James Madison Papers

From James Madison to Edmund Randolph, 1 April 1783

To Edmund Randolph

RC (LC: Madison Papers). Lacks complimentary close and signature but in JM’s hand. Cover missing. Docketed by Randolph, “J. Madison April 1. 1783.”

Philada. April 1. 1783.

My dear Friend

Your favor of the 22. Ulto. verifies my fears that some disappointment would defeat your plan of going into the Legislature.1 I regret it the more as every day teaches me more & more the necessity of such measures as I know you would have patronized; and as we are losing ground so fast in the temper of the States as to require every possible support. Unless some speedy & adequate provision be made beyond that of the Confederation, the most dismal alternative stares me in the face.2 And yesterday’s post brought us information that the bill repealing the impost had passed the lower house of Massts. and one of like import had made equal progress in the Legislature of S. Carolina.3 These defections are alarming, but if a few enlightened & disinterested members would step forward in each Legislature as advocates for the necessary plans, I see with so much force the considerations that might be urged, that my hopes would still prevail. If advantage should be taken of popular prepossessions on one side without such counter-efforts, there is, to be sure, room for nothing but despair.

The extract from [Lee]’s letter recited in yours astonishes me more than it could do you, because I must be more sensible of its contrast to truth.4 High as my opinion of the object of it was, the judgment & acuteness & patriotism displayed in the last despatches from him, have really enhanced it. So far are they in particular from studiously leaving us in the dark, that some of them are of as late date as any, if not later than those from several & perhaps as voluminous as all the rest put together.5

The zeal of Congs. to hasten the effect of the general preliminaries, led them (precipitately as I conceive) to authorise the Secy. of F. A. to notify to Sr. G. Carlton & Adml Digby, the intelligence rcd. by the French Cutter on that subject, with their recall of American Cruisers, in order that correspondent measures might be taken at N. Y. The answers from these Commanders were addressed to Robt. R. Livingston Esqr &c &c &c. and imported that they could not suspend hostilities at sea without proper authority from their Sovereign; but as Congress placed full reliance on the authenticity of the intelligence they supposed no objection cd. lie on their part agst. releasing all prisoners &c. A letter from Digby to the French Minister is I am told remarkably su[r]ly & indecent even for a British Admiral.6 We have recd. no official report of the signing of the General Preliminaries, nor any further particulars relative to them. Your surmize as to the dangerous phraseology which may be used in designating our limits, may be realized, if our Ministers are not cautious, or sd. yield to improper considerations. But I trust that no such defaults will happen on that side: & that even if they should, the language used by Congress in all their own acts on that head will overpower any arguments that may be drawn from acts of their Ministers.7

Mrs. Randolph’s & your good wishes were recd. by Mrs. House & Mrs Trist with marks of unfiegned affection. The latter will however speak for herself.8

Docr. Lee sets off to day or tomorrow for Virga. but talks of returning hither before the meeting of the Legislature, which however he means to attend. His immediate object I suppose is to attend the County election.9


2By “temper of the States,” JM meant their growing unwillingness to compromise and their increasing stress upon state sovereignty, along with numerous evidences of sectionalism. The “dismal alternative” would be a dissolution of the Confederation, possibly accompanied by military coups and civic tumult (JM Notes, 13 Jan. 1783, and n. 17).

3Neither of these states, however, rescinded its ratification of the proposed 5 per cent impost amendment of the Articles of Confederation. See JCC description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds., Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789 (34 vols.; Washington, 1904–37). description ends , XXII, 213, n. 1, 361.

5JM’s reference is to Benjamin Franklin. See JM Notes, 12–15 Mar., n. 1; JM to Randolph, 12 Mar. 1783, and nn. 11, 12. On 12 March, the same day on which Arthur Lee wrote his missing letter to Randolph, Lee commented as follows in a letter to James Warren: “There never I think existed a man more meanly envious and selfish than Dr. Franklin. The reason probably why it is not seen so as to make men dispise him is, that men in general listen much to professions, and look little to actions” (Burnett, Letters description begins Edmund C. Burnett, ed., Letters of Members of the Continental Congress (8 vols.; Washington, 1921–36). description ends , VII, 77–78).

6JM Notes, 31 Mar. 1783, and nn. 2–6.

7Randolph to JM, 22 Mar. and citations in n. 6. See also JM Notes, 9 Apr. 1783.

8Randolph to JM, 22 Mar. 1783 and citations in n. 11. Any letter which Mrs. Nicholas Trist may have written to Mrs. Randolph is now missing.

9Papers 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, 455, nn. 6, 10. Lee appears to have left Philadelphia on 1 April. He was again in Congress on 24 April (JCC description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds., Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789 (34 vols.; Washington, 1904–37). description ends , XXIV, 224, 275–76). He returned to Virginia in May, setting out from Philadelphia on the twelfth and first attending the House of Delegates on the twenty-fourth (JHDV 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. 19). See also Pendleton to JM, 31 Mar.; 14 Apr. 1783.

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