Front Page Titles (by Subject) TO GEORGE WASHINGTON. mad. mss. - The Writings, vol. 2 (1783-1787)
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TO GEORGE WASHINGTON. mad. mss. - James Madison, The Writings, vol. 2 (1783-1787) 
The Writings of James Madison, comprising his Public Papers and his Private Correspondence, including his numerous letters and documents now for the first time printed, ed. Gaillard Hunt (New York: G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 1900). Vol. 2.
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TO GEORGE WASHINGTON.mad. mss.
Richmond, Decr 24, 1786.
Your favor of the 16th instant came to hand too late on thursday evening to be answered by the last mail. I have considered well the circumstances which it confidentially discloses, as well as those contained in your preceding favor.1 The difficulties which they oppose to an acceptance of the appointment in which you are included can as little be denied, as they can fail to be regretted. But I still am inclined to think that the posture of our affairs, if it should continue, would prevent every criticism on the situation which the contemporary meetings would place you in; and that at least a door could be kept open for your acceptance hereafter, in case the gathering clouds became so dark & menacing as to supersede every consideration but that of our national existence & safety. A suspence of your ultimate determination would be nowise inconvenient in a public view, as the Executive are authorised to fill vacancies; and can fill them at any time; and, in any event, three out of seven deputies are authorized to represent the State. How far it may be admissible in another view, will depend perhaps in some measure on the chance of your finally undertaking the service; but principally on the correspondence which is now passing on the subject between yourself and the Governor.
Your observations on Tobacco as a commutable in the taxes are certainly just & unanswerable. My acquiescence in the measure was against every general principle which I have embraced, and was extorted by a fear that some greater evil under the name of relief to the people would be substituted. I am far from being sure however that I did right. The other evils contended for have indeed been as yet parried, but it is very questionable whether the concession in the affair of the Tobo. had much hand in it. The original object was paper money. Petitions for graduating certificates succeeded. Next came instalments. And lastly a project for making property a tender for debts at ⅘ of its value. All these have been happily got rid of by very large majorities. But the positive efforts in favor of Justice have been less successful. A plan for reforming the administration in this branch accommodated more to the general opinion than the Assize plan got as far as the third reading, and was then lost by a single vote. The Senate would have passed it readily, and would have even added amendments of the right complexion. I fear it will be some time before this necessary reform will again have a fair chance. Besides some other grounds of apprehension, it may well be supposed that the Bill which is to be printed for consideration of the public, will, instead of calling forth the sanction of the wise & virtuous, be a signal to interested men to redouble their efforts to get into the Legislature. The Revenue business is still unfinished. The present rage seems to be to draw all our income from trade. From the sample given of the temper of the House of Delegates on this subject, it is much to be feared that the duties will be augmented with so daring a hand, that we shall drive away our trade instead of making it tributary to our treasury. The only hope that can be indulged is that of moderating the fury. The Port bill was defended against a repeal by about 70 votes against about 40. The revised code is not quite finished and must receive the last hand from a succeeding assembly. Several bills of consequence being rendered unfit to be passed in their present form by a change of circumstances since they were prepared, necessarily require revision. Others as the Education bill &c are thought to be adapted only to a further degree of wealth and population. Others, as the Execution bill which subjects lands to debts, do not find yet an adequate patronage. Several bills also, and particularly the bill relating to crimes & punishments, have been rejected, and require reconsideration from another assembly. This last bill after being purged of its objectionable peculiarities, was thrown out on the third reading by a single vote. It will little elevate your idea of our Senate to be told that they negatived the bill defining the privileges of ambassadors, on the principle, as I am told, that an alien ought not to be put on better ground than a citizen. British debts have not yet been mentioned, and probably will not, unless Congress say something on the matter before the adjournment.
With every sentiment of esteem &c &c.
TO EDMUND PENDLETON.Mad. Mss.
Richmond, Jany 9th, 1787.
My dear Sir,—
Your favor of the 9th. ult, has been so long on hand unanswered that I can not now acknowledge it without observing in the apology for the delay that I waited for some measures of which I wished to communicate the event. The district bill of which I formerly made mention, was finally thrown into a very curious situation, and lost by a single voice. I refer you for its history to Col. Pendleton, who was here at the time and is now with you. An attempt has been since made to render the General Court more efficient by lengthening its terms, and transferring the criminal business to the Judges of the Admiralty. As most of the little motives which co-operated with a dislike to Justice, in defeating the District Bill happened to be in favour of the subsequent attempt, it went through the House of Delegates by a large Majority. The Senate have disappointed the majority infinitely in putting a negative on it, as we just learn that they have done, by a single voice. An amendment of the County Courts has also been lost, through a disagreement of the two Houses on the subject. Our merit on the score of Justice has been entirely of the negative kind. It has been sufficient to reject violations of this cardinal virtue, but not to make any positive provisions in its behalf.
The revised code has not been so thoroughly passed as I hoped at the date of my last. The advance of the Session, the coldness of a great many, and the dislike of some to the subject, required that it should be pressed more gently than could be reconciled with a prosecution of the work to the end. I had long foreseen that a supplemental revision as well of some of the articles of the Code, as of the laws passed since it was digested, would become necessary, and had settled a plan for the purpose with myself. This plan was to suspend the laws adopted from the code, until the supplement could be prepared, and then to put the whole in force at once. Several circumstances satisfied me of late that if the work was put within the reach of the next assembly, there would be danger not only of its being left in a mutilated state, but of its being lost altogether. The observations in your favor above acknowledged, encouraged me to propose that the parts of the code adopted should take effect without waiting for the last hand to it. This idea has been pursued, and the bills passed at the last Session are to coence as then determined, those passed at the present being suspended until July next. I would myself have preferred a suspension of the former also till July, for the sake of a more thorough promulgation, and of a contemporary introduction of the laws many of which are connected together; but the Senate thought otherwise, and in a ticklish stage of the Session, the friends of the code in the H. of D. joined me in opinion that it would be well to create no unnecessary delays or disagreements. I have strong apprehensions that the work may never be systematically perfected for the reasons which you deduce from our form of Government. Should a disposition however continue in the Legislature as favorable as it has been in some stages of the business, I think a succession of revisions, each growing shorter than the preceding, might ultimately bring a completion within the compass of a single Session. At all events, the invaluable acquisition of important bills prepared at leisure by skilful hands, is so sensibly impressed on thinking people by the crudeness and tedious discussion of such as are generally introduced, that the expence of a continued revision will be thought by all such to be judiciously laid out for this purpose alone. The great objection which I personally feel arises from the necessity we are under of imposing the weight of these projects on those whose past services have so justly purchased an exemption from future labours. In your case the additional consideration of ill health, became almost an affair of Conscience, and I have been no otherwise able to stifle the remorse of having nominated you along with Mr Wythe and Mr. Blair for reviewing the subject left unfinished, than by reflecting that your colleagues will feel every disposition to abridge your share of the burden, and in case of such an increase of your infirmity as to oblige you to renounce all share, that they are authorised to appoint to, I will not say to fill, the vacancy. I flatter myself that you will be at least able to assist in general consultations on the subject, and to adjust the bills unpassed to the changes which have taken place since they were prepared. On the most unfortunate suppositions my intentions will be sure to find in your benevolence a pardon for my error.
The Senate have saved our commerce from a dreadful blow which it would have sustained from a bill passed in the H. of D. imposing enormous duties, without waiting for the concurrence of the other States or even of Maryland. There is a rage at present for high duties, partly for the purpose of revenue, partly of forcing manufactures, which it is difficult to resist. It seems to be forgotten in the first case that in the arithmetic of the customs as Dean Swift observes 2 & 2 do not make four; and in the second that manufactures will come of themselves when we are ripe for them. A prevailing argument among others on the subject is that we ought not to be dependent on foreign nations for useful articles, as the event of a war may cut off all external supplies. This argument certainly loses its force when it is considered that in case of a war hereafter, we should stand on a very different ground from what we lately did. Neutral Nations, whose rights are becoming every day more & more extensive, would not now suffer themselves to be shut out from our ports, nor would the hostile Nation presume to attempt it. As far as relates to implements of war which are contraband, the argument for our fabrication of them is certainly good.
Our latest information from the Eastwd. has not removed our apprehensions of ominous events in that quarter. It is pretty certain that the seditious party has become formidable in the Govt. and that they have opened a counication with the viceroy of Canada. I am not enough acquainted with the proceedings of Congress to judge of some of the points, which you advert to. The regulations of their land office have appeared to me nearly in the light in which they do to you. I expect to set out in a few days for N. York, when I shall revive my claim to a correspondence which formerly gave me so much pleasure and which will enable me perhaps to answer your queries. The end of my paper will excuse an abrupt but affecte Adieu.
[1 ]Washington declined re-election to the presidency of the Society of the Cincinnati, chiefly because he did not wish to participate in a contest over a proposed change in the plan of the society, which was to be discussed at the meeting to be held at Philadelphia in May. He gave, as his reasons for not attending, his occupations, his precarious health, and that he desired to live in retirement. To serve in the federal convention when the Cincinnati were in session might put him in a false position. He finally yielded, however, to the pleadings of his friends. Washington to Madison, December 16, 1786, Ford’s Writings of Washington,ii, 92, et seq.