So you probably know that James Madison was one of the drafters of the Constitution and later helped spearhead the drive for the Bill of Rights. But what you might not know is that he also played a major role in negotiating an end to the Potomac Oysters Wars, which helped pave the way to the Constitutional Convention. This is how the story briefly goes:
the seventeenth century, watermen in Maryland and Virginia battled over
ownership rights to the Potomac River. Maryland traced its rights to a 1632
charter from King Charles I which included the river. At the same time, Virginia
laid its claims to the river to an earlier charter from King James I and a 1688
patent from King James II, both of which also included the river.
1776, after more than a century of conflict, Virginia ceded ownership of the
river but reserved the right to “the free navigation and use of the rivers Potowmack and Pocomoke." Maryland rejected this
reservation and quickly passed a resolution asserting total control over the
Potomac. After the Revolution, battles over the river intensified between
watermen from both states.
resolve this problem, leaders from Maryland and Virginia appointed two groups of
commissioners which, at the invitation of George Washington, met at Mount Vernon
in May of 1785. James Madison led the Virginia contingent and Samuel Chase led
the Maryland delegation. Their discussions led to the Compact of
1785, which allowed oystermen from both states free use the river.
prevailed until the supply of oysters began to dwindle, at which point Maryland
re-imposed harvesting restrictions. Virginia retaliated by closing the mouth of
the Chesapeake and watermen from both states engaged in bloody gun battles which
lasted, with periodic breaks, for more than a century.
these battles are known as the Potomac Oyster Wars. They're important in their
own right but they have a larger historical significance because they revealed
one of the main weaknesses of the Articles
of Confederation, which was that the federal government didn't have the
power to control commerce among the states, a setup that was creating constant
chaos and conflict.
this problem in mind, Madison and the others who convened at Mt. Vernon in May
of 1785 agreed to meet the following year at Annapolis to discuss the need for a
stronger federal government. Not many delegates showed up and so they agreed to
convene the following May in Philadelphia, which is, of course, where the
Constitution was drafted.
so NOW you know how James Madison and a little bivalve from the Potomac helped
pave the way to the Constitutional Convention!
Under the Articles of Confederation, the federal government didn't have the
power to raise an army, regulate interstate commerce, or coin money
for the country. To pass a law, Congress needed the approval of nine out of the
13 states, and in order to amend the Articles it needed the approval of all 13
states, which made it nearly impossible to get anything done! The Articles also
didn't provide for an Executive or Federal branch so there was no separation of