James Madison and the Annapolis Convention
Through Allen C. Guelzo, Ph.D., Gettysburg College
James Madison organized the Annapolis Convention and hoped it would pave the way for a plenipotentiary convention to amend the Confederation as a whole. Read on to find out who attended this convention and what the outcome was.
Madison’s public career begins
In 1776 Madison was introduced to his public career by a county election to the Virginia Convention. His experience in the Virginia Legislature and the Governor’s State Council at Williamsburg introduced him to Thomas Jefferson, and in December 1779, just after Jefferson’s election as Governor of Virginia, Madison was appointed a member of the Virginia delegation to the Continental Congress.
Madison did not land in Congress as a rock-solid representative of national authority. He was there to defend Virginia’s interests, and he did so on three essential points.
Learn more about the provincial nature of state legislatures.
The three problems Madison dealt with
The first problem was with the Mississippi River. Assuming, as it had to be done in 1780, that the United States would win in its revolution, Congress wanted it to clearly understand that the western border of the United States would inevitably have to be fixed at the Mississippi River.
It was another question, however, whether Spain, which still ruled Louisiana territory and most of the western shores of the Mississippi, would open the river to American trade. Congress hesitated. The revolutionaries needed Spain as an ally, and some of the delegates were prepared to trade the rights of navigation on the river for Spanish aid against the British.
Not Madison, however. If America’s borders reached the Mississippi, so would Virginia’s, and Madison stubbornly insisted that Congress did not have to cede Virginia’s rights to the river trade.
Madison was equally stubborn on a second issue, Congress’ call for Virginia to cede all of its claims to Western territory in order to induce small states like Maryland to ratify the Articles of Confederation. He could not reconcile with the respect owed by each state to its sovereignty and honor, an appeal of its decisions to a foreign court, as if the Confederation Congress were as alien to Virginia as Parliament.
Third, Madison resisted Congress’ decision to recognize Vermont as an independent and 14th state, because Vermont had been carved out of land originally claimed by New York City. If the district in question were within the jurisdiction of one or more of the United States – Madison insisted – it must necessarily follow that the inhabitants could not have the right to create an independent state.
This is a transcript of the video series America’s Founding Fathers. Look at it now, Wondrium.
Impact of the Powerless Congress on Investments
Madison soon learned that a Congress powerless to control states was a nation no one abroad trusted.
He was saddened to learn this when he made his first big land investment with the purchase of 900 acres in upstate New York. He would have liked more, but he hadn’t been able to find lenders willing to finance his investment, so he turned to Jefferson, who was then serving as the US representative in Paris, to see if French financiers could. help him.
However, Jefferson told him that even George Washington had not been able to find lenders for the Potowmack Company in Paris due to the debtor’s customary protection by state legislatures like Rhode Island.
Congress should take the lead, first by demonstrating that it has the power to repay its own existing war loans, and second, by showing that it can control the vagaries of state legislatures in fiscal and monetary matters. .
Madison’s solution, like others in Congress, was to support giving Congress the power to levy tariffs – that five percent tax proposed in 1781 to begin with.
Learn more about Madison’s Suggestions for a New Framework of Government.
Meeting of Commissioners in Annapolis
However, Madison gave up the fight in December 1783 and served in the Virginia legislature, rejecting proposals to pay the state’s debts in paper money. He missed the Mount Vernon conference, but persuaded the Virginia Assembly to endorse George Mason’s call for a larger conference and was appointed one of the commissioners for the upcoming meeting.
A circular letter was sent to the other states, urging them to appoint their own commissioners and to meet in Annapolis, Maryland, on the first Monday in September 1786.
Madison’s real hope, as he told Thomas Jefferson a month before the meeting, was that the Annapolis Convention would pave the way for a plenipotentiary convention to amend the Confederacy as a whole.
The Annapolis convention
Although Madison understood that eight states had committed to sending delegates, only five delegations actually showed up – New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware and Virginia, comprising only 12 commissioners – and Madison was almost willing to “cut off. the reunion, with a recommendation from another time and place, and an indication of the advisability of extending the plan to other Confederation flaws.
Among those 12 commissioners, however, were precisely the people most capable of moving the convention forward: Madison, to begin with, but also Alexander Hamilton of New York and John Dickinson of Delaware, the architect of the first Articles of Confederation. And once they started deliberating, things progressed well, moving quickly from issues of regulating interstate commerce to the fundamental and essential principles of the Union.
Learn more about Articles of Confederation.
The speeches of delegates to state legislatures
On the fourth day of the convention, delegates adopted an address to their respective state legislatures, written largely by Hamilton.
The address boldly announced that, since the New Jersey delegates had been authorized by their state to do more than just talk about commerce and commerce, but to broaden their scope to include all measures that would allow states – United to respond effectively to the demands of the Union, the delegates:
Have been led to believe that the power to regulate commerce is of such breadth, and that it will enter so far into the general system of the federal government, as to make it effective, and to avoid questions and doubts about its precise nature and limits, may require corresponding adjustment to other parts of the federal system.
And, without stopping, the address went on to specify what mechanism the Confederation should adopt to go out of business as a Confederation:
A convention of deputies of the various states which will meet in Philadelphia on the second Monday of May, to take into account the situation of the United States, to draw up the additional provisions which they deem necessary to make the constitution of the federal government adequate to the requirements of The union; and to report any such act to that end to the United States assembled in Congress, as agreed upon by them, and then confirmed by the legislatures of each state, this – they proposed – will do the same.
There had been motions in the Congress of Confederation before calling a national assembly to reconstruct the Articles, some of them as early as 1784. However, amendments to the Articles of Confederation were considered and then abandoned.
But under these circumstances, the pressure came, and things moved quickly.
Common questions about James Madison and the Annapolis Convention
In December 1779, just after Jefferson’s election as governor of Virginia, Madison was appointed a member of the Virginia delegation to the Continental Congress.
Madison’s hope was that the Annapolis Convention would pave the way for a plenipotentiary convention to amend the Confederation as a whole.
Although eight states have pledged to send delegates to the Annapolis Convention, only five delegations actually attended: New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware and Virginia.