James Madison Papers
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From James Madison to Edmund Randolph, 26 November 1782

To Edmund Randolph

RC (LC: Madison Papers). Unsigned but in JM’s hand. Docketed by Randolph, “J. Madison Novr. 26. 1782.” Except where otherwise noted, the italicized words are those enciphered by JM in the official code.

Philada. Novr. 26th. 1782

My dear Friend

The Governor in his letter to the Delegates of the 8th. of the prest. month, after observing that the great scarcity of cash in Virga. will put it out of her power to comply with the demands of Congress, unless the Financier will accept Tobo. in payment, desires us to sound the latter on that subject. We accordingly called on Mr. Morris, and to our astonishment were told that a p[r]oposition to this very effect, and to the amount of sixty thousand dollars had been a considerable time lying before the executive[,] that his Agent had been instructed to allow the current price and that he wished to have obtained the tobacco because it could be immediately sent under a fortunate convoy to Holland where its influence on public credit might be critical and important.1 Either therefore Mr. M. must have been basely deceived by his agent which can hardly be supposed or the governor must in the first place have rejected a fair offer2 and in the next imposed on us a very nugatory and aukward3 negotiation As we concealed from the Superintendt. that our enquiries originated with the governor he escaped the risk to which he had exposed his character with that minister I cannot pass over this circumstance without a lamentation on the obloquy which Virginia brings on herself by submitting to be eclipsed by even the feeble efforts of other states4 The monthly lash of the Receiver’s proclamation, which has roused so many other states into some degree of emulation has produced no effect on her In our conversation with Mr. M. we were indeed told that Mr. Webb had a prospect of between two and three thousand dollars But if any thing can add to the mortification which we feel at the receipt of nothing it will be the receipt of so beggarly a sum I confide therefore that there is at least enough of pride in the state to prevent it5

We are likely to have on our hands near 200 souls carried from Kentucky about 2 years ago into captivity in Canada, and lately discharged by the Governor of that Province.6 A part of them are already arrived. They are all in great distress and have been enabled to proceed this far only by the benevolent provisions of the Commander in cheif. Humanity will not suffer us to leave them unassisted with the means of reaching their homes, or at least their State. But whence are the means to be derived? To draw bills for a sufficient sum without warrant, and even without a certainty that they can be honoured is a very painful experiment. To resort to the Coffers of Congress into which we shall probably be reminded that not a single shilling has been contributed by Virga. in favor of Citizens too whose misfortunes will be traced up to disrespect to recommendations of Congress, will be far from relieving our feelings.7 Having not yet conferred with my Colleague8 on the subject, the result of these perplexities is uncertain.

For want of something more interesting, I will epitomize for you the proceedings of Congress on Friday last.9 I have already informed you, if my recollection does not fail me, that Congress long since recd. a letter from Mr. H. L. informing them of his di[s]charge from captivity, and of his having authorized an expectation in the British ministry that Cornwallis should in return be discharged from his parole.10 Shortly after a letter from Docr. F. acquainted Congress that at the pressing instance of Mr. L. in consideration of the power given him to exchange B——g——e for him and of the reasonableness of the thing he had executed an instrument setting Cornwallis at full liberty, untill the pleasure of Congress should be known.11 These papers had been committed, and the Committee had reported a ratification of the instrument. After some debate a recommittment took place.12 In this state the business remained untill the day abovementioned,13 when in order to satisfy some members who had called for a report, and to enable the Committee to adapt their report to the sense of Congress, a motion was made to instruct the Committee to report a proper act of rati &c.14 On this motion the merits of the case, which as connected with our national character15 may be deemed of some moment, fell under general discussion. In support of the motion it was argued that whenever a public Minister entered into unauthorized engagements, the only alternative which presented itself to the Sovereign, was either to ratify the engagements or to recal the minister unless indeed he16 should prefer both: that Congress, having even refused to permit the minister in question to decline his appointment17 had therefore no option left but to support him in what he had taken upon himself: that nothing could be more preposterous than to detain him in so dignified & confidential a service, and at the same time to degrade him in the estimation both of his friends and enemies, by a public disavowal of his conduct: that it was particularly improper to send him into negociations with the latter under the impression of supposed obligations to them that a part of this reasoning was applicable to the part which Dr. F.18 another minister had taken in the measure[;] that the Marquis de la Fayette who in consequence of the liberation of Cornwallis had with the approbation of the Ministers, undertaken an exchange of several of his family,19 would also participate in the mortification; that finally it was greatly overrating the importance of Cornwallis to sacrifice all these considerations to the policy or gratification of prolonging his captivity

On the adverse side it was said that the British Govt. having treated Mr. L. not as a prisoner of war but as a Traitor, having refused to exchange him for Genl. B——g——e when the offer was made, and having declared by the British commanders at N. Y. that he had been freely discharged,20 neither Mr. L. nor Congress could be bound either in honor or justice, to render an equivalent, whilst policy strongly inculcated that so barbarous an instrument of war and so odious an object to the people of the U. S. should be held as long possible in the chains of captivity;21 that as the latest advices rendered it probable that Mr. L. was at this time on his return to America,22 the dignity of the Commission for peace could not suffer from any mark of disapprobation which might lie on his public conduct; that Docr. F’s character was guarded against injury in the case by an express reservation in his act for the allowance or disapprobation of Congress; that the same might be said with respect to the Marquis de la Fayette; that the solemn declaration made by Congress agst. any partial exchanges untill a cartell should be established on national principles23 would not admit even of a ratification of an exchange antecedent to the declaration.

These were the ostensible reasons for the opposite opinions on this question. We may well suppose however, that with some members at least24 they were secretly corroberated, on one side by personal attachment to Mr. L. and on the other by a dislike to his character and a distrust excited by25 circumstances which I some time ago related to you.26 It is to be observed at the same time27 that several members who admitted the force of this last consideration, were led by the arguments first stated, to oppose the opinion of those who urged it. The Question was at length suspended at the request of some new members who wished for further information. There is some reason to believe that it will be followed by an attempt to rescind the appointment28

The obstinacy of Rhode Island in rejecting the Impost, is a subject of very general and pointed crimination not only among the public creditors and their friends29 who deem it equivalent to a denial of justice but among the most enlightened patrons of the foederal interests who pronounce it a blow to our credit abroad as well as our future credit at home30 And in truth who can combine this consideration with the paltry payments on the last requisition of Congress and not shudder31 at the prospect This obstinacy on the part of R. I. is supposed, on good grounds, to be much cherished by the limited manner in which other states have acceded to the impost from which she infers a latent repugnance to the measure. Would it not then be prudent in Virginia to revise and enlarge her act of compliance?32 If her example should prove less efficatious than might be wished it would at least have a conciliating effect on other states and gain her general credit I see no possible objection; unless indeed, she wishes the plan to be frustrated; in which case I can only33 give it as my firm opinion that a thorough knowledge of public affairs would speedily reconcile her to it. If your own ideas correspond with those here expressed, and the temper of the Legislature be not unfavorable, you will give such suggestions as may be best adapted to the object, and make them the subject of a future paragraph.34

The copiousness of your favor of the 16th.35 is a flattering presage of legislative communications. The reply of Mr. Jefferson to Mr. M——s’s queries is more accessible than you were aware. I have had a perusal of it, and have taken a few extracts.36 All therefore that will be necessary on your part will be to specify your commands.37 A transcript of the entire work I presume might be obtained, but it is too voluminous for any other pen than a hired one, to wch. perhaps objections might arise from delicacy. My extracts would have been fuller had I not taken it for granted that Mr. J. had retained a copy of which I might herafter avail myself.

A letter from Genl W. of the 19th. informs Congress that the residue of the B. fleet was about leaving N. Y. that 25 transports had arrived there from Quebec prepared before their sailing for the reception of troops, and that he had rcd. thro’ two channels intelligence that troops were actually embarking, altho’ he cd. not vouch for it. Another acct. had also arrived of the evacuation of Charlestown, the foreign troops having gone to Halifax & the British to the West Indies.38

Col: Hamilton took his seat in Congress yesterday as a Delegate for the State of N. Y.39 Mr. Peters, Mr. Fitsimmons & Genl. Mifflin have attended some days as members for Pennsa.40

1See Harrison to Virginia Delegates, 8 November, and n. 9; Virginia Delegates to Harrison, 26 November 1782, n. 11. Besides being economically advantageous to Virginia both in payment of her quota to Congress and in providing a market for her staple, a shipment of tobacco to the Netherlands might have a “critical and important” bearing upon the negotiation of a commercial treaty with the States-General or of loans from Dutch bankers. See Papers of Madison description begins William T. Hutchinson, William M. E. Rachal, et al., eds., The Papers of James Madison (5 vols. to date; Chicago, 1962——). description ends , IV, 403, and n. 3; Virginia Delegates to Harrison, 17 September 1782, and n. 2.

2In encoding the first syllable of “offer,” JM wrote 592, signifying “per,” rather than 594, standing for “off.” Daniel Clark, the agent of Robert Morris, had not made an offer to Governor Harrison. After conferring with the Virginia delegates, Morris probably renewed his directive to Clark. In a letter to Harrison on 6 December, Clark asked to be informed of how much tobacco Virginia would provide “for the Service of Congress” (MS in Virginia State Library). See Harrison to Virginia Delegates, 7 December 1782, and n. 2.

3Lacking a cipher for “aw,” JM used 276, symbolizing either “au” or “av.”

4JM interlineated “even.” His “lamentation” was occasioned by the fact that Virginia had paid no part of the sum requisitioned from her for 1782 by Congress. See Papers of Madison description begins William T. Hutchinson, William M. E. Rachal, et al., eds., The Papers of James Madison (5 vols. to date; Chicago, 1962——). description ends , III, 301, n. 2; IV, 255, n. 3; 269–70; 283–84; 307, n. 9; 388, n. 13; JM to Randolph, 16–17 September 1782, n. 13.

5For George Webb, who probably had informed Morris of the “prospect,” see Randolph to JM, 16 November 1782, and n. 17. By “I confide,” JM meant either “I trust” or “I am confident.”

6Lieutenant General Sir Frederick Haldimand (1718–1791). See JM to Pendleton, 15 October 1782, n. 6.

7JM underlined rather than encoded “can.” See n. 4, above; Pickering to Virginia Delegates, 23 November, and nn. 2 and 6; Virginia Delegates to Harrison, 26 November 1782, and n. 11. The “recommendations of Congress” were those of 23 July and 10 August 1781 calling upon individuals to help relieve the distress of exiles from South Carolina and Georgia by lending or donating money to a fund which would be “lodged in the treasury office” (JCC description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds., Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789 (34 vols.; Washington, 1904–37). description ends , XXI, 782–83, 852; Papers of Madison description begins William T. Hutchinson, William M. E. Rachal, et al., eds., The Papers of James Madison (5 vols. to date; Chicago, 1962——). description ends , III, 245, n. 2). Realizing that Virginians had contributed nothing for that purpose, JM was reluctant to request continental funds to aid exiles from his own state. On the other hand, to ask the British to bear the cost of returning the Virginia captives to their homes was no longer a feasible expedient, because its use in connection with South Carolina exiles had much embarrassed Washington in May 1782 (ibid., IV, 315; 317, n. 35).

8Joseph Jones, the only other Virginia delegate in Philadelphia.

9In this paragraph and the two paragraphs immediately following, JM would “epitomize” by using words and phrases taken from his notes on debates, 22 November 1782 (q.v.).

10From JM’s letter of 24 September (q.v.), Randolph could infer that Henry Laurens had been freed, but until the present letter JM had not informed Randolph of Laurens’ share in releasing Cornwallis from his parole. See Comment and Motion in re Laurens, 19 September 1782, and n. 1.

11Ibid., and n. 1. The initials stand for Burgoyne. Immediately following “known,” JM deleted what appears to have been, “From Another letter received from the Marquis de la Fayette it appeared that he extended it so far.” Doubt is warranted about the accuracy of the last five words in the rendition, but if they are what JM wrote, the “it” refers to “instrument” in the preceding sentence.

13That is, 22 November 1782. See n. 9, above.

14Having just encoded “ratification,” JM here enciphered only the first two syllables of the word and added “&c.” to stand for the code numbers, 735, 485, 25, of the remaining syllables. See Notes on Debates, 22 November 1782, and n. 6.

15See Papers of Madison description begins William T. Hutchinson, William M. E. Rachal, et al., eds., The Papers of James Madison (5 vols. to date; Chicago, 1962——). description ends , IV, 327; 328; 330, n. 5.

16The antecedent of this pronoun is “Sovereign.”

17On 20 September 1782 Congress refused to accept Henry Laurens’ resignation (JCC description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds., Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789 (34 vols.; Washington, 1904–37). description ends , XXIII, 593).

18Benjamin Franklin.

19See n. 11, above; also Notes on Debates, 22 November 1782, n. 18.

20See Papers of Madison description begins William T. Hutchinson, William M. E. Rachal, et al., eds., The Papers of James Madison (5 vols. to date; Chicago, 1962——). description ends , III, 232–33; 322–23; IV, 416, n. 6; JM to Randolph, 9 August 1782, n. 5. JM underlined rather than encoded the word “freely.”

23Congress had so declared on 16 October 1782 (JCC description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds., Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789 (34 vols.; Washington, 1904–37). description ends , XXIII, 661).

24JM interlineated “with some members at least.”

25JM wrote 16, meaning “France,” rather than 160, the cipher for “by.”

27JM interlineated “at the same time.”

28For “some new members,” see JM’s final paragraph. Although JM had been summarizing the debate of 22 November, he was referring here to the action taken three days later by Congress at the close of another discussion of the same subject. See Notes on Debates, 25 November, n. 12; JM to Randolph, 17 December, n. 17. After 25 November 1782 Congress took no further action concerning the status of Laurens until 1 April 1783, when he was authorized to return to America (JCC description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds., Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789 (34 vols.; Washington, 1904–37). description ends , XXIV, 225–26).

29JM interlineated the ciphers for “and their friends.” See Notes on Debates, 20 November 1782.

31JM replaced the word “trivial” with “paltry.” For the “ud” in “shudder,” JM inadvertently wrote 433 meaning “ready” rather than the correct cipher 423.

32For the decision of the Virginia General Assembly at its session of November 1781 to withhold ratification of the impost amendment until all other states had agreed to it, see Papers of Madison description begins William T. Hutchinson, William M. E. Rachal, et al., eds., The Papers of James Madison (5 vols. to date; Chicago, 1962——). description ends , IV, 221, n. 11. For the action of the October 1782 session of the legislature with regard to the proposed amendment, see Pendleton to JM, 9 December 1782.

33JM interlineated from the semicolon through this word a deleted “Should their decision be otherwise, I can only say that I seriously[?] believe.”

34For his response to this request, see Randolph’s letter of 13 December 1782.

35Q.v.

40As delegates from Pennsylvania, Richard Peters and Thomas FitzSimons first attended Congress in 1782 on 18 November, and Thomas Mifflin on 20 November (Papers of Madison description begins William T. Hutchinson, William M. E. Rachal, et al., eds., The Papers of James Madison (5 vols. to date; Chicago, 1962——). description ends , II, 46, n. 4; JCC description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds., Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789 (34 vols.; Washington, 1904–37). description ends , XXIII, 726, 739).

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