James Madison Papers
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From James Madison to Edmund Randolph, 13 September 1783

To Edmund Randolph

RC (LC: Madison Papers). Unsigned. Cover franked by JM and addressed to “Edmund Randolph Esqr. Richmond.” Docketed by Randolph, “J. Madison. Sep: 13. 1783.”

Princeton Sepr. 13. 1783.

My dear Sir

Our Ministers in Europe have made some amends for their long silence by voluminous despatches brought down to 27th. July. They were recd. yesterday by Congress.1 No definitive treaty had then been signed by any of the parties, though all had been ready except Holland & America. The fo[rmer] is said to have settled her difficulties.2 The American Ministers have been endeavoring to incorporate some important commercial stipulations, but in vain; and in case of emergency must come forward with the provisional articles to be signed as the definitive Treaty.3 The Conduct of G.B. in the negociation with America has shewn great unsteadiness if not insidiousness on the subject of commerce:4 and the inclosed proclamation of the 2d. of July is a proof that some experiment is intended on the wisdom, firmness & union of the States, before they will enter into a Treaty in derogation of her Navigation Act.5 Congress will probably recommend some defensive plan to the States.6 If it sd. meet with the fate of former recommendations, it will not probably be owing to Rhode Island whose staple interest more than that of any others lies in carrying between U.S. & the West Indies.7 If it fails at all it will prove such an inefficacy in the Union as will extinguish all respect for it & reliance on it. My situation here for writing is so incommodious, that you must excuse my brevity.8

1JM to Randolph, 8 Sept. 1783, n. 4. On 12 September Congress referred to a committee—James Duane, chairman, and four other delegates—thirty dispatches: two, dated 18 and 27 July, from the American commissioners for negotiating peace; sixteen, dated between 14 April and 18 July, from John Adams; one of 22–25 July from Franklin; four, dated between 7 April and 20 July, from Jay; three, dated between 27 June and 2 August, from Laurens; three, dated between 15 May and 6 June, from Dana; and one of 23 June from Dumas (NA: PCC, No. 185, III, 78–80; No. 186, fol. 123; Wharton, Revol. Dipl. Corr description begins Francis Wharton, ed., The Revolutionary Diplomatic Correspondence of the United States (6 vols.; Washington, 1889). description ends ., VI, 364, 368, 373–74, 432–33, 455–56, 464–65, 477, 494–570, passim, 576, 580–91, 600–606, 628–29). Although the journal of Congress omits mention of the receipt of these dispatches on 12 September 1783, see JCC description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds., Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789 (34 vols.; Washington, 1904–37). description ends , XXV, 531, 587–88, 588, n. 1.

2JM’s source of misinformation about the state of the negotiations between the Netherlands and Great Britain appears to have been the Pennsylvania Packet of 9 and 11 September. These issues included news items, under Paris date lines of 20 and 25 June and 11 July, giving assurance that those two countries had reached an accord, and that at the Coco Bar in Paris the betting odds were 7 to 4 that all the definitive treaties between Great Britain and her foes would be “signed before the middle of August.” In their dispatch of 27 July 1783, the American peace commissioners wrote, “The Dutch preliminaries are not yet agreed on” (Wharton, Revol. Dipl. Corr description begins Francis Wharton, ed., The Revolutionary Diplomatic Correspondence of the United States (6 vols.; Washington, 1889). description ends ., VI, 600). See also ibid., VI, 529; JM to Jefferson, 11 Aug. 1783, and n. 8.

3In his dispatch of 7 July, virtually repeating what he had written in one of 27 June, Adams stated: “We cannot as yet obtain from Mr. Hartley, or his principals, an explicit consent to any one proposition whatever. Yet England and France, and England and Spain, are probably agreed, and Holland, I suppose, must comply. Our last resource must be to say we are ready to sign the provisional treaty, totidem verbis, as the definitive treaty” (Wharton, Revol. Dipl. Corr description begins Francis Wharton, ed., The Revolutionary Diplomatic Correspondence of the United States (6 vols.; Washington, 1889). description ends ., VI, 504–5, 517; Jones to JM, 8 June, n. 23; JM to Jefferson, 10 June 1783, and n. 8).

In their dispatch of 27 July, the American peace commissioners wrote: “we are of opinion that finally we shall find it best to drop all commercial articles in our definitive treaty, and leave everything of that kind to a future special treaty, to be made either in America or in Europe, as Congress shall think fit to order” (Wharton, Revol. Dipl. Corr description begins Francis Wharton, ed., The Revolutionary Diplomatic Correspondence of the United States (6 vols.; Washington, 1889). description ends ., VI, 600). For the long background of the effort to include in the definitive treaty “important commercial stipulations” and other additions to, or modifications of, the preliminary articles of peace, 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, 437, n. 4; 476, and n. 2; 477, nn. 4, 5; VI, 356; 357, n. 17; 395; 449, n. 10; 453, n. 7; 495, n. 13; JM Notes, 6 May, and n. 3; 30 May, n. 3; JM to Jefferson, 13 May, and nn. 6–9; 10 June, and nn. 5, 6, 8, 21, 26; Instructions to Peace Commissioners, 20 May; JM to Randolph, 20 May, and nn. 4–6, 13, 14; 10 June; 17 June, n. 6; 30 Aug., and n. 2; 8 Sept., and n. 4; Instruction to Delegates, 23–24 May, and n. 1; Harrison to Delegates, 31 May, n. 2; Delegates to Harrison, 14–15 Aug. 1783, and n. 7.

4Papers 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, 452; 453, n. 5; 495, n. 13; Jones to JM, 8 June; Delegates to Harrison, 14–15 Aug.; 20 Sept., n. 25; JM to Jefferson, 20 Sept. 1783, and n. 13.

5The proclamation of King George III of Great Britain, of which one copy was enclosed by Adams in his dispatch of 14 July and another copy by the American peace commissioners in theirs of 27 July, had been published in the Pennsylvania Packet of 11 September (Wharton, Revol. Dipl. Corr description begins Francis Wharton, ed., The Revolutionary Diplomatic Correspondence of the United States (6 vols.; Washington, 1889). description ends ., VI, 540–42, 600; JCC description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds., Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789 (34 vols.; Washington, 1904–37). description ends , XXV, 587). This proclamation sought to confine most of the trade with the British West Indies to “British subjects in British-built ships, owned by his majesty’s subjects.” They alone could transport naval stores, lumber, livestock, vegetables, grain, flour, bread, and biscuits originating in the United States to “any of his Majesty’s West India Islands” and carry “to any port or place within” the United States return cargoes of “rum, sugar, molasses, coffee, cocoa-nuts, ginger, and pimento.” As Adams noted in his dispatch: “One of the most remarkable things in this proclamation is the omission of salt-fish, an article which the islands want as much as any that is enumerated. This is, no doubt, to encourage their own fishery, and that of Nova Scotia, as well as a blow aimed at ours.”

6On 29 September 1783 Congress adopted the portion of the report of the committee, mentioned in n. 1, recommending the appointment of a committee “who shall prepare an address to the States upon the subject of Commerce, stating to them the Regulations which are prevailing in Europe, the evils to be apprehended therefrom, and the steps proper to be taken to guard against and to Counteract them” (JCC description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds., Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789 (34 vols.; Washington, 1904–37). description ends , XXV, 617–18, 628–29). The proposed address, in the hand of Thomas FitzSimons, was submitted on 9 October 1783, but was not adopted by Congress before the close of that year (JCC description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds., Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789 (34 vols.; Washington, 1904–37). description ends , XXV, 661–64, 664, n. 1).

7By “former recommendations,” JM meant the refusal of the Rhode Island General Assembly to approve the proposed 5 per cent impost amendment of the Articles of Confederation and the plan for restoring public credit (Randolph to JM, 15 May, n. 2). One of the most important industries of Rhode Island was the distilling of rum from sugar and molasses of West Indian origin (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, 375, n. 15; 414–15; VI, 168, n. 28; 298–99; JM to Randolph, 27 May 1783, and citations in n. 5).

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