George Washington Papers

From George Washington to James Madison, 28 December 1784

To James Madison

Annapolis [Md.] 28th Decr 1784.

Dear Sir,

I have been favored with your letter of the 11th.1

The proceedings of the conference, and the Act & resolutions of this Legislature consequent thereupon (herewith transmitted to the Assembly)2 are so full, & explanatory of the motives which governed in this business, that it is scarcely necessary for me to say any thing in addition to them; except that, this State seem highly impressed with the importance of the objects wch we have had under consideration, and are very desirous of seeing them accomplished.

We have reduced most of the Tolls from what they were in the first Bill, and have added something to a few others.3 upon the whole, we have made them as low as we conceived from the best information before us, and such estimates as we had means to calculate upon, as they can be fixed, without hazarding the plan altogether. We made the value of the commodity the governing principle in the establishment of the Tolls; but having had an eye to some bulky articles of produce, & to the encouragement of the growth & Manufacture of some others, as well as to prevent a tedeous enumeration of the different species of all, we departed from the genl rule in many instances.

The rates of tollage as now fixed, may still appear high to some of the southern Gentlemen, when they compare them with those on James River; but as there is no comparison in the expence & risk of the two undertakings, so neither ought there to be in the Tolls. I am fully perswaded that the Gentlemen who were appointed, and have had this matter under consideration, were actuated by no other motives than to hit (if they could do so) upon such a happy medium as would not be burthensome to indivls or give jealousy to the public on one hand, nor discouragement to adventurers on the other. To secure success, and to give vigor to the undertaking, it was judged advisable for each State to contribute (upon the terms of private subscribers) to the expence of it;4 especially as it might have a happy influence on the Minds of the western settlers. and it may be observed here, that only part of this money can be called for immediately, provided the work goes on—and afterwards, only in the proportion of its progression.

Though there is no obligation upon the State to adopt this (if it is inconvenient, or repugnant to their wishes) yet I should be highly pleased to hear that they had done so—(our advantages will, most assuredly, be equal to those of Maryland and our public spirit ought not, in my opinion, to be less)—as also the resolutions respecting the roads of Communication;5 both of which, tho they look in some degree to different objects, are both very important; that by the Yohiogany (thro’ Pensylvania) is particularly so for the Fur & Peltry of the Lakes, because it is the most direct rout by which they can be transported; whilst it is exceedingly convenient to the people who inhabit the Ohio (or Alligany) above Fort Pitt—the lower part of the Monongahela—and all the Yohiogany.

Matters might perhaps have been better digested if more time had been taken, but the fear of not getting the report to Richmond before the Assembly would have risen, occasioned more hurry than accuracy—or even real dispatch. But to alter the Act now, further than to accomodate it to circumstances where it is essential; or to remedy an obvious error if any should be discovered will not do. The Bill passed this Assembly with only 9 dissenting voices—and got thro’ both Houses in a day, so earnest were the members of getting it to you in time.6

It is now near 12 at night, and I am writing with an Aching head, having been constantly employed in this business since the 22d without assistance from my Colleagues—Genl Gates having been sick the whole time, & Colo. Blackburn not attending—But for this I would be more explicit. I am—with great esteem & regard—Dr Sir Yr Most Obedt Servt

Go: Washington

I am ashamed to send such a letter, but cannot give you a fairer one. G.W.

ALS (photocopy), ViMtvL; LB, DLC: Madison Papers; ADfS, VtHi. There are no material differences between the three copies of the letter.

1Letter not found. In a letter of 11 Dec. Madison wrote Richard Henry Lee about the Potowmack Company bill. See GW to Madison, 28 Nov., n. 1.

2The proceedings, the act, and the resolutions are enclosures I, II, and III in George Washington and Horatio Gates to the Virginia Legislature, 28 December. The journals of the Virginia house of delegates record on 31 Dec. that the governor gave the speaker GW’s report, which included the three enclosures. No letter from GW transmitting his report to Gov. Beverley Randolph and none from the governor acknowledging its receipt has been found.

3When the commissioners began their deliberations, they had before them the schedule of tolls contained in the bill that the Virginia and Maryland gentlemen drafted at Alexandria on 15 November. See Henry Lee to GW, 18 Nov., and notes. If the Virginia house of delegates in its consideration of their Potowmack Company bill in early December made changes in the toll charges, the commissioners may have had that schedule of tolls as well. On at least two separate occasions, GW himself drew up schedules of tolls. In one of these, which is labeled “Memo of Tolls” (ICU), he lists most of the same items in roughly the same order, often using similar or identical language, as appears in the schedule in the bill adopted at the Annapolis conference and subsequently enacted into law by both the Maryland and the Virginia legislatures. A significant difference is that GW gives the rates in Virginia currency with the tolls to be collected “at the lower Falls” and at “the Shan[andoa]h Falls,” whereas the Potowmack Company act gives the rates in sterling and sets the collection points at “the mouth of the South Branch,” at “Payne’s Falls,” and at “the Great Falls” (11 Hening 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. 1819–23. Reprint. Charlottesville, Va., 1969. description ends 510–25). Attached to GW’s memorandum is GW’s “Estimate of proceeds of tolls” (ICU), which reads: “Suppose the labour of 10,000 People to be water borne to Alexandria & George Town. Will not this amount to

5000 Hhds of Tobacco @ 4/ 1000.0.0
300,000 Bushls of wheat @ 2d.
50000 Barrls of Flour 1/ 2500 —
150,000 Bushls of Indian corn 1d.  625 —
Hemp, Iron, Flax Seed, Pork[,] Beef[,] Potash, Coals, Ores of drift kinds, Lime Plank, Timber, Lumber—Stone &c. say 1000 —

The second schedule of tolls in GW’s hand represents his attempt to compare the rates of the “Potomac Compa. Bill” with those that had been projected before the war for collection on the Potomac, James, and Susquehanna rivers. For GW’s involvement in earlier efforts to improve the navigation of the Potomac, see the source note in GW to a Participant in the Potomac River Enterprise, 1762. The high rates set for the new Potowmack Company in both these schedules, far higher than those set in the acts passed by the Maryland and Virginia legislatures in late December or early January, indicate that GW drew up the two schedules earlier, in the process either of drafting or of promoting the original Potomac River bill of 15 November. The fact that labels on the cover of all three of these memoranda seem to be in Madison’s hand suggests that GW either gave them to Madison when he went from Mount Vernon to Richmond in mid-November or sent them along to Madison with the copy of the proposed Potowmack Company bill on 28 November.

4Article XX in the act provided in the one instance that the state of Maryland would purchase fifty shares and in the other that Virginia would buy fifty. See Enclosure II in George Washington and Horatio Gates to the Virginia Legislature, this date.

5At the same time that the Maryland legislature passed the act to create the Potowmack Company, it adopted a resolution calling for the building of a road in Pennsylvania to help connect the Potomac and Ohio. Its resolution is printed as Enclosure III in George Washington and Horatio Gates to the Virginia Legislature, 28 December.

6The Potowmack Company bill was introduced in the Maryland house on 27 Dec. and passed both houses on 28 December. After adopting the bill and the resolution regarding the Pennsylvania road, the house approved the following resolution received from the Maryland senate: “resolved, that an attested copy of the act to establish a company for opening and extending the navigation of the river Patowmack, and of the resolves respecting the opening a road to form a communication with the western country, be transmitted to general Washington and general Gates, commissioners for Virginia; and that the president and speaker, by a joint letter, inform those gentlemen, that the form of affixing the seal of the state, and signing by the governor, follows of course, to acts passed by the two houses, and that this will be complied with when the governor returns to town” (Md. House of Delegates Proceedings description begins Votes and Proceedings of the House of Delegates of the State of Maryland. November Session, 1784. Being the First Session of this Assembly. [Annapolis, 1785]. description ends ).

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