George Washington Papers

To George Washington from James Madison, 1 January 1785

From James Madison

Richmond [Va.] Jany 1. 1785

Dear Sir

I was yesterday honored with your favor of the 28 Ult. accompanying the report of the Conferees &c. &c. The latter have been laid before the H. of Delegates, and a Com[mitte]e appd to report a bill & Resolutions corresponding with those of Maryland.1 The only danger of miscarriage arises from the impatience of the members to depart, & the bare competency of the present number. By great efforts only they have been detained thus long. I am not without hopes however that the business of the Potowmac at least will be provided for before the adjourment, and some provision now depending be compleated in favor of James River. Before the rect of your dispatches a bill had been passed by the H. of D. for surveying the former as well as the latter river on a plan, which we shall endeavour by concert with the Senate, to accomodate to the provisions of Maryland.2 A Resolution has passed both Houses instructing the Commissrs appd in June last to settle with Maryd Commissrs the jurisdiction & navigation of the Potowmac, to join in a representation to Pena on the subject of the Waters of the Ohio within her limits This instruction ought rather to have been committed to the late Conference; but when the Commission under which you attended it passed, I was confined to my room & it did not occur to any other member. And indeed if I had been well the haste which necessarily prevailed might have precluded me from comprehending the object within your Mission, especially as I had not previously digested my ideas on the subject nor accurately examined the text of the Confederation.3 It were to be wished too I think that the application to P[ennsylvani]a on the subject of the Road cd have been blended with that of the River. As it is it will I think be best to refer it after the example of Maryld to the Executive.4 I beg you Sir to excuse the brevity which our hurry has imposed upon me. As soon as I have leisure I will endeavour to make amends for it by a fuller communication on this subject remaining in the mean time with the most perfect esteem & the sincerest regard Yr Obedt & humble servt

J. Madison Jr

ALS, DLC:GW; ALS, DLC: Madison Papers. The letter in the Madison Papers is Madison’s retained copy.

In this letter of 1 Jan., Madison is writing to GW of measures relating to the proposed Potowmack Company that the Virginia legislature adopted during GW’s absence in Annapolis and before it received his report on 31 January. These are: (1) “an act, for opening and extending the navigation of James River,” passed on 24 Dec.; (2) a resolution to join with Maryland in arranging with Pennsylvania for the free passage of goods and traffic on the Ohio and other streams to and from the Potomac, adopted on 28 Dec.; and (3) a bill “for taking the survey of the rivers James and Potomac, and of the nearest western waters to the head branches of the same, that may be rendered navigable,” passed by the house on 30 Dec. (House of Delegates Journal, 1781–1785 description begins Journal of the House of Delegates of the Commonwealth of Virginia; Begun and Held in the Town of Richmond, In the County of Henrico, on Monday, the Seventh Day of May, in the Year of Our Lord One Thousand Seven Hundred and Eighty-One. Richmond, 1828. description ends ). Numbers 2 and 3 in particular were consequences of GW’s urging (see GW to Madison, 28 Nov. and 3 Dec.); but as Madison indicates in both this letter and the one of 9 Jan., adjustments had to be made in these measures to bring them into conformity with the provisions of Maryland’s Potowmack Company act and other measures adopted in Annapolis, about which GW had informed them in his report of 28 December. After receiving GW’s report on 31 Dec., the Virginia legislature not only brought in a new James River Company bill to replace the one that had just passed, but the house, refusing to accept the senate’s amendments to its bill providing for a survey of the upper reaches of the James and Potomac rivers, also substituted for its bill a resolution calling for a survey only of the James and Elizabeth rivers. The senate approved the resolution, see Enclosure III in James Madison to GW, 9 Jan. 1785.

1GW’s letter of 28 Dec. covered the letter of that date from him and Horatio Gates to the Virginia legislature with its three enclosures, one of which was the Potowmack Company act. On 31 Dec. the speaker “laid before the [Virginia] House a letter from the Governor, enclosing the report of the commissioners appointed to confer with commissioners appointed by the Legislature of Maryland, respecting the opening and extending the navigation of the river Potomac.” The Maryland bill was read and referred to a committee composed of William Grayson, James Madison, and Mann Page, with orders to bring in a bill. Grayson brought in a bill identical to the Maryland bill on 1 January. The bill received final passage in both houses on 4 Jan., without amendment.

2This bill was dropped in favor of a resolution adopted on 1 January. See source note.

3On 9 Jan., Madison sent GW a copy of this resolution of the Virginia assembly out of which came the Mount Vernon conference in March 1785, which in turn led to the Annapolis Convention of 1786 and the Constitutional Convention of 1787. The resolution is printed as Enclosure I in Madison to GW, 9 January.

4The house of delegates on this day adopted a resolution regarding the building of a road in Pennsylvania from the Potomac to a navigable “part of the River Cheat or of the River Monongalia” similar to that adopted by the Maryland legislature. The Virginia resolution is printed as Enclosure II in Madison to GW, 9 Jan., and the Maryland resolution is Enclosure III in George Washington and Horatio Gates to the Virginia Legislature, 28 Dec. 1784.

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