Letter From James Madison To Thomas Jefferson (March 18th 1786)

In this letter, James Madison explained some of the problems troubling the nation to his friend, Thomas Jefferson (pictured right). One of these problems was unfriendly trade practices between states. As with any primary correspondence, the full source shows the problem in context and reveals the personalities and world of our founding fathers.


A Quorum of the deputies appointed by the Assembly for a Commercial Convention had a meeting at Richmond shortly after I left it, and the Attorney tells me, it has been agreed to propose Annapolis for the place, and the first monday in Sepr. for the time of holding the Convention. It was thought prudent to avoid the neighbourhood of Congress, and the large Commercial towns, in order to disarm the adversaries to the object, of insinuations of influence from either of these quarters. I have not heard what opinion is entertained of this project at New York, nor what reception it has found in any of the States. If it should come to nothing, it will I fear confirm G. B. and all the world in the belief that we are not to be respected, nor apprehended as a nation in matters of Commerce. The States are every day giving proofs that separate regulations are more likely to set them by the ears, than to attain the common object. When Massts. set on foot a retaliation of the policy of G. B. Connecticut declared her ports free. N. Jersey served N. York in the same way. And Delaware I am told has lately followed the example in opposition to the commercial plans of Penna. A miscarriage of this attempt to unite the States in some effectual plan, will have another effect of a serious nature. It will dissipate every prospect of drawing a steady revenue from our imposts either directly into the federal treasury, or indirectly thro’ the treasuries of the Commercial States; and of consequence the former must depend for supplies solely on annual requisitions, and the latter on direct Taxes drawn from the property of the Country. That these dependencies are in an alarming degree fallacious is put by experience out of all question. The payments from the States under the calls of Congress have in no year borne any proportion to the public wants. During the last year, that is from Novr. 1784 to Novr 1785, the aggregate payments, as stated to the late Assembly fell short of 400,000 dollrs. a sum neither equal to the interest due on the foreign debts, nor even to the current expences of the federal Government. The greatest part of this sum too went from Virga. which will not supply a single shilling the present year. Another unhappy effect of a continuance of the present anarchy of our commerce, will be a continuance of the unfavorable balance on it, which by draining us of our metals furnishes pretexts for the pernicious substitution of paper money, for indulgences to debtors, for postponements of taxes. In fact most of our political evils may be traced up to our commercial ones, as most of our moral may to our political.

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