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From James Madison to Edmund Randolph, 29 October 1782

To Edmund Randolph

RC (LC: Madison Papers). At the bottom of the first page of this two-page letter, JM wrote “E. Randolph Esqr.” The cover is missing. Words and parts of words encoded by JM in the official cipher have been italicized. Late in his life JM or someone at his bidding placed a bracket at the beginning of the second paragraph and another bracket at the close of the sixth paragraph to designate the portion of this letter which should be published in the first comprehensive 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, 184–86.

Philada. Ocr 29th. 1782.

My dear Sir

Our Stock of European news has recd. no other addition since my last than what has transpired from the packet lately arrived at N. York and is published in the inclosed Gazette.1

Some intelligence has been recd. from the Frontiers of N. Y. which revive the apprehension of further inroads from Canada and of a cooperation on the part of the Vermonteers. The tenor of Carlton’s letter to Genl. Washington on this subject and other circumstances render this article at least extremely doubtful.2

The British fleet at N. Y. has been busy in preparing for sea and will probably soon depart from that Station. The W. Indies most naturally occur as the object of its destination.3 It is said these preparations have been much expedited by the most direct & undisguised supplies from the people of New Jersey4

Congress have been occupied for several days past with the case of Lippencut referred to them by General Washington5 On one side it was urged that the disavowal and promises by the British commander the abolition of the obnoxious board of refugees6 and the general change of circumstances rendered retaliation unnecessary and inexpedient.7 On the other side it was contended that a departure from the resolution so solemnly adopted and repeated by General Washington and with equal solemnity ratified by Congress8 would be an indelible blot on our character, that after the confessions on the part of the enemy of the deed complained of9 a greater inflexibility on our part would be looked for and that after such confessions too the enemy would never suffer the innocent to perish if we persisted in demanding the guilty and finally that if they should suffer it the blood would be on their heads not on ours No definitive resolution has yet passed on the subject All the intermediate steps have been very properly entered on the secret journals

General Lincoln has just returned from the army. He has not yet made report to Congress.10 He says I understand that his visit has had a very salutary operation but that some pay must be found for the army Where it is to be found God knows The State of the public finances has already compelled the superintendant to give a discharge to the former contractors, and to accept of a new contract by which thirty Perct. is added to the price of a ration in consideration of credit for three months11 He has on this occasion written a pressing exhortation to the States, which I suppose is accessible to you.12

Mr. Carrol moved yesterday a resolution for accepting the territorial cession of New York It stands the order for to day.13 I regret much on this occasion the absence of Mr Jones14

Mr. Jones’s relapse was more severe than my last supposed. He has been since confined to his room & chiefly to his bed, and will remain a prisoner for some time. His disorder however is in a favorable train, and at present rather troublesome than dangerous. Col: Bland returned a few days ago from his excursion to Bethlehem, which has been very beneficial to his health.15 Docr. Lee I suppose is with you.16 The approach of Novr. revives my attention to your return.17

I communicated to Mrs. T. the paragraph in your favr. of the 18th. inst: announcing the birth of your little daughter, and in return am charged to announce her affectionate congratulations.18 Mine I hope will always be presumed on every event which can add to the happiness of your family.

Yrs. Affecy.

J M.

2Ibid., and n. 3. For alleged relations of “Vermonteers” with the British, 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, 418; 420, n. 17.

4See 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, 350; 351, n. 7; 364; 369; 404; 412.

5See JM to Randolph, 27 August, and nn. 12 and 13; Virginia Delegates to Harrison, 15 October, n. 3. On 15 October Congress added John Witherspoon and Turbutt Wright to John Rutledge’s committee, appointed on 26 August to consider Washington’s dispatch of a week earlier about the Huddy-Lippincott-Asgill affair, and directed the committee to report on 17 October (NA: PCC, No. 185, III, 39; No. 186, fol. 50). This urgency was a response to Washington’s dispatch of 7 October to Benjamin Lincoln, secretary at war, stating: “The case of Capt. Asgill is now before Congress. I can only say, that I would wish an early decision respectg him; as well as upon the proceedgs of the British Court Martial upon the Trial of Capt Lippincutt; the delay of Congress in the last Instance, places me not only in a very delicate, but a very awkward Situation with the expecting World. Was I to give my private Opinion resptg Asgill, I should pronounce in favor of his being released from his Duress and that he should be permitted to go to his Friends in Europe.” In a letter of the same date Asgill was assured by Washington that he would be “very happy should Circumstances enable me to announce to you, your Liberation” (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, 239–41, 243).

On 17 October, after debating the committee’s proposal that Washington should delay Asgill’s execution so as to afford General Sir Guy Carleton “further opportunity of saving the innocent by surrendering the guilty,” Congress decided to resume the discussion on 24 October—an “order of the day” which seemingly was soon postponed until the twenty-eighth of that month (JCC, XXIII, 661–62). On 28 October Congress referred the report and two suggested amendments of it to a new committee, again with Rutledge as chairman and James Duane among its members but otherwise with a different personnel from that of the committee which had framed the report of 17 October (JCC description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds., Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789 (34 vols.; Washington, 1904–37). description ends , XXIII, 689–91). A copy of this report in the hand of George Bond, deputy secretary of Congress, is among the Madison Papers in the Library of Congress. For the outcome of the Asgill affair, see JM to Randolph, 5 November 1782, and nn. 17 and 18.

6See 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, 200, n. 18.

7The peace negotiations in Paris and the suspension of hostilities on the American mainland made the “circumstances” in the autumn unlike those in May 1782, when Captain Asgill had been chosen by lot to be executed for the “murder” of Captain Huddy if the British did not deliver the guilty person or persons to Washington for punishment. Washington concluded, as Elias Boudinot recalled later, that “The Execution of an innocent Person ought to have an Object in view to prevent the unnecessary shedding of Blood—That the Example now could not have any Effect as there would be nothing for it to operate upon &c. &c. That therefore he should stay the Execution of Capt. Asgill without an express Order from Congress to the Contrary” (J[ane] J. Boudinot, ed., The Life, Public Services, Addresses and Letters of Elias Boudinot, LL.D., President of the Continental Congress [2 vols.; Boston, 1896], I, 248–49).

8In a dispatch to President John Hanson on 20 April 1782, Washington had expressed his hope that Congress would endorse his determination to execute “a British Officer of equal rank” to “the unfortunate Huddy,” if General Sir Henry Clinton refused to deliver “the Actual perpetrators of this horrid Act” (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 , XXIV, 144–45). In a resolution unanimously adopted on 29 April Congress assured Washington “of their firmest support in his fixed purpose of exemplary retaliation” (JCC description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds., Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789 (34 vols.; Washington, 1904–37). description ends , XXII, 217–18). See also 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, 197; 199, nn. 17, 18.

10See JM to Randolph, 22 October 1782, and n. 21. On 30 October the secretary at war rendered a report “on the expectation of the officers of the army.” Congress referred the report to a committee with Daniel Carroll as its chairman (JCC description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds., Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789 (34 vols.; Washington, 1904–37). description ends , XXIII, 699, n. 2). The committee’s recommendations, first submitted on 12 November, seem to have been debated on the fourteenth and eighteenth of that month and recommitted on the last of these days (JCC description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds., Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789 (34 vols.; Washington, 1904–37). description ends , XXIII, 730–32; 732, n. 1).

11Shortage of funds prevented Robert Morris from fulfilling his commitments under the contract he had made with [Comfort] Sands, [Walter] Livingston, and Company to supply food to the “West Point Army,” the “Moving Army,” and the garrisons “Northward of Poughkeepsie.” In a letter of 11 September the company warned Morris that unless he could meet his long overdue obligations by 1 October, the contract would be deemed void and rations would cease to flow to the troops. After Morris was informed by Ezekiel Cornell (Report on Cornwallis-Laurens Exchange, 25 September 1782, ed. n.) that he had no public funds which could be used for the supply of the army, Morris had no recourse except to conclude on 21 October, with the prior authorization of Congress, a contract with Jeremiah Wadsworth and John Carter whereby those partners agreed to provide the rations on three months’ credit at a cost of “fully one-third higher” than what Sands, Livingston, and Company had charged (NA: PCC, No. 137, I, 868–71; Clarence L. Ver Steeg, Robert Morris, pp. 141–52). For previous actions in regard to continental rations, 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, 406, n. 4; 430.

12In his circular letter of 21 October 1782 to the chief executive of each state, Morris portrayed the extremely serious situation, including the crisis mentioned in n. 11, caused by the failure of the states to pay their financial quotas. “How long,” asked Morris, “is a Nation who will do nothing for itself to rely on the Aid of Others? … How long will an Army undergo Want in the Midst of Plenty? … These are Questions which cannot be solved by Arithmetical Calculation.” He concluded his letter by urging every “Friend to our Country” to press for “that speedy and effectual Collection of Taxes, which can alone give Vigor and Stability to all our Measures” (NA: PCC, No. 137, I, 873–76). Governor Harrison forwarded this letter on 11 November 1782 to the speaker of the House of Delegates of the Virginia General Assembly (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, 373).

13Daniel Carroll (1730–1796) of Maryland. Although his motion is not mentioned in the printed journal for 28 October, the manuscript of the motion is docketed: “Motion of Delegates of Maryland Monday Oct 28. 1782 Tuesday 29 assigned for the Consideration. passed Octr. 29h 1782” (NA: PCC, No. 36, I, 401). Madison evidently wrote the present letter before the motion was adopted on the twenty-ninth by a vote of 7 states to 1. Virginia’s vote was registered as “No” by Madison and Bland, while the votes of North Carolina and South Carolina were deadlocked. With only one delegate present, the vote of Massachusetts was also ineffective (JCC description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds., Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789 (34 vols.; Washington, 1904–37). description ends , XXIII, 694). 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 , II, 73–74; 76; III, 302; 303, n. 4; 305, n. 1; 307; IV, 33; 34, n. 8; 154–55; 156, n. 9; 198, n. 6; JM to Randolph, 5 November 1782.

15Ibid., and n. 26.

16As a delegate from Prince William County in the Virginia General Assembly, Arthur Lee arrived in Richmond on 31 October 1782. See JM to Randolph, 8 October, and n. 21; Randolph to JM, 2 November 1782.

17That is, JM suggested that the close of the autumn sessions of the higher courts of Virginia should reduce the commitments of Randolph as attorney general sufficiently to permit him to resume his seat in Congress. 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, 90, n. 4; Randolph to JM, 22 November 1782.

18See Randolph to JM, 18 October. For the interest of Nicholas Trist’s family in Randolph’s, see JM to Randolph, 27 August 1782, and n. 23.

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