James Madison Papers

From James Madison to Thomas Jefferson, 11 February 1783

To Thomas Jefferson

RC (LC: Madison Papers). Addressed to “Thos. Jefferson Esq.” Docketed by Jefferson, “Madison Jas. Feby. 11. 1783.” The words italicized in the third paragraph are those written by JM in the cipher described in Jefferson to JM, 31 Jan. 1783, ed. n. Also in LC: Madison Papers is JM’s draft of the letter.

Philada. Feby. 11th. 1783

Dear Sir

Your favor of the 31 of Jany.1 was safely brought by Mr. Thomson. That of the 7. inst:2 came by yesterday’s mail. The anecdote related in the first was new to me; and if there were no other key, would sufficiently decypher the implacability of the party triumphed over.3 In answer to the second I can only say at this time that I feel deeply for your situation: that I approve of the choice you have made among its difficulties,4 and that every aid which can depend on me shall be exerted to relieve you from them. Before I can take any step with propriety however it will be expedient to feel the sentiments of Congress, and to advise with some of my friends.5 The first point may possibly be brought about by your letter to the Secy. of F. A. which I suppose came too late yesterday to be laid before Congress, but which will no doubt be handed in this morning.6

The time of Congress since you left us7 has been almost exclusively spent on projects for a valuation of the land, as the fœderal articles require, and yet I do not find that we have got an inch forward towards the object. The mode of referring the task to the States which had at first the warmest & most numerous support seems to be in a manner abandoned; and nothing determinate is yet offered on the mode of effecting it without their intervention. The greatest misfortune perhaps attending the case is that a plan of some kind is made an indispensable preliminary to any other essay for the public relief. I much question whether a sufficient number of States will be found in favor of any plan that can be devised,8 as I am sure that in the present temper of Congs. a sufficient number cannot who will agree to tell their Constituents that the law of the Confederation cannot be executed, and to propose an amendment of it.9

Congress yesterday received from Mr. Adams10 several letters dated September not remarkable for any thing unless it be a11 display of his vanity, his prejudice against the French Court & his venom against Doctr. Franklin.12 Other preparations for the post13 do not allow me to use more cypher at present.

I have a letter from Randolph dated Feby. 1. confirming the death of his aunt. You are acquainted no doubt with the course the estate is to take. He seems disposed in case he can make a tolerable compromise with his Father’s creditors to resign his appt. under the State & go into the Legislature. His zeal for some continental arrangemt. as essential for the public honor & saftety forms at least one of his motives, & I have added all the fuel to it in my power.14

My neglect to write to you heretofore has proceeded from a hope that a letter wd. not find you at Baltimore; and no subject has occurred for one of sufft. importance to follow you. You shall henceforward hear from me as often as an occasion presents, until your departure forbids it. The Ladies & Gentlemen to whom I communicated your respects, return them with equal sincerity15 & the former as well as myself very affectionately include Miss Patsy in the object of them.16

I am Dr. Sir Yr. Sincere friend17

J. Madison Jr.

1Q.v., and n. 1.


4Jefferson to JM, 7–8 Feb. 1783, and nn. 12, 15. The words “at this time” are not in JM’s draft copy of this letter.

5The words “of my friends” were a substitution for “individual members” in the draft copy. Perhaps the change of expression reflects the decision of JM also to consult La Luzerne and Barbé-Marbois, or one of them.

6In the draft copy JM wrote “I suppose” immediately after the second rather than the first “which” in the sentence and omitted “no doubt.” For Jefferson’s letter of 7 February 1783 to Robert R. Livingston, secretary for foreign affairs, see Boyd, Papers of Jefferson description begins Julian P. Boyd et al., eds., The Papers of Thomas Jefferson (18 vols. to date; Princeton, N.J., 1950——). description ends , VI, 228–29. On 11 February, upon receiving this letter, Congress referred it to a committee with Joseph Jones as chairman (NA: PCC, No. 185, III, 54). Three days later Congress adopted the committee’s report recommending that “considering the advices lately received in America, and the probable situation of affairs in Europe,” Jefferson “do not proceed on his intended voyage until he shall receive” further instructions from Congress. Livingston at once sent a copy of this resolution to Jefferson (JCC description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds., Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789 (34 vols.; Washington, 1904–37). description ends , XXIV, 132; Boyd, Papers of Jefferson description begins Julian P. Boyd et al., eds., The Papers of Thomas Jefferson (18 vols. to date; Princeton, N.J., 1950——). description ends , VI, 239–40). See also JM Notes, 14 Feb. 1783.

7That is, on 26 January. See JM to Randolph, 28 Jan. 1783. JM or someone at his bidding placed one bracket at the beginning and another at the end of this paragraph, thus designating it for publication in the first comprehensive edition of his works. See Madison, Papers (Gilpin ed.) description begins Henry D. Gilpin, ed., The Papers of James Madison (3 vols.; Washington, 1840). description ends , I, 503.

8JM Notes, 27 Jan.; 28 Jan., and nn. 3, 11; 29 Jan.; 31 Jan., and nn. 11, 17; 4 Feb.; 5–6 Feb., and nn. 9, 13; 7 Feb., and n. 9; 8 Feb., and n. 3; 10 Feb.; 11 Feb. 1783, and nn. 2, 3, 5, 8–11.

9JM Notes, 27 Jan., and n. 16; 28 Jan., and nn. 12, 27, 28, 41, 45; 29 Jan., and nn. 25, 37, 38; 30 Jan., and nn. 2, 4; 11 Feb. 1783, and n. 4. In the draft of this letter, JM omitted “that in the present temper of Congs.” and wrote “is impracticable” instead of “cannot be executed.”

10JM’s “13.1.” deciphers only as “Ad.,” rather than “Adams.” For a clearer symbol signifying the name, see Jefferson to Madison, 14 Feb. 1783 (2d letter), n. 3.

11In both the draft and the recipient’s copies, JM at this point wrote and canceled “full.” It was probably years later that in the draft copy he interlineated “fresh” above the deleted word. John Adams’ four dispatches, two of which were dated at The Hague on 6 and 7 September, respectively, and two on 17 September, were addressed to Robert R. Livingston and read in Congress on 10 February 1783. Congress referred the dispatch of 7 September, relating to financial accounts, to a committee with Nathaniel Gorham as chairman (NA: PCC, No. 185, III, 54; No. 186, fol. 83; Wharton, Revol. Dipl. Corr description begins Francis Wharton, ed., The Revolutionary Diplomatic Correspondence of the United States (6 vols.; Washington, 1889). description ends ., V, 703–9, 733–38).

Especially in his dispatch of 6 September, Adams revealed pride in his achievements in the Netherlands, conviction that Vergennes was determined to have France control the relations of the United States with other European powers, and distrust of Franklin as Vergennes’ puppet who neglected to inform Adams of the progress of peace negotiations. For a highly favorable opinion of Adams’ dispatches, see Livingston’s acknowledgment of them on 13 February 1783 (Wharton, Revol. Dipl. Corr description begins Francis Wharton, ed., The Revolutionary Diplomatic Correspondence of the United States (6 vols.; Washington, 1889). description ends ., VI, 250). See also JM Notes, 21 Jan. 1783, n. 1.

12In attempting to indicate the symbol for “French” (368.7.), JM strayed by one page and wrote 367.7. The combined symbols used by him for “Doctr. Franklin” decipher only as “Doctor Frank.”

14Randolph to JM, 1 Feb. 1783, and n. 5. The letter of 11 February to Randolph in which JM “added all the fuel” evidently was completed before JM wrote the present letter to Jefferson. Randolph did not become a member of the House of Delegates of the Virginia General Assembly until 1788 (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. 28–29).

15Jefferson to JM, 31 Jan., and nn. 28, 29; 7–8 Feb. 1783.

16Martha (Patsy) Jefferson, age eleven years, was with her father in Baltimore (Boyd, Papers of Jefferson description begins Julian P. Boyd et al., eds., The Papers of Thomas Jefferson (18 vols. to date; Princeton, N.J., 1950——). description ends , VI, 218, 227). See also Papers of Madison description begins William T. Hutchinson, William M. E. Rachal, et al., eds., The Papers of James Madison (6 vols. to date; Chicago, 1962——). description ends , V, 151, n. 5.

17JM omitted this complimentary close in his retained draft of the letter.

Index Entries