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title:“George Mason to James Madison”
authors:George Mason
date written:1785-12-7

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last updated:Jan. 22, 2013, 8:20 a.m. UTC
retrieved:Dec. 11, 2023, 5:42 a.m. UTC

Mason, George. "Letter to James Madison." The Papers of George Mason. Vol. 2. Ed. Robert A. Rutland. Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 1970. 835-38. Print.
Recipient's Copy, Notes of Debates in the Federal Convention of 1787, Reported by James Madison, Athens, Ohio, 1966 Papers, Library of Congress

George Mason to James Madison (December 7, 1785)

Gunston-Hall Decemr. 7th. 1785.
I have had such frequent Fits of the Convulsive Cholic, complicated with the Gout in the Stomach, since you was here, that I dare not undertake a Journey to Richmond; and therefore, after putting it off as long as I well cou'd, in Hopes of recovering such Health as wou'd permit me to present the Compact with the State of Maryland, in Person, I have now Inclosed it in a Letter to the Speaker. I incurred a small Expence of £ 3. 16. 9. in waiting three or four Days in Alexandria for the Maryland Commissioners; which the Assembly may repay me, if they please; otherwise I am very well satisfyed without it. I also incurred an Expence equal to about £5. Specie attending the Committee upon the Revisal of the Laws in Fredericksburg, and about double that Sum in Wmsburg, at different times, after the Sessions of Assembly ended, in collecting Evidence, &crossexamining Witnesses between the Commonwealth & Colo. Richd. Henderson in the Cause which I was directed to manage by a Vote of both Houses; but I never made any Particular Account [of] it. I must entreat you, if you find it necessary, to make my Apology to the Assembly for having rather exceeded our Authority. I gave you the Reasons, in a former Letter, soon after the Meeting of the Commissioners; but least you shou'd not recollect them, I will repeat them.
"Neither Mr. Henderson, nor myself, had been furnished with Copys of the Assembly's Resolutions; and I shou'd not have known that I was one of the Persons appointed, had I not by mere Accident, two or three Days before the Meeting, been inform'd of it, by a Letter from two of the Maryland Commissioners. His Excellency General Washington happened to have a Copy of the Assembly's Resolutions, respecting the application to the Government of Pensylvania; which he very obligingly gave us; by which any two or more of the Commissioners were empower'd to proceed; & it was natural for us to conclude that these last Resolutions, in the Number of Commissioners empower'd to act, had pursued the Style of the former, respecting the Jurisdiction of the two States, as well as that this Subject had been taken up upon the same Principles, as the Year 1778; when Commissioners were directed to settle the Jurisdiction of Chesapeake Bay & the Rivers Potomack & Pokomoke; in which Sentiments, Mr. Henderson, from what he was able to recollect of the Resolutions, concurred. Thus disagreeably circumstanced, only two of the Virginia Commissioners present, & without any Copy of the Resolves upon the principal Subject, we thought it better to proceed, than to disappoint the Maryland Commissioners, who appeared to have brought with them the most amicable Dispositions, & expressed the greatest Desire of forming such a fair & liberal Compact, as—might prove a lasting Cement of Friendship between the two States; which we were convinced it is their mutual Interest to Cultivate; we therefore, upon the particular Invitation of the General, adjourned to Mount Vernon, & finished the Business there. Some time after, Mr. Henderson wrote to Mr. Beckley (Clerk of the House of Delegates) for a Copy of the Resolves, upon receiving which, we were surprized to find no Mention made of Chesapeake Bay or Pokomoke River, that our Powers were confined to Potomack River, and to not less than three of the Commissioners. I am still inclined to think that the omission of Chesapeake Bay and Pokomoke River was oweing to Mistake, or Inadvertence, in not attending to the Resolves of 1778; and if so, it was perhaps lucky, that we had not been furnished with a Copy of the Resolves; for the Maryland Commissioners had it in express Instruction from their Assembly, to consider the Relinquishment, on the part of Virginia, of any Claim of laying Tolls &c. on Vessels passing thro' the Capes of Chesapeake, as a Sine qua non, and if it was refused, immediately to break off all further Conferrence with the Virginia Commissioners. However, if the Substance of the Compact is approved by the Assembly, I hope Forms will be dispensed with; especially as the Breach of them has been the Fault of some of their own Officers, not ours; and as I am conscious of having been influenced by no other Motives than the Desire of promoting the Public Good."
My Paper draws to an End, & leaves me only Room to beg your Attention to the inclosed Memorandum, to express my Desire of hearing from you on the Subject of the Compact, & such other public Matters as you may have time to communicate, as soon as Convenience will permit; and to assure you that I am, with the most sincere Esteem & Regard Dr Sir Your affecte. Friend & obdt. Sert.
[7 December 1785]
Memdm. The concluding Clause of the seventh Article of the Compact is not so clearly expressed as it ought to be, & is capable of a Construction, which was not intended; and tho' it wou'd be a strained & unnatural one, it had better be removed.
The Words are—"Provided" &c, "and that the Citizens of neither State shall have a Right to fish with Nets or Seins upon the shores of the other." This may be construed to restrain the Citizens of either State, having Lands upon the River in the other, from fishing with Nets or Seins upon their own Shores; which wou'd be unreasonable & unjust; altho' in it's present form, it seems to be the Grammatical Construction. The Addition of two or three words will set it right. Thus—"and that the Citizens of neither State shall have a Right to fish with Nets or Seins upon the Shores of the Citizens of the other." I never observed this Circumstance, 'til very lately, or I am sure I cou'd easily have had it altered by the Maryland Commissioners, at any time before the Meeting of their Assembly. The Fisherys upon Potomack River are becoming a very important Object; & therefore I cou'd wish the above Clause in the Compact properly amended: if the Amendment goes no further than I have mentioned, it will occasion no Objection from Maryland; and I wish the Article to be no[t] otherwise altered; for this was the most difficult Business we had to settle with the Maryland Commissioners. The Idea of the Right of fishing on both Shores of Potomack River is one the Marylanders are not fond of parting with; and I trust it will be found we have obtained every thing for Virginia, with Respect to Potomack River, which she can desire. The exceptionable Part of the Article before mentioned was really a Mistake. Not having time now to write to my Friend the Attorney upon this Subject, Mr. Madison will be pleased to mention it to him. And I shall be particularly obliged to Mr. Madison to inform me what is done with Respect to the Northern Neck, on the Subjects of the Records in the late Proprietor's office, entering, or resurveying Lands, Quit-Rents, &c.

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