James Madison Papers

From James Madison to Thomas Jefferson, 23 June 1780

To Thomas Jefferson

RC (LC: Madison Papers).

Philadelphia June 23d. 1780.

Dear Sir

Nothing material has taken place since my last. The fact is confirmed that Clinton has returned to N.Y. with part of the Southern army, and has joined Kniphausen. They are at present maneuvering for purposes not absolutely known, but most probably in order to draw Gnl Washington to an action in which they suppose he may be disabled to give the necessary co-operation to the french armament.1 Could they succeed in drawing him from his strong position, the result indeed ought to be exceedingly feared. He is weak in numbers beyond all suspicion, and under as great apprehension from famine as from the Enemy. Unless very speedy & extensive reinforcements are recvd. from the Eastern States which I believe are exerting themselves, the issue of the Campain must be equally disgraceful to our Councils & disgus[t]ful to our Allies. Our greatest hopes of being able [to] feed them are founded on a patriotic scheme of the opulent Merchts of this City who have already subscribed nearly £3,000,000 and will very soon complete that sum, the immediate object of which is to procure and transport to the Army 3,000,000,000 of rations and 300 Hhds of rum.2 Congress for the support of this bank and for the security and indemnification of the Subscribers, have pledged the faith of the United States & agreed to deposit Bills of Exchange in Europe to the Amount of £150,000 Sterling, which are not however to be made use of unless other3 means of discharging this Debt shd. be inadequate.4 With sincere regard I am Yr. Obt Servt

J Madison Junr

1Turning over the command of the British forces in the South to General Charles Cornwallis, General Henry Clinton and a large portion of those troops sailed from Charleston early in June 1780 and reached Staten Island on the 17th and 18th of that month. General Wilhelm von Knyphausen (1716–1800) had been in immediate command of the British in the New York City area during Clinton’s six months’ absence in the South. The “manoeuvering” was mostly along the western shore of the Hudson River from its mouth north to the American stronghold at West Point. On the date of JM’s letter, a strong British patrol attacked an outpost of Washington’s army at Springfield, N.J. (Harry Miller Lydenberg, ed., Archibald Robertson, Lieutenant-General Royal Engineers: His Diaries and Sketches in America, 1762–1780 [New York, 1930], pp. 230–33).

2JM should have written £300,000 and 3,000,000 rations.

3JM inadvertently wrote “other” twice.

4Although Elbridge Gerry had suggested an association of merchants throughout the United States to assure adequate food supplies for the army, Robert R. Livingston apparently was the first to propose the co-operation of Philadelphia merchants and bankers for this purpose. By 17 June, under the leadership of James Wilson, Thomas Willing, and Robert Morris, they had five hundred barrels of flour on their way to Washington’s troops. On 22 June, Congress unanimously accepted the “liberal offer” of the “associators” as “a distinguished proof of their patriotism” and guaranteed to reimburse them within six months. The five congressional resolutions on this subject do not mention the payment of 6 per cent interest per annum on the money advanced, but a pledge to this effect seems to have been a part of the bargain (Journals of the Continental Congress, XVII, 548–50; Burnett, Letters, V, 205, 220, 223, 225, 239, 255, 273, 277; Charles Page Smith, James Wilson: Founding Father, 1742–1798 [Chapel Hill, 1956], pp. 142–45). In a letter of 18 June 1780 to Washington, Philip Schuyler mentioned a promise made to him by the Virginia delegates to tell Jefferson that most of Washington’s army could not move unless Virginia supplied it with sixty thousand bushels of corn (Burnett, Letters description begins Edmund C. Burnett, ed., Letters of Members of the Continental Congress (8 vols.; Washington, D.C., 1921–36). description ends , V, 224). No known letter from the delegates to Jefferson refers to this promise.

Index Entries