James Madison Papers

To James Madison from Archibald Stuart, 2 November 1787

From Archibald Stuart

Richmond Novr 2d. 1787

Dr Sir

Inclosed are the Resolutions of Virginia on the subject of the fœderal Government. It is generally considered necessary that you should be of the convention, not only that the Constitution may be adopted but with as much unanimity as possible.

For gods sake do not disappoint the Anxious expectations of yr friends & let me add of yr Country. The Govr. on his return here was coolly received, upon which it is said he discovd much anxiety, since the Opposition to the Constitution has been heard of from Dift parts of the State he speaks with more confidence against what he calls the Objectionable parts. He is a candidate for the Convention, Wilkinson & Southall having cleared the Coast for him the former of Whom is inimical to the Govt. propos’d (tutis auribus Deposui).1

The house went into committee yesterday on a petition to repeal the port Bill when Mason began to thunder, to the Great terror of all its friends & during the space of fiften Minutes I conceived its destruction inevitable. Henry however with the Aid of Ronald, Monroe, & al: who steped forth after the first pannick was removed Gave him a total overthrow. The Numbers were as 4 to 1. The Majority were fully convinced that an additional land tax would necessarily result from the Destruction of the port Bill.2

Masons Arguments in the Reply were vague & inconclusive in short altho he is sometimes much admired for great strength of Mind Originality of Expression & for the Comprehensive view which he takes of his subjects yet upon that Occasion he fell far short of the general Expectation, & I fear the Effects of Age have sometimes been discoverable in him.

Some of Our young Countrymen have done themselves much credit On Dift subjects. We have hitherto dealt so much in Genl Conversations as they are called on the Business of the Session & have made so few Decisions that I cannot give you Any satisfactory Account of What Will be done. From yr most obt Servt

Archd Stuart

RC (DLC). Addressed by Stuart and franked. Docketed by JM. Enclosure not found.

1Nathaniel Wilkinson represented Henrico County in the House of Delegates and Turner Southall represented the Henrico district in the Senate. Presumably Stuart meant that these two gentlemen “cleared the Coast” for Randolph by agreeing not to become candidates for the convention themselves. Randolph and John Marshall, Wilkinson’s colleague in the House, were eventually elected to represent the county at the Richmond convention (Swem and Williams, Register description begins Earl G. Swem and John W. Williams, eds., A Register of the General Assembly of Virginia, 1776–1918, and of the Constitutional Conventions (Richmond, 1918). description ends , pp. 26, 27, 244).

A free translation of the Latin phrase is “confided to a trusted ear.” This is from Horace’s Odes, bk. I, ode XVII, lines 17–18: “quicquid habes, age, depone tutis auribus”—“Whatever ’tis, come, confide it to my trusty ear!” (Horace: The Odes and Epodes, Loeb Classical Library [Cambridge, Mass., 1914], pp. 74–75).

2Debate on the petition of freeholders of Spotsylvania County for the repeal of the act “to restrict foreign vessels to certain ports within this Commonwealth” took place in the Committee of the Whole on 1 and 2 Nov. (JHDV description begins Journal of the House of Delegates of the Commonwealth of Virginia; Begun and Held at the Capitol, in the City of Williamsburg. Beginning in 1780, the portion after the semicolon reads, Begun and Held in the Town of Richmond, In the County of Henrico. The journal for each session has its own title page and is individually paginated. The edition used is the one in which the journals for 1777–1790 are brought together in three volumes, with each journal published in Richmond in either 1827 or 1828 and often called the “Thomas W. White reprint.” description ends , Oct. 1787, pp. 17, 26, 27). JM was the author of this act, which had passed at the May 1784 session of the General Assembly (PJM description begins William T. Hutchinson et al., eds., The Papers of James Madison (10 vols. to date; Chicago, 1962——). description ends , VIII, 64–66). The original act restricted the entering, clearing, loading, and unloading of “foreign” (non-Virginian) vessels to five ports. An amending act of 1786 added to the number of ports permitted to receive foreign commerce and distinguished between ports of entry and ports of delivery. This act also permitted vessels made in the U.S. and owned by U.S. citizens to land at any port to pick up articles for exportation (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 , XI, 402–3; XII, 320–23). George Mason was the leading spokesman for repeal of the port act and as a private citizen had published a protest against it in 1786 (Rutland, Papers of George Mason, II, 859–64). Although rejecting outright repeal, the legislature further amended the act in 1787 by adding more ports of delivery for foreign vessels and by creating separate ports of delivery for U.S. vessels (Alexander Donald to Jefferson, 12 Nov. 1787, Boyd, Papers of Jefferson description begins Julian P. Boyd et al., eds., The Papers of Thomas Jefferson (19 vols. to date; Princeton, 1950——). description ends , XII, 346; Dawson to JM, ca. 10 Nov. 1787; Stuart to JM, 14 Jan. 1788; 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, 434–38). The result was that nearly every river town claiming “port” status received a measure of satisfaction.

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