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From James Madison to Edmund Randolph, 3 September 1782

To Edmund Randolph

RC (LC: Madison Papers). In JM’s hand. Cover missing. Letter is unsigned. Docketed by Randolph, “Sepr. 3. 1782.” He evidently showed the letter to the Reverend James Madison, who wrote above the docket, “Septr. 22. 1782 JMadison,” possibly the date when the clergyman received the letter. Apparently upon recovering the letter, Randolph crossed out the “22” and wrote “3” above it. The italicized words are those encoded by JM in the official cipher.

Philada. Sepr: 3d. 1782.

Dear Sir

You1 will again be disappointed at the opening of this, since it will contain no European intelligence on the subject of peace. Among other reasons which render it astonishing that we should be so long uninformed, a material one is, that neither the Court of France nor our Ministers can be insensible of the inexpediency of leaving the people at large so much exposed to misrepresentations of the Enemy. I am happy to find by your letter of the 24th. and those recd. from my other correspondents by yesterday’s post that so cautious an ear is given to every thing which comes from them of a flattering aspect.2

The inclosed hand bill3 published a few days ago will inform you of the steps taken at Charlestown towards an evacuation of that place. It is said to have given fresh violence to the fermentations at New York.4

Another petition from Kentucki has been received5 by Congress; contending for the right of Congress to create new states and praying for an exertion of it in their behalf A copy will be sent to the Governor by the delegates Mr. Lee moved that the original should be referrd6 to him by Congress. The debate which ensued was terminated by an adjourment and has not been revived7

General Washington writes to Congress that Carlton had concurred in the proposition for a general Cartel so far as to appoint a Commissr. for that purpose. There is little probability however that he has authority to settle such a cartel on the principles which Congress had in view, namely those of a national convention. It was thought by some that this would put to the test the sincerity of their professions on the subject of independence.8

I believe I did not acquaint you on a former occasion that the prisoners who have lately returned from captivity in England were discharged in consequence of an agreement by Franklin that a like number of the army of Cornwallis should be given for them. This bold step at first gave much offence. Compassion however for the patriotic captives stifled reproaches They will probably come out yet unless subsequent events discountenance them9

There are it seems three letters in the post office from Carlton to the Governor which do not appear to have been licenced nor is it known how they got into that channel. The curiosity of people on this point is inconceivable10

A very unlucky accident has happened to one of the fleet of our allies. After it got safe into the Harbour of Boston, the unskilfulness or negligences of a pilot suffered a 74 to strike on a rock, the wound occasioned by which proved mortal. Most of the furniture has been saved.11

I have not yet presented the note to Cowan which you have been so good as to enclose to me. The general obstacle to advances here to be replaced in Virga. has been the ballance in trade agst. the latter. This is the current answer to attempts to negociate draughts on Virga. My next will inform you of the result of the experiment of your note.12 If its success depends merely on a confidence in your credit, it will certainly be productive. Mr. Ross has unlimited credit in this place, may it not be made instrumental to our supply? At least it would be well to consult him when an occasion presents. His bills on Whiteside will command any sum that may be wanted.13

Our friend Jones & his family have experienced much efficacy from the climate of Germantown. It will however be some days, perhaps weeks, before he fixes his abode in the City.14 The difficulty of getting a proper house seems likely to prove as tedious an obstacle as the convalescence of his family.

The french army has been passing through this place for several days Northward. The last division will pass tomorrow or the day after. The praises bestowed on their discipline & sobriety in Virginia, are repeated here with equal cordiality and justice.15

1Many years after writing this letter, JM or someone at his direction placed a bracket at the beginning of this paragraph and a second bracket at the close of the final paragraph, thus designating the entire text for inclusion in the first edition of his writings. See Madison, Papers description begins (Gilpin ed.). Henry D. Gilpin, ed., The Papers of James Madison (3 vols.; Washington, 1840). description ends (Gilpin ed.), I, 163–66.

3Not found.

4See JM to Pendleton, 3 September 1782, and nn. 4 and 6.

5In encoding “received,” JM wrote 47, the cipher for “ed,” rather than 49, the cipher for “re.”

6JM encoded “refered” rather than “referrd.”

7See Comment on Petition of Kentuckians, 27 August 1782, and ed. n., and n. 6. JM evidently had written to Randolph on 27 August (q.v.) before Congress convened on that day.

8For much of the background of the information conveyed in this paragraph, 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, 412–13; 413, n. 9; 415; 443; Virginia Delegates to Harrison, 9 August, and nn. 1 and 2; Report on Washington-Carleton Correspondence, 12 August 1782, and n. 3. On 12 August, since the successive commanders-in-chief of the British armies in North America had “heretofore always refused to settle a cartel under pretence that it would be in fact an acknowledgement of our independency,” Congress resolved to put Carleton’s sincerity “to the test” by directing Washington to propose to Carleton the appointment of commissioners to settle “a general cartel,” or, in JM’s words, “a national convention” (Thomson, “Debates,” description begins Charles Thomson, “Debates in the Congress of the Confederation from July 22d to September 20th, 1782,” Collections of the New-York Historical Society, XI (1878), 63–169. description ends p. 105; JCC description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds., Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789 (34 vols.; Washington, 1904–37). description ends , XXIII, 463).

Having received from Washington a dispatch signifying Carleton’s and Digby’s agreement to the proposal, Congress on 3 September named Theodorick Bland, James Duane, and Ezekiel Cornell as a committee to report on the commander-in-chief’s letter and accompanying documents (NA: PCC, No. 152, X, 751–52; JCC description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds., Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789 (34 vols.; Washington, 1904–37). description ends , XXIII, 544 n.). Washington asked “to be explicitly instructed” whether he should “confirm” the exchange of Henry Laurens for Earl Cornwallis; exchange British soldiers captured by the Americans for American seamen captured by the British; and insist that the British remit their long-overdue payments for the maintenance of prisoners of war in American hands (Fitzpatrick, Writings of Washington description begins John C. Fitzpatrick, ed., The Writings of George Washington, from the Original Sources, 1745–1799 (39 vols.; Washington, 1931–44). description ends , XXV, 71–72). The slowness of Congress in forwarding these requested directives greatly embarrassed Washington, obliging him to ask Carleton to postpone their prearranged date for the meeting of the cartel commissioners (ibid., XXV, 136–38, 161–63, 169, 195–97; JCC description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds., Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789 (34 vols.; Washington, 1904–37). description ends , XXIII, 555–58, 581–82). Among these directives were one disapproving the proposal to exchange soldiers for seamen, and another declaring that a “consideration” of the Laurens-Cornwallis exchange would be “premature” (JCC description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds., Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789 (34 vols.; Washington, 1904–37). description ends , XXIII, 555–58). For the latter issue, see Comments and Motion in re Laurens, 19 September 1782, n. 1. For the unsatisfactory outcome of the commissioners’ meeting on 25 September 1782, see JM to Randolph, 8 October and n. 27; Notes on Debates, 5 November 1782, n. 11.

JM’s “Commissr.” should have been plural. Carleton named Lieutenant General John Campbell (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 , III, 197, n. 3) and Andrew Elliot (1728–1797), British “lieutenant governor and chief justice of the province” of New York. Their American counterparts were Major Generals William Heath and Henry Knox (Fitzpatrick, Writings of Washington description begins John C. Fitzpatrick, ed., The Writings of George Washington, from the Original Sources, 1745–1799 (39 vols.; Washington, 1931–44). description ends , XXV, 191–92).

9See Virginia Delegates to Harrison, 20 August, n. 3; 27 August 1782. In a letter of 13 February Robert R. Livingston asked Benjamin Franklin to make the American seamen languishing in British prisons under a charge of high treason his “particular care.” After calling the matter to the attention of the British government, Franklin was happy to note about two months later that Parliament had changed the status of these captives from traitors to prisoners of war, thus making “a kind of acknowledgment of our independence,” and had empowered King George III to arrange for their exchange. Franklin, in his dispatch of 25 June, received by Congress on 17 September 1782, expressed the hope that Congress would “see fit to order a punctual execution” of the terms of the cartel upon which he and a British agent had agreed (NA: PCC, No. 185, III, 42; Wharton, Revolutionary Diplomatic Correspondence description begins Francis Wharton, ed., The Revolutionary Diplomatic Correspondence of the United States (6 vols.; Washington, 1889). description ends , V, 161, 326–27, 511–12; 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, 111, n. 2; 286, n. 22).

10For the contents of the three letters which had aroused so much “curiosity” about why the British commander-in-chief should be corresponding with Governor Harrison, see Harrison to Virginia Delegates, 20 September 1782, and nn. 4, 5, and 8. Of the three letters from Carleton to Harrison, the earliest was of unknown date but was received by Harrison about 26 July, the second was dated 26 July, and the third, 5 August (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, 279, 306). The latter two letters were carried from New York to Virginia in the flag-of-truce ship “William and John” (“Dove”) and hence did not go by post. Duplicates of these two letters were posted to Harrison by Carleton with his covering letter of 21 August. According to Harrison’s dispatch of 20 September to the Virginia delegates (q.v.), he had corresponded with Carleton and received replies from him, each using Washington as the intermediary. This fact probably explains how at least two of Carleton’s letters reached Harrison by post. In the Virginia State Library are two covers addressed to Harrison and bearing Carleton’s seal and name. These may have been the covers of Carleton’s first letter, mentioned earlier in this note, and of the one of 21 August 1782. Neither cover bears any evidence that it had been franked, nor under the standing postal regulations of Congress could enemy mail be so “licensed” (JCC description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds., Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789 (34 vols.; Washington, 1904–37). description ends , XXII, 125).

12See Randolph to JM, 24 August, and n. 12; 30 August, and n. 18; Virginia Delegates to Harrison, 27 August 1782. Instead of “the experiment of,” JM at first wrote and then deleted, “my application with.”

15See 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, 395; 397, n. 7; Reverend James Madison to JM, 2 August 1782; Pennsylvania Packet, 31 August and 3 September 1782. Detachments of Rochambeau’s army “passed northward” through Philadelphia daily between 30 August and 3 September. David C. Claypoole, owner and publisher of the Packet, commented in the issue of 3 September: “we will venture to assure the public, that in no similar instance within our knowledge, have the rights of the citizens been so critically observed as by this army; not a complaint of any kind having been exhibited, or even barely mentioned, by the people in the vicinity of their camp, or in the course of their long marches.”

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