George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Kentucky Convention, 4 October 1790

From Kentucky Convention

Danville [Kentucky District, Va.] October 4th 1790.

Sir,

By order of Convention, I now enclose to you, a copy of the resolutions of Convention, respecting the separation of the District of Kentucky, from the State of Virginia;1 and, their address to the President and Congress of the United States.2 I have the honor to be, With the highest respect, Sir, Your Most Humble Servant3

George Muter
President of Convention.

Copy, DNA: RG 46, First Congress, 1789–91, Records of Legislative Proceedings, Petitions and Memorials, Resolutions of State Legislatures, and Related Documents.

The ninth Kentucky convention met on 26 July 1790 to consider ratification of the eight terms of separation presented by the state of Virginia in its fourth enabling act, “An act concerning the erection of Kentuckey into an independent state,” passed 18 Dec. 1789. The act required each county in the district at its May 1790 court session to elect five representatives to attend a 26 July 1790 convention at Danville and presented Virginia’s conditions for recognizing the independence of the district. These consisted of: the fixing of the boundary at its present location; the assumption by Kentucky of a just proportion of the federal debt and the payment of all the certificates granted on account of Kentucky Indian expeditions since January 1785; the security to their owners of district lands and private property derived from the laws of Virginia; protection of nonresident proprietors against unequal taxation as well as forfeiture of their land for six years after admission into the Union; the automatic superiority until 1 Sept. 1791 of district land grants issued from the land office of Virginia; Virginia’s right of disposal until 1 May 1792 of unlocated district lands appropriated to individuals for military service; free and open navigation of the Ohio with concurrent jurisdiction of that river; and the referral of any preexisting disputes between the two parties to six commissioners, two chosen by Kentucky, two by Virginia, and the remainder to be chosen by those four. The enabling act also stated that if the Danville convention approved these terms, it could proceed to fix a day for independence after 1 Nov. 1791, provided that the federal government had previously assented to the erection of Kentucky into an independent state, released Virginia from its federal obligations to the district, and agreed to its admission into the Union. The convention was also authorized to take the necessary provisional measures for the election of a constitutional convention if the terms were approved (13 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 17–21).

1The convention met on the appointed day and elected the district’s chief justice, George Muter, to preside over it. Two days later, on 28 July 1790, by a vote of 24 to 18, it “Resolved, That it is expedient for, and the will of, the good people of the District of Kentucky that the same be erected into an Independent State on the terms and conditions specified in an Act of the Virginia assembly passed the 18th day of December 1789 entitled an Act concerning the erection of the District of Kentucky into an Independent State.

“Resolved, That We the Representatives of the people of Kentucky duly elected in pursuance of an Act of the Legislature of Virginia passed the 18th day of December 1789 entitled an Act concerning the erection of the District of Kentucky into an Independent State, and now met in Convention having with full powers maturely investigated the expediency of the proposed seperation on the terms and conditions specified in the above recited Act; do by these presents and in behalf of the people of Kentucky accept the terms and conditions, and do declare that on the first day of June 1792 the said District of Kentucky shall become a State seperate from and independent of the Government of Virginia, and that the said Articles become a solemn compact binding on the said People” (DNA: RG 46, First Congress, 1789–91, Records of Legislative Proceedings, Petitions and Memorials, Resolutions of State Legislatures, and Related Documents).

2On 30 July 1790 James Marshall reported to the convention the address to Congress that his committee the previous day had been assigned to draft. Lear’s copy of the memorial, the original of which was attested to by Thomas Todd, clerk of the convention, and signed by Muter, reads: “The Memorial of the Representatives of the people of Kentucky in Convention assembled pursuant to an Act of the Legislature of Virginia passed the 18th day of December 1789, entitled an Act concerning the erection of the District of Kentucky into an Independent State.

“Humbly Sheweth, That the Inhabitants of this Country are as warmly devoted to the American Union and as firmly attached to the present happy establishment of the Federal Government as any of the Citizens of the United States.

“That migrating from thence, they have with great hazard and difficulty effected their present settlements. The hope of increasing numbers could alone have supported the early Adventurers under those arduous exertions; they have the satisfaction to find that hope verified. At this day, the population, and strength of this Country, render it fully able, in the opinion of your Memorialists, to form and support an efficient Domestic Government.

“The inconveniences resulting from its local situation as a part of Virginia at first but little felt, have for some time been objects of their most serious attention; which occasioned application to the Legislature of Virginia for redress.

“Here your Memorialists would acknowledge with peculiar pleasure the benevolence of Virginia in permitting them to remove the evils arising from that source by assuming upon themselves a State of Independence.

“This they have thought expedient to do on the terms and conditions stipulated in the above recited Act; and have fixed on the first day of June 1792 as the period when the said Independence shall commence.

“It now remains with the President and the Congress of the United States to sanction these proceedings, by an Act of their Honorable Legislature prior to the first day of November 1791 for the purpose of receiving into the fœderal Union the people of Kentucky by the name of, The State of Kentucky.

“Should this determination of your Memorialists meet the approbation of the General Government, they have to call a Convention to form a Constitution, subsequent to the Act of Congress and prior to the day fixed for the Independence of this Country.

“When your Memorialists reflect on the present comprehensive system of Federal Government; and when they also recollect the determination of a former Congress on this subject, they are left without a doubt that the object of their wishes will be accomplished.

And your Memorialists as in duty bound shall forever pray” (DNA: RG 46, First Congress, 1789–91, Records of Legislative Proceedings, Petitions and Memorials, Resolutions of State Legislatures, and Related Documents).

3Lear attested that his was a true copy of Muter’s letter made on 9 Dec. 1790, the same day he presented it to Congress with a cover letter from the president. The next day he transmitted the original and its enclosures to the secretary of state (see Lear to Jefferson, 10 Dec. 1790, DNA: RG 59, Miscellaneous Letters). Congress passed “An Act Declaring the Consent of Congress that a New State Be Formed within the Jurisdiction of the Commonwealth of Virginia, and Admitted into This Union by the Name of the State of Kentucky” on 31 Jan. 1791, and the president signed it on 4 February (1 Stat., description begins Richard Peters, ed. The Public Statutes at Large of the United States of America, from the Organization of the Government in 1789, to March 3, 1845 . . .. 8 vols. Boston, 1845-67. description ends 189 [4 Feb. 1791]; DHFC, description begins Linda Grant De Pauw et al., eds. Documentary History of the First Federal Congress of the United States of America, March 4, 1789-March 3, 1791. 20 vols. to date. Baltimore, 1972–. description ends 1:502, 3:624 and note 9, 5:1215–17). Jefferson wrote Muter on 28 Feb. 1791, acknowledging receipt of his 4 Oct. 1790 letter to the president with its enclosures and sending a copy of the Kentucky Statehood Act and the Kentucky and Vermont Representatives Act of 25 Feb. 1791 (Boyd, Jefferson Papers, description begins Julian P. Boyd et al., eds. The Papers of Thomas Jefferson. 40 vols. to date. Princeton, N.J., 1950–. description ends 19:380).

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