James Madison Papers
Documents filtered by: Author="Madison, James" AND Recipient="Jefferson, Thomas"
sorted by: date (ascending)

From James Madison to Thomas Jefferson, 13 May 1783

To Thomas Jefferson

RC (LC: Madison Papers). Cover franked by JM and addressed to “Thomas Jefferson Esqr.” Many years later, after recovering the letter, JM docketed the cover page, “Madison Jas May. 13, 1783.” Henry D. Gilpin printed all of the letter except the last paragraph (Madison, Papers [Gilpin ed.] description begins Henry D. Gilpin, ed., The Papers of James Madison (3 vols.; Washington, 1840). description ends , I, 531–32). The passages written in the JM-Jefferson Code No. 2 have been italicized by the present editors. In the left margin of a separate page, on which Jefferson decoded the first two paragraphs of the letter, JM wrote, “Decypher of May 13–1783.”

Philada. May 13. 1783.

Dear Sir

Marbois lately took occasion in our family1 to complain of ungenerous proceedings of the British against individuals as well as against their enemies at large and finally signified that he was no stranger to the letter transmited to Congress which he roundly avered to be spurious His information came from Boston where [the] incident is said to be no secret but whether [it] be the echo of letters from Philadelphia or has transpired from the correspondence of Mr. Adams to his private friends is uncertain.2 This conversation passed during my absence in New Jersey3 but was related to me by Mr. Carrol

A project for a treaty of commerce with Britain has been reported by Secretary foreign affairs and is now4 in the hands of a committee5 The objects most at heart are first a direct trade between this country & the West Indies Second a right of carrying between the later and other parts of the British empire Thirdly a right of carrying from West Indies to all other parts of the world6 As the price of these advantages it is proposed that we shall ad[mit] British subjects to equal privileges with our own citizens As to the [first] object it may be observed that the bil[l] lately brought in British parliament renders it probable that it may be obtained without such a cession7 as to the second that it concerns eastern states cheifly and as to the third that it concerns them alone8 Whilst the privilege to be ceded will cheifly if not alone affect the southern states The interest of these seems to require that they should retain at least the faculty of giveing any encouragement to their own merchants ships or mariners which may be necessary to prevent relapse under scotch monopoly or to acquire a maritime importance The eastern states need no such precaution9

Genl. Washington & Genl. Carlton have had an interview on the subject of arrangements for executing the provisional Treaty. It was interrupted by the sudden indisposition of the latter. In the conversation which took place he professed intentions of evacuating New York & all the posts in the U.S. held by British Garrisons as soon as possible, but did not authorize any determinate or speedy expectations. He confessed that a number of Negroes had gone off with the Refugees since the arrival of the Treaty, and undertook to justify the permission by a palpable & scandalous misconstruction of the Treaty, and by the necessity of adhering to the proclamations under the faith of which the Negroes had eloped into their service. He said that if the Treaty should be otherwise explained, compensation would be made to the owners and to make this the more easy, a register had been & would be kept of all Negroes leaving N.Y. before the surrender of it by the British Garrison. This information has been referred by Congs. to a Committee. But the progress already made in the discharge of the prisoners, the only convenient pledge by which fair dealing on the other side could be enforced, makes it probable that no remedy will be applied to the evil.10

I have sent Mr. Randolph a pamphlet comprehending all the papers which are to be laid before the States relative to the National debt &c. and have desired him to let you have the reading [of] it. The fewness of the copies made it impossible for me to get one for each of you.11

I am Dr Sir your sincere friend

J. Madison Jr.

1JM’s fellow lodgers in the boardinghouse of Mrs. Mary House. Among them was Daniel Carroll, whom JM mentioned at the close of this paragraph. See Papers of Madison description begins William T. Hutchinson, William M. E. Rachal, et al., eds., The Papers of James Madison (7 vols. to date; Chicago, 1962——). description ends , VI, 180; 182, n. 29.

2On 13 March 1782 the Marquis de Barbé-Marbois, consul general of France in Philadelphia, wrote to Vergennes criticizing the terms of peace sought by Congress. Having intercepted this dispatch, the British made a copy of it available to the American peace commissioners. They forwarded it to Congress. See Papers of Madison description begins William T. Hutchinson, William M. E. Rachal, et al., eds., The Papers of James Madison (7 vols. to date; Chicago, 1962——). description ends , V, 436–37; 441; 443, nn. 2, 3; 444, n. 5; 466; VI, 6, and n. 2; 383; 385, n. 12. Although the commissioners’ dispatches were intended by Congress to be confidential, they no doubt had been shown to Jefferson upon his arrival in Philadelphia on 27 December 1782 as a peace commissioner expecting to sail to France (ibid., V, 171, n. 7; 393, n. 5). Adams commented on the Marbois letter in a copy of his “Peace Journal” sent to his wife. She showed or read portions of the journal to “Friends” and may have given it to Jonathan Jackson, who possessed a letter announcing its transmittal (L[yman] H. Butterfield et al., eds., Diary and Autobiography of John Adams [4 vols.; Cambridge, Mass., 1961], III, 41–43, 55, 59, n. 4, 64). The letter, in spite of Marbois’ insistence to the contrary, had been written by him (Richard B. Morris, The Peace Makers: The Great Powers and American Independence [New York, 1965], p. 325).

3Papers of Madison description begins William T. Hutchinson, William M. E. Rachal, et al., eds., The Papers of James Madison (7 vols. to date; Chicago, 1962——). description ends , VI, 498, and n. 2.

4In the manuscript, the ciphers for “affairs and is now” have become illegible. The decoding is taken from Madison, Papers (Gilpin ed.) description begins Henry D. Gilpin, ed., The Papers of James Madison (3 vols.; Washington, 1840). description ends , I, 531.

5JM Notes, 6 May, and n. 3; JM to Jefferson, 6 May 1783, and n. 5. Livingston’s “project” has not been found.

6The first two of these objects were rights or privileges which Americans had enjoyed as colonists, while the third, except for non-enumerated commodities, was a type of commerce barred to them by the British navigation acts. For a more comprehensive discussion of commerce by JM, see his letter of 20 May 1783 to Randolph.

7JM uses “cession” in the sense of “concession.” He of course did not know that on 8 May the British House of Commons had debated ineffectually, and for the last time before Parliament adjourned on 16 July 1783, a bill introduced early in March “for the provisional establishment and regulation of trade and intercourse between the subjects of Great Britain and those of the United States of North America.” Discussions of the measure or of amended versions of it on 7 and 11 March, 11 and 15 April, and 8 May revealed that it was much more vigorously opposed than supported (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 , XXIII, cols. 602–15, 640–45, 728–30, 762–65, 894–96, 1121–22). JM most probably had read the terms of the bill and a summary of the debate on 11 March in the Pennsylvania Packet of 8 and 13 May 1783. The bill seems to have been doomed from the outset, for its most influential proponent, the Earl of Shelburne, had been obliged to resign as prime minister on 24 February (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 , XXIII, col. 571; Papers of Madison description begins William T. Hutchinson, William M. E. Rachal, et al., eds., The Papers of James Madison (7 vols. to date; Chicago, 1962——). description ends , VI, 504, and n. 3).

In the course of a long speech in the House of Lords on 17 February 1783, defending the provisions of the preliminary articles of peace and advocating unhampered commerce with the United States, Shelburne had said: “Situated as we are between the old world and the new, and between the southern and northern Europe, all that we ought to covet upon earth is free trade, and fair equality. With more industry, with more enterprize, with more capital than any trading nation upon earth, it ought to be our constant cry, let every market be open, let us meet our rivals fairly, and we ask no more” (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 , XXIII, cols. 409–10).

8Ships owned and manned by New Englanders, rather than by citizens of the middle or southern states, carried most of the cargoes comprising American commerce with ports in the West Indies, the British Isles, and Europe. See Papers of Madison description begins William T. Hutchinson, William M. E. Rachal, et al., eds., The Papers of James Madison (7 vols. to date; Chicago, 1962——). description ends , VI, 288, n. 16; 291–92.

9In contrast with New England, the principal exports of the southern colonies had been staples, such as tobacco, rice, and indigo. The navigation acts obliged these commodities to be marketed only in England. This commerce, including that of the imports received in return, was often controlled by Scottish merchants and their factors resident in southern ports. Besides being charged with driving hard bargains, they had usually refused to join the patriot cause at the outbreak of the Revolution. See Papers of Madison description begins William T. Hutchinson, William M. E. Rachal, et al., eds., The Papers of James Madison (7 vols. to date; Chicago, 1962——). description ends , I, 115; III, 69, n. 2; 120, n. 1; V, 98, n. 4.

10Ibid., VI, 462, and n. 2; 465; 466, n. 3; 466, and n. 1; 479; 480, nn. 6, 7; Walke to Delegates, 3 May, and nn. 2, 3, 5, 7; JM to Randolph, 6 May, and nn. 5, 6; JM Notes, 8 May; 9 May 1783, and n. 2. On 12 May Washington’s letter of 8 May, enclosing copies of his correspondence with General Carleton and an account of their conference on 6 May, was referred to a committee, JM chairman (JCC description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds., Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789 (34 vols.; Washington, 1904–37). description ends , XXIV, 340, n. 1). This committee returned these documents to Charles Thomson on 21 May but apparently never submitted a report to Congress (NA: PCC, No. 186, fol. 101).

11JM to Randolph, 13 May 1783. The pamphlet is entitled Address and Recommendations to The States by The United States in Congress assembled (printed by David C. Claypoole, Philadelphia, 1783). No doubt reflecting the “fewness of the copies,” a second and slightly variant edition was published by Claypoole later in 1783. Other editions appeared during the same year in Massachusetts, Connecticut, New Jersey, Virginia, and England (JCC description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds., Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789 (34 vols.; Washington, 1904–37). description ends , XXV, 986–87). See also JM to Jefferson, 20 May 1783, and to Randolph on the same day.

Index Entries