The Mt. Vernon Compact & The Annapolis Convention

Regional Cooperation: March 1785

From the east porch of his home on the Potomac River, George Washington could look across to the Maryland shore. Washington's desire to improve the navigation of the river led him to invite the Maryland and Virginia commissioners to meet at Mount Vernon in March 1785.

  • MOUNT VERNON EAST FRONT, by unknown artist, ca. 1792

Commissioners from Maryland and Virginia met at Mount Vernon in March 1785 to discuss fishing rights and the regulation of commerce on the Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries. The result was the Compact of 1785, the first mutually binding agreement of its kind between two states. Both states declared that their waterways would be "forever considered as a common Highway Free for Use and Navigation of any vessel belonging" to the other. At the same time, the Commissioners invited Pennsylvania to join in an effort to improve the navigation of the Potomac River to its headwaters, arguing that such a project would "have for their object the interest and convenience of [Pennsylvania's] Citizens and those of the other States in the Union." THE ANNAPOLIS CONVENTION, September 11 - 14, 1786

The Annapolis Convention was a meeting of 12 delegates from five states (New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Delaware, and Virginia) that called for a constitutional convention. The formal title of the meeting was a Meeting of Commissioners to Remedy Defects of the Federal Government. The defects that they were to remedy were those barriers that limited trade or commerce between the states under the Articles of Confederation.

The commissioners felt that there were not enough states represented to make any substantive agreement. New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and North Carolina had appointed commissioners who failed to get to the meeting in time to attend it, while Connecticut, Maryland, South Carolina and Georgia had taken no action at all.

The Annapolis Convention issued a call for another meeting of all of the states which was sent to Congress and to the states. It expressed the hope that more states would be represented and that their delegates or deputies would be authorized to examine areas broader than simply commercial trade. The direct result of the report was the Philadelphia Convention of 1787. The Annapolis Convention was held at Mann's Tavern, where George Washington often stayed when visiting Annapolis.

Pleading for a Federal Constitution: November 5, 1786

In a letter to James Madison not long after the Annapolis Convention adjourned, George Washington pleaded for a new and stronger federal government. "The consequences of a lax, or inefficient government, are too obvious to be dwelt on.-Thirteen Sovereignties pulling against each other and all tugging the federal head, will soon bring ruin on the whole."

  • LETTER OF GEORGE WASHINGTON TO JAMES MADISON, MOUNT VERNON, November 5, 1786.
  • Facsimile from the Stan V. Henkels catalogue, 1895, p. 27. Maryland State Archives, MSA SC 1262-10