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To James Madison from Edmund Randolph, 5 July 1782

From Edmund Randolph

RC (LC: Madison Papers). Unsigned letter in Randolph’s hand. Addressed to “The honble James Madison jr. of congress Philadelphia.” Docketed by JM, “July 5th. 1782.”

Virginia July 5. 1782.

Dear sir

If before the receipt of your favor of the 25th. Ulto. I could have doubted concerning the policy of the act against British merchandize, the artifices of the enemy and the parricidal villainies of some of the citizens of America, therein enumerated, would wipe away every scruple. I have confidence, that in the exhortation, about to be made by congress to the people,1 caution will be used, so as not to create a belief in Europe, contrary to truth, that congress have any reason to consider the consumption of British manufactures, as a symptom of a returning desire for a political connection.

This intelligence, if it has reached Williamsburg may affect congress in another, unexpected form. Coffin’s2 contract for the tobacco seems doomed to perpetual obstruction. The ship, called the New-York, which is one of the flags, destined for the reception of the tobacco, covered by the passports, has been employed, as is suggested, in selling to a merchant in Wmsburg. large quantities of British goods. This conduct has spoiled her, in the opinion of some, of her immunity from seizure: and she is now in the custody of the marshal, to be finally adjudged next monday.3 An express has just left me, having brought a summons for my attendance, as counsel, at the trial. Altho’ my hesitation to say, whether a flag, which abandons the sacredness of her character by illicit commerce only, not by active hostility, is liable to condemnation, might have prevented me of itself from undertaking the cause of the libellants, yet when I reflected that Mr. Morris’s schemes might be deeply wounded by a confiscation, and the united states thereby much intangled, I agreed to go to the court upon the express condition of advocating or not advocating the libel at pleasure. But in order to obtain the facts before my departure from home, I wrote to Mr. Daniel Clarke, the agent for loading the british vessels,4 requesting information on the subject. He returned the inclosed answer.5 The purport of that answer will be the occasion of my declining the side of the question, offered to me, unless it should wear a very different complexion from what it now does. But I am apprehensive that a jury, impressed by an opinion, that the enemy are daily meditating the diffusion of their wares, will prove stern to the flag, against the law of nations, and the necessities of the united states.6

The French legion marched from Richmond yesterday morning, at which time the remainder of the army left Wmsburg. They have preserved the character of peaceable soldiers, and their absence will be regretted. We must pass by the irregularities of a few individuals, as being inapplicable to the body of the army.7

On tuesday the assembly completed their session. They passed fifty five acts; the most capital of which I mentioned in my former letters.8 The recruiting act, revenue act, and the act for the erection of separate courts in Kentuckey are, as I have already stated them to you.9 But I will forward them immediately after printing.

The resolution, appointing the committee for the patronage of western territory; have never exchanged a letter on the subject.10 Mr. G. Mason will enter into the discussion, I am told, if he approve the acts of the present session. Mrs. Jefferson has been too near her flight to a happier station, to suffer her affectionate husband to do more than lament the prospect of a separation. (She is now within the reach [?] of medicine). Of Dr. Lee I have not heard a syllable since his setting off for Phila. Dr. Walker has supplied a few rough materials only.11 I am pursuing the inquiry: but wait for the movements of my elders in the nomination.12

Upon reviewing some of the papers, which I collected in 1780, I am inclined to think, that the white inhabitants of Virginia will be found on the census, directed to be taken by a late law, to amount to a much larger number, than even Massachusetts contai[ns.] For in that year the militia might in round numbers be estimated at 50[?],000.13 The principles then, which you well know, can easily be applied, when you recollect, that no person is liable to militia duty, but between the age of eighteen and fifty. My computation is equal to 250,000 whites14 at least.15

I wish, that on future occasions of16 speaking of individuals we may us[e] the cypher, which we were taught by Mr. Lovell.17 Let the keyword be the name*18 of the negro boy, who used to wait on our common friend Mr. Jas. Madison. Billy19 can remind you, if you should be at a loss for it.

There can be no necessity for this process in the communication of intelligence, merely public: but a private hint would be no secret to any person, having access to the cypher of government.20

2See Lee to JM, 16 May 1782, n. 7; 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 1782, pp. 86–87. Ebenezer Coffin (1763–1817) was a son of the Boston Loyalist merchant, William Coffin, Jr. (b. 1723), who apparently accompanied the British troops when they evacuated the city in March 1776 (W[illiam] S[umner] Appleton, Gatherings toward a Genealogy of the Coffin Family [Boston, 1896], pp. 43, 45; Proceedings of the Massachusetts Historical Society, 1st ser., XVIII [1880–81], 226; 2d ser., X [1895–96], 163). By the next year in New York City, the father had formed Coffin and Anderson, a firm with which the British army contracted for supplies (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 , XIII, 186, 190, 283). “Anderson” may have been Alexander Anderson, master of the flag-of-truce ship “Fame” (n. 3, below; NA: PCC, No. 20, II, 293). Either William Coffin, Jr., or his son, Ebenezer, was probably the “Mr. Coffin” who, in the spring of 1780, had come to Hampton, Va., from New York City in a flag-of-truce ship freighted with supplies for British prisoners of war (Boyd, Papers of Jefferson description begins Julian P. Boyd et al., eds., The Papers of Thomas Jefferson (16 vols. to date; Princeton, N.J., 1950——). description ends , III, 318).

Although the father’s later career is obscure, Ebenezer Coffin was one of the merchants-capitulant in Yorktown in October 1781 (NA: PCC, No. 20, II, 305). Shortly thereafter, as the representative of all of them, Ebenezer engaged George Eddy of Philadelphia to conclude an agreement with Robert Morris. On 11 February 1782 Congress had empowered Morris to act on its behalf in this matter and instructed Charles Thomson to issue passports to the flag-of-truce ships which would come from New York to Virginia for the tobacco owed to the merchants (NA: PCC, No. 75, fol. 376; JCC description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds., Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789 (34 vols.; Washington, 1904–37). description ends , XXII, 70–71). On 20 April 1782 Rear Admiral Robert Digby, commanding the British navy in North American waters, authorized the “Fame” and “New York” to proceed to the James River, take the tobacco aboard, and return to New York Harbor. According to Digby’s passport, Coffin was aboard the “New York” as “Agent or Supercargoe” and as one of the consignees of the expected cargo (NA: PCC, No. 20, II, 309).

3That is 8 July. For the action taken by Governor Harrison upon the arrival of the flag-of-truce ships, “New York” and “Fame,” in Hampton Roads on 8 May, see Lee to JM, 16 May 1782, n. 7. In mid-June the Virginia General Assembly had reluctantly permitted the vessels to load tobacco (Randolph to JM, 15 June 1782, and n. 3). The governor’s initial opposition to the contract between Robert Morris and the traders-capitulant of Yorktown had been intensified during the spring of 1782 by frequent reports that masters of flag-of-truce ships and a few British merchants who had remained in the Yorktown neighborhood ever since the surrender of Cornwallis were engaging in illicit trade with Virginians (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, 163, 207, 232; Journals of the Council of State description begins H. R. McIlwaine et al., eds., Journals of the Council of the State of Virginia (3 vols. to date; Richmond, 1931——). description ends , III, 86, 89 n.). On 29 July 1782 Harrison ordered all flag vessels in Virginia to be detained pending further instructions from him (ibid., III, 129). See also Calendar of Virginia State Papers description begins William P. Palmer et al., eds., Calendar of Virginia State Papers and Other Manuscripts (11 vols.; Richmond, 1875–93). description ends , III, 219, 233, 236, 244, 246, 250–51, 257. The indefiniteness of the expression obliges “a merchant in Wmsburg.” to remain anonymous.

5Not found.

6For the outcome of the hearing before the Virginia Court of Admiralty, see Randolph to JM, 18 July 1782.

7See Randolph to JM, 10 May, and n. 18; 18 July 1782. For the Duc de Lauzun and his legion, see Jameson to JM, 26 January 1782, and n. 2. This contingent of Rochambeau’s army began its northward march by moving to Petersburg, Va., late in June. Acomb, Journal of Closen description begins Evelyn M. Acomb, trans. and ed., The Revolutionary Journal of Baron Ludwig von Closen, 1780–1783 (Chapel Hill, N.C., 1958). description ends , pp. 206 ff., furnishes a detailed account of the plan of march and the route followed by the French army. Both the Virginia General Assembly and the residents of Williamsburg expressed to Rochambeau their appreciation for the signal services which his troops had rendered to the Commonwealth and for their “strict discipline.” The address of the General Assembly on 25 June, published in the Virginia Gazette description begins Virginia Gazette, or, the American Advertiser (Richmond, James Hayes, 1781–86). description ends on 29 June, was reproduced in the Pennsylvania Journal on 10 July 1782. Although Governor Harrison shared in these manifestations of gratitude, he was much concerned because the French took with them on their northward march many Negroes owned by Virginians and Carolinians (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, 255, 257–58, 263, 265–66). See also Harrison to Virginia Delegates, 6 July 1782.

8See Randolph to JM, 15 June, and n. 5; 20 June, and nn. 28, 32, 39, 40, 42, 48; 27–29 June 1782, and nn. 8 and 12. The Virginia Gazette description begins Virginia Gazette, or, the American Advertiser (Richmond, James Hayes, 1781–86). description ends of 6 July 1782 lists the fifty-five statutes by their titles. See also 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 , XI, 9–103.

10See Randolph to JM, 1 June 1782, and n. 3.

11See Randolph to JM, 16–17 May 1782, n. 6. In the sentence in parentheses, Randolph clearly wrote “now” but probably intended to write “not.”

12See Randolph to JM, 1 June 1782. Of the five members of the committee appointed to draft a defense of Virginia’s title to the Old Northwest, Thomas Walker was the eldest and Randolph, the youngest.

13See Randolph to JM, 20 June, n. 28; JM to Randolph, 16 July 1782, and n. 5. On 27 July 1780 Governor Jefferson had written that “after all probable deductions,” Virginia could raise 45,000 militia (Boyd, Papers of Jefferson description begins Julian P. Boyd et al., eds., The Papers of Thomas Jefferson (16 vols. to date; Princeton, N.J., 1950——). description ends , III, 509). Randolph may have overestimated the number of Virginia’s white inhabitants as compared with those in Massachusetts, at least if the five counties in Maine are included. According to the federal census of 1790, there were 442,117 whites in Virginia and 469,294 in Massachusetts (Department of Commerce and Labor, Bureau of the Census, eds., A Century of Population Growth from the First Census of the United States to the Twelfth, 1790–1900 [Washington, 1909], pp. 201, 204).

14Although the editors are unacquainted with Randolph’s “principles” of computation, he apparently multiplied 50[?],000 by 5. He took the age range between “eighteen and fifty” from “An Act for speedily recruiting the quota of this state for the continental army,” probably enacted on 13 July 1780 by the Virginia General Assembly (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 , May 1780, pp. 79, 84, 85; 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, 258).

15After this sentence, Randolph so heavily deleted about seven lines of text that the following rendition of them may not be wholly accurate: “If so, our advantage in contributing to continental expenses according to the rule of the Confederation [?] will not be so great, as we supposed, when we controverted the wish of some of the Eastern gentlemen who contended for the quota of money being regulated by white populations. For I am almost convinced, that our white numbers, if they amount to 250,000.…” Instead of “white” before “populations,” Randolph probably should have written “whole.”

16Randolph may have intended to write “when” rather than “of.”

17James Lovell, a delegate in Congress from Massachusetts. He, Randolph, and JM had been together in Congress between 16 July 1781 and 23 January 1782 (Burnett, Letters description begins Edmund C. Burnett, ed., Letters of Members of the Continental Congress (8 vols.; Washington, 1921–36). description ends , VI, xlvi, liii). For Lovell’s expertness as a cryptographer, see ibid., VI, 223–24, 241, 328 n., 384, n. 2.

18This asterisk and the footnote are in JM’s hand. Since in his reply of 16 July (q.v.) JM readily understood the key word to which Randolph referred, the adverb “probably” suggests that JM added the footnote many years later, when he was editing some of his correspondence for publication.

19Cupid, mentioned in the footnote, was probably a servant of the Reverend James Madison. Billy may have been JM’s body servant, although his owner was James Madison, Sr. (Orange County Personal Property Tax Book, 1782, MS in Virginia State Library).

20In the last two paragraphs of this letter Randolph suggests that, although they can safely continue to use the official cipher when writing to each other about governmental affairs, they should more securely disguise their comments about individuals by employing the little-known Lovell code. Messages written in it were inscrutable unless the particular key word used in their encoding was known. See Edmund C. Burnett, “Ciphers of the Revolutionary Period,” American Historical Review, XXII (1916–17), 331–32.

Authorial notes

[The following note(s) appeared in the margins or otherwise outside the text flow in the original source, and have been moved here for purposes of the digital edition.]

* probably Cupid

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