James Madison Papers

To James Madison from Edmund Randolph, 10 May 1782

From Edmund Randolph

RC (LC: Madison Papers). Addressed to “The honble James Madison jr. of congress Philadelphia,” but unsigned. The handwriting and contents of the letter permit no doubt that Randolph wrote it. Words encoded by him in the official cipher are here italicized.

Pettus’s1 near Richmond May 10, 1782.

Dear sir

Yesterday I received your favor of the 1st. instant, and took Dr. Lee by the hand at almost the same moment.2 His brother Richard Henry and himself, being members of the house of delegates, will probably give the tone to the politicks of this session, should Mr. Jefferson persist in his unpardonable rage for retirement, and Mr. Henry delay his attendance, (as he possibly may, not being as yet heard of,)3 until the plans of the house are matured. On this event, there will be little danger of paper-money, should Mr. R. H. Lee retain his ancient abhorrence of this medium.4

The Dr. overflows with territorial Zeal: and something will certainly fall from the pen of the legislature.5 Mr. Jefferson must undertake the guidance of the work; or, I fear, the deviation will be great from the path of argument, which ought to be trodden on this occasion.6 For the Dr. seems to think, that general reasoning will be sufficient; but this, tho’ powerful, does not comprehend those topics, which demonstrate the opinion of british sovereigns in favour of the existence of the charter of 1609, even after the abolition of the company’s rights, and which exhibit their construction of the [nature of?] that charter.7 I am somewhat surprized at Mr. Jefferson’s “want of information of the ground, on which the report of the committee places the controversy.” Dr. Lee inclosed a copy of it to him, and intrusted it to my care. The letter did, I am sure, reach him.8

Should an opposition be raised to the reelection of Colonel Bland, he will certainly be excluded from the new de[le]9gation. The governor indirectly hints the impropriety of his conduct in almost every company. I wish, you could be delivered from the schism, which is likely to prevail between you in the management of the controversy. I trust however, that the evil will not have grown too inveterate for correction, before you will receive strict instructions. Certainly the faculties of the human mind have undergone a change with our government. Else it must be rank suicide to oppose the title of the natives to the10 claims of the companies.11

There will probably be a contest for the chair between Mr. Tyler and Mr. R. H. Lee. The current runs strongly on the side of the former[.]12 [A]bout 61. members of the house of delegates have qualified:

By a vessel,13 which arrived a few days ago, from the West Indies, we learn that the french fleet is in truth inferior to Rodney and fixed at Martinique. Not that there is not a sufficient naval force of the enemies of G. Britain, dispersed among the islands, to crush the knight:14 for the Spaniards have 15 or 16 sail of the line at S. Domingo, and the Dutch 10 or 12. at St. Eustatius: but he continues to cruize in the track, by which a junction would be attempted, and thus renders himself equal to the whole. Perhaps then, as Rivington’s account is confirmed thro’ this channel, we may apprehend the probability of it.15

I am going to town this morning in expectation of receiving a draught on Phila. for 20 £, according to the promise of Mr. Ross’s partner.16 Should I fail to inclose it, you must attribute the omission to no neglect, nor indeed to any poverty, as far as that sum goes, on my part. I can command the money, and will send it, should I miscarry in a bill, by the first opportunity for the conveyance of Specie.17

The movements of the French army are doubtless better known in Philadelphia, than here. But were we to judge from appearances, and from the engagement of [a] large number of waggons, we might infer an intention to leave the lower parts of the country at least. It is said, that the officers freely declare, that the troops are about to march from Wmsburg: but their destination is wholly secret.18

Governor Harrison has more than once expressed his astonishment at the application of the secretary for foreign affairs for the title-papers of Virginia. He requested an explanation of this step, supposing that he sees on every wall the shadow of a dagger uplifted against the backlands. The secretary ought indeed to have attended to the jealousy entertained in Virginia of the unwarrantable claims of congress upon the subject of territory and to have been explicit in assigning the grounds of his requisition:19 but it seems very natural, when we consider that the reason, upon which he entered into the discussion, was the suspension of the first report, and the apparent impracticability of carrying it thro’ congress.20

[Th]e governor will inclose to you a letter from the minister of France and Mr. Morris. Surely the minister, when we conversed with him about the forwarding of the supplies, understood the payment to be postponed until the end of the war.21

2See JM to Randolph, 1 May 1782, and n. 3.

3See Randolph to JM, 5 May 1782, n. 4. Patrick Henry, Arthur Lee, and Richard Henry Lee were delegates from Henry, Prince William, and Westmoreland counties, respectively (Swem and Williams, Register description begins Earl G. Swem and John W. Williams, eds., A Register of the General Assembly of Virginia, 1776–1918, and of the Constitutional Conventions (Richmond, 1918). description ends , pp. 15–16). Since the journal of the General Assembly for the session of May 1782 is lost, the time of Henry’s first appearance in the House of Delegates cannot be established with certainty. Although Randolph in his letter of 21–24 May (q.v.) informed JM that Henry had arrived “two or three days ago,” the manuscript records of the House of Delegates first note his presence on 23 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. 51).

4Richard Henry Lee’s “abhorrence” dated back at least to his service as a delegate from Westmoreland County in the House of Burgesses, 1758–1775. During his first seven years there he declined, unlike most of his colleagues, to regard the able and powerful John Robinson, speaker of the House and treasurer of the province, with either respect or affection. The immediate sequel to the death of Robinson on 11 May 1766 was the disclosure that his “humanity and good nature” had led him to violate his trust by lending over £100,000 in paper currency from the treasury to many of the principal men of Virginia. He had compounded his grave fault by requiring little or no security from them and leaving his records in confusion. At least most of the borrowers had assumed that Robinson was accommodating them from his own very extensive resources. Lee had taken a prominent part in uncovering the scandal, partly, it would seem, because he aspired to succeed Robinson as speaker and treasurer (David John Mays, Edmund Pendleton, 1721–1803 [2 vols.; Cambridge, Mass., 1952], I, 174–86). Although the acute shortage of specie in Virginia had made paper currency almost a necessity, the excessive amount of these bills of credit invited their misuse. The Robinson affair helps to explain why Lee, when a delegate from Virginia in the Second Continental Congress (1775–1780, 1784–1787), advocated collecting more taxes, floating more loans, practicing greater economy, and fixing the prices of more commodities, in order to lessen the need for printing certificates. “The inundation of money,” he had written on 9 June 1779, “appears to have overflowed virtue, and I fear will bury the liberty of America in the same grave” (Burnett, Letters description begins Edmund C. Burnett, ed., Letters of Members of the Continental Congress (8 vols.; Washington, 1921–36). description ends , II, 336, 568; Edmund C. Burnett, The Continental Congress, p. 410).

6See JM to Jefferson, 15 January, and 16 April; Jefferson to JM, 24 March 1782.

7Following “the” in the manuscript, a faint mark points to a blurred interlineation of perhaps three or four short words. The “nature of” represents an editorial surmise of the sense of what is illegible.

For the action of the Privy Council to which Randolph seems to refer, see JM to Randolph, 9 April 1782, and n. 2. Randolph’s observation that Arthur Lee “seems to think, that general reasoning will be sufficient” is supported by Lee’s “A Concise view of tittle of Virginia to the Western lands in replication of a pamplet called Public Good,” an undated seventeen-page manuscript in the Virginia State Library. For Thomas Paine’s Public Good, see Papers of Madison description begins William T. Hutchinson, William M. E. Rachal, et al., eds., The Papers of James Madison (4 vols. to date; Chicago, 1962——). description ends , III, 11; 14, n. 17. Owing to Lee’s mention on pp. 11 ff. of Samuel Wharton’s election as a delegate to Congress and his activities there in behalf of the Indiana and Vandalia companies (JM to Pendleton, 23 April 1782, n. 8), Lee could not have prepared his defense of Virginia’s western claims before March 1782. Probably he waited to draft the manuscript until his return to Virginia and hence was engaged in its composition when he talked with Randolph. Contrary to what JM and Randolph believed the historical emphasis in such a defense should be, Lee devoted scarcely one-half of his first page to the London Company’s charter of 1609. A sufficient reference to this document, as he viewed it, was to state categorically, without mention of supporting authorities, that its revocation by the Crown in 1624 merely put the king in the stead of the proprietary company. Therefore, neither in “truth nor justice” could that annulment alter the boundaries or any other “rights” guaranteed to the settlers in the charter. Lee chose to rest Virginia’s title to the West almost exclusively upon her expenditure of “blood and treasure” to defend the area during the French and Indian War and Lord Dunmore’s War, upon a refutation of the charge that the Proclamation of 1763 had hedged, or was premised upon a much earlier restriction of, Virginia to the territory east of the Appalachian watershed, and upon numerous cessions of land in the West by Indians during the years 1744–1774 to commissioners appointed by royal governors of Virginia at the behest of, or with the retroactive sanction of, the King in Privy Council. Some of these grants, Lee took pains to point out, antedated and hence took precedence over the alleged titles of “certain companies of land mongers” to the same areas gained at the Treaty of Fort Stanwix in 1768 by disobeying the instructions of the Crown. See JM to Randolph, 1 May 1782, n. 8.

8Randolph is approximately quoting a sentence from JM’s letter of 1 May 1782 to him (q.v.). Instead of “want of information,” Randolph at first wrote “ignorance” the word used by JM. For a summary of the report of the Boudinot committee of Congress on western cessions and claims, see Papers of Madison description begins William T. Hutchinson, William M. E. Rachal, et al., eds., The Papers of James Madison (4 vols. to date; Chicago, 1962——). description ends , III, 304, n. 1.

9Randolph wrote 88, the cipher for “word,” rather than 688, the cipher for “le.”

10Instead of “to the,” Randolph at first wrote “against” and then crossed it out. Above the deletion he interlineated “to” and 6, the cipher for “the.”

11Randolph’s meaning would have been clearer had he combined the last two sentences of the paragraph to state that, unless there had been a revolution in official thought, it would be political suicide for a Virginian to argue that the acquisition of Indian titles should be offered as a counter to the claims of the land companies. This, however, is what Arthur Lee, with Theodorick Bland’s obvious approval, had done or would do in his “Concise view.” See n. 7, above; JM to Randolph, 1 May 1782, and n. 8. Bland and JM were frequently at odds on public issues (Papers of Madison description begins William T. Hutchinson, William M. E. Rachal, et al., eds., The Papers of James Madison (4 vols. to date; Chicago, 1962——). description ends , II, 195–96; 196, n. 3; 203–4; JM to Pendleton, 23 April, n. 10; JM to Randolph, 1 May 1782, and nn. 15 and 16). The House of Delegates unanimously renominated Joseph Jones, JM, Bland, Randolph, and Arthur Lee on 6 June to be delegates in Congress. The delay of nine days before they were re-elected by concurrence of the Senate no doubt signifies that some of its members opposed one or more of the nominees (Minute Book, House of Delegates, May 1782 description begins Minute Book, House of Delegates, May 1782, MS in Virginia State Library. description ends , pp. 63, 72). Randolph and JM, rather than Bland, were evidently the principal targets, probably because they refused to be controlled by the Lees (Randolph to JM, 20 June 1782).

12John Tyler was re-elected speaker of the House of Delegates on 15 May (Lee to JM, 16 May 1782; Minute Book, House of Delegates, May 1782 description begins Minute Book, House of Delegates, May 1782, MS in Virginia State Library. description ends , p. 44).

13Possibly either the “Reitveld” from Curaçao, or the “May Flower” from St. Thomas (Virginia Gazette description begins Virginia Gazette, or, the American Advertiser (Richmond, James Hayes, 1781–86). description ends , 4 May; Virginia Gazette, and Weekly Advertiser, 4 May 1782).

14Admiral Sir George Brydges Rodney.

15See Harrison to Virginia Delegates, 1 March, n. 11; Virginia Delegates to Harrison, 26 March, and 17 April, n. 2; JM to Pendleton, 9 April 1782, n. 3. With his letter of 1 May to Randolph, JM may have enclosed the Pennsylvania Packet of 30 April 1782. Although Rivington’s Royal Gazette is not specifically mentioned in this issue, it includes news items from New York City as well as elsewhere, similar in tenor to the information given by Randolph in this paragraph.

16Of David Ross’s partners in several towns of Virginia, Randolph probably refers to Thomas Pleasants III (ca. 1757–1796) of Four Mile Creek, Henrico County, a nephew of Thomas Pleasants, Jr. (Clayton Torrence, ed., Edward Pleasants Valentine Papers, II, 1105–7; Virginia Gazette, and General Advertiser [Richmond, Augustine Davis], 10 January 1796; Papers of Madison description begins William T. Hutchinson, William M. E. Rachal, et al., eds., The Papers of James Madison (4 vols. to date; Chicago, 1962——). description ends , III, 87, n. 6).

18Rochambeau maintained his headquarters at Williamsburg until 2 July, although several contingents of his army began their long march to the north a few days earlier. During the first week in December 1782, after several prolonged periods of pause along the road, the French troops reached Boston, their port of embarkation (Acomb, Journal of Closen description begins Evelyn M. Acomb, trans. and ed., The Revolutionary Journal of Baron Ludwig von Closen, 1780–1783 (Chapel Hill, N.C., 1958). description ends , pp. 207–8, 271–73).

19On 11 February 1782 Congress had adopted a resolution, introduced by Randolph, directing the secretary for foreign affairs “to endeavor to collect, in as authentic a form as possible, such papers as may tend to evidence the limits claimed by the United States” (JCC description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds., Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789 (34 vols.; Washington, 1904–37). description ends , XXII, 72; see also p. 89). On 18 February, in conformance with this order, Livingston addressed a “Circular Letter to the Governors of the Several States” affirming that “the territorial Rights of the United States collectively” could “only be accurately known by each State’s exhibitting its claims and the Evidence on which they found them.” To this end he asked for “authentic copies from your Records of all Grants, Charters, Maps, treaties with the Natives, and other Evidences” (NA: PCC, No. 119, fols. 57–58). In his letter Livingston neglected to make clear why he wanted copies of these documents.

Harrison, who at this time was exchanging unfriendly letters with Robert Morris on monetary issues, believed that the superintendent of finance and especially the assistant superintendent, Gouverneur Morris, were close allies of Livingston and that the latter, as a prominent member of the landed gentry of New York, opposed the western claims of Virginia (Virginia Delegates to Harrison, 25 February 1782, n. 3; George Dangerfield, Chancellor Robert R. Livingston, pp. 160, 179, 184). Harrison, in a word, was predisposed to view Livingston’s request with suspicion—a distrust which would have been much greater if he had known that the secretary for foreign affairs in a lengthy dispatch on 7 January 1782 to Franklin had suggested, “as the sentiment of an individual” rather than by direction of Congress, that the United States “perhaps” would be willing in negotiating peace to have “the course of the mountains” as her western boundary, to leave the trans-Appalachian country “to the nations which inhabit it,” and to join with France, Spain, and Great Britain in guaranteeing their own freedom of trade within that vast area and the “independence” of its inhabitants. Livingston admitted that to solve the western problem in this fashion would be “restrictive of our rights,” but it “would free us from the well-grounded apprehensions that the vicinity of Great Britain and her command of the savages would give us” (Wharton, Revolutionary Diplomatic Correspondence description begins Francis Wharton, ed., The Revolutionary Diplomatic Correspondence of the United States (6 vols.; Washington, 1889). description ends , V, 89–90). Possibly Livingston could have added that the idea of making the West a buffer territory had been suggested to him by La Luzerne, who, besides being obliged to voice the desire of France’s ally Spain, probably shared Vergennes’ hope of keeping the United States weak by confining her to the Atlantic seaboard so as to compel her to depend upon the protection of France for many years after the conclusion of peace (William E. O’Donnell, Chevalier de La Luzerne, pp. 99–105, 170–71; Samuel F. Bemis, Diplomacy of the American Revolution, p. 217; Thomas P. Abernethy, Western Lands and the American Revolution, pp. 281–84).

20The “first report” was that of the committee (Elias Boudinot, chairman) on the claims of land companies to large areas in the West and on the offers of Virginia, Connecticut, and New York to transfer to the United States their alleged titles to the Northwest. This report had been tabled on 14 November 1781. See Papers of Madison description begins William T. Hutchinson, William M. E. Rachal, et al., eds., The Papers of James Madison (4 vols. to date; Chicago, 1962——). description ends , III, 283, n. 5; 304–5, nn. 1, 2; JM to Randolph, 9 April, n. 5; and Motion To Amend Lee’s Motion on Western Lands, 18 April 1782, n. 1.

21Governor Harrison wrote separate letters on 11 May 1782 to Robert Morris and La Luzerne (McIlwaine, Official Letters description begins H. R. McIlwaine, ed., Official Letters of the Governors of the State of Virginia (3 vols.; Richmond, 1926–29). description ends , III, 210–12). The governor’s reply was in answer to a dispatch of 27 April from the superintendent of finance, enclosing a copy of a paragraph of a letter to him from La Luzerne about the military matériel which Virginia had been seeking to buy on credit in France (Virginia Delegates to Harrison, 24 January 1782, and nn.; Wharton, Revolutionary Diplomatic Correspondence description begins Francis Wharton, ed., The Revolutionary Diplomatic Correspondence of the United States (6 vols.; Washington, 1889). description ends , V, 331–32). See also Harrison to Virginia Delegates, 11 May 1782, and n. 1.

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