James Madison Papers

To James Madison from Edmund Pendleton, 27 August 1780

From Edmund Pendleton

Tr (LC: Force Transcripts). Although the originals of this letter and, with few exceptions, the more than one hundred others which Pendleton wrote to JM are probably no longer extant, three partial collections (of which at least one is independent of the other two) are available. About 1890, Frederick B. McGuire of Washington, D.C., who had in his possession a considerable portion of Pendleton’s side of the correspondence, permitted Worthington C. Ford to make copies of some and perhaps all of it. Ford published these in the Proceedings of the Massachusetts Historical Society, 2d ser., XIX (1905), 107–67. On 6–7 December 1892, Stan. V. Henkels, a prominent manuscript dealer of Philadelphia, auctioned off the large McGuire collection of the papers of JM, including 135 “Autograph Letters” of Pendleton to JM, dated “from August 31, 1752 to December 1812 [1802?],” as well as “fifteen documents relating to transactions at law between James Madison and Carter Braxton, mostly in the handwriting of Edmund Pendleton” (Stan. V. Henkels Catalogue No. 694, p. 79). On pages 80–96 of this same catalogue are printed excerpts from sixty-two of these letters. Since he dated the beginning of this correspondence back to 1752, when JM was only one year of age, Henkels evidently failed to distinguish JM from his father. The “Lowdermilk,” to whom Henkels sold the Pendleton letters for $315, was most probably Will H. Lowdermilk, the well-known Washington, D.C., bookdealer. What he did with them remains a mystery. James C. McGuire, father of Frederick McGuire, had acquired this collection of JM papers in 1850, the year following Dolley Madison’s death.

Although Peter Force of Washington, D.C., editor of the American Archives and other United States source documents, may have had his clerks make transcripts of seventy of Pendleton’s letters to JM when they were in Dolley Madison’s possession or, what is much less likely, before JM’s death in 1836, he probably prepared the copies after his friend James C. McGuire obtained the originals. A notation, reading “Mss McGuire” on page 8561 of the transcripts, supports this conclusion. Thus the transcripts, made under Force’s direction, are not only the earliest known copies of the original Pendleton letters but also are the most complete. Therefore the letters from Pendleton published in this work will follow, whenever possible, the copies in the Force transcripts. A variant reading in either or both of the other versions will be pointed out whenever the difference seems significant. For comment about the letters written by JM to Pendleton, see headnote, 12 September 1780.

Edmundsbury,1 Augt. 27. 1780

Dear Sir:

When you first went to Congress I should have bespoke your correspondence, but knew your acquaintance was extensive & nearer relations very numerous, from whence I judged such a request would give you too much trouble, and declined it, as I was happy enough then to have other2 two valuable friends, who handed me all the important intelligence which was allowed to be made public. They have since retired from Congress,3 & I must starve for want of news at this interesting crisis, unless you can drop me a line now & then without interfering too much with yr business or ease, for happy as it would make me, I can’t agree to accept it upon the terms of Interrupting either. It is fair to let you know that the benefits arising from the correspondence will be unequal, since tho’ you will find me dilligent & punctual in it, yet placed as I am in a Forest, occurrences will not enable me to give you much entertainment. Thus you have a fair state of the case on my side & will exercise the Rights of Friendship in declining it altogether, if you find it will subject you to any inconvenience. I am sorry to open this proposed Intercourse with condoling you on the unhappy affair to the Southward, the particulars of which you will know better than I, as I hear an Aid has passed wth. Genl Gates Letter to Congress, & our accounts here are much confused;4 we have been unfortunate in that quarter hither[to] but I hope we shall persevere til we catch the lucky moment for success; and that you will hand us something comfortable from the Northward ’ere long. I am with great regard Dr Sr

Yr Affecte. & Obd. Servt.

Edmd Pendleton

1Pendleton’s country seat in Caroline County, Va. Following more than twenty years of political prominence in that colony before the Revolution, Edmund Pendleton (1721–1803) became president of the Virginia Convention of 1776, advocated independence from England, and helped to draft the first constitution of his state and to revise its laws. After serving as speaker of the House of Delegates of the General Assembly of Virginia, he was president of the state Supreme Court of Appeals from 1779 until his death. In 1788 he presided over the Virginia Convention which ratified the Federal Constitution.

2Although the copyist wrote “friends” after “other,” and then crossed it out, he probably should also have transferred “other” to follow “two.” The W. C. Ford version, however, in the Proceedings of the Massachusetts Historical Society, cited above, reads “to have two valuable friends.”

3Cyrus Griffin and James Henry, delegates from Virginia, left Congress during the summer of 1780, and Joseph Jones, also a delegate, returned to that state in early September.

4On 31 August, Congress read the letter of 20 August from Horatio Gates (ca. 1728–1806), reporting his disastrous defeat at Camden, S.C. (Journals of the Continental Congress, XVII, 797). The aide-de-camp was Major Charles Magill.

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