the RC have not been noted. For enclosure, see n. 8.

1Here JM added “ason.”

2Washington’s comments in the remainder of this paragraph indicate that he was referring to George Mason rather than to Richard Henry Lee. Thus he should have written “former” instead of “latter.” JM evidently recognized Washington’s error, as suggested by a note in his hand at the bottom of the first page of the RC. The note is heavily crossed through, however, and only a few words are legible.

3See Coxe to JM, 28 Sept. 1787. Washington may have seen a satirical piece in the Pa. Gazette of 3 Oct. 1787 listing eight reasons for “The Protest of the Minority, who objected to calling a Convention, for the purpose of adopting the fœderal Constitution,” the seventh of which read: “Because a disaffected member of the fœderal convention, from Virginia, in a closet conversation with R. Whitehill, disapproved of the fœderal government, and we hold it to be our duty rather to follow his advice, than the inclinations of our constituents.”

4See Mason to Washington, 7 Oct. 1787, Rutland, Papers of George Mason, III, 1001–2.

5In the FC this sentence reads: “Had his sentiments however been opposed to the measure, his instructions (for the delegates of this Country are so instructed) would have compelled him to vote for it.” The instructions from the freeholders of Fairfax County to their representatives, George Mason and David Stuart, directed them to work for “the immediate Convocation of a Convention of Delegates” to ratify the Constitution (ibid., III, 1000–1001).

6Shortly after the Pennsylvania legislature voted to call an early convention to consider the Constitution, the dissenting minority issued “An Address … to their Constituents,” which appeared in the Pa. Packet of 4 Oct. 1787 (McMaster and Stone, Pennsylvania and the Federal Constitution, I, 73–79). JM may have seen the address in the Pennsylvania paper or in the N.Y. Journal, and Weekly Register of 11 Oct. 1787.

7In the FC this sentence reads: “if it is given it will be there at which I hope you will make it convet. to be present.”

8Mason composed the first draft of his “Objections To This Constitution of Government” just before the convention adjourned. He revised it before sending copies to Washington on 7 Oct. and to Elbridge Gerry on 20 Oct. (Rutland, Papers of George Mason, III, 991–94, 1001–2, 1006). Washington’s copy of Mason’s “Objections” is in the Washington Papers (DLC) and is printed in Documentary History of the Constitution, IV, 316–20. Another copy, in an unknown hand, is in the Mason Papers (DLC). Below the title on the first page of this copy appears the attribution in JM’s hand: “By Col. Mason.” An endorsement in an unknown hand, possibly that of John Jay, appears on the verso. Evidently this is the copy Washington sent JM.

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