Front Page Titles (by Subject) TO THOMAS JEFFERSON. 1 - The Writings, vol. 2 (1783-1787)
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TO THOMAS JEFFERSON. 1 - 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 THOMAS JEFFERSON.1
New York, March 19, 1787.
Congress have continued so thin as to be incompetent to the dispatch of the more important business before them. We have at present nine States, and it is not improbable that something may now be done. The report of Mr. Jay on the mutual violations of the treaty of peace will be among the first subjects of deliberation. He favors the British claim of interest, but refers the question to the court. The amount of the report, which is an able one, is, that the treaty should be put in force as a law, and the exposition of it left, like that of other laws, to the ordinary tribunals.
The Spanish project sleeps. A perusal of the attempt of seven States to make a new treaty, by repealing an essential condition of the old, satisfied me that Mr. Jay’s caution would revolt at so irregular a sanction. A late accidental conversation with Guardoqui proved to me that the negotiation is arrested. It may appear strange that a member of Congress should be indebted to a foreign Minister for such information, yet such is the footing on which the intemperance of party has put the matter, that it rests wholly with Mr. Jay how far he will communicate with Congress, as well as how far he will negotiate with Guardoqui. But although it appears that the intended sacrifice of the Mississippi will not be made, the consequences of the intention and the attempt are likely to be very serious. I have already made known to you the light in which the subject was taken up by Virginia. Mr. Henry’s disgust exceeds all measure, and I am not singular in ascribing his refusal to attend the Convention to the policy of keeping himself free to combat or espouse the result of it according to the result of the Mississippi business, among other circumstances. North Carolina also has given pointed instructions to her Delegates; so has New Jersey. A proposition for the like purpose was a few days ago made in the Legislature of Pennsylvania, but went off without a decision on its merits. Her Delegates in Congress are equally divided on the subject. The tendency of this project to foment distrust among the Atlantic States, at a crisis when harmony and confidence ought to have been studiously cherished, has not been more verified than its predicted effect on the ultramontane settlements. I have credible information that the people living on the Western waters are already in great agitation, and are taking measures for uniting their consultations. The ambition of individuals will quickly mix itself with the original motives of resentment and interest. Communication will gradually take place with their British neighbours. They will be led to set up for themselves, to seize on the vacant lands, to entice emigrants by bounties and an exemption from Federal burthens, and in all respects play the part of Vermont on a large theatre. It is hinted to me that British partizans are already feeling the pulse of some of the Western settlements. Should these apprehensions not be imaginary, Spain may have equal reason with the United States to rue the unnatural attempt to shut the Mississippi. Guardoqui has been admonished of the danger, and, I believe, is not insensible to it, though he affects to be otherwise, and talks as if the dependence of Britain on the commercial favors of his Court would induce her to play into the hands of Spain. The eye of France also cannot fail to watch over the western prospects. I learn from those who confer here with Otto and De la Forest, that they favor the opening of the Mississippi, disclaiming at the same time any authority to speak the sentiments of their Court. I find that the Virginia Delegates, during the Mississippi discussions last fall, entered into very confidential interviews with these gentlemen. In one of them the idea was communicated to Otto of opening the Mississippi for exports but not for imports, and of giving to France and Spain some exclusive privileges in the trade. He promised to transmit it to Vergennes, to obtain his sentiments on the whole matter, and to communicate them to the Delegates. Not long since Grayson called on him, and revived the subject. He assured Grayson that he had received no answer from France, and signified his wish that you might pump the Count de Vergennes, observing that he would deny to you his having received any information from America. I discover, through several channels, that it would be very grateful to the French politicians here to see our negotiations with Spain shifted into your hands, and carried on under the mediating auspices of their Court.
Van Berkel has remonstrated against the late acts of Virginia, giving privileges to French wines and brandies in French bottoms, contending that the Dutch are entitled by their treaty to equal exemptions with the most favored nation, without being subject to a compensation for them. Mr. Jay has reported against this construction, but considers the act of Virginia as violating the treaty;—first, as it appears to be gratuitous, not compensatory, on the face of it; secondly, because the States have no right to form tacit compacts with foreign nations. No decision of Congress has yet taken place on the subject.
The expedition of General Lincoln against the insurgents has effectually succeeded in dispersing them. Whether the calm which he has restored will be durable or not, is uncertain. From the precautions taking by the Government of Massachusetts, it would seem as if their apprehensions were not extinguished. Besides disarming and disfranchising, for a limited time, those who have been in arms, as a condition of their pardon, a military corps is to be raised to the amount of one thousand or fifteen hundred men, and to be stationed in the most suspected districts. It is said that, notwithstanding these specimens of the temper of the Government, a great proportion of the offenders choose rather to risk the consequences of their treason, than submit to the conditions annexed to the amnesty; that they not only appear openly on public occasions, but distinguish themselves by badges of their character; and that this insolence is in many instances countenanced by no less decisive marks of popular favor than elections to local offices of trust and authority.
A proposition is before the Legislature of this State, now sitting, for renouncing its pretensions to Vermont, and urging the admission of it into the Confederacy. The different parties are not agreed as to the form in which the renunciation should be made, but are likely to agree as to the substance. Should the offer be made, and should Vermont not reject it altogether, I think they will insist on two stipulations at least;—first, that their becoming parties to the Confederation shall not subject their boundaries, or the rights of their citizens, to be questioned under the ninth Article; secondly, that they shall not be subject to any part of the public debts already contracted.
The Geographer and his assistants have returned surveys on the Federal lands to the amount of about eight hundred thousand acres, which it is supposed would sell pretty readily for public securities, and some of it, lying on the Ohio, even for specie. It will be difficult, however, to get proper steps taken by Congress, so many of the States having lands of their own at market. It is supposed that this consideration had some share in the zeal for shutting the Mississippi. New Jersey, and some others having no Western lands, which favored this measure, begin now to penetrate the secret.
A letter from the Governor of Virginia informs me, that the project of paper-money is beginning to recover from the blow given it at the last session of the Legislature. If Mr. Henry espouses it, of which there is little doubt, I think an emission will take place.
[1 ]From the Madison Papers (1840).