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From James Madison to Edmund Randolph, [7] May 1782

To Edmund Randolph

Printed text (Madison, Papers [Gilpin ed.] description begins Henry D. Gilpin, ed., The Papers of James Madison (3 vols.; Washington, 1840). description ends , I, 125–26).

Philadelphia, May [7], 1782.1

Dear Sir,

The enclosed gazette details all the information which we have received relative to the parliamentary advances towards a negotiation with the United States. The first reports which issued from the packet which brought them, were of a very different complexion, and raised high expectations of peace. We now find the ideas of the opposition, as well as the Ministry, to be far short of the only condition on which it can take place. Those who are the farthest reconciled to concessions calculate on a dissolution of the compact with France. The Ministry will yield to the experiment, and turn the result upon their adversaries. Our business is plain. Fidelity to our allies, and vigor in military preparation,—these, and these alone, will secure us against all political devices.2

We have received no intelligence which speaks a danger of a separate peace between the Dutch and Great Britain. Mr. Adams’ request of a categorical answer was taken, ad referendum, prior, if I mistake not, to the knowledge of Cornwallis’ fate; and it is not likely that after that event they would be less disposed to respect our overtures, or reject those of the enemy.3

We have letters from Mr. Jay and Mr. Carmichael of as late date as the twenty-seventh of February. They differ in nothing from the style of the former.4 The conduct of the Spanish Court subsequent to the date of the letter received the day preceding your departure, corresponds entirely with the tenor of it as therein related.5 Mr. Jones will inform you of the act of Congress which that letter produced.6

We have made no progress in the Western subject. We mean to desist, after one or two more attempts,7 and state the matter to the Assembly by next post, expecting that they will pursue such measures as their interest prescribes, without regard to the resolutions which proposed the cession.8

I beg you to keep me punctually informed of every legislative step touching the Western territory. I suppose the cession cannot fail to be revoked, or, at least, a day of limitation set to it.9 The condition relative to the companies will certainly be adhered to in every event.10 I find that those who have been against us do not wish to lose sight of the prospect altogether. If the State is firm and prudent, I have little doubt that she will be again courted. Previous to Mr. Jones’ departure, our opinions were united on the expediency of making the impost of five per cent. subservient to an honorable adjustment of territory and accounts. I have since discovered that Varnum is left out, the latter having promoted it, and that Chase is inflexible against it. Massachusetts also holds out. The expedient, therefore, would not be efficacious, and clamors would be drawn on Virginia, which it would be best should fall elsewhere.11 Show this to Mr. Jones. He will be with you about the twentieth instant.12

1The close resemblance between the comments in the first paragraph of this letter and the second paragraph of the Virginia delegates’ dispatch of 7 May to Governor Harrison (q.v.) permits little doubt that both communications were written on that day.

3Congress’ latest word from John Adams had been his dispatches of 4, 13, and 14 December 1781, received on 18 March 1782, the day on which Randolph left Philadelphia to return to Virginia (Virginia Delegates to Harrison, 19 March 1782; Wharton, Revolutionary Diplomatic Correspondence description begins Francis Wharton, ed., The Revolutionary Diplomatic Correspondence of the United States (6 vols.; Washington, 1889). description ends , V, 36–38, 43–44, 49–50; JCC description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds., Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789 (34 vols.; Washington, 1904–37). description ends , XXII, 140).

In his letter of 4 December, written about a week after the government of the Netherlands and Adams had first heard of Cornwallis’ surrender, Adams acknowledged the receipt of the resolutions of Congress of 16 August, drafted by Randolph and Thomas McKean, directing him to seek an alliance with the Netherlands for the duration of the war (JCC description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds., Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789 (34 vols.; Washington, 1904–37). description ends , XXI, 876–80). If such a pact should be consummated, the result would be in effect the creation of a quadruple alliance, since France was leagued with both Spain and the United States.

In his dispatch of 13 December Adams reported the willingness of the British ministry to have Tsarina Catherine II of Russia mediate a peace between Great Britain and the Netherlands, provided that the latter cease harboring “American pirates” and extending “rebel subjects” other favors equivalent to being in “a secret league” with them. The next day Adams expressed the belief that a Dutch-American alliance was inevitable. He cautioned, however, that this outcome would be “studiously and zealously slow” in coming, in part because each of the provinces as well as the Prince of Orange and Nassau would have to acquiesce to it. JM probably wrote on this subject what Randolph would recognize as irony. JM’s reference to a “categorical answer” suggests Adams’ memorial of 19 April 1781, in which he argued that the Netherlands “should make haste to acknowledge the independence of the United States and form equitable treaties with them.” This memorial was taken ad referendum by the States-General (Wharton, Revolutionary Diplomatic Correspondence description begins Francis Wharton, ed., The Revolutionary Diplomatic Correspondence of the United States (6 vols.; Washington, 1889). description ends , IV, 370–77, 402–3; Papers of Madison description begins William T. Hutchinson, William M. E. Rachal, et al., eds., The Papers of James Madison (4 vols. to date; Chicago, 1962——). description ends , III, 281–82; 282, n. 2).

4See Virginia Delegates to Harrison, 7 May 1782, nn. 5 and 6.

5JM here refers to Jay’s letter of 3 October 1781, read in Congress on 18 March 1782 (Report on Foreign Dispatches, 20 March 1782, and n. 1).

6See Motion Approving Jay’s Negotiations with Spain, 30 April 1782. Joseph Jones left Philadelphia on 2 May for his home in Virginia (JM to Randolph, 9 April 1782, n. 6).

7See JM to Lee, 7 May 1782, and nn. 8, 9, 10.

8On 2 January 1781 the Virginia General Assembly had adopted resolutions offering to Congress most of the territory in the Old Northwest. See Papers of Madison description begins William T. Hutchinson, William M. E. Rachal, et al., eds., The Papers of James Madison (4 vols. to date; Chicago, 1962——). description ends , II, 300–301; and n. 10, below. For the statement intended for the General Assembly “by the next post,” see Virginia Delegates to Harrison, 14 May 1782, and n. 3.

10One of the provisos limiting Virginia’s offer of cession was that Congress, upon accepting it, must declare “absolutely void and of no effect” any alleged land title in the ceded area derived from purchases or gifts “from any Indian or Indians, or from any Indian nation or nations” (Journal of the House of Delegates 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, unless otherwise noted, 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 , October 1780, p. 80). See also Motion To Amend Lee’s Motion on Western Lands, 18 April; JM to Randolph, 1 May, n. 8; Observations Relating to Influence of Vermont and Territorial Claims, 1 May 1782, and n. 9.

11JM, Bland, and Jones apparently had agreed, before Jones left Philadelphia on 2 May, to withhold their support from measures designed to bring pressure upon states which had not yet ratified the proposed 5 per cent impost amendment to the Articles of Confederation until Congress should make an “honorable adjustment” of Virginia’s financial accounts and deal fairly with her offer to cede her lands north and west of the Ohio River. After having ratified the impost amendment in the session of May 1781, the Virginia General Assembly in its November session of that year decided to hold the ratification in abeyance until all the other states should agree to the amendment (Hening, Statutes description begins William Waller Hening, ed., The Statutes at Large; Being a Collection of All the Laws of Virginia, from the First Session of the Legislature, in the Year 1619 (13 vols.; Richmond and Philadelphia, 1819–23). description ends , X, 409–10, 451; JCC description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds., Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789 (34 vols.; Washington, 1904–37). description ends , XX, 750; Papers of Madison description begins William T. Hutchinson, William M. E. Rachal, et al., eds., The Papers of James Madison (4 vols. to date; Chicago, 1962——). description ends , III, 349, n. 7). JM and Bland evidently expected Jones, upon reaching Richmond, to make their “expedient” known to Governor Harrison and the leaders of the General Assembly.

What occurred between 2 and 7 May to convince JM that the delegates’ plan of action was no longer feasible is not altogether clear. By 7 May, unlike five days earlier, he knew that the opponents of Virginia’s terms of cession had the voting strength to postpone indefinitely a decision upon the offer. Furthermore, he probably had heard that James Mitchell Varnum was not among the delegates to Congress elected in Rhode Island on 1 May (JCC description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds., Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789 (34 vols.; Washington, 1904–37). description ends , XXII, 320). Until he left Congress on 16 November 1781, Varnum had been a staunch advocate of the impost amendment and had supported the Virginians’ effort to induce Congress to vote conclusively upon Virginia’s offer of cession (William R. Staples, Rhode Island in the Continental Congress [Providence, 1870], pp. 325–26, 334–36, 346–50; JCC description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds., Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789 (34 vols.; Washington, 1904–37). description ends , XXI, 1114). Without Varnum, the delegation from Rhode Island thereafter would unanimously oppose the impost amendment and Virginia’s offer of cession (JCC description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds., Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789 (34 vols.; Washington, 1904–37). description ends , XXII, 240–41, 424, 644–45).

Samuel Chase (1741–1811), both as a Marylander and an investor in the Illinois-Wabash Company, had fought against the terms of cession offered by Virginia (Thomas P. Abernethy, Western Lands and the American Revolution, pp. 171, 239). He was a member of the House of Delegates of the General Assembly of his state and a delegate-elect to Congress, but he had not attended Congress since the autumn of 1778, and although his early arrival perhaps was expected in May 1782, he would never serve in that body again (Burnett, Letters description begins Edmund C. Burnett, ed., Letters of Members of the Continental Congress (8 vols.; Washington, 1921–36). description ends , VI, 366). When JM wrote on 7 May 1782, he probably knew that the Maryland Assembly was much divided on the issue of ratifying the impost amendment and appeared about to reject it as a result of the opposition of Chase and other influential legislators.

The simultaneous struggle in the Massachusetts General Court over the same issue seemed also to be going against the advocates of the amendment. For these reasons JM by 7 May had clearly decided that the onus of defeating, or at least of withholding passage of, the amendment need not, and should not, be borne by Virginia. Unknown of course to him, Massachusetts had acquiesced to the amendment three days before; Maryland and Connecticut also would do so in June 1782 (JCC description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds., Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789 (34 vols.; Washington, 1904–37). description ends , XXII, 333 n., 366, 388; Burnett, Letters description begins Edmund C. Burnett, ed., Letters of Members of the Continental Congress (8 vols.; Washington, 1921–36). description ends , VI, 372; W[illiam] H[and] Browne et al., eds., Archives of Maryland [65 vols.; Baltimore, 1883–1952], XLVIII, 213; J. Thomas Scharf, History of Maryland from the Earliest Period to the Present Day [3 vols.; Baltimore, 1879], II, 526–27, 527 n.). By that time only Georgia and Rhode Island had not ratified.

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