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From James Madison to Edmund Randolph, 24 September 1782

To Edmund Randolph

RC (LC: Madison Papers). Unsigned letter in JM’s hand. Cover missing. Randolph docketed the letter, “Sepr. 24. 1782.” Although the text is on folio 12 in LC: Madison Papers, III, the quotations enclosed with the letter are on folio 24a in Volume II. Number 24b of that volume comprises two other folios on which, for his own files, JM drafted and largely encoded the fourth paragraph of the letter and copied Henry Laurens’ petition. The italicized words are those written by JM in the official cipher.

Philada. Sepr. 24th. 1782.

My dear Sir

The substance1 of the despatches brought by the French Frigates mentioned in my last2 is that Mr. Oswald first & afterwards Mr. Grenville had been deputed to Versailles on a Pacific Mission:3 that the latter was still (29th. June)4 at Versailles, that his proposals as to the Point of Independence were at first equivocal but at length5 more explicit; that he associated with them the preliminary that the Treaty of Paris of 1763, should be the basis of the treaty in question;6 that as to this proposition he was answered that as far as the Treaty of 63 might be convenient for opening & facilitating a pacification, it would be admitted as a basis, but that it could not be admitted in any sense that should preclude his M. C. M. from demanding such equitable arrangements as circumstances might warrant & particularly7 in the east Indies as on the coast of Africa8 (Marbois in an anticipation of the communications to be made by the Minister of France added on the coast of Newfoundland. In the communications it was omitted.)9[;] that upon these grounds there was at first a prospect that negociations would be opened with mutual sincerity and be conducted to a speedy & happy issue; but that the success of the British navy in the W. Indies had checked the ardor of the Ministry for peace, & that it was pretty evident they meant to spin out the negociation till the event of the campaign should be decided. You will take notice that this is a recital from memory & not a transcript of the intelligence.10

The Frigate l’Aigle whose fate was not completely determined at the date of my last, we hear has been raised by the Enemy & carried to N. York. Capt: de la Touche & the crew were made Prisoners. Besides merchandize to a great value nearly 50,000 dollars were lost most of which fell into the hands of the Captors.11 The loss of this ship is to be the more regretted, as it appears, the two were particularly constructed & destined for the protection of the trade of this country.

Our Ally has added another important link to the chain of benefits by which this Country is bound to France. He has remitted to us all the interest which he has paid for us, or was due to him on loans to us,12 together with all the charges attending the Holland loan, and has moreover postponed the demand of the principal till one year after the war, and agreed to receive it then in twelve successive annual payments. These concessions amount to a very considerable reduction of the liquidated debt.13 The fresh & large demand which we are about to make on him will I fear be thought an unfit return for such favours.14 It could not however be avoided. The arrears to the army in January next will be upwards of six million dollars. Taxes cannot be relied on.15 Without money there is some reason to surmise that it may be as difficult to disband as it has been to raise an army.16

My last informed you that Mr. L had declined serving in the commission for peace.17 His proceedings during his c[a]ptivity as stated by himself are far from unexceptionable. Congress nevertheless were prevailed on to assent to a resolution informing him that his services could not18 be dispenced with.19 A few days after this resolution had passed, several numbers of the Parliamentary Register were received at the office of foreign affairs in one of which was published the inclosd petition. The petition was introduced by Mr. Burke was a subject of some debate and finally ordered to lie on the table.20 The extreme impropriety of a representative of the United States addressing that very authority against which they had made war21 with the pusilanimous and almost penitential language of the address22 determined M—r Jones and myself to move that the resolution above referred to should not be transmitted until the further order of Congress.23 In support of the motion it was observd that however venial the fault might be in a private view it evidently rendered M—r L no longer a fit depository for the public dignity and rights which he had so far degraded; and that if Congress should reinstate him against his own desire and with this fact before their eyes it would seem as if they meant to ratify instead of disowning the degradation. The motion was opposed on two grounds first that the character of M—r L and the silence of his letter overbalanced the testimony of the Register and rendered the fact incredible: 2dly that the fact altho’ faulty ought to have no influence on the public arrangements. The first objection was the prevailing one. The second was abeted by but few. Several professed a readyness to renounce their friend in case the authenticity of the paper should be veryfied on the question there were five noes, three ays, two divided, two half votes ay.24 The petition had been published some time ago at New York and had made some25 noise in New Jersey but was ultimately regarded as spurious.26 There are so many circumstances relating to this gentleman during his captivity which speak a bias towards the British nation and an undue cordiality with its new leaders that I dread his participation in the work of peace.

Your favor of the 7th. which had not arrived last post day came a few days afterwards, the Post having been detained by sickness.27 The subsequent one came to hand yesterday in due time.28 The expedient of drawing bills here on funds in Virga. even the most unquestionable, has been often tried by us, but in vain. The balance is so much agst. Virga. that no one wants money there; and the evil will increase as the prospect of peace retires.29 Your credit with Mr. Cowan which procured me £50. with 200 Drs. transmitted by Mr. A. have been of much service to me, but I am relapsing fast into distress.30 The case of my brethren is equally alarming.31

As some of Mr. L’s friends strenously maintain that the Petition inclosed is spurious, I would not wish it to be made public through me, untill the matter be ascertained, or he be present to explain it.

I am informed that at the time of the stamp act his House was beset by a mob in consequence of his known heterodoxy.32

1JM wrote this word above a deleted “sum.”

2See JM to Randolph, 16–17 September 1782, and nn. 19, 20.

3See JM to Randolph, 5–6 August, n. 9; 9 August; 13 August, and nn. 5, 9; Virginia Delegates to Harrison, 9 August, and n. 1; 13 August; Randolph to JM, 24 August 1782. Following the colon, JM deleted a passage which seems to have been, “that the former had only proposed to treat of the Independence of America and was answered by the Court that it had no right to admit that point to treaty.” JM underlined “treat.” In other words, the court of Versailles had rejected the suggestion of the Earl of Shelburne’s agent, Richard Oswald, that a recognition of American independence by Great Britain be subject to negotiation between her and France. Vergennes insisted that this acknowledgment precede the negotiations and that in them the commissioners of the United States, France, and Great Britain be of equal rank.

4The date of the latest dispatch received by Congress from Benjamin Franklin. See JM to Randolph, 16–17 September 1782, n. 20.

5JM interlineated this word and the five words preceding it.

6In this lengthy sentence, JM’s references to the “Treaty of Paris of 1763” summarize passages from the report on 24 September of the committee which had conferred with La Luzerne (JCC description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds., Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789 (34 vols.; Washington, 1904–37). description ends , XXIII, 601–2) and the memorandum of a conversation between Livingston and La Luzerne ca. 23 September 1782 (qq.v.).

7Between “particularly” and “in,” six or seven words were rendered illegible by being so heavily excised as to tear the manuscript.

8Instead of “as,” JM may have intended to encode “and.” For the source of the encoded words, see the quotation at the close of the next footnote.

9After “Africa,” JM placed an asterisk and wrote in the margin the two sentences which the editors have placed in parentheses. JM seems to have meant these sentences to be a parenthetical remark rather than a footnote.

Barbé-Marbois, secretary of the French legation, had included in his dispatch to the Comte de Vergennes on 13 March 1782 the statement that “Mr. Samuel Adams is using all his endeavors to raise in the State of Massachusetts Bay a strong opposition to peace if the eastern states are not thereby admitted to the fisheries, and particularly to that of Newfoundland” (Wharton, Revolutionary Diplomatic Correspondence description begins Francis Wharton, ed., The Revolutionary Diplomatic Correspondence of the United States (6 vols.; Washington, 1889). description ends , V, 238–39; Samuel F. Bemis, Diplomacy of the American Revolution, p. 220, n. 14; Notes on Debates, 24 December 1782, n. 2).

Vergennes made clear in a letter of 28 June, received by La Luzerne about 20 September, that his sovereign would not delay making peace for the sake of supporting a “poorly-founded” American claim to the fisheries, nor would he share his own fisheries with the Americans if Great Britain declined to open hers to their use. Vergennes apparently did not specifically mention Newfoundland (William E. O’Donnell, Chevalier de La Luzerne, pp. 202–4). The conference committee (n. 6, above) was informed by La Luzerne that on 21 June Vergennes had communicated approximately the following to Thomas Grenville: “That the king consents to adopt, according to the proposition of the king of England, the treaty of Paris for a basis of the negotiation, not as a confirmation of all its stipulations, but with exceptions and alterations respecting the East Indies, Africa, the fisheries of Newfoundland, and commercial regulations in Europe to mutual advantage” (JCC description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds., Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789 (34 vols.; Washington, 1904–37). description ends , XXIII, 602). See also JM to Randolph, 5–6 August, n. 13; Comments on Instructions to Peace Commissioners, 8 August, and n. 8; Conversation between Livingston and La Luzerne, 23 September 1782, and n. 6.

12JM interlineated “has” between “he” and “paid,” and “to him” between “due” and “on.” He deleted “and” after “for us,” and “from him” after “loans.”

15On 28 September 1782 Robert Morris informed Congress that of the $8,000,000 requisitioned from the states “for the Service of the current Year, including the Sums necessary for paying the Army,” very little had been forwarded to the treasury (JCC description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds., Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789 (34 vols.; Washington, 1904–37). description ends , XXIII, 624–26). The “arrears to the army” at the close of 1782 amounted to $11,300,000 (NA: PCC, No. 137, II, 199).

16JM’s surmise had its first serious substantiation early in January 1783 when a “memorial of the Officers of the Army of the United States of America of the Lines of Massachusetts, Connecticut, New York, New Jersey” was presented to Congress (Burnett, Letters description begins Edmund C. Burnett, ed., Letters of Members of the Continental Congress (8 vols.; Washington, 1921–36). description ends , VII, 6; JCC description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds., Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789 (34 vols.; Washington, 1904–37). description ends , XXIV, 202; Clarence L. Ver Steeg, Robert Morris, pp. 156–58). See also JM to Randolph, 22 October 1782, and n. 21.

17See JM to Randolph, 11 September 1782, P.M., and n. 4. JM erred in designating this letter as “My last,” since he had “last” written to Randolph on 16–17 September. “Mr. L” was Henry Laurens.

18Instead of using 188, the cipher for “not,” JM wrote 118, signifying “America.”

20Ibid., and nn. 4, 5, and 7. For JM’s accurate summary of much of the contents of the petition, see Comments on Motion in re Laurens, 20 September 1782. With a copy of this petition, JM also enclosed in the present letter an “Extract from the speech of Mr. [Edmund] Burke on the 17th. of Decr. 1781, on his intended motion for a bill to exchange to American Prisoners.” JM obviously should have omitted the second “to.”

The “Extract,” except for the omission of “ill” immediately before “treatment,” conforms with the version in Hansard’s Parliamentary Debates description begins William Cobbett, ed., The Parliamentary History of England from the Earliest Period to the Year 1803 (36 vols.; London, 1806–20; continued as Hansard’s Parliamentary Debates). description ends , XXII, col. 856, and reads as follows: “But was the treatment of Mr. L. in the Tower consonant to sound policy? was it prudent to sour the minds of the Americans agst. England by the ill usage of their great & respectable President; was it politic to make him think ill of England? Ill usage might do it, but nothing else could, for he carried his love for this country even to doting; he had sent his children to receive their education in it, & to learn to love this country; he had long opposed the disunion of B. & A.; and if any thing set him ill with his Countrymen, it was the opinion they entertained that he was too well affected to the interests of England.”

21JM’s meaning would have been clearer if after “war” he had placed a comma and followed it with “together.”

22The cipher for “dr” was 122, but JM wrote 112, signifying “Carolina.”

25This is probably the word which JM intended, but he wrote 663, signifying “print,” rather than 633, denoting “some.”

26No evidence of the “noise in New Jersey” occasioned by the publication of the petition in Rivington’s Royal Gazette late in March 1782 has been found. Philadelphia newspapers, which might have been expected to take notice of any agitation in New Jersey, failed to do so or to mention explicitly the contents of the petition. On 27 March 1782 the Pennsylvania Journal reported that the residents of London, according to a news item of 29 December 1781 from there, generally believed that Laurens would “be appointed a mediator between Great Britain and Congress; and it is said, the most flattering expectation of a reconciliation between the mother country and her colonies are founded upon that gentleman’s negociations.” See also Brant, Madison description begins Irving Brant, James Madison (6 vols.; Indianapolis and New York, 1941–61). description ends , II, 182.

28Although Randolph probably had written on 14 September, his letter to JM of that date has not been found.

29JM may have intended to write “to risk” just before “money,” or “from” just after it. Virginia paper currency presumably would depreciate even further in relation to specie as the end of the war appeared to become more remote. For the lack of specie in Virginia, see Randolph to JM, 6 August; Ambler to JM, 16 September 1782.

32This note by JM, written in the left margin of the copy of Laurens’ petition enclosed in the present letter, was a comment upon his statement, “that your representer for many years, at the peril of his life and fortune….” In a “representation” on 23 June 1781 to “His Majesty’s Principal Secretaries of State,” Laurens stated that in 1765 he had been “publicly charged as an Abettor of the Stamp Act, his House beset at Midnight by a large Body of Arm’d Men, who under pretence of searching for Stamp’d Paper violently seiz’d his person, threatened his Life, & greatly affrighted & annoyed his family; but being unintimidated himself he would concede to none of their very many propositions & demands” (David D. Wallace, Life of Henry Laurens, p. 375). See also Comments and Motion in re Laurens, 19 September 1782, n. 5.

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