To Edmund Pendleton
RC (LC: Madison Papers). Addressed to “The Honble. Edmund Pendleton Esqr. Caroline County Virginia.”
Philada. Augst. 14th. 1781
I have your favor of the 6th. inst: before me. The defect of intelligence from your correspondents here must have been removed soon after you wrote, unless a miscarriage befell my letter as well as that of Mr. Jones who wrote the week before by the intercepted mail.1 Such accidents or sickness will in future I presume alone interrupt our interchange of news which is once more settled into a regular channel.
We were exceedingly disappointed & chagrined to find the movements of the Enemy which had so much occupied the public conjectures terminate in a relanding in Virginia, which has surely had an ample share of their visitations. This event is the more to be lamented, as it seems to indicate either that the combined operations agst. N. Y. are viewed without apprehensions by the Enemy, or that some unexpected succour is on its way to them. The latter is given out at N. York, and even the former is rendered but too probable by the languor with which the States supply the Commander in chief with the necessary means of success.2
A Vessel just arrived from Cadiz3 confirms the agreeable report of the recapture of the fleet bound to England with Rodney’s plunder, by the French. 20 at least if not 24 out of about 30 are certainly secured.4 The same Vessel also confirms the disagreeable report of the removal of Mr. Necker from his important office. The cause of this unexpected event is not yet unveiled to us Some of those little intrigues which prevail more or less in all Courts and which are often at the bottom of occurrences which are imputed to profound reasons of State, have most probably supplanted him.5 The remaining article of news by this arrival is that 8 or 10,000 troops with a competent naval force would soon embark at Cadiz on a secret expedition. This fact is sufficiently authenticated to us.6 Minorca among other places is talked of as the object in contemplation.7
A vessel is also just come up from the W. Indies. Her intelligence relates merely to the arrival of the 4 french ships which were at the Havannah, at Hispaniola in order to join the whole fleet which was expected there.8 As the Hurricane Months were just at hand, it is not improbable that this rendevouz was meant as a preliminary to some extra operation, Whether Europe or elsewhere will be the scene of it, it does not belong to me to say. Mr. Rivington in a late paper tells us that a large number of American Pilots were not long since collected at Rhode Island & carried to the W. Indies, and infers that Degrass meditated a junction with the French Squadron on our Coast. I wish he may guess right although he tells us at the same time that all such designs will be frustrated by the precautions taken on the other side.9
The controversy relating to the district called Vermont the inhabitants of which have for several yea[rs] claimed & exercised the jurisdiction of an Independent State is at length put into a train of speedy decision[.] Notwithstanding the objections to such an event, there is no question but they will soon be established into a separate & federal State. A relinquishment made by Massachusetts of her claims, a despair of finally obtaining theirs on the part of N. Y. and N. H. the other claimants, on whom these enterprizing Adventurers were making fresh encroachments, the latent[?]10 support afforded them by the leading people of the N. E. States in general from which they emigrated,11 the just ground of apprehension that their rulers were engaging in clandestine negociations with the enemy,12 & lastly perhaps the jealous policy of some of the little States wch. hope that such a precedent may engender a division of some of the large ones,13 are the circumstances which will determine the concurrence of Congress in this affair.14
With very sincere regard I am Dr. Sir Yr. obt. & humble Ser[vt.]
J. Madison Junr.
Mr. Jones desires me to mention to you that he omitted sending his letter by the last post, and that [you] will therefore only receive it at the time you do this.
1. JM’s letter was that of 31 July 1781 (q.v.); Jones’s letter of 24 July to Pendleton was intercepted by the British. In Burnett, Letters description begins Edmund C. Burnett, ed., Letters of Members of the Continental Congress (8 vols.; Washington, 1921–36). description ends , VI, 153–54, Jefferson is erroneously designated as the addressee.
2. See Nelson to Virginia Delegates, 26 July 1781, n. 5. “German recruits,” numbering 2,500, arrived in New York harbor on 11 August (Benjamin F. Stevens, ed., Campaign in Virginia, II, 123). Washington, in his letter of 2 August 1781 to President Thomas McKean, read in Congress four days later, bitterly complained of the failure of the northern states to reinforce his army. On 9 August Congress agreed upon the text of a letter to be sent by McKean to the governors of the states, urging them with “the utmost expedition” to fill their delinquent troop and food quotas at “this important and critical juncture” (JCC description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds., Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789 (34 vols.; Washington, 1904–37). description ends , XXI, 832, 845–46; Fitzpatrick, Writings of Washington description begins John C. Fitzpatrick, ed., The Writings of George Washington, from the Original Sources, 1745–1799 (39 vols.; Washington, 1931–44). description ends , XXII, 445–48).
3. The “Black Prince” arrived from Cadiz on 12 August (Pennsylvania Packet, 14 August 1781).
4. This information was probably included in William Carmichael’s missing letter of 11 June 1781 (Virginia Delegates to Nelson, 14 August 1781, n. 4). The Pennsylvania Packet of 14 August contains an extract from a letter printed in Rivington’s Royal Gazette (New York) which also tells of the capture by the French of twenty of the ships bearing the plunder taken by Admiral Rodney on St. Eustatius (Virginia Delegates to Jefferson, 20 March 1781, n. 4). Commodore Toussaint-Guillaume, Comte de La Motte-Picquet de la Vinoyère, overtook the thirty-four merchant ships near the coast of England during the first week in June 1781 and captured twenty-two of them. He convoyed his prizes to Brest, where the cargoes were valued at nearly £5,000,000 (W. M. James, British Navy in Adversity, pp. 305–6). At first JM seems to have written that the ships “are certain to be[?] in the hands of the.”
5. See Virginia Delegates to Nelson, 14 August 1781, n. 4. This is an astute conjecture as to why Necker was dismissed. JM’s emphasis upon the importance of “little intrigues which prevail more or less in all Courts” suggests his notes, taken when a youth, on Cardinal de Retz’s Memoirs (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 , I, 7–16). Necker’s fall was probably the more “disagreeable” to JM because of Carmichael’s assertion in his letter of 2 June 1781 that the statesman had been attempting to supply money “for the payment of the French troops in North America, and, as I have been told, for the immediate service of Congress, as part of the sum the court of France has lately engaged to furnish to the United States” (Wharton, Revolutionary Diplomatic Correspondence description begins Francis Wharton, ed., The Revolutionary Diplomatic Correspondence of the United States (6 vols.; Washington, 1889). description ends , IV, 466–67).
6. After “us,” JM crossed out “but other ports are [the] object of it.”
8. JM’s information is from a letter of 16 July 1781, written by Barrere Le Grand & Co. of Port-au-Prince, Haiti, reporting the arrival there of four ships of the line and two frigates. The letter was read in Congress on 14 August (NA: PCC, No. 78, XIV, 441–42; JCC description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds., Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789 (34 vols.; Washington, 1904–37). description ends , XXI, 860). See Pendleton to JM, 23 July 1781, n. 11.
9. The letter cited in n. 8 mentions the arrival of the pilots in Haiti and the intention of Grasse to move his fleet to the North American coast. In the Pennsylvania Packet of 14 August is an extract from Rivington’s Royal Gazette confidently predicting that, if Grasse came north, Rodney would follow him. Rodney, in fact, had turned over his West Indies’ command to Hood and sailed for England on 1 August, convoying 150 vessels (W. M. James, British Navy in Adversity, p. 264; Mason to Virginia Delegates, 3 April 1781, n. 9). Admiral François Joseph Paul, Comte de Grasse (1722–1788), commanded the French fleet in Chesapeake Bay during the siege of Yorktown, only to be defeated by Rodney in the Battle of the Saints off Dominica in April 1782.
10. The word is indistinct in the manuscript and may be “patent.”
11. For earlier phases of the Vermont, or New Hampshire Grants, controversy and JM’s relation to it, see 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, 74, 84–88, 90, 113, 122. Since the issue would remain unresolved for nearly a decade, JM was much too sanguine in anticipating a “speedy decision.” By statute on 8 March 1781, Massachusetts expressed readiness to abandon her claim to Vermont if New York and New Hampshire also would do so. This act moved the issue into a new chapter, even though New York and New Hampshire leaders contended that Massachusetts had no title to relinquish. On 9 July Congress named a committee of five members, including JM, to recommend further action. Their report of 2 August, written by Daniel Carroll, after expressing the belief of the committee that New York and New Hampshire had empowered Congress to decide which of them possessed a valid title to the area in dispute, continued by pointing out that prudential considerations, including “the general safety of the Union,” might induce Congress merely to recommend to those two states to follow Massachusetts’ example. On 3 August Congress directed the committee to revise its proposals. On 8 August, the day after the revision was submitted, Congress named a new committee, not including JM, to meet with duly authorized representatives of New Hampshire, New York, and the self-styled “sovereign independent State” of Vermont. This conference was expected to agree upon the terms, including boundaries, whereby Vermont would be admitted “into the federal union,” provided that Congress decided to recognize her independence. The envoys from Vermont soon made clear that they could not accept the restricted boundaries insisted upon by New York. Thereupon, on 21 August, Congress disposed of the matter—for what turned out to be the next five months—by defining the territorial limits which the Vermonters must agree to as “an indispensable preliminary to the recognition of … independence … and admission into the federal Union.” Even these boundaries were too generous to gain the support of the New York delegation in Congress (JCC description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds., Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789 (34 vols.; Washington, 1904–37). description ends , XX, 732; XXI, 823–25, 830–31, 836–39, 841–42, 860, 875–76, 882–83, 892–93). Judging from the available evidence, JM did not participate in these discussions. On 1 March 1782 he and his three colleagues from Virginia would all vote in favor of the boundaries of Vermont stipulated by Congress (JCC description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds., Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789 (34 vols.; Washington, 1904–37). description ends , XXII, 114).
12. An intercepted letter of 7 February from Lord Germain to General Clinton, discussing the possibility of enticing the Vermonters to become Loyalists, was read in Congress on 1 August 1781. Recognizing that the Vermonters’ grievances made Germain’s suggestion alarmingly realistic, most of the members of Congress became more conciliatory toward the Green Mountain men, especially since Ethan Allen had threatened, unless their demands were met, “to agree on terms” with the British or even to resist with arms any outsider who tried to limit his people’s freedom (JCC description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds., Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789 (34 vols.; Washington, 1904–37). description ends , XXI, 821; Carl Van Doren, Secret History of the American Revolution [New York, 1941], p. 414). John Sullivan of New Hampshire, on the other hand, had concluded by July that the overt disloyalty of “the Leading men in Vermont if not a great majority of the Inhabitants” would induce Congress to reject their petitions for independence from his state and New York (Burnett, Letters description begins Edmund C. Burnett, ed., Letters of Members of the Continental Congress (8 vols.; Washington, 1921–36). description ends , VI, 148).
13. Contrary to his opposition to Vermont’s requests in the autumn of 1780 and winter of 1781 (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, 74, 84–88, 90, 113, 122), JM in this letter appears to have become reconciled to her statehood, fearing only that, if it were granted by Congress, the delegations from the small states, probably including the delegation from Vermont, would press harder for the separation of the trans-Allegheny portions of Virginia, the Carolinas, and Georgia from the older sections of those states.
14. Many years later JM, or someone in his family at his direction, put this paragraph in brackets to indicate that he wished it included among his published writings. See Madison, Papers (Gilpin ed.) description begins Henry D. Gilpin, ed., The Papers of James Madison (3 vols.; Washington, 1840). description ends , I, 96–97.