James Madison Papers

To James Madison from William Bradford, 25 December 1773

From William Bradford

FC (Historical Society of Pennsylvania).

Philada. Dec. 25. 1773.

My dear Sir,

The gratefull manner in which you mention the1 few trifles I sent you gives me a most sensible pleasure as it [is]2 a new proof of you[r] friendship. Beleive me my freind I esteem it [a] favor that you put it in my power to oblige; & therefore the best way of showing your gratitude will be to command me freely when I have it in my power to serve you.

I am glad to hear you intend to cultivate an acquaintance with the Law as I promise myself much pleasure and improvement from your remarks upon it. I agree with you that every gentleman who has health & Leisure ought to have a tolerable acquaintance with the Laws & constitution of his Country: yet it is no uncommon thing to find persons of rank & fortune who are utter strangers to both. Blackstone remarks (and every man who is conversant with the world remarks) that there is no nation under heaven that have so valuable a constitution as the English & no nation who [are] so ignorant of the constitution of their Country.3 ’Tis in this point I find myself very deficient & I verily beleive I know more of the constitution of Antient Greece & Rome than of that of Great-Britain. This was owing to my ignorance of the English History which I had determined (rashly indeed) not to read till I had read all that precceeded it. I finding it impossible to be an universal Historian I propose4 reading Hume History as soon as time will permit.5

I am at present endeavouring to gain an insight into the Practice of our Courts & therefore have not time to investigate the principles of Government & the English constitution with that accuracy I intend hereafter to do. Any Question you may propose on that subject will be highly acceptable: not that I can give you a satisfactory answer, but because it will make me attend to points, which tho important, I might pass over without paying the attention they deserve. You will Give me Liberty in my turn to consult you on any difficulty I may meet with & thus make your correspondence as instructive as entertaining. Scipio used daily to thank the Gods that they had introduced him to the Acquaintance of Polybius;6 nor have I less reason to be thankful that I once enjoyed your company and now you[r] correspondence.

Mr Breckingridge is well & still in Maryland7 Mr Freneau passed thro’ here a few days ago but I could not get a sight of him. He intends sailing next spring for England to take Orders.8 All your friends this way are well. But I am sorry to inform you that you have lost another of your fellow-Graduates; I mean Neddy Chesman.9 His exit was very sudden. He took to his bed on Sunday Evening & the next Saturday was a Corps. Tis just too weeks since he died.

I have enquired & find the Exchange to be at 79. but it is probable it will be lower in the spring. I will inform you how it is, should I write again before I see you. I need not tell you what pleasure Your intention of coming this way gives me. Pray do not let any thing but absolute Necessity frustrate it.

I enclose you an account of the Destruction of the Tea at Boston.10 We have taken a more gentle but full as effectual a method of avoiding the duty. [Th(en) an account of the Arrival of Capt Ayers, treatment of him & his departure.]11

I am Dr Sir

W B Junr

1Italicized words were written in shorthand by Bradford in his copybook.

2Bradford had repeated “it.”

3Bradford might have largely justified this comment by citing William Blackstone, Commentaries on the Laws of England (4 vols.; Oxford, 1765–69), I, 5–6, 51–52.

4Bradford wrote “have con-” at the bottom of one page and “propose” at the top of a new page of his copybook.

5David Hume, The History of England, from the Invasion of Julius Caesar to the Revolution in 1688 (5 vols.; London, 1754–62). Judging from his diaries, preserved by the Historical Society of Pennsylvania, Bradford did not find time to read this work until May and June 1776.

6Although they are not altogether pertinent, Bradford may have had in mind the remarks attributed to Scipio Africanus the Younger by Cicero in his De republica i. 21 and ii. 14; also The Histories of Polybius, chap. xxxi, line 24.

7Hugh Henry Brackenridge continued as headmaster of a school in Somerset County, Md., until 1776.

8Philip Freneau, having given up his teaching position at Brackenridge’s school, was probably on his way north when he passed through Philadelphia. Although he studied theology in 1773–1774, he never went to England to be ordained as an Anglican clergyman (Lewis Leary, That Rascal Freneau, pp. 45–52).

9For Edmund Cheeseman’s participation in the graduating exercises of the class of 1771, see 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., XXVII, 583–84.

10Bradford probably inclosed a newspaper clipping telling about the Boston Tea Party of 16 December 1773.

11The brackets are in Bradford’s copybook. The “en” is an editorial insert. In his letter to JM, Bradford likely told him that the arrival on Christmas day in the Delaware River of Captain Ayres and his ship, “Polly,” loaded with East India Company tea, gave many Philadelphians a welcome opportunity to express by forceful action their unrestrained enthusiasm over the news of the Boston Tea Party. With Bradford’s father as perhaps their chief leader, they warned Captain Ayres that, although he might replenish his ship’s stores, he could only avoid a coat of tar and feathers by speedily betaking himself, his vessel, and its tea, back to sea. This the captain did on 27 December. Bradford dated his letter 25 December but evidently waited to post it until the afternoon of the 27th or later (Frederick D. Stone, “How the Landing of Tea Was Opposed in Philadelphia by Colonel William Bradford and Others in 1773,” Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography, XV [1891], 385–93; J. Thomas Scharf and Thompson Westcott, History of Philadelphia, I, 285–87).

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