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DEAR SIR, My last, dated November 15th, from this place, answered yours of May llth, on the subject of your printed notes. I have since had opportunities of consulting other friends on the plan you propose, who concur in the result of the consultations which I transmitted you. Mr. Wythe's idea seems to be generally approved; that the copies destined for the University should be dealt out by the discretion of the Professors, rather than indiscriminately and at once put into the hands of the students, which, other objections apart, would at once exhaust the stock. A vessel from Havre de Grace brought me a few days ago two Trunks of Books, but without letter or catalogue attending them. I have forwarded them to Orange without examining much into the contents, lest I should miss a conveyance which is very precarious at this season, and be deprived of the amusement they promise me for the residue of the winter.
Our Assembly last night closed a session of 97 days, during the whole of which, except the first seven, I have shared in the confinement. It opened with a very warm struggle for the chair between Mr. Harrison and Mr. Tyler, which ended in the victory of the former by a majority of six votes. This victory was shortly afterwards nearly frustrated by an impeachment of his election in the County of Surry. Having failed in his native County of Charles City, he abdicated his residence there, removed into the County of Surry, where he had an estate, took every step which the interval would admit to constitute himself an inhabitant, and was, in consequence, elected a representative. A charge of non-residence was, nevertheless, brought against him, decided against him in the committee of privileges by the casting vote of the Chairman, and reversed in the House by a very small majority. The election of Doctor Lee was attacked on two grounds: 1 st , of non-residence; 2 dly , of holding a lucrative office under Congress. On the 1 st he was acquitted; on the 2 d , expelled by a large majority.
The revised Code was brought forward prettly early in the session. It was first referred to Committee of Courts of Justice, to report such of the bills as were not of a temporary nature, and, on their report, committed to committee of the whole. Some difficulties were raised as to the proper mode of proceeding, and some opposition made to the work itself. These, however, being surmounted, and three days in each week appropriated to the task, we went on slowly but successfully, till we arrived at the bill concerning crimes and punishments. Here the adversaries of the Code exerted their whole force, which, being abetted by the impatience of its friends in an advanced stage of the session, so far prevailed that the farther prosecution of the work was postponed till the next session.
The operation of the bills passed is suspended until the beginning of 1787, so that, if the code should be resumed by the next Assembly and finished early in the session, the whole system may commence at once. I found it more popular in the Assembly than I had formed any idea of, and though it was considered by paragraphs, and carried through all the customary forms, it might have been finished at one session with great ease, if the time spent on motions to put it off and other dilatory artifices had been employed on its merits. The adversaries were the Speaker, Thruston, and Mercer, who came late in the session into a vacancy left by the death of Col. Brent, of Stafford, and contributed principally to the mischief.
The titles in the enclosed list will point out to you such of the bills as were adopted from the Revisal. The alterations which they underwent are too numerous to be specified, but have not materially vitiated the work. The bills passed over were either temporary ones, such as, being not essential as parts of the system, may be adopted at any time, and were likely to impede it at this, or such as have been rendered unnecessary by acts passed since the epoch at which the revisal was prepared. After the completion of the work at this session was despaired of, it was proposed and decided that a few of the bills following the bill concerning crimes and punishments should be taken up, as of peculiar importance.
The only one of these which was pursued into an Act is the Bill concerning Religious freedom. The steps taken throughout the Country to defeat the General Assessment had produced all the effect that could have been wished. The table was loaded with petitions and remonstrances from all parts against the interposition of the Legislature in matters of Religion. A general Convention of the Presbyterian church prayed expressly that the bill in the revisal might be passed into a law, as the best safeguard, short of a Constitutional one, for their religious rights. The bill was carried thro' the House of Delegates without alteration. The Senate objected to the preamble, and sent down a proposed substitution of the 16 th article of the Declaration of Rights. The House of Delegates disagreed. The Senate insisted, and asked a Conference. Their objections were frivolous indeed. In order to remove them, as they were understood by the Managers of the House of Delegates, the preamble was sent up again from the House of Delegates with one or two verbal alterations. As an amendment to these the Senate sent down a few others, which, as they did not affect the substance, though they somewhat defaced the composition, it was thought better to agree to than to run further risks, especially as it was getting late in the Session and the House growing thin. The enacting clauses past without a single alteration, and I flatter myself have, in this country, extinguished forever the ambitious hope of making laws for the human mind.
[notes removed] Nothing has been yet done with North Carolina towards opening a Canal through the Dismal. The powers given to Commissioners on our part are renewed, and some negociation will be brought about if possible. A certain interest in that State is suspected of being disinclined to promote the object, notwithstanding its manifest importance to the community at large. On Potowmac they have been at work some time. On this river they have about eighty hands ready to break ground, and have engaged a man to plan for them. I fear there is a want of skill for the undertaking that threatens a waste of labour and a discouragement to the enterprize. I do not learn that any measures have been taken to procure from Europe the aid which ought to be purchased at any price, and which might, I should suppose, be purchased at a moderate one.
I had an opportunity a few days ago of knowing that Mrs. Carr and her family, as well as your little daughter, were well. I am apprehensive that some impediments still detain your younger nephew from his destination. Peter has been in WILLIAMSBURG, and I am told by Mr. Maury that his progress is satisfactory. He has read, under him, Horace, some of Cicero's orations, Greek testament, ./Esop's fables in Greek, ten books of Homer's Iliad, and is now beginning Xenophon, Juvenal, and Livy. He has also given some attention to French.
I have paid Le Maire ten guineas. He will set out in about three weeks, I am told, for France. Mr. Jones has promised to collect and forward by him all such papers as are in print, and will explain the situation of our affairs to you. Among them will be the most important acts of the session, and the Journal as far as it will be printed.
Mr. William Hays, in sinking a well on the declivity of the hill above the proposed seat of the Capitol, and nearly in a line from the Capitol to Belvidere, found about seventy feet below the surface several large bones, apparently belonging to a fish not less than the shark, and, what is more singular, several fragments of potter's ware in the style of the Indians. Before he reached these curiosities he passed through about fifty feet of soft blue clay. I have not seen the articles, having but just heard of them, and been too closely engaged; but have my information from the most unexceptionable witnesses, who have. I am told by General Russell, of Washington County, that, in sinking a salt well in that County, he fell in with the hip bone of the incognitum, the socket of which was about 8 inches diameter. It was very soft in the subterraneous state, but seemed to undergo a petrefaction on being exposed to the air.
Promotions. Edward Carrington & H. Lee, Jr., added to R. H. Lee, J's Monroe, and Wm. Grayson, in the delegation to Congress.
Carter Braxton to the Council.
John Tyler to court of admiralty, in room of B. Waller, resigned.
Prices current. Tobacco, 235. on James River, and proportionally elsewhere.
Wheat, 5 to 6s. per bushel.
Corn, 18 to 20s. per barrel.
Pork 28 to 30s pr ct.
- James Madison
- Letters and other writings of James Madison. Vol. I. 1769-1793. Philadelphia, J. B. Lippencott & Co, 1865, digitized by archive.org