James Madison Papers

From James Madison to Edmund Randolph, 23 April 1782

To Edmund Randolph

RC (LC: Madison Papers). The words written by JM in the official cipher are italicized in the present copy. Although the letter is incomplete, the missing portion apparently contained only a few concluding words and JM’s signature.

Philada. Apl. 23d. 1782

Dr Sir

I am at length assured of your safe arrival at your destination by your favor of the 11 continued on the 13th.1 The little necessity I understand there was for your return to Virga. makes me [ex]ceedingly regret that you cd. not be diverted from it; as the little occasion there is likely to be according to Mr. Pendleton’s idea of yr. continuance there flatters me that it will not be long before you resume your Station in Congress.2 This duty may be the more enforced upon you, as Mr. Lee leaves us this morning & Mr Jones to follow in a few days. The vote of Virga. will in consequence be in all questions exposed to the chance of division.3 I am sensible of the plea which may be drawn from the emptiness of the public coffers; but I hope it will not be a permanent one, & that if you can only stay a few months with us you will not think the period unworthy of the expedition.4

I informed you in my last that your draught was duly honored[.] The advance was by no means distressful to me but the prospect now before me obliges me to prefer repayment here to any other mode. It will not I hope make any difference with you.5 Mr. Morris has recd. & answered your letter.6 The return of the French Minister without visiting Richmond had no particular cause which I can explain. He expressed doubts on that point you may remember before he set out for Virginia.7

Congress have recd from the minister [of France]8 some informal communications relative to the issue of the proposed mediation of Vienna and Petersburg. The answer of the British court to the str preli[mina]ry9 articles is among them. It re[j]ects10 explicitly that part of the plan which requires concurren[t]11 negotiation between her and America & guaran[ti]es the result as incompatible with the relation of [subj]ects to their soveryreign12 and the essential interest of the empire; alleging at the same time that a part of the people are disposed to return to their held alle[giance] & that such a treaty wd. suply the rebels with pretexts for misleading them. The final answer of the mediating courts professes great impartiality and delicacy toward the belige[ren]t partys[,] adheres to the expediency of the first [plan,] & hopes that it may still become under more fa[vor]able circumstances the basis of a general pacification.13

Another letter has come to hand from M[r.] Dana. [His] proposed rash step was probably taken a few [days] after the date of it which was abt. the middle of October14

The Committee on the last application from Vermont ha[ve] reported fully in their favor. The consideration of the Report w[ill] not be called for however till the pulse of nine States bea[ts] favorably for it. This is so uncertain that the Agents have returned. The recognition of the Independence of Vermont is n[ow?] fully stated in the report as a resolution antecedent ev[en to?] authorizing a committee to treat with them on the terms of their admission.15 You well know the object of this arrangeme[nt.]

You will be so good as to take charge of the inclosed letter [to M]r Jefferson16 & give it a safe conveyance. Every one about me joins in


2See Pendleton to JM, 15 April 1782. JM’s meaning would be clearer if he had placed a comma before “according” and after the third “there” in the sentence.

4See Randolph to JM, 11–13 April, and n. 6; and 19 April 1782, and n. 9. On 22 April Randolph described his financial embarrassment to Governor Harrison: “I am now in a situation, truly humiliating to myself, and, I might add, disgraceful to the commonwealth. I could not have rescued myself from the hands of those creditors, to whom I was indebted for my subsistance during my stay in Phila, without borrowing about two hundred pounds. My note has travelled after me, and I cannot meet it with my own purse” (MS in Virginia State Library).

5In his letter of 11–13 April (q.v.), Randolph asked JM in what manner he would prefer to be repaid the £20 he had loaned Randolph in Philadelphia. JM’s “last letter,” probably dated 16 April, has not been found. See also Randolph to JM, 5 and 16–17 May 1782.

6The dispatch of Randolph to Robert Morris has not been found. Letterbook C, among the papers of Morris in the Library of Congress, contains letters of 9 March, 16 April, and 11 June 1782 from him to Randolph (pp. 85–86, 189–90, 413–45). These show that, after declining to be continental receiver of taxes in Virginia, Randolph was asked by Morris to recommend candidates for the position. Removed from the Council of State by vote of the General Assembly on 28 May (Minute Book, House of Delegates, May 1782 description begins Minute Book, House of Delegates, May 1782, MS in Virginia State Library. description ends , p. 55), George Webb subsequently accepted the receivership. See Randolph to JM, 1 June 1782, and n. 5.

8Inserted in brackets by JM many years later, when he interlineated a decoding of the cipher. JM evidently selected this paragraph and the two succeeding paragraphs for publication in the first edition of his papers (Madison, Papers [Gilpin ed.] description begins Henry D. Gilpin, ed., The Papers of James Madison (3 vols.; Washington, 1840). description ends , I, 121–22).

9JM inadvertently wrote the numerical symbol for “str.” Upon decoding the symbol, he wrote and then crossed out “str” but let the symbol remain. Although there is a cipher for “mina,” JM indicated it only by a dash.

10Since there was no symbol for “je,” JM generally used the symbol for “ie.”

11This and most of the later bracketed inserts in this letter signify a tear on the right margin which eliminated ciphers and parts of words.


13See Virginia Delegates to Harrison, 23 April 1782, nn. 6 and 12.

14Although not mentioned in the printed journals of Congress, the dispatch of 15 October 1781 from Francis Dana (1743–1811), who had been a delegate to Congress from Massachusetts in 1776–1778, had been received on 22 April (NA: PCC, No. 89, II, fols. 598–603, docket). Dana’s dispatch of 15 September, including copies of his correspondence with Charles Olivier de Saint-Georges, Marquis de Vérac, French ambassador at the court of St. Petersburg, arrived on 15 March 1782, three days before Randolph left Congress (NA: PCC, No. 186, fols. 19–20). The third article of the instructions given by Congress to Dana upon electing him as “minister to the Court of Russia” on 19 December 1780 stipulated, “If the result of your inquiries should point out a fair prospect of an honourable reception, you are to announce your publick character, and deliver your letters of credence in the usual form” (JCC description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds., Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789 (34 vols.; Washington, 1904–37). description ends , XVIII, 1170). In spite of the cautious policy prescribed by this article and advice of the same tenor offered by Vérac to Dana soon after Dana reached St. Petersburg on 27 August 1781, he resolved to present his credentials whenever the situation at the imperial court might seem even slightly favorable to his purpose (Wharton, Revolutionary Diplomatic Correspondence description begins Francis Wharton, ed., The Revolutionary Diplomatic Correspondence of the United States (6 vols.; Washington, 1889). description ends , IV, 683–85, 695–99, 705–7, 710–14, 773–76). This was the “rash step” to which JM refers. Unknown to him, Dana had come to accept Vérac’s point of view by the close of 1781 (ibid., V, 223–25).

The extremely long time-distance from St. Petersburg to Philadelphia worked greatly to Dana’s disadvantage. In a letter of 2 March 1782 the secretary for foreign affairs informed Dana that not “a single line” had been received from him “since May, 1781” (ibid., V, 209). Conversely, Dana’s dispatch of 28 June 1782 informed Livingston that his letter of 22 October 1781 was the last which had reached St. Petersburg (ibid., V, 532). In other words, lacking a more recent word from Dana than his letter of 15 October 1781, Congress would rebuke him in May 1782 for a “rash step” which he had not taken and no longer intended to take (ibid., V, 411–13; Motion on Instructions to Dana, 27 May 1782). Dana remained in St. Petersburg until 8 September 1783 without being recognized by Tsarina Catherine as the minister of the United States. He disembarked at Boston on 12 December of that year (Wharton, Revolutionary Diplomatic Correspondence description begins Francis Wharton, ed., The Revolutionary Diplomatic Correspondence of the United States (6 vols.; Washington, 1889). description ends , VI, 636, 657, 739). In 1784 he returned briefly to Congress and from 1785 to 1791 was a justice of the Massachusetts Supreme Court and its chief justice thereafter until 1806.

15See Motion Concerning Documents on Vermont, 3 April, editorial note, and notes; Motion on Letter of Vermont Agents, 20 April, and nn. 1, 4, and especially 3; JM to Pendleton, 23 April 1782. At this point in the manuscript, a narrow strip is torn from the right-hand edge; the left-hand corner is also missing. In the Gilpin edition of JM’s papers (I, 122), this sentence appears as, “The recognition of the Independence of Vermont is not fully stated in the report, as a resolution, antecedent, went to authorizing a committee to treat with them on the terms of their admission.” Nothing in the manuscript, at least in its present form, obliges this to be what JM wrote or prevents the rendition given in the text above. It seems much more likely that he would summarize accurately, rather than inaccurately, the contents of a report of great interest to him on a subject which, as recently as 17 April, had been discussed at great length in Congress.

16No letter of this date has been found. The letter referred to may have been the one written to Jefferson by Barbé-Marbois in Philadelphia on 22 April 1782 (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 , VI, 177–78).

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