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To James Madison from Edmund Randolph, 8 August 1811

From Edmund Randolph

Charlestown, Jefferson county Virginia
August 8. 1811.

Having removed hither to pass the fall and winter under the roof of my daughter Taylor, I did not receive your late letter until yesterday.1

If the analogy between the case at Philadelphia, and the more recent one at Washington, be strong enough to merit the application of it, with the following clue, a second search at the Treasury may perhaps succeed. Giles’s resolutions had been defeated, before Colo. H. suggested thro’ one of his indirect conduits to the ear of the President, that during his tour in the south, he had sanctioned by two letters the measure, which was so severely criminated.2 He mentioned the circumstance to me, with surprize and passion, declaring in the most excluding terms, that he never did write or cause to be written, letters to that purport. Some days afterwards, Colo. H. put them into the President’s hands, and by him they were communicated to me with an instruction to write to Colo. H. avowing them. This I did, and it would seem impossible that upon a subject, on which his sensibility was so much kindled, that a document of justification should have been laid aside, as a private paper. These facts are most distinctly recollected.

On my journey through Staunton, where various people were assembled at the court of chancery, the topic, to which the above relates seemed to be given up on all sides, after the review in the National Intelligencer had explained it:3 and I suspect, that the only remaining difficulties in the public mind are the article concerning Serrurier’s information, and the abandonment of the Condition, which Armstrong was charged to annex to the enforcing of the nonimportation, or nonintercourse law against Great Britain.4 These things are not perfectly understood. Adieu my ancient friend, from whom neither time nor circumstances shall sever me.

RC (DLC). Unsigned; in the hand of Edmund Randolph. Docketed by JM, with his notation, “Giles Resolutions on the transfer of money by Sey. of the Treasury / see July 9. 1811.” Below the docket JM wrote in pencil: “Randolph’s acct. of the sanction of Gen. Washington to Hamilton’s irregular proceeding / to be looked over.”

1JM’s letter has not been found, but in the “Detatched Memoranda” written during his retirement JM recorded that Randolph’s 8 Aug. letter was written “in consequence of an intimation, that from an enquiry at the Treasury Department it did not appear that any such paper as that described had been deposited there” (see Randolph to JM, 9 July 1811). After reflecting further on the episode, JM concluded that the document Randolph was seeking had been treated by both Hamilton and Washington as a routine transaction and that the former “forbore to avail himself of the document he possessed, or to involve the President in the responsibility he was willing to take on himself.” “It is proper to remark,” JM continued, “that Mr. Randolph’s statement came from a dismissed officer, and that it was subsequent to a paralytic stroke which ended in greatly enfeebling his mind. But there is reason to confide in his declaration that he retained no feeling of a partizan; and that the tenor of his letters indicates no incompetency to the task assumed in them. The explanatory facts stated carry indeed the greatest probability on the face of them.” JM therefore assumed that the evidence that Washington had endorsed Hamilton’s actions, unless it had been mislaid or destroyed, “must be among the papers of Col: Hamilton.” As for Randolph’s motive in contacting him on the matter, JM ascribed it “to the friendly feeling in the writer to J.M. who had taken an active part in the discussions produced by Mr. Giles’s Resolutions” (Elizabeth Fleet, ed., “Madison’s ‘Detatched Memoranda,’” WMQ description begins William and Mary Quarterly. description ends , 3d ser., 3 [1946]: 545–48).

2Randolph was probably alluding to George Washington’s letters to Alexander Hamilton of 7 May and 29 July 1791 (Syrett and Cooke, Papers of Hamilton description begins Harold C. Syrett and Jacob E. Cooke, eds., The Papers of Alexander Hamilton (26 vols.; New York, 1961–79). description ends , 8:330, 588).

3Randolph was referring to the Review of Robert Smith’s Address to the People of the United States.

4In his Address to the People of the United States, Robert Smith had argued that neither the French revocation of the Berlin and Milan decrees nor the Nonintercourse Act of 2 Mar. 1811 complied with the conditions JM had previously stipulated for the lifting of trade restrictions with France, namely that the repeal of the decrees should be coupled with the restoration of all previously seized American property in order to justify the imposition of nonintercourse against Great Britain. Smith had also pointed out that on 20 Feb. 1811, before the passage of the Nonintercourse Act on 2 Mar., Sérurier had officially communicated the “fixed determination” of the French government “not to restore the property so seized” (National Intelligencer, 2 July 1811).

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