James Madison Papers
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From James Madison to William Bradford, 23 March 1778

To William Bradford

RC (Historical Society of Pennsylvania). Accompanying this letter is an address sheet on which there appears, in JM’s hand, “To Col. William Bradford Junr Philadelphia.” Possibly this sheet has been mistakenly filed with this letter because JM must have known that Philadelphia was in British hands and that his old friend Bradford, then deputy commissary general of musters of the Continental Army, was probably at Valley Forge.

Williamsbg March 23th. 78

Dear Sir

An Express being just setting off for Head Quarters,1 I cannot help imparting to you some very agreeable intelligence just recd. A Capt. of a Letter of Marke Vessel from thi[s] State,2 writes to the Govr. from Cheasepeak Bay that he left Martinique on the 23 Ult. that Letters had been recd. there from France as lat[e] as 1st. from sundry respectable Merchts. relating that the French Court had actually recognized Docr. Franklin as Embassador for the Independent States of America in the most public and authentic manner and that the Docr. had formed an alliance for 30 years3 That the King of Prussia had notified his intention of sending several ships loaded with Stores to America and had threatened in case of their being interrupted by the British Ship of War to invade Hanover with a formidable Army and that he had declared Empden a free Port.4 This account also says that the Queen of Portugal had opened her ports to the United States.5 Some parts of this News carry the face of great improbability, but there are several circumstances that encourage us to hope that the substance of it may not be entirely groundless. It comes through two other oral channels, one in particular by Capt. Bush6 an intelligent and honest man from this State who left Martinique as lately as the 10th. instt. and affirms that the News respectg Dr. Franklin & the King of Prussia was recd. by the Govr. of M. in dispatches fr[om] France and that 13 rounds were fired from their Canon in reference of the 13 independent States of America.7 The Express has been detained for the purpose of sealing these few and I can only add that I am as I ought to be

Yrs. &c

J M Jr

1At Valley Forge.

2That is, a privateer operating under a letter of marque issued by the government of Virginia. The vessel in question has not been identified.

3Contrary to the statement in this letter, there was no time limit specified in the treaty of alliance. It and a treaty of amity and commerce were concluded between France and the United States on 6 February 1778. King Louis XVI did not grant a formal audience to the American commissioners, Benjamin Franklin, Silas Deane, and Arthur Lee, until 20 March. Congress first announced the news of the alliance on 2 May (Journals of the Continental Congress, XI, 418; Wharton, Revolutionary Diplomatic Correspondence description begins Francis Wharton, ed., The Revolutionary Diplomatic Correspondence of the United States (6 vols.; Washington, D.C., 1889). description ends , II, 490–91, 517).

4King Frederick the Great of Prussia did not open the ports of his country to U.S. merchants and trading ships until 17 February 1779. Emden is a North Sea port at the mouth of the Ems River. King George III of England was also the Elector of Hanover. In the winter and early spring of 1778, in spite of William Lee’s word to Congress that Frederick the Great would acknowledge the independence of the United States as soon as King Louis XVI did so, the Prussian Monarch was too concerned about having the support of England in the Bavarian succession crisis to offend her by exhibiting marked friendliness toward the American rebels (Wharton, Revolutionary Diplomatic Correspondence description begins Francis Wharton, ed., The Revolutionary Diplomatic Correspondence of the United States (6 vols.; Washington, D.C., 1889). description ends , II, 213, 343, 406, 447, 489, 510–11, 516–17; III, 66; Doniol, Histoire description begins Henri Doniol, Histoire de la participation de la France à l’établissement des États-Unis d’Amérique (5 vols.; Paris, 1886–92). description ends , III, 112–16).

5This report was false. A decree of 4 July 1776 was still effectively barring American vessels from entering Portuguese harbors. And yet, by early 1778, the government of Queen Maria I was exhibiting restlessness against the longstanding commercial entente with England. Rumors were afloat that the Portuguese court would soon attune its commercial policy with that of the United States and France (Wharton, Revolutionary Diplomatic Correspondence description begins Francis Wharton, ed., The Revolutionary Diplomatic Correspondence of the United States (6 vols.; Washington, D.C., 1889). description ends , II, 161, 188, 207, 491).

6Probably Goodrich Boush (ca. 1738–1782) of Norfolk County, captain of the “Congress,” an armed vessel of Virginia’s navy (Robert Armistead Stewart, The History of Virginia’s Navy of the Revolution [Richmond, 1934], pp. 16, 43–44, 153).

7On a date not ascertained but probably later than reported here, the governor of Martinique, assisted by William Bingham, the American agent at Saint Pierre, feted the alliance between France and the United States (C[abuzell] A. Banbuck, Histoire politique, économique et sociale de la Martinique sous l’ancien régime, 1635–1789 [Paris, 1935], p. 149, n. 22).

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