From Edmund Randolph
RC (LC: Madison Papers). Cover missing. Unsigned. Docketed by JM, “Aug. 6. 1782.”
Richmond August 6. 1782
My dear Sir
I should be ashamed now to acknowledge your three favors of the 9th., 16th. and 23d. Ulto.,1 did I not hold myself excused for having omitted this act of gratitude by the inflexible and severe toils of my profession.2 On Tuesday the 23d. of July I left home for Wmsburg., where from the morning of the friday following to the afternoon of the next friday3 we were closely employed in the discussion of the rights and conduct of the flag, which I mentioned to you in my last.
She had on board a small cargo, amounting in value to 700 £ or thereabouts in Virginia currency. This and the transgression of her limits, communicated to you in my last letter,4 were assigned by me, as the causes, forfeiting the immunities, derived under the truce.5 Her supercargo6 prevaricated much to the dishonor of religion, in accounting for the manner, in which he acquired the merchandize. Part of them appeared to have been purchased with money, delivered to him by a citizen, at the capitulation of York;7 part were called presents to our Countrymen for favors, shewn to him in captivity; part were asserted to be the furniture of the vessel, and the remainder was called the conveniences of the passengers. The court were unanimous in contemning these palliations, and decreeing against the goods. There was not the same unanimity in condemning the hull of the vessel; tho’ here too the majority were with me. It was a doubt with Mr. Waller,8 whether actual hostility ought not to be proved, before the privileges of a flag could be forfeited. But altho’ this plea can scarce be available even in an armistice, arresting the motion of two armies, and seems far less so in the case of a vessel, admitted into the bosom of the country, yet I thought it not immaterial to shew in the depositions, that Alexandria9 is defended by a battery of four guns. The stratagems, used for the insinuation of british goods, are doubly wicked, in the attempt to corrupt us with the flesh-pots of Egypt,10 and in fortifying those attempts by the infamous outworks of perjury.
The answer, which I received from the auditors concerning your stipend is, that the allowance of an half Johannes by the day extends to all time past, as well as future: that you must state your account upon this idea: that warrants shall issue accordingly: and that you may obtain orders for money on account, as soon as any shall come into the treasury.11 In the mean time I will endeavour to negotiate one of these warrants for you, and my vigilance shall secure to you the first glimpse of coin, coming into the public coffers. But I beg you to believe, that as my present situation enables me to assist you with tobacco, that your draught on me at five days sight shall be duly honored. At a longer sight the sum drawn for needs not much limitation: but on the notice of five days I can pay fifty or an hundred pounds in tobacco. I pray you to inlist me into your service.12 But do not forget to send me an order on the auditors to draw warrants on account in your favor, until You transmit a full settlement of the balance due to you on the computation of a half Johannes per day.
Three clauses in your late favors are impenetrably locked up from me. I can discover, however, that you have fallen into the just keyword, as I am able to make out by this supposition the name of a certain gentleman, who probably has been zealous in the late business of finance. But farther than this I cannot go, and must therefore beg you to explain the mode, in which you have managed the cypher13 If you will inclose to me a sett of Mr. Livingston’s printed cyphers, I will fill them up, and send you a counterpart.14
The distresses, which the scarcity of corn will produce in the ensuing year, and which indeed have already marked the present from this cause, are and will be infinitely severe. Prodigality in the use of the last year’s crop, and a parching drought, which has destroyed this, conspire in rendering the prospect sufficiently gloomy:15 bu[t] the daily, visible expulsion of specie from among us by some means or othe[r] gives new poignancy to the calamity.16
To supply the defect of immediate publication in one volume the printer publishes the late laws weekly in the gazettes.17 With these you must be content, until they shall be collected in one book, when you may be assured of having a copy.
In the paper of Nicolson & Prentis of Aug: 3. you will find a curious preamble to your ordinance against collusive captures. “Some of the united States” are charged with carrying on the illicit trade.18 Can this be correct? or if correct as to the original, can it be so as to truth? I have not been able to compare this copy with the ordinance as published in the Philadelphia papers;19 they having been hurried from my hands almost as soon as received.
It is difficult to believe, that Fox means peace by his alarming speech; a discovery of weakness tending to this object in no manner, unless pity or contempt in the enemy can produce such an effect.20 I rather think, that he is labouring to store up abundant matter for apology, should the new ministry be at last compelled to the humiliating recognition of American independence; by exhibiting the errors of their predecessors at full length and in heightened colours. At a season too, when the appeal seems to be about to be made to British patriotism, what can excite it more than certain information, that the maritime superiority of Gr. Britain is gone—irrecoverably so, and to the abolition of their arrogance on the sea21—unless bold exertions be put forth?
Dr. Lee informed me by the last post,22 that you are in grand committee on ways and means, and that our cession will probably be discussed, and indeed accepted, if we are firm; as nothing opposes the acceptance, but the claims of the companies.23 I wish he had been more explicit in specifying the cause, which disposes congress to resume the subject at this time.24 Is it the firmness, lately manifested by Virginia? or does the cutting off of every hope, that she will yield, call upon their enemies to employ a new detour? I really fear, that we shall not be able to accomplish our pamphlet as early, as was expected. The distance between the committee is so great, that I can obtain a communication with scarcely any of them. Should I not go to Phila. in Novr., the incomplete state of this business will probably be the reason.25 But believe me, if against public service a citizen dare urge private convenience, or indeed private ruin, my sufferings from the want of money for two months after my return,26 and a distrust, which my clients apparently entertain[?], lest my engagements northwardly should prevent my attention to their business, would furnish ample matter of excuse.
The uninteresting contents of this letter must be attributed to the total absence of novelty. The fleet has never been in Chesapeake. A frigate came in, to order the departure of the remaining French troops &c. But I cannot persuade myself that this armament is fitted for an enterprize; there being a report, that they carry the appearance of damage from tempest or battle. The commander has embargoed the flags of truce.27
1. See Papers of Madison description begins William T. Hutchinson, William M. E. Rachal, et al., eds., The Papers of James Madison (5 vols. to date; Chicago, 1962——). description ends , IV, 403; 416; 434.
2. Attorney general of Virginia.
3. From 26 July to 2 August 1782.
4. Randolph’s letter of 18 July, mentioning the flag-of-truce ship, “Good Intent.” See Papers of Madison description begins William T. Hutchinson, William M. E. Rachal, et al., eds., The Papers of James Madison (5 vols. to date; Chicago, 1962——). description ends , IV, 422–23; 425, n. 9.
6. Although Ebenezer Coffin was listed as supercargo aboard the “flag,” he probably was also the representative of all the merchants-capitulant and hence may have served as the supercargo of each of the flag-of-truce ships from New York City (ibid., IV, 396, n. 2).
7. That is, at the surrender of Cornwallis at Yorktown, Va., on 19 October 1781. For a possible identification of the “citizen,” see Harrison to Virginia Delegates, 8 August 1782, n. 1.
9. The “Good Intent” allegedly had violated her flag-of-truce status when she was at Alexandria (Papers of Madison description begins William T. Hutchinson, William M. E. Rachal, et al., eds., The Papers of James Madison (5 vols. to date; Chicago, 1962——). description ends , IV, 425, n. 9).
10. Exod. 16:3.
12. Randolph here is offering to reciprocate for the money lent him by JM earlier in the year. See Papers of Madison description begins William T. Hutchinson, William M. E. Rachal, et al., eds., The Papers of James Madison (5 vols. to date; Chicago, 1962——). description ends , IV, 146; 194; 195, nn. 6, 7, 8.
13. Randolph is referring to letters of 16 and 23 July in which JM, using the key word “Cupid,” had encoded some passages in the Lovell cipher. See Papers of Madison description begins William T. Hutchinson, William M. E. Rachal, et al., eds., The Papers of James Madison (5 vols. to date; Chicago, 1962——). description ends , IV, 396; 398, n. 20; 422, n. 27; 435. In his letter of 27 August 1782 to Randolph (q.v.), JM enclosed a key to the Lovell code. The “certain gentleman” was Arthur Lee.
14. See Papers of Madison description begins William T. Hutchinson, William M. E. Rachal, et al., eds., The Papers of James Madison (5 vols. to date; Chicago, 1962——). description ends , IV, 417; 419, n. 4.
15. Ibid., IV, 383; 400.
16. Ibid., IV, 382; 424.
17. See, for example, the issues of the Virginia Gazette description begins Virginia Gazette, or, the American Advertiser (Richmond, James Hayes, 1781–86). description ends of 6, 13, and 20 July, and 3 August 1782. During the May 1783 session of the General Assembly the public printer was still short of paper and of funds with which to buy it (Journal of the House of Delegates 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 is the one in which the journals for 1777–1786 are brought together in two volumes, with each journal published in Richmond in 1827 or 1828, and often called the “Thomas W. White reprint.” description ends , May 1783, p. 50).
18. The Virginia Gazette, and Weekly Advertiser (Richmond, Nicolson and Prentis), no copy of which is known to be extant, had obviously omitted the words “the inhabitants of” between “some of” and “these United States” in the preamble of “An Ordinance more Effectually to Prevent Illicit Trade with the Enemy,” enacted by Congress on 17 July 1782 (JCC description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds., Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789 (34 vols.; Washington, 1904–37). description ends , XXII, 392–93). See also Papers of Madison description begins William T. Hutchinson, William M. E. Rachal, et al., eds., The Papers of James Madison (5 vols. to date; Chicago, 1962——). description ends , IV, 353, n. 11; JM to Randolph, 20 August 1782.
19. For example, the Pennsylvania Packet, 20 July 1782.
20. Randolph used the word “discovery” in the sense of “disclosure.” Before “manner” he deleted “other.” Randolph probably had read the supplement of the Pennsylvania Packet of 23 July reporting Charles James Fox’s speech of 30 April 1782 in the House of Commons. After excoriating Lord North’s administration, Fox concluded that his exposure of its “follies” would not give comfort to Britain’s enemies, because “the whole world knew that we were feeble, and absolutely unable to defend ourselves.”
21. Eighteen days after Fox’s philippic of 30 April, word reached London of the decisive victory won by the fleet of Sir George Brydges Rodney over that of François Joseph Paul, Comte de Grasse. Thereby the force of Fox’s lament about the “decay” of the British navy was blunted, and the eagerness of the Rockingham ministry to end the war temporarily abated (Wharton, Revolutionary Diplomatic Correspondence description begins Francis Wharton, ed., The Revolutionary Diplomatic Correspondence of the United States (6 vols.; Washington, 1889). description ends , V, 431–32, 459, 483, 511). See JM to Randolph, 13 August 1782, n. 5.
22. Letter not found, but see Randolph’s reply of 10 August 1782 to Lee (Southern Literary Messenger, XXIX , 103).
23. On 22 July Congress had appointed a grand committee, with Arthur Lee as the member representing Virginia, “to take into consideration and report the most effectual means of supporting the credit of the United States.” Nine days later the committee recommended that “Congress decide upon the cessions from Connecticut, New York, and Virginia.” A motion to have the report made the order of the day for 7 August was lost in spite of the almost unanimous support of the Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and South Carolina delegations. The grand committee delayed until 4 September 1782 before again raising the issue of the western lands (JCC description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds., Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789 (34 vols.; Washington, 1904–37). description ends , XXII, 407–8, 408 n., 423–24; XXIII, 545–46). The “claims” were principally those of the Illinois Company, Indiana Company, Vandalia Company, and Wabash Company. See also JM to Randolph, 10 September 1782, and nn. 7–9, 12–20.
24. See JM to Randolph, 5–6 August 1782, and nn. 14, 15. In stressing the desperate need by Congress for the western lands to be a source of revenue at a time when the treasury was empty, and when Georgia and Rhode Island still declined to ratify the amendment to the Articles of Confederation giving Congress power to levy a 5 per cent impost, David Howell of Rhode Island probably touched on a convincing reason why the Virginia offer of cession was gaining congressional favor. Howell asked: “after the war is at an end and those lands become more valuable, will they not prosecute their claims with more vigour?” (Burnett, Letters description begins Edmund C. Burnett, ed., Letters of Members of the Continental Congress (8 vols.; Washington, 1921–36). description ends , VI, 411–12).
25. For “our pamphlet,” “the committee,” and “this business,” see Papers of Madison description begins William T. Hutchinson, William M. E. Rachal, et al., eds., The Papers of James Madison (5 vols. to date; Chicago, 1962——). description ends , IV, 305; 306, n. 3. For Randolph’s reelection as a delegate to Congress for a new term to begin on 1 November 1782, see ibid., IV, 336, and n. 2.
27. Ibid., IV, 446; 447, n. 8; 448; Harrison to Virginia Delegates, 1 August 1782, n. 2. Until the French troops commanded by the Chevalier de La Valette left Yorktown about 15 August, several British flag-of-truce ships had been forbidden to leave its harbor. On 19 August 1782 Governor Harrison ordered that these ships and others in the James River should be permitted to sail (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, 298).
28. Randolph’s wife, Elizabeth Carter Nicholas.
29. Mrs. Mary House and her daughter, Mrs. Nicholas Trist, who operated the Philadelphia boardinghouse in which JM lived (Papers of Madison description begins William T. Hutchinson, William M. E. Rachal, et al., eds., The Papers of James Madison (5 vols. to date; Chicago, 1962——). description ends , II, 92, n. 8; IV, 251, n. 28).