James Madison Papers

From James Madison to William Bradford, [30 October–5 November] 1779

To William Bradford

RC (Historical Society of Pennsylvania). Large portions are torn from the top of the first two pages and the bottom of the third page. The cover sheet, date, salutation, complimentary close, and signature are missing. The handwriting is JM’s, while the content of the letter and its presence in the Bradford papers combine to identify the addressee.

[Williamsburg, 30 October–5 November 1779]1

satisfaction, a visit from

I must own as your not

any beneficial affects fro[m]

a satisfaction should be

your health, than that

the waters have been as

I flatter myself they have

for a confirmation of it to

future season when it may be convenient for you to extend your ride as far as Orange; where I may generally be found in those months in which the Springs are most used.2

The abrupt arrival of the French on the Coast of Georgia will have reached you long before this.3 Reports already begin to prevail that the British Army is in part if not wholly captivated. It will be a great disappointment to me I confess if many of them escape. This fortunate event will thoroughly cure them of their rapacious zeal for the rich & flourishing Metropolis of S. Carolina. The people in that quarter have been sorely infested with them for the greatest part of a year, and will no doubt cooperate, by the most decisive exertions4

rate of Articles best [?]

Every days experience

[ex]pedients can extricate

[reme?]dial Tax imposed in

tly the demand for Money

no reliance on foreign loan[s]5

[ev]er afforded any sensible

relief, nor ca[n] any [relief be expected?] as long as our money is in a course of depreciation. The sale of confiscated estates or of unappr[opr]iated lands can have little influence I fear on an evil of such magnitude. The most natural & extensive remedy we can apply seems to be taxation & Congress seem to have stretched it as far as they thought they could prudently venture. Their requisition from the States as well as I recollect, for the current year amounts to no less than 60 Million of Dollars. Most people supposed when it was made, that it wd. be at lea[s]t equal to this years expenditures, and when aided with other resources would produce a favourable revolution in the State of our Finances. I own I was myself of this number. But the present state of things threaten a total disappointmt. of their expectations. And from the Journals of Congress a copy of which has lately fallen into my hands, I find that on the 4th. of June last the emissions of the present year amounted to rather more than 35 Million of Dollars; which, as the last 2 or 3 emissions appear to have been double the preceeding ones, & the [n]ecessity of a progressive enlargement in the remaing seven Months will con[ti]nue[,] will probably swell them by end of the year to 100 Million. Should this be the case the Continental debt instead of being aided by the taxes of this year, will be higher by 40 Million of Drs. than at the beginning of it.6 Is it not manifest then that untill some measures are generally taken to prevent the further emission of money whilst the redemption of that already emitted is going on that the public credit must every day grow worse & worse? What [bett?]er views Congress may have I am a total stra[nger to.]

I am somewhat astonished as they must be fu[ll]y sensible of the evil and have been a[p]prized of the remedy adopted here7 that they hav[e not] recommended it to the other States. It promises I think certain relief, and the people in general as far as I can find are so much of the same

was ever less unaccepta[ble]

I have dwelt so

room to add

off on my return to

always give me infin[ite]

unalterable friendship.

1JM’s loss of his horse in Williamsburg late in October (see above, advertisement in Virginia Gazette, 25 October 1779) makes it almost certain that he was still there, attending the Council of State, when he wrote this letter. Its missing date is suggested by the nature of JM’s remarks about the military operations in Georgia. His mention of reports that the British army, or some part of it, had been “captivated” appears to reflect his reading of the sanguine account in the 30 October 1779 issue of the Virginia Gazette (Williamsburg, Clarkson and Davis). On the other hand he probably had not seen this paper for 6 November, with its much less cheering word about the military situation in Georgia. In the second paragraph of the letter JM’s statement that the British army had infested South Carolina “for the greatest part of a year” also helps a little to solve the problem of the date. Having captured Savannah on 29 December 1778, General Augustine Prevost and his troops were raiding along the South Carolina coast early in January 1779 to within seventy miles of Charleston and, after a number of reverses, to the outskirts of that city by early May (JM to Bradford, 17 July 1779, n. 5).

2In this much mutilated section, JM is apparently suggesting that since his friend was still in poor health, he should try “the waters” in Virginia and visit Montpelier during the trip. Because of illness, Bradford had resigned his commission as lieutenant colonel in the Pennsylvania continental line on 1 April 1779.

3Beginning early in September 1779, a French fleet and landing force under Admiral Charles Henri Hector, Comte d’Estaing, together with American troops commanded by General Benjamin Lincoln, surrounded General Prevost’s troops in Savannah. An assault upon them by land and by sea failed on 9 October 1779. About ten days later the French fleet sailed away and Lincoln’s army withdrew to Charleston (Christopher Ward, War of the Revolution, II, 688–94).

4Following “exertions,” a section of the letter, perhaps comprising seven lines of text, is missing.

5During 1779 Congress borrowed 2,407,800 livres (approximately $24,078,000 in specie) from France (Journals of the Continental Congress, XV, 1442).

6During 1779 Congress emitted bills of credit totaling $65,141,120. Of this amount $35,000,680 had been issued up to 4 June. Therefore JM’s prediction of $100,000,000 to be issued during 1779 was much too gloomy. Congress attempted to back its paper money issues by requisitioning $60,000,000 from the states (Virginia’s share, $9,600,000) in that year. If they all had paid their quotas in full, the national debt, exclusive of foreign loans, would have increased by only $5,141,260 during the year, rather than the $40,000,000 anticipated by JM. On 1 September 1779 Congress resolved that the bills of credit to be issued during that calendar year, when added to those outstanding from earlier emissions, should not exceed $200,000,000. This ceiling was reached by the close of 1779 (Journals of the Continental Congress, XIII, 28; XIV, 626, 1013–14; XV, 1324–25). JM’s interest in the financial situation, manifested in this letter, led him to prepare an essay on “Money” sometime late in 1779 or early in 1780 (q.v.).

7By “remedy adopted here” JM may allude to the actions mentioned in nn. 2 and 3 to his letter to Bradford of 17 July 1779 (q.v.).

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