James Madison Papers

To James Madison from William Bradford, 5 November 1773

From William Bradford

FC (Historical Society of Pennsylvania).

Philada. Novr. 5th. 1773.

My dear friend,

Your last reached me in a very happy time1 as I was on the point of determining what profession I would choose & absolutely fixing my choice which had long been wavering between law & trade! As your sentiments coincided with those of my [other] friends2 I have begun the study of the law & intend agreeable to your advice to cultiv[ate in]3 every vacant hour an acquaintance with divinity tho at present I have no expectations of a change of public character. Yet in a place where deistical sentiments almost universally prevail I look upon it as absolutely necessary to be able to defend as well as believe4 the Christian religion. I am studying under Mr E. Shippen5 & at present am reading Blackstone Commentaries on the Laws of England which I am most pleased with & find but little of that disagreeable dryness I was taught to expect.

I can give you but little information with regard to the affairs of College which however I believe are in a flourishing way. I can only say that the late commencement did honour to the Graduates & will probably increase the reputation of Nassau-Hall as there was a very numerous & polite assembly composed of persons from all parts of the Continent.

I think I told you in a former letter that Mr Devins had resigned his Tutorship & retired to New-England. There he spent the summer in galloping pegasus6 and publishing poems. He has now taken refuge again in the arms of his Alma Mater & was elected Tutor7 in the pla[ce] of Mr Smith8 who has resigned. Dr Witherspoon & Mr Houston are by now [?]9 gone to the southard & so you will probably see one or both of them.

I have the pleasure to inform you that Mr Ervin has a Call from Neshaminy (about 20 miles from this place) which I make no doubt but he will accept.10 I hope Mr Smith may be as well settled. He preached here some time ago & was much liked. His sermon was indeed ingenious & instructive but there was a Luxuriance in it that greatly needed Phocion’s pruning knife.11 This however is a fault that age will correct.

While you are complaining of a want of circulating cash we complain of a redundancy. There are now abroad [a] vast number of false dollars so ingeniously counterfieted as scarcely to be distinguished from the genuine. There is also a great quantity of counterfieted Bill[s] made by one ford & uttered by several gentlemen of family & fortune in New Jersey. Can we blame the poor wretches who counterfiet the Coin thro’ dread of Poverty when even the “Ministers of Justice,” of ample fortunes are detected in doing it.12

I have indeed many opportunities of consulting the English papers & know what books are published but can seldom learn their Character. I would therefore advise you to take the monthly review13 which will give you an account of all the books which are published in London & extracts from them: so that if you do not chuse to depend upon their Judgment you may judge for yourself. The post will set of[f] very soon & lest I should miss sending this letter, now I must conclude somewhat abruptly: If I can oblige you in any manner I beg you will command me freely. To oblige a friend is obliging myself. When you write to Mr Wallace remember me to him

And be assured my Dr Sir that I am yours &c.

W—— B——d

I have sent a few phamplets by Mr Wilkinson14 which I hope you will receive.

1This word and the many other italicized words in this letter, unless otherwise noted, were written in shorthand by Bradford in his copybook. For comment about his shorthand, see Bradford to JM, 1 March 1773, n. 11.

2Although the shorthand symbols used here by Bradford stand only for “my friends,” he either unintentionally omitted the symbol for “other” or felt it was too obvious to include.

3The editors have added the bracketed letters, presuming that they are what Bradford intended to write.

4The words “defend” and “believe” are italicized because Bradford underlined them for emphasis, but he used shorthand for “as well as.”

5Edward Shippen (1729–1806), member of a prominent Philadelphia family, was a provincial councilor and a distinguished lawyer and judge, who became chief justice of the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania in 1799. His daughter, Margaret, married Benedict Arnold. Shippen was so highly regarded for his learning and integrity that his mild loyalism during the Revolution did not prejudice the success of his later career (Dictionary of American Biography, XVII, 116–17).

6That is, writing poems.

7Suffering from temporary attacks of insanity, Richard Devens was obliged to resign from the faculty permanently in 1774.

8After three years on the faculty, Samuel Stanhope Smith accepted a pastorate in Virginia.

9The meaning of Bradford’s shorthand symbol is not clear.

10Nathaniel Irwin not only accepted the call but continued to be Presbyterian pastor at Neshaminy until his death in 1812.

11Phocion, Athenian statesman and general, countered the expansive eloquence of Demosthenes with a blunt recital of “plain facts” about the military weakness of his city.

12Between 1768 and 1773, Samuel Ford, a New Jersey ironmaster, skilfully forged various paper currency issues of New York, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania. His arrest in Morris County, N.J., in July 1773, his escape, his avoidance of recapture during a far-flung and exciting chase, and the trials and sentencing to death of several of his real or alleged accomplices, were much in the news. Popular excitement was the greater because “ministers of justice” charged Ford and his band with stealing over £6,000 from the New Jersey treasury in 1768. Perhaps with justification, many people believed that the actual culprits in this instance were high-placed colonial officials (New Jersey Archives description begins William A. Whitehead et al., eds., Documents Relating to the Colonial History of the State of New Jersey (1st ser., 42 vols.; Newark, Trenton, Paterson, 1880–1949). description ends , 1st ser., XXVIII and XXIX, passim; Kenneth Scott, Counterfeiting in Colonial America [New York, 1957], pp. 239–51; Andrew M. Sherman, Historic Morristown, New Jersey: The Story of Its First Century [Morristown, 1905], pp. 117–38).

13Bradford probably refers to The Monthly Review (1749–1845), an influential literary magazine, “printed for R. Griffiths” in London.

14Probably John Wilkinson (ca. 1741–1813), proprietor of the Albemarle Furnace Company, which he founded in 1771. During the Revolutionary War he was commissioned by the state to repair and operate other ironworks in the county. He probably still had business connections in Pennsylvania which required occasional trips northward, for in 1769 he had been in partnership with James Old, an ironmaster in Lancaster County, Pa. (Edgar Woods, Albemarle County in Virginia … [Charlottesville, 1901], pp. 56–57).

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