James Madison Papers

To James Madison from Joseph C. Cabell, 10 July 1819

From Joseph C. Cabell

Warminster. 10 July. 1819.

Dear Sir,

When I last had the pleasure to see you at Monticello you appeared to approve of the plan which I had suggested to Mr. Jefferson for augmenting the funds of the University by applying to the legislature for the balance of the debt due to the state from the General Government. I then mentioned to you that subsequent to the period at which I had addressed Mr. Jefferson on that subject I had received information which induced me to believe that the balance would be paid off in the course of this summer, and that the scheme would be thereby frustrated. Since our conversation, I have been at Richmond and Washington, and have procured further information in regard to the state of our accounts with the General Government. I met with our Agent Mr. Chew,1 in Washington, who informed me that the balance of principal would probably be discharged by midsummer, but that our claim for interest remained in the situation in which it stood in the time of Governor Nicholas’s administration.2 I requested the favor of Mr. Chew to furnish me with a copy of the correspondence between the two governments in regard to this part of our claim, which I now do myself the pleasure to enclose you,3 with the view of inviting your attention to the subject, and of asking your advice on the propriety and expediency of an application to the Legislature on the part of the friends of the University for this remnant of the debt. By the laws relative to the Literary fund, the balance of the debt due from the General Government stands appropriated to that fund, and the General Assembly would probably be unwilling to apply any part of the principal of the fund to the purposes of the University. The general government, too, has never heretofore been in the practice of paying interest on advances made by the states, and the idea is entertained by some, that Congress would be discouraged from lending a favourable ear to our petition in consequence of the encouragement it might give to the claim from the state of Massachusetts. These are difficulties, it must be confessed: but not I think of an insurmountable character. If the amount of our claim for interest were in the treasury of Virginia, I do not believe the Assembly would take it away from the Literary fund, and give it to the University. But as it seems to be treated as a dormant claim, and must be considered very much in the light of a desperate debt, I presume the Assembly would feel no great objection to the proposed appropriation, especially as the destination of the fund might be the means of recommending the claim to the favour of Congress. And as the general government were bound to defend us, and this amount was actually paid for monies borrowed on behalf of that government for the defence of the state, I confess I think the petition, if properly supported, would finally be successful, and that the unjust claim of Massachusetts would present no serious obstacle. I was at Monticello a few days ago, and was happy to find that Mr. Jefferson seemed to concur in these views. You would confer an obligation by favoring me with your impressions as to the expediency of the plan as now modified. Should it meet with your approbation I would write to the other Visitors and endeavor to prevail on them to give it a concurrent support. I am, Dear [Sir], with great respect & regard your obt. servt.

Joseph C. Cabell

RC and enclosure (DLC). Addressed by Cabell to JM at Montpelier and marked “Warminster July 15 1819.” Cover docketed by JM. For enclosure, see n. 3.0

1John Chew, a former Virginia military accountant, in November 1815 was appointed commissioner for the settlement of accounts between the United States and the state of Virginia arising from the War of 1812 (“Journal of the House of Delegates of the Commonwealth of Virginia … [1816],” Records of the States of the United States of America [DLC microfilm ed.], Va. A.1b, reel 7, 7; “Journal of the House of Delegates of the Commonwealth of Virginia … [1815],” Records of the States of the United States of America [DLC microfilm ed.], Va. A.1b, reel 6, 7; “Journal of the House of Delegates of the Commonwealth of Virginia … [1814],” ibid., 22–28).

2Wilson Cary Nicholas (1761–1820) was a Revolutionary War veteran and represented Albemarle County in the Virginia House of Delegates, 1784–89, and 1794–1800. A friend and political ally of JM, Nicholas was a member of the Virginia Ratifying Convention of 1788 and served in the U.S. Senate, 1799–1804. Jefferson appointed him collector of the port of Norfolk and Portsmouth in 1804. He left that post and served in the U.S. House of Representatives, 1807–9. As governor of Virginia, 1814–16, he helped create the Literary Fund as a spur to and support of public education in the Commonwealth (PJM description begins William T. Hutchinson et al., eds., The Papers of James Madison (1st ser., vols. 1–10, Chicago, 1962–77, vols. 11–17, Charlottesville, Va., 1977–91). description ends , 8:73 n. 1; PJM-SS description begins Robert J. Brugger et al., eds., The Papers of James Madison: Secretary of State Series (8 vols. to date; Charlottesville, Va., 1986—). description ends , 1:138 n. 3; PJM-PS description begins Robert A. Rutland et al., eds., The Papers of James Madison: Presidential Series (6 vols. to date; Charlottesville, Va., 1984—). description ends , 1:11 n. 3; Sobel and Raimo, Biographical Directory of the Governors, 4:1631–32).

3The enclosure (2 pp.) contained extracts of the following letters: (1) Wilson Cary Nicolas to William Harris Crawford, 23 Dec. 1815, stating that “it is presumed that the Interest paid by Virginia, will be considered as constituting a just claim” on the U.S. government; (2) Nicholas to John Chew, 24 Sept. 1816, asking Chew to confer with Crawford on the question of whether or not the U.S. government would allow Virginia “the interest paid by the state,” adding that he had “the most perfect reliance upon his [Crawford’s] disposition to adjust our accounts upon the most correct & honorable principles”; (3) Chew to Crawford, 4 Oct. 1816, stating that “if in the future progress of liquidating the claims” of Virginia, “it should be made a question by the accounting officers of the treasury, whether the state is to be allowed interest on the ascertained balance, then the necessity for the advance now required, will be still more enhanced and urgent. The state being now under contribution to the banks for an interest at the rate of 7 or 8 per cent, the delay of such advances, from the general government, as are necessary to discharge the bank debt, must be obviously attended with an irreparable loss to the state if any difficulty should occur between the two governments on the subject of interest”; (4) Crawford to Chew, 5 Oct. 1816, stating that departmental policy “will not admit of the payment of interest without the authority of a law.” If Virginia “claims interest on the sums she has paid in calling out the militia during the war,” the state must apply to Congress; (5) Chew to Nicholas, 9 Oct. 1816, noting that “the question of interest … will … be the subject of future consideration & discussion”; (6) Chew to Nicholas, 16 Apr. 1817, stating that the charge of $220,736.41 for interest paid by the state to banks was “definitively rejected by the secretary of war” and the “only chance for remuneration on that head, is from an application to Congress”; and (7) Chew to Cabell, 29 Apr. 1819, enclosing the foregoing extracts and stating that as no documents or vouchers in support of the interest claim had been furnished to him, he had “deemed it improper to lay the subject before Congress.”

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