Mount Vernon Conference
The Mount Vernon Conference was a meeting of nominated delegates from Virginia and Maryland, that discussed commercial issues of their mutual water border and culminated at George Washington's home, Mount Vernon, Virginia, in March 1785. The ensuing report known as the Mount Vernon Compact, or the Compact of 1785 was ratified later by both state legislatures, and became the earliest move of individual states toward closer union under the Articles of Confederation. The Mount Vernon Conference was followed by more states attending the Annapolis Convention the next year, with both events being precursors of the 1787 Philadelphia Convention that drafted of the United States Constitution.
The conference was a meeting of Samuel Chase, Daniel of St. Thomas Jenifer, and Thomas Stone of Maryland and Alexander Henderson and George Mason of Virginia. James Madison and Edmund Randolph were also appointed as Virginia delegates but were not informed by Virginia governor Patrick Henry and did not attend. The delegates initially met in Alexandria, Virginia, but George Washington invited all five delegates to his nearby house at Mount Vernon. They convened there on 25 March 1785 with Washington presiding.
They were charged with dealing with issues of commerce, fishing, and navigation in the waters of the Potomac and Pocomoke Rivers and the Chesapeake Bay. These issues were not addressed directly by the Articles of Confederation, which bound the 13 independently sovereign American states at the time, nor by the authorization of the Potomac Company a year earlier which was to regulate the Potomac above the Great Falls.
The conference was a success, and a report was prepared for the two state legislatures on 28 March 1785. The report contained 13 clauses and ratified by both Maryland and Virginia. It declared the Potomac, which was under Maryland's sole jurisdiction, to be a common waterway for use by Virginia as well. It also provided for reciprocal fishing rights, dividing the costs of constructing navigation aids, cooperation on defense and cases of piracy. It also called for commissioners to deal with any future problems that might arise. The Mount Vernon delegates encouraged Pennsylvania and Delaware to join the agreement as well.
The conference was significant as a model of interstate cooperation outside the framework of the weak Articles of Confederation. Its success encouraged James Madison to advocate further discussion of constitutional issues facing the states. He had little to show for efforts to get Virginia's delegates in the Continental Congress to seek expanded powers to deal with trade issues. Instead, he introduced a proposal in the Virginia General Assembly to act on the suggestion of the Compact commissioners for further debate of interstate issues. With Maryland's agreement, on 21 January 1786, Virginia invited all the states to attend a meeting on commercial issues that would be the ground-breaking Annapolis Convention.
In 1787, the Philadelphia Convention further expanded cooperation to include all of the states in an effort to reform or replace the Confederation. There, Gouverneur Morris of Pennsylvania made oblique reference to the success of the Mount Vernon Conference. In 1908 a government commission would associate these related events more closely.
The earliest movement toward developing the inland waterways of the country began when, under the influence of George Washington, Virginia and Maryland appointed commissioners primarily to consider the navigation and improvement of the Potomac; they met in 1785 in Alexandria and adjourned to Mount Vernon, where they planned for extension, pursuant to which they reassembled with representatives of other States in Annapolis in 1786; again finding the task a growing one, a further conference was arranged in Philadelphia in 1787, with delegates from all the States. There the deliberations resulted in the framing of the Constitution, whereby the thirteen original States were united primarily on a commercial basis — the commerce of the times being chiefly by water.
- John Clifford, The Mount Vernon Conference.
- Robert K. Wright, Jr. and Morris J. MacGregor, Jr., Soldier-Statesmen of the Constitution. Washington, DC: United States Army Center of Military History 1987.
- General Assembly of Maryland, 1786 Md. Laws c. 1, Virginiaplaces.org
- U.S. Supreme Court, WHARTON v. WISE, 153 U.S. 155 (1894)
- Preliminary Report of the Inland Waterways Commission, 1908. Introductory note to Section 17, The Gallatin Report
- John Vile. Mount Vernon Conference.