James Madison Papers

Committee Report on Letter to Rochambeau, [17? August] 1780

Committee Report on Letter to Rochambeau

Draft (NA: PCC, No. 78, XVIII, 319–20). Proposed reply to be made by the president of Congress to the Comte de Rochambeau’s letter to him of 3 August 1780. Except for minor amendments noted below, the letter was drafted by JM between 12 and 17 August 1780.

[17? August 1780]

The Committee1 to whom was referred the letter of the 3d. inst: from le Compte de Rochambeau, report the following answer to be given by the President:2


Congress have recd. with Satisfaction3 your letter of the 3d inst: which besides exhibiting the zeal of the troops under your command for the service of their allies, and the vigilance of their chief in providing agst. the enterprises of the Enemy, conveys fresh assurances from your illustrious sovereign of his benevolent views towards the United States; assurances which can not fail to make the deepest impression, because they are attended with the most solid proofs of their sincerity.

If any difficulties have retarded a part of the succour generously destined to Co-opperate in4 the expulsion of the Enemy from these states, or have rendered the preparations on our part less complete than was Intended, We persu[a]de ourselves5 that sufficient Amends will be made by the vigor of the combined operations, and by the mutual emulation that must be felt by the allied troops, fighting side by side, in a cause so honorable and with an object of such magnitude immediately before them. Under circumstances like these, any impediments, that may arise from the strength or position of the enemy can have no other effect than to increase the Ardor6 to overcome them.

Should Genl Clinton resume his projected attack on your armament Congress have the highest confidence that the adjacent militia will7 again evinc[e] their zealous attachment to their friends & brethren as well as that the latter will give equal proof that their intrepid valour which has so often displayed itself against the British arms in Europe is no less formidable when opposed to her ambitious designs against this Country; And that the result will be a happy presage of a successful issue to the campaign: a[s] this must be of a successful issue to the war.

The Citizens of the United States and the French nation, already bound together by the ties of interest, of honor and the most solemn engagements, want nothing to perfect their coalition, but t[he] endearing circumstance of having mutually contributed to acquire for each other the glory of triumphing over a restless and powerful enemy to the rights of Mankind.

With sentiments of the most perfect consideration & respect I have the hono[r] to be your most Obedient & very humble Servant.

S. H. Pt.8

1JM, Samuel Adams, and James Lovell, appointed on 12 August (Journals of the Continental Congress, XVII, 723).

2Lieutenant General Jean Baptiste Donatien de Vimeur, Comte de Rochambeau (1727–1807), arrived at Newport, R.I., in command of six thousand French troops on 11 July. For many months thereafter the fleet in which they had come, commanded by the admiral Chevalier de Ternay, was blockaded in Narragansett Bay by British warships under Admiral Thomas Graves. Believing that these beleaguered French ships might need the aid of his soldiers, Rochambeau remained in Rhode Island a full year before joining his forces with those of Washington near New York City. Rochambeau’s letter to President Samuel Huntington (NA: PCC, No. 78, XVIII, 315–16) explained his delay in paying his respects on the score of pressing duties, expressed his belief that New York City would be restored to patriot control if General Henry Clinton and his ten thousand troops should attack him, mentioned his eagerness to serve under Washington’s orders, referred to the fine discipline and health of his own troops and to the continuing aid given him by Massachusetts and Rhode Island militia, and assured Huntington that Louis XVI was determined to render all possible aid and to make common cause with the United States until Great Britain had been defeated.

3Before this word, “sincere” was originally written and later crossed out either by JM or by Samuel Adams. To Adams, Edmund C. Burnett (Letters, V, 333–34) attributes, no doubt correctly, all the word substitutions in JM’s draft.

4The original “for” was replaced by “to Co-opperate in.” Rochambeau’s reference in his letter to the delayed arrival of additional military and naval aid from France because of a lack of transportation facilities really meant that these reinforcements were bottled up in the harbor of Brest by British men-of-war (ibid., V, 357).

5Although in the above text JM first wrote “their,” “they,” and “themselves,” instead of the corresponding “our,” “we,” and “ourselves,” he jotted these first-person equivalents in the left-hand margin, evidently inviting his committee colleagues to decide which were preferable. “Intended” is written over a deleted “wished.”

6Here again, although JM first wrote “inspire an inflexibility” instead of “increase the Ardor,” he noted this latter phrase in the margin, thus leaving the choice between them to the committee.

7Following this word, there is crossed out “by the promptitude of their support.”

8Abbreviations for “Samuel Huntington, President.” The following resolution, adopted by Congress on 17 August in lieu of this letter, was forwarded to Rochambeau two days later, accompanied by a brief covering note from Huntington (Journals of the Continental Congress, XVII, 742; 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, 335):

Resolved, That Congress have a just sense of the vigilance and prudence of the commanders of the fleet and army of our ally, in taking the precautions mentioned in the letter of Monsieur the Count de Rochambeau, of the 3d of August, as well as of his attention to the ease and convenience of the militia of these states. The spirit, good order, and discipline of the troops under his command, deserve their warmest approbation.”

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