James Madison Papers

From James Madison to Joseph Jones, 19 September 1780

To Joseph Jones

RC (LC: Madison Papers). Wishing to recover his letters to Jones, JM wrote for them on 21 October 1817 to James Monroe, the nephew of Jones and custodian of his papers. Monroe returned eleven, all dated in 1780. Of these, the one given below is the earliest. JM, or some other person at an undetermined time, bracketed portions of these letters for publication. The last two paragraphs of this one were so marked. Monroe seems to have failed to comply with a second request by JM to forward his letters to Jones written after 1780. These letters were later destroyed or lost. Apparently only one letter written after 1780 from JM to Jones has been preserved.

Sepr. 19th. 1780.

Dear Sir

Instead of a confirmation of the good news respecting the french fleet mentioned in my last, I have the mortification to inform you that it is pretty certain that Rodney has arrived at the Hook with 12 sail of the line from the W. Indies & 4 frigates. The report however still continues that a french fleet is somewhere on the coast. The arrival of Rodney is a proof that it had left the W. Indies and was conjectured to be coming hither.1 It is further said that 5 or 6000 Troops would embark at N. York on the 25th. inst: either for Virga. or S. Carolina. This is by no means probable. The danger of such a measure is too obvious not to deter them from it. It is given out at N. York that a reinforcement of 4000 troops are expected next month from England.2

Yesterday was employed by Congress in discussing the resolutions you left with them. The first and second were passed after undergoing sundry alterations. The clause in the 2d for allowing the expence of maintaining civil govt within the ceded territory was struck out by the committee, and an attempt to get it reinserted in the house was negatived. It was surmised that so indefinite an expression might subject Congress to very exorbitant claims. With respect to Virga. I believe that expence has not been so considerable as to be much worth insisting on. The principal expences may properly be included under the military head. The consideration of the last resolution annulling Indian purchases was postponed, with an intention I believe of not resuming it. It is supposed by some to be unnecessary, by others to be improper, as implying that without such previous assurance Congress would have a right to recognize private claims in a territory expressly given up to them for the common benefit. These motives prevailed, I am persuaded with more than the real view of gratifying private interest at the public expence. The States may annex what conditions they please to their cessions, and by that means guard them agst. misapplication[,] or if they only annul all pretended purchases by their own laws before the cessions are made, Congress are sufficiently precluded by their general assurance that they shall be applied to the common benefit from admiting any private claims which are opposed to it.3

The Vermont business has been two days under agitation and nothing done in it except rejecting a proposition for postponing the determination of Congress till Commissioners should enquire into the titles & boundaries of N. Hampshire & N. York. Congress have bound themselves so strongly by their own act to bring it to an issue at this time and are pressed by N. York so closely with this engagement, that it is not possible any longer to try evasive expedients. For my own part if a final decision must take place, I am clearly of opinion that it ought to be made on principles that will effectually discountenance the erection of new Governments without the sanction of proper Authority, and in a style marking a due firmness and dicision in Congress.4

With sincere regard I am Dr Sir

Yr. friend & Servt.

J. Madison Junr.

1See JM to Jefferson, 2 June 1780, n. 3; Jameson to JM, 23 August, n. 2, and 13 September 1780, n. 3. On 4 October 1780, in a letter to Horatio Gates, Jefferson wrote: “The Extracts of letters which you will see in our Paper of this day are from Genl. Washington, President Huntington and our Delegates in Congress to me” (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 , IV, 11). In the Virginia Gazette (Richmond, Dixon and Nicolson) of 4 October, there are three brief extracts from as many letters written at Philadelphia on 16, 18, and 19 September, respectively. If any one of them is from the Virginia delegates to Jefferson, that letter has been lost. The extract of 19 September closely resembles what JM wrote to Jones and Pendleton on that day. Admiral George Brydges Rodney (1719–1792) had been governor of Newfoundland and a member of Parliament before returning to active service.

2JM was overly sanguine. On 16 October 1780 Major General Alexander Leslie with about 3,500 troops sailed from New York for Virginia to destroy military stores there, especially at Petersburg, and to divert pressure from Cornwallis’ army in North Carolina. After a little over a month in Virginia, Leslie and most of his force embarked at Portsmouth about 15 November for the Carolinas to reinforce Cornwallis. On 15 October a British fleet arrived in New York from England “with Recruits and Stores” (Benjamin Franklin Stevens, ed., The Campaign in Virginia, 1781; An exact Reprint of Six rare Pamphlets on the Clinton-Cornwallis Controversy … [2 vols.; London, 1888], I, 271, 281–82, 294, 298, 313).

3This paragraph refers to Jones’s motion of 6 September (above, Motion regarding the Western Lands) and serves to illuminate the following laconic entry in the printed journal for 18 September: “Congress took into consideration the report of the committee on the motion of the delegates of Virginia, and made some progress.” The debate on the report was not resumed until 10 October (Journals of the Continental Congress, XVIII, 836, 915–16; JM to Jones, 17 October 1780, n. 2).

4Above, Notes on Territorial Claim of New Hampshire, and Resolutions respecting Vermont Lands, 16 September 1780. In assuring Jones of the inability of the delegates in Congress to prolong “evasive expedients” with regard to the Vermont issue, JM was again overly optimistic in this letter.

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