James Madison Papers

To James Madison from William Bradford, 1 August 1774

From William Bradford

FC (Historical Society of Pennsylvania).

August. 1st. 1774

Dear Sir,

I am sorry to find your letter confirms the accounts we have received of the depredations of the Indians; which I hope was a slight & private quarrell with Cressop & others; for such accounts as these generally increase in horror as the distance increases. I am apprehensive the death of Sir William Johnston (of which you must undoubtedly have heard[) will] be attended with disagreeable consequences, & serve to encourage the enemy even more than the timidity you condemn in the white-people. ’Tis said he concluded a treaty with them a few hours before he died;1 but that will not prevent them joining with those in Virginia if they think it their interest to do so; they [are] a people who pay but little regard to the Faith of Treaties, & whose general character is well drawn by our friend Breckenridge when he calls them

“Wild as the winds, unstable as the sea,

Cruel as death & Treacherous as Hell”2

I have hopes that the congress which it is expected will meet at this City next month will do something towards effectually warding of[f] the attacks of Slavery and fixing the boundaries of our Liberties. Till that is done I am apprehensive all our endeavours will [be] of but little use, as they will not reach the root of the disorder: they may procure a repeal of the present acts, but that like the repeal of the stampt-act will be but a temporary relief & leave us exposed to the attacks of some future ministerial scoundrel who like North may be ambitious of “laying us at his feet.”3 It is recommended to our delegates to insist on the repeal of certain acts we deem oppressive & the confirmation (or if they please the grant4) of certain rights, that are necessary to our Liberty. If this measure should be adopted by the Congress & this “bill of rights” be confirmed by his majesty, or the parliament, the Liberties of America will be as firmly fixed, & defined as those of England were at the revolution.5 We expect much from the delegates of Virginia & Boston; for several of those appointed for this province are known to be inimical to the Liberties of America. I mean Galloway the author of the detestable peice signed Americanus in the time of the Stampt Act; & one Humphries an obscure assemblyman who but the moment before he was appointed voted against the having a congress at all. I am informed the State of affairs is still worse in New York where nothing but Dissention prevails. I hope they will not communicate any of that spirit to the Congress.6

Indeed my friend the world wears a strange aspect at the present day; to use Shakespear’s expression “the times seem to be out of joint.”7 Our being attacked on the one hand by the Indians, & on the others, our Liberties invaded by a corrupt, ambitious & determined ministry is bring[ing] things to a crisis in America & seems to fortell some great event. In Europe the states entertain a general suspicion of each other; they seem to be looking forward to some great revolution & stand, as it were with their hands on their swords ready to unsheath them at the earliest warning. The obstinate & bloody contention of the Turk & Russian, the overthrow of Liberty in Sweden & Corsica, the Death of Lewis and the Accession of a young ambitious monarch to the throne of France lead us to imagine there is something at hand that shall greatly augment the history of the world:8 Many of our good people & among the rest Mr Halsey9 have calculated the commencement of the Millenium in the present Century, & others with equal probability, the consumation of all things: and indeed when the plot thickens we are to expect the conclusion of the drama.

I thankfully accept your indulgence in not expecting punctuality in my answering your Letters. The hurry of Business and the bustle of the town renders it impossible to write in haste & not forget much of what I intended to tell you; & I seldom send away a letter without recollecting that I have done so. If you hear of Mr Wallace10 you will not forget to inform me. I have his interest too much at heart to be indifferent about his Wellfare.

I am yours &c


1Michael Cresap (1742–1775), border leader and pioneer, was widely, but probably unjustly, accused of the murder of members of Mingo Chief Logan’s family at Yellow Creek on 30 April 1774, thus precipitating Lord Dunmore’s War (JM to Bradford, 1 July 1774, n. 2). Sir William Johnson (1715–1774), serving under royal commission as “Agent and Superintendent” of the Six Nations and their affairs, died suddenly on 11 July in New York while endeavoring to restrain the Iroquois from joining the Indians of western Pennsylvania and Virginia in their uprising against the whites. Thanks mainly to Johnson’s influence, most of the Iroquois remained neutral during the war.

2The first line of this quotation should read: “Unstable as the sea, wild as the winds.” The couplet is from “The Rising Glory of America,” written in 1771 by Freneau and Brackenridge and read by the latter on the occasion of their graduation from the College of New Jersey. In 1772 it was published in Philadelphia by Joseph Crukshank for R. Aitken, bookseller (Fred L. Pattee, ed., Poems of Philip Freneau, I, 49, 64).

3William Cobbett, ed., The Parliamentary History of England from the Earliest Period to the year 1803 (36 vols.; London 1806–20; continued as Hansard’s Parliamentary Debates), XVII, 1159–1356 (7 March to 27 May 1774), passim; Lord North’s speeches in support of the measures known later by the colonists as the “Intolerable Acts.”

4Underlined by Bradford.

5“An Act Declaring the Rights and Liberties of the Subject, and Settling the Succession of the Crown,” usually known as the Bill of Rights, was enacted by Parliament in December 1689 as one of the reforms accompanying the “Glorious Revolution.”

6During the controversy over the Stamp Act, Joseph Galloway (1731–1803), wealthy Philadelphia lawyer and speaker of the provincial legislature of Pennsylvania, published in the Pennsylvania Journal (Philadelphia) of 9 January 1766 “the detestable peice” signed “Americanus,” upholding the hated tax law. In September 1774, at the First Continental Congress, his conciliatory “Plan of Accommodation on Constitutional Principles” failed to gain the support of the “radical” delegates, mainly from New England and Virginia. Among Galloway’s supporters in the Congress was Charles Humphreys (1714–1786), a Haverford Quaker who, after long service in the legislature of his colony, closed his political career by voting against the adoption of the Declaration of Independence by the Second Continental Congress. Of like opinion, Galloway fled to England in 1778 and remained there until his death (Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds., Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789 [34 vols.; Washington, 1904–37], I, 43–51).

7“The time is out of joint” (Hamlet, Act I, scene 5, line 188).

8After six years of war, Russia forced Turkey to sign a humiliating peace treaty on 21 July 1774. In May of that year, Louis XVI, then twenty years of age, succeeded to the throne of France upon the death of his grandfather, Louis XV. During the preceding five years France had been consolidating its hold upon Corsica, after ending its independence and ousting its hero, Pasquale Paoli, in 1769. In Sweden, Gustavus III was crushing all attempts to lessen his prerogative.

9Reverend Jeremiah Halsey, pastor of the Presbyterian church at Bedminster, N.J., served as trustee of the College of New Jersey in the 1770’s. At the meeting of the Synod of New York and Philadelphia, 17–23 May 1775, he was the only clergyman who dissented from the paragraph of the pastoral letter affirming allegiance to King George III (Records of the Presbyterian Church in the United States of America, 1706–1788, pp. 378, 468–69).

10Caleb Wallace.

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