James Madison Papers

From James Madison to Noah Webster, [ca. 17 July] 1792

To Noah Webster

[ca. 17 July 1792]

Ansr. 1. of a male laborer about 18 dollars.

Ansr. 2 The net hire of a male laborer by the year is about 40 dollars.

Ansr 3. Freemen are seldom hired by the year as mere laborers. They could not probably be got, if at all, for less than 60 or 70 dollars.1 The daily hire of a freeman differs from that of a slave much less. The labor in this case being more simple and more easily measured or superintended, less depends on the character of the laborer. The difference is the less also on acct. of the cheaper accomodation of the slave, labourers being usually lodged and fed by the employer. Where little depends on sleight or integrity in the business, the daily hire of the two may in fact be deemed the same; and varying only in proportion as there may be room for these circumstances to operate.

Free blacks can scarcely be said to have yet any established character as hirelings. It is not known that any superiority over slaves is marked by higher wages.

Ansr. 4. Free whites are never so employed.

Ansr 5. The general practice has been for proprietors to cultivate their lands by slaves. There are exceptions however of leases for three lives, for a term of years, commonly twenty one, and of a single or a very few years. The rents have been so different at different periods of time, according to the different terms of the lease, and the different situations and qualities of the land, that no precise answer can be given. They have varied under these different circumstances from half the annual crop to ⅙ of a dollar per acre. It is to be presumed from general principles that the profits from leasing and from cultivating by slaves must be pretty nearly at a level.

Ansr. 6 No instances that deserve the name of an experiment.2

Draft (DLC). In an unknown hand, but docketed at some later time by JM, who headed the draft: “Answers to questions of N. Webster. See his letter of June 30. 1792.” Conjectural date assigned on the basis of circumstances described in Webster to JM, 30 June 1792, n.

1Webster used the preceding information, citing “Letter from the Hon. Mr. Maddison” (Effects of Slavery, p. 53).

2Webster advocated “raising the slaves to the condition of free tenants” but admitted that “no efforts of this kind have yet been made in America; … I am informed by two very intelligent and respectable gentlemen, the Hon. David Ramsay Esq. of South-Carolina, and the Hon. James Maddison Esq. of Virginia, that there are no instances of Planters leasing lands to their manumitted blacks in the States where they live, or none that deserve the name of experiments” (ibid., pp. 37–38).

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