James Madison Papers

To James Madison from Reverend James Madison, 3 August 1780

From Reverend James Madison

RC (LC: Madison Papers).

August 3d. 17801

I recd. your last of ye 18th. July, as well as ye preceeding, enclosing ye European Intelligence.2 I hope at last ye Blessings of peace cannot be far from us. If Russia adheres to her Memorial, and ye. Dutch have not lost their antient spirit, if ye Irish too proceed in their reasonable & just Demands, wh. I have no Doubt they will, because they are reasonable & just, I think ye. Pride of Britain cannot much longer induce them to prosecute so destructive a War.3 We are here in perfect Repose at present. The Arrival of ye. French Fleet has dissipated our apprehensions, and I doubt not, but ye lethargic Spirit of Virginia will enjoy her Slumbers. There is indeed a little Stir about ye. Troops to be raised, but it is rather ye. Stirring of a Man between sleeping & waking, than ye. vigorous Exertions of ye. more northern States, who seem to resemble ye Giant that has been refreshed with Wine.4

I expect about ye middle of this Month to set out for ye Mountains, so that I will not trouble you with writing, untill ye first of October.5 But is it true that I had like to have lost my valuable Correspondent & Friend. We hear that you have refused an important Place in a foreign Embassy. If so—ye Refusal does you Honour, but at ye same Time, I think, it wd. have been ye. highest Gratification to a Person who wd. have viewed ye. Improvements & ye Sta[tesmen?]6 with a philosophical Eye. And no Doubt all ye Honours America could confer wd. in Time have succeeded. I am glad however that you have preferred your Natale Solum, tho’ I do not think, I shd. have had Resolution to have withstood so alluring a Prospect. Not that I suppose ambitious motives ought to have or cd. have any Influence with you but ye. knowledge to be obtained from such an Appointment, wd. have had real weight.7

I have attempted to give a Course of Lectures upon Nat. History, with ye assistance of Buffon,8 and find ye Study both pleasing & useful. I think also that a useful Course of such Lectures might be published, and have serious Thoughts of preparing them for ye Press, if it can be done without Cost to myself of any Thing but my own Labour. Will you then be so good as to make Enquiry whether such a Publication, wh. will make but a small Vol. wd. meet with ye. Approbation of any of ye Philadelphia Printers so far as to undertake it, Whether they wd. allow me any Thing for ye Copy Right,—or if they will not do that, whether they will print reserving to myself a certain Nr of Copies.9

If I receive yr. Answer by ye. last of September, when I shall have returned, it will be Time eno’. If they will undertake ye Business, it shall be ready in ye Winter or Spring.

Having recd. a Letter from Dr Stiles of Yale Coll. I have taken ye liberty of enclosing one to him, wh. I must beg you wd. deliver to a Connecticut Member.10

Our Heat here, wh. I inclose you has been almost intolerable on Acct. of ye preceeding Temperature. I shall either write to Mr. Rittenhouse by this or ye next Post.11 But is there any Impropriety in inclosing a Letter to Members of Congress? I wish you wd mention, as I am unacquaint[ed] with ye Regulations.

I am, with ye. greatest Esteem

J. Madison

I hear by Majr. Nelson from ye. Southward, that a small advantage has been gained by ye No C. Militia over a Party of ye. Loyal Americans, new Levies in So Carolina.12

Some of ye Charlestown Families are fled here for Refuge.13

Will you mention to Ma. Mayard,14 if he shd. fall in yr. Way, that his Package is still here, and that I have had no oppy. of sending it, and almost despair of getting one.

1The letter was probably written at Williamsburg.

2Not found.

3As a protection against French, and especially against British, interference with neutral commerce, Empress Catherine the Great of Russia issued a Proclamation of Armed Neutrality on 29 February 1780. The Estates General of the Netherlands, after somewhat equivalent action on 24 April, joined Russia in the League of Armed Neutrality in November of that year. Other western European powers declared their adherence to the League in 1782 or 1783. It was designed to protect, by force if necessary, neutral ships and non-contraband cargoes against capture and confiscation by belligerents (Samuel Flagg Bemis, A Diplomatic History of the United States [rev. ed.; New York, 1942], pp. 37–41). Unrest in Ireland, in part stimulated by the American Rebellion, led Parliament between 1777 and 1782 to ease or remove entirely some of the religious, economic, and political disabilities against which the Irish had protested for many years.

4See Board of Admiralty Report, 26 May 1780, n. 2. In view of Governor Jefferson’s and the Assembly’s measures to reinforce the patriot army in South Carolina with Virginia troops, these remarks seem to exaggerate the lethargy. Madison was probably referring to the people of Virginia rather than to the commonwealth officials at Richmond.

5Probably he intended to go to his father’s and brother’s homes in Rockbridge County, Va.

6Manuscript torn.

7Except for Richard Henry Lee’s suggestion in October 1778 that JM serve as secretary to Philip Mazzei on his proposed mission to the Italian states to borrow money for Virginia’s use (Boyd, Papers of Jefferson description begins Julian P. Boyd et al., eds., The Papers of Thomas Jefferson (16 vols. to date; Princeton, N.J., 1950——). description ends , II, 215), this letter appears to be the only recorded mention of a possible overseas appointment for JM during the Revolution. Perhaps he was thought of in connection with one or another of the consulships, secretaryships, or special missions discussed in Congress during the summer of 1780. If JM really had an opportunity to go abroad on government service at that time, he may have declined to leave his “Natale Solum” (native soil) for the cryptic reason mentioned by him on 27 April 1785, in a letter to Jefferson: “I have some reason also to suspect that crossing the Sea would be unfriendly to a singular disease of my constitution” (Boyd, Papers of Jefferson description begins Julian P. Boyd et al., eds., The Papers of Thomas Jefferson (16 vols. to date; Princeton, N.J., 1950——). description ends , VIII, 115). Furthermore, JM had a number of short periods of illness during the summer of 1780 (Jameson to JM, 13 September 1780, n. 1).

8Georges Louis Leclerc, Comte de Buffon (1707–1788), Histoire naturelle, générale et particulière (44 vols.; Paris, 1749–1804).

9These lectures were apparently never published. “Copy Right” must have meant merely an author-publisher agreement, because no state had a copyright law until Connecticut enacted one in 1783 (Thorvald Solberg, comp., Copyright Enactments of the United States, 1783–1906, Copyright Office Bulletin No. 3 [2d ed., rev.; Washington, 1906], p. 11).

10Reverend Ezra Stiles (1727–1795), president of Yale College from 1778 until his death, wrote on 12 July 1780 to establish a “fraternal communication, espy in Literary matters.” He was striving at this time to promote friendly relations among the various American colleges. Madison answered on 1 August, writing what Stiles described as a “learned Letter, giving an account of that College.” Both letters are in Franklin Bowditch Dexter, ed., The Literary Diary of Ezra Stiles (3 vols.; New York, 1901), II, 445–49. Roger Sherman, the Connecticut delegate who lived in New Haven, was the intermediary for both letters (ibid., II, 464).

11David Rittenhouse (1732–1796), Philadelphia scientist, inventor, and leading member of the American Philosophical Society, shared with Jefferson and Reverend James Madison a lively interest in meteorology. For a communication of the latter, accompanied by his “Meteorological Observations” during 1777–1778, see Transactions of the American Philosophical Society, II (Philadelphia, 1786), 141–58.

12Probably Major John Nelson (ca. 1748–1827) of York County, Va., a cavalry officer with General Gates’s army in the Carolinas. The “small advantage” may have been the victory at Ramsour’s Mill late in June 1780 of a force of about four hundred North Carolina militia under Colonel Francis Locke over twice that number of Tories led by John Moore (Christopher Ward, War of the Revolution, II, 706–9).

13In July 1780 the legislature of Virginia enacted a measure “to authorize the citizens of South Carolina and Georgia to remove their slaves into this state” (Hening, Statutes description begins William Waller Hening, ed., The Statutes at Large; being a Collection of all the Laws of Virginia, from the First Session of the Legislature, in the Year 1619 (13 vols.; Richmond and Philadelphia, 1819–23). description ends , X, 307–8). Refugees from Georgia and South Carolina were thus exempted from the law of Virginia “for preventing the farther importation of slaves.”

14Unidentified, but possibly a Major Maynard was meant. The Maynard family of Virginia apparently had at least five members in the patriot army (Eighth Annual Report of the Library Board of the Virginia State Library, 1910–1911 [Richmond, 1912], p. 304).

Index Entries