James Madison Papers

To James Madison from the Reverend James Madison, 9 March 1781

From the Reverend James Madison

RC (LC: Madison Papers). Addressed to “James Madison Esqr. Member of the Hon the Congress Philadelphia.” Docketed by JM, “Revd. J Madison March 9. 1781.”

March 9th. 1781.

Dear Col.

I rec’d. your Letter by C. Kelly1 and was much rejoiced at the agreable Intelligence, nor do I doubt, but the Member of Parliament will find that the delenda est Carthag[o] is not so easily effected as he wd. fain hope.2 I rejoiced at the Intelligence, because I am almost satisfied, that the Salvation of these Southern States depends entirely upon the naval Superiority, or at least Equality of the Confederates.3 For can we hope for Success from our Exertions, when an handful of Men are permitted thus to insult us on every Side? The Truth is in my opinion—that Virginia still contains Citizens who are willing to risque all in the Cause, but the Assembly has lost its Respect. Iniquitous Laws produce Disgust. Disgust, Languor and Indifference. Thus many care not whether Arnold or Steuben are victorious.4 It must however be said to the Honr. of the middle & back Counties, that upon the Approach of Cornwallis, no Time, not even the Year 75 ever exhibited a more hearty Zeal in the common Cause. Old Men, who had long laid aside the Musket, even half Tories caught the Flame, and I beleive had he crossed the Dan his Fate wd have been glorious for Am[eric]a. But Guns! not Men were wanting. It is said Cornwallis is at present entrenching near Hillsborough, but of this you have much better Intelligence [than] I have.5 Preparations are making to attack Arnold. It is said the French Fleet only is waited for.6 A Day or two ago they landed between 3 & 400 on the Hampton side and carried off Provisions. Only a few Malitia, 60, attempted to oppose them. A Col. Mallory & 4 or 5 more were cut to pieces by the light Horse. Curle was taken Prisoner, the Enemy’s loss not known.7 You will hear no Doubt that Tilly has taken a 44 in our Bay the Romulus.8

Would you have supposed that the tender Law was revived with more Ardor than ever last session. What is to be expected, when we see Justice thus trampled upon, when we see the glorious object of this War prostituted to private Jobbs or Ends.9

Will you be so obliging as to procure for me the marine Laws or Resolutions of Congress, & send them by some oppy. I intend to attend the Admiralty Cts and therefore wish them.10 Congress is now respected. why? Congress proceeds, I speak it with Joy, upon just & honourable Principles. I see the northern States begin to imitate,11 But when will this [state]? I had once Hopes of Amendment, but now they are gone.

I was to have sent a Letter by last Post, but was disappointed. I hope however my Negligence will not make you forgetful of us, when I assure you I have no greater Pleasure than in hearing from you; but you never say any Thing of yourself. How do you relish your Business. Does it interfere with riding &c, for I have heard of a severe Attack.12

I have written this, as you see in a Hurry, and while writing recd a Lettr from Mazzei at Paris last April.13 From it, they wd. have deified P Jones at Paris, if they cd. What have you done with him in Congress.14 The Motto of Franklin’s picture he writes is “Eripuit caelo fulmen, sceptrumque tyrannis15

Bellini sends you a Letter, directed he says, according to Rules or in Taste. you will receive it with this.16

I have lately read the Peice called “Public Good”. What Impression it may make here I cannot tell, but I think it unanswerable as to the main Point. His Notion however of the West & North West Course is certainly erroneous, as that Term was intended for the Course of both Sides or they were run in the sailor’s Language West North West.17


J. Madison

1JM’s letter not found. It was delivered by Thaddy Kelly (ca. 1749–1789), a captain of Virginia artillery from 1777 to 1781. Previously he had been a ranger on the Indian frontier and a lieutenant in the state line (Heitman, Historical Register Continental description begins F. B. Heitman, Historical Register of Officers of the Continental Army during the War of the Revolution (Washington, 1893). description ends , p. 248; Henrico County Court Records, Will Book 2, p. 82, microfilm in Virginia State Library). Kelly arrived in Williamsburg about 6 March with an answer to a letter from Captain Tilly to La Luzerne, which Kelly had taken to Philadelphia (Boyd, Papers of Jefferson description begins Julian P. Boyd et al., eds., The Papers of Thomas Jefferson (16 vols. to date; Princeton, N.J., 1950——). description ends , V, 74).

2A copy of the Pennsylvania Packet of 24 February may have accompanied JM’s missing letter to the Reverend James Madison. This paper told of a debate in Parliament on 27 November 1780, occasioned by the news of British successes in South Carolina. Among the speakers was George Legge (1755–1810), then Lord Lewisham and later third Earl of Dartmouth. Stressing the need to humble the French navy, Lewisham uttered the frequently repeated warning of Cato the Elder to the Roman senate, “Delenda est Carthago” (Carthage must be destroyed). Thereupon Charles Townshend dryly replied: “I do not find … that to bawl incessantly, ‘Delenda est Carthago’ contributes very much to the destruction of the French marine.” This report in the Pennsylvania Packet may have been accurate, even though it is not supported by Hansard’s Parliamentary Debates description begins William 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). description ends , XXI, cols. 889–91. Here Lord Lewisham’s speech of 27 November, and Charles Townshend’s remarks, made immediately after Lewisham had finished, are summarized.

3In the letter to his cousin, JM probably had mentioned how the recent storm in Long Island Sound, by severely damaging the British fleet based in Gardiner’s Bay, enabled a French squadron under Captain Tilly to sail to Chesapeake Bay. JM may also have reported the false rumor of Vice Admiral Estaing’s victory over Rear Admiral Sir Samuel Hood (Jameson to JM, 3 March 1781, n. 6; Pendleton to JM, 5 March 1781, n. 2).

4General Arnold commanded the British forces in Virginia. Major General Friedrich Wilhelm Ludolf Gerhard Augustin, Baron von Steuben, commanded the small number of recently recruited continentals and co-ordinated their opposition to Arnold with that of the much more numerous force of Virginia militia. When the present letter was written, this resistance had obliged Arnold to confine his operations largely to the neighborhood of Portsmouth (Louis Gottschalk, Lafayette and the Close of the American Revolution [Chicago, 1942], pp. 201–2).

5See Jameson to JM, 3 March 1781, n. 7. Although Cornwallis was at Hillsboro, N.C., on 20 February, he remained there only a week. Between 6 and 14 March his main force was encamped along the Deep River about twelve miles southwest of Guilford Court House. General Greene and his army reached the courthouse on 14 March (Benjamin F. Stevens, ed., Campaign in Virginia, I, 360–62; Christopher Ward, War of the Revolution, II, 780–83).

7About three hundred troops led by Lieutenant Colonel Thomas Dundas (1750–1794), later a British member of the commission which drafted the Articles of Capitulation at Yorktown, crossed Hampton Roads on 7 March to forage for provisions and destroy American military supplies at the Halfway House, twelve miles from Hampton on the road to Yorktown. According to General Benedict Arnold’s dispatch of 8 March, Dundas destroyed “about One hundred Stands of Arms, some Provision and Amunition” at Halfway House, and, on the return march to Newport News, killed fourteen Virginia militiamen and captured seventeen others out of a total force of forty (Benjamin F. Stevens, ed., Campaign in Virginia, I, 339–40). Francis Mallory (ca. 1741–1781) was colonel of the Elizabeth City County militia (Virginia Magazine of History and Biography, XI [1903–4], 184; Virginia Historical Register, IV [1851], 24–28). Colonel William Roscow Wilson Curle (ca. 1739–1782) had been chairman of the Hampton and Elizabeth City County Committee of Safety in 1774, a member of the committee which drafted the Declaration of Rights and Form of Government of Virginia, and a judge of the admiralty court of that state (William and Mary Quarterly, 1st ser., V [1896–97], 103; VII [1898–99], 3, 7; IX [1900–1901], 125–26; Mary Selden Kennedy, Seldens of Virginia and Allied Families [2 vols.; New York, 1911], I, 269–71; Journals of the Council of State description begins H. R. McIlwaine et al., eds., Journals of the Council of the State of Virginia (Richmond, 1931——). description ends , III, 41). He was paroled less than a month after his capture (Boyd, Papers of Jefferson description begins Julian P. Boyd et al., eds., The Papers of Thomas Jefferson (16 vols. to date; Princeton, N.J., 1950——). description ends , V, 384, 428).

9See ibid., n. 2. The day before the Reverend James Madison wrote this letter and on 15 March, respectively, bills were introduced in the House of Delegates of the legislature, meeting in special session, to issue additional paper money up to a maximum of £15,000,000 and make it a legal tender. A discussion with the Senate over the extent of the Senate’s constitutional right to reject or amend money bills delayed the passage of these measures until 21 March (Hening, Statutes description begins William Waller Hening, ed., The Statutes at Large; Being a Collection of All the Laws of Virginia, from the First Session of the Legislature, in the Year 1619 (13 vols.; Richmond and Philadelphia, 1819–23). description ends , X, 397–400; Journal of the House of Delegates, March 1781 description begins Journal of the House of Delegates of the Commonwealth of Virginia; Begun and Held at the Capitol, in the City of Williamsburg. Beginning in 1780, the portion after the semicolon reads, Begun and Held in the Town of Richmond. In the County of Henrico. The journal for each session has its own title page and is individually paginated. The edition used, unless otherwise noted, is the one in which the journals for 1777–1781 are brought together in one volume, with each journal published in Richmond in 1827 or 1828, and often called the “Thomas W. White reprint.” description ends , pp. 14–15, 20, 23–28, 30–31, 50).

10The Reverend James Madison’s interest in admiralty courts probably reflects his attraction at this time toward the law as a “more fashionable” and “more profitable” profession than “Divinity & Philosophy” (Papers of Madison description begins William T. Hutchinson, William M. E. Rachal, et al., eds., The Papers of James Madison (2 vols. to date; Chicago, 1962——). description ends , II, 294). His interest in the law remained high as long as the war menaced the existence of the College of William and Mary. On 10 May 1782 he wrote to Edmund Randolph about his “Intention to appear in the Court of Admiralty, but doubt whether any one will give me an oppy of shewing my Ignorance there.” He asked Randolph to procure for him a “Transcript of the most important of the Laws of Congress relative to that Court” (LC: Madison Papers). The particular “marine Laws or Resolutions” which he had in mind cannot be identified. The “Bibliographical Notes,” immediately preceding the index in every volume of the JCC description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds., Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789 (34 vols.; Washington, 1904–37). description ends covering the closing months of each calendar year between 1775 and 1781, usually listed the titles of pamphlets and broadsides published during the year relating to privateers, the navy of the United States, captures at sea, condemnation of prize ships and their cargoes, etc. Although in all probability the Reverend James Madison knew that Article IX of the Articles of Confederation, which had become operative on 1 March, delegated to Congress almost exclusive jurisdiction in the field of admiralty law, he could not have known when he wrote this letter that Congress had appointed a committee on 6 March “to devise and report the mode of appointing courts for the trial of piracies and felonies committed on the high seas.” On 5 April Congress adopted the bill drafted by this committee. Two weeks later President Samuel Huntington forwarded a copy of the ordinance to Governor Jefferson (JCC description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds., Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789 (34 vols.; Washington, 1904–37). description ends , XIX, 234, 354; Boyd, Papers of Jefferson description begins Julian P. Boyd et al., eds., The Papers of Thomas Jefferson (16 vols. to date; Princeton, N.J., 1950——). description ends , V, 497–99).

11The particular cause of the writer’s “Joy” can only be surmised. In view of the time required for news to travel from Philadelphia to Virginia, he must be referring to an occurrence or occurrences of a date no later than 1 March. Although on that day there was much good cheer in Congress, because New York ceded her western land claims to the United States and the Articles of Confederation became effective, the Reverend James Madison probably did not have these in mind when he wrote about Congress and the northern states proceeding “upon just & honourable Principles.” This phrase, taken in conjunction with his paragraph next above, strongly suggests that he was referring to financial measures designed to do justice to the public creditors. During the last ten days in February, Congress had expressed at least enough honorable intentions in this regard to account for the writer’s pleasure. On 19 February a committee had submitted to Congress a long report, analyzing the public debt, estimating the expenses and the revenue of the coming year, and recommending that the interest on the loan office certificates and the soldiers’ arrears in pay be met and that the anticipated income from the proposed 5 per cent import duty be allocated to send overdue interest to the public creditors. Although the report was still under discussion on the date of this letter, Congress on 23 February voted that bills of exchange “be forthwith struck” to cover past-due interest on loan office certificates (JCC description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds., Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789 (34 vols.; Washington, 1904–37). description ends , XIX, 160–73, 184–85, 189). In writing that “the northern States” had begun “to imitate,” the Reverend James Madison probably knew of the measures taken by the governments of three of the four New England states during January and February 1781 to pay their troops of the continental line, to provide supplies for Washington’s army, to fill their financial quotas requisitioned by Congress, and, in the case of Connecticut, to authorize Congress, if all the other states also agreed, to levy a 5 per cent duty on imports (Nathaniel Bouton, comp. and ed., Documents and Records Relating to the State of New-Hampshire during the Period of the American Revolution, from 1776 to 1783, VIII [Concord, 1874], 886; John Russell Bartlett, ed., Records of the State of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations, in New England, IX [Providence, 1864], 323, 328, 346–49, 354; Charles J. Hoadly, ed., The Public Records of the State of Connecticut from May, 1780, to October, 1781, Inclusive [Hartford, 1922], pp. 300, 310–20; below, Motion on Pay of Troops, 10 May 1781, n. 1). Despite the Reverend James Madison’s lament that his own state was inactive in these regards, he must have been heartened by several laws enacted by the Virginia General Assembly in its May 1781 session (Hening, Statutes description begins William Waller Hening, ed., The Statutes at Large; Being a Collection of All the Laws of Virginia, from the First Session of the Legislature, in the Year 1619 (13 vols.; Richmond and Philadelphia, 1819–23). description ends , X, 409–10, 412–13, 426, 437; Virginia Delegates to Jefferson, 27 April, n. 6, and May 1781, n. 6).

12After beginning this paragraph with what appear to be the words, “Yr Letters tho agreable are short, but I can readily suppose you have full Employment for every Minute,” the Reverend James Madison crossed out the sentence and made a fresh start. Perhaps the absence of any mention of JM in the journals for the periods 13 to 31 January and 6 to 12 February (JCC description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds., Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789 (34 vols.; Washington, 1904–37). description ends , XIX, 55–103, 117–42) signifies that he was sick. In his letter of 19 March to JM (q.v.), Pendleton wrote that he was happy to learn that JM’s health had improved. Thomas Rodney, a delegate from Delaware who liked to confide to his diary acidulous opinions about some of his congressional colleagues, suggested by the following entry of 10 March that he would have welcomed less activity by JM in the business of Congress: “I take notice of a Mr. Madison, of Virginia who with some little reading in the Law is just from the College, and possesses all the self conceit that is Common to youth and inexperience in like cases—but it is unattended with that gracefulness and ease which some times makes even the impertinence of youth and inexperience agreeable or at least not offensive” (Burnett, Letters description begins Edmund C. Burnett, ed., Letters of Members of the Continental Congress (8 vols.; Washington, 1921–36). description ends , VI, 20). Rodney, who was only seven years JM’s senior, apparently concluded from the youthful appearance of JM that he was about twenty-one rather than thirty years of age.

13The Reverend James Madison probably intended to say that Philip Mazzei had mailed the letter at Paris last April.

14For Commodore John Paul Jones’s “Glory in Paris” in April and May 1780, in honor of his victory over the British frigate “Serapis” on 25 September 1779, see Samuel Eliot Morison, John Paul Jones: A Sailor’s Biography (Boston, 1959), pp. 275–81. Although Jones was under a cloud for a time in the United States because of Arthur Lee’s accusations and his own slowness in bringing military matériel from France, Congress finally, on 27 February 1781, passed resolutions complimenting him for capturing the “Serapis” and permitting him to accept the Cross of Military Merit from Louis XVI (JCC description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds., Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789 (34 vols.; Washington, 1904–37). description ends , XIX, 200).

15“He snatched the lightning from the sky and the sceptre from a tyrant.” Anne Robert Jacques Turgot, French economist and statesman, is generally credited with this tribute to Benjamin Franklin, although Baron Friedrich von der Trenck laid claim to its authorship. The epigram was inscribed on numerous portraits and statues of Franklin, including etchings of the well-known bust by Jean Antoine Houdon, made in 1778 (Carl Van Doren, Benjamin Franklin [New York, 1938], p. 606; Charles Sumner, “Monograph from an Old Note-Book; with a Postscript,” Atlantic Monthly, XII [November 1863], 648–62).

16Carlo (Charles) Bellini’s letter has not been found.

17Thomas Paine, in Public Good, Being an Examination into the Claim of Virginia to the Vacant Western Territory (Philadelphia, 1780), argued on historical grounds that Virginia’s claim to the Old Northwest was invalid. He also advocated the admission of the Kentucky area as a fourteenth state. Besides adverting to the fact that the charter of 1609 had been issued to the London Company and not to the colony of Virginia, and had been rescinded in 1624, Paine stressed the unintelligibility of the charter’s grant of land “from sea to sea, West, and Northwest,” since the eastern point or points from which the grant was to go northwest as well as west were not clearly defined. The Reverend James Madison probably meant by “both Sides” the points on the Atlantic coast two hundred miles north and two hundred miles south of Cape Comfort, respectively; then he would extend the line from the southern point due west and the one from the northern point west-northwest—the point on a mariner’s compass halfway between west and northwest (William MacDonald, ed., Select Charters and Other Documents Illustrative of American History, 1606–1775 [New York, 1904], pp. 12–13). It would have been inconceivable for a Virginian to agree that his state was confined within the tight triangle defined by Paine’s hired pen. However vaguely the Reverend James Madison may have expressed himself, he understood the problems of surveying unusually well; he had been a member of the commission which, in 1779, determined a part of the Virginia-Pennsylvania boundary line “with great astronomical precision.” See Virginia Delegates to Thomas Nelson, 20 November 1781, n. 2.

Index Entries