James Madison Papers

Benjamin Harrison to Virginia Delegates, 23 November 1782

Benjamin Harrison to Virginia Delegates

FC (Virginia State Library). In the hand of Thomas L. Savage. Addressed to “The Honble Virginia Delegates in Congress.”

Richmond Novem: 23d: 1782.


If the letter mention’d in the enclosed ever came to Congress thro’ Mr. John Adams I shall be oblig’d to you for a copy of it, the request can not be improper as it was the Intention of the writer that I should have it.1 An enquirey is order’d into the Conduct of a Gentleman who is said to have written a Letter to his Friend here which is thought to be imprudent if no worse, what the issue will be Time must discover.2 I can not too warmly press on you the Necessity of sending forward clothing for the Soldiers. it is the general opinion that the want of them obstructs the recruiting Service exceedingly; we have near forty Thousand pounds bounty Money ready,3 a very small part of which will be used unless our people see a prospect of being shelter’d from the Inclemency of the Weather when they become Soldiers.4 the sight of a poor fellow doing Duty in rags that a Beggar would not pick up will deter the boldest from entering into such Service. We are in want of Letters of Mark for Privateers which I request you to send by the first Opportunity.5

I am &c.

B. H.

1Either the governor or his clerk forgot to enclose Philip Mazzei’s letter (or a copy of it) of 19 July 1782 to Harrison. See Virginia Delegates to Harrison, 3 December; Harrison to Virginia Delegates, 14 December 1782. In his communication Mazzei stated that, because the executive of Virginia had lost the cipher in which their interchange of confidential information was to be coded, he had conveyed “a piece of Intelligence” to John Adams, in the hope that he would relay it to Congress, whence it would be forwarded “to the Governour and Council of Virginia” (Howard R. Marraro, Philip Mazzei, Virginia’s Agent in Europe [New York, 1935], pp. 100–101).

The nature of at least a part of the “Intelligence” which Mazzei sent on 28 June in his message to Adams is known from the latter’s acknowledgment on 12 August 1782. Mazzei had written of the opposition of the tsarina of Russia and the Holy Roman emperor to the American cause, and of the probability that one or both of them would soon join Great Britain in the war, thus gravely imperiling the winning of independence by the United States. Adams bluntly answered that he would not send Mazzei’s letter to Congress because the “intelligence contained in it is groundless, according to the best information I can obtain, and the best judgment I can form.” Adams denied that either imperial court had openly expressed, or was inclined to express, antagonism toward the United States. He concluded his reply by stating that a widening of the European war, although unlikely to occur, would benefit his country, for “we should make more profit of their trade, than they could do us harm” (Charles Francis Adams, Works of John Adams, VII, 608–9).

2Harrison was referring to Arthur Lee’s letter to Mann Page. See Randolph to JM, 5 October 1782, and n. 4.

3For the methods used by Virginia to obtain enough specie to pay a £12 bounty to each recruit upon his enlistment in the continental army, 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, 70, n. 6; 362, n. 48; 399; Randolph to JM, 30 August 1782, and n.9.

5When the Virginia delegates, or more probably Charles Thomson, fulfilled this request is unknown, but it seems to have been between 3 and 31 December 1782 (Virginia Delegates to Harrison, 3 December; 31 December 1782). On 20 March 1783 Archibald Blair, clerk of the Council of State, forwarded to Thomson nineteen bonds for as many privateer commissions issued by Virginia (Charles Henry Lincoln, comp., Naval Records of the American Revolution, 1775–1788 [Washington, 1906], p. 194).

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