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Kaminski, John P.; Saladino, Gaspare J.; Leffler, Richard; Schoenleber, Charles H.; Carlson, Marybeth (ed.) / Ratification of the Constitution by the states: Virginia (1)
8 (1988)

Introduction,   pp. xxiii-xxxix


Page xxx

I. DEBATE OVER CONSTITUTION
actual sacrifice of the Misspi. by Congress, will unquestionably go over
to the opposite side" (to George Washington, 7 December 1786, Rut-
land, Madison, IX, 199-200). Madison's concern was understandable
because the October 1786 session of the legislature had considered
the report of the Annapolis Convention.
On 17 November 1786 the House of Delegates received a petition
from its Kentucky members and others, expressing great alarm at the
rumor that Congress was about to relinquish the navigation of the
Mississippi for twenty-five or thirty years. This was an "unconstitu-
tional" and "dangerous" action and "a violation of the foederal com-
pact." They looked upon the free navigation of the river as a natural
right. On 29 November a series of resolutions, probably written by
Madison, was adopted by the House of Delegates. The resolutions
instructed the state's congressional delegates to oppose any attempt
by Congress to give up the right of navigation. A cession of that right
would be a violation of the Articles of Confederation. Moreover, any
failure to insist upon that right in negotiations with Spain would un-
dermine the Union itself. The Senate adopted the resolutions on 7
December, and on 19 April 1787 they were laid before Congress, along
with the petition from the Kentucky delegates and others.
In April 1787 the question of the navigation of the Mississippi be-
came a volatile issue in Congress. On the 18th James Madison, who
had returned to Congress after the hiatus of three years required by
the Articles of Confederation, became so disturbed by Jay's position
on this issue that he tried but failed to get the negotiations transferred
to Thomas Jefferson, the American minister in Paris. At this point,
Congress dropped the issue. Madison noted on 26 April: "the project
of shutting the Mississippi was at an end; a point deemed of great
importance in reference to the approaching Convention for introduc-
ing a Change in the federal Government, and to the objection to an
increase of its powers foreseen from the jealousy which had been
excited by that project" (Notes on Debates, ibid., 407). On 31 August,
William Grayson, another Virginia delegate, wrote Madison that "The
Mississippi is in a State of absolute dormification" (ibid., X, 159).
While Congress considered the Mississippi question in the spring of
1787, the West was in a state of turmoil. In late March, the members
of the "court party" in Fayette County, Ky., sent a circular letter to
the other county courts, expressing alarm about the rumors of the
proposed cession of America's right to navigate the Mississippi. Early
in the summer, several letters from the West (including Kentucky), also
dealing with the Mississippi question, were widely circulated in the
newspapers. The issue had died in Congress, but it was still very much
in the public mind.
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