James Madison Papers

From James Madison to Joseph Jones, 17 October 1780

To Joseph Jones

RC (LC: Madison Papers).

Philada. Oct. 17th. 1780.

Dear Sir

The Post having failed to arrive this week, I am deprived of the pleasure of acknowledging a line from you.1

Congress have at length been brought to a final consideration of the clause relating to Indian purchases. It was debated very fully and particularly, and was in the result lost by a division of the house. Under the first impression of the chagrin I had determined to propose to my colleagues to state the whole matter to the Assembly with all the circumstances and reasonings of the opponents to the measure. But on cooler reflection I think it best to leave the fact in your hands to be made use of as your prudence may suggest. I am the rather led to decline the first determination because I am pretty confident that whatever the views of particular members might be it was neither the wish nor intention of many who voted with them to favor the purchasing companies.2 Some thought such an assurance from Congress unnecessary because their receiving the lands from the States as vacant & unappropriated excluded all individual claims, and because they had given a general assurance that the cession should be applied to the common benefit. Others supposed that such an assurance might imply that without it Congress would have a right to dispose of the lands in any manner they pleased, and that it might give umbrage to the states claiming an exclusive jurisdiction over them. All that now remains for the Ceding States to do is to annex to their cessions the express condition that no private claims be complied with by Congress. Perhaps it would not be going too far, by Virginia who is so deeply concerned to make it a condition of her grant that no such claims be admitted even within the grants of others, because when they are given up to Congress she is interested in them as much as others, and it might so happen, that the benefit of all other grants except her own might be transferred from the public, to a few land mongers.3 I can not help adding however that I hope this incident in Congress will not discourage any measures of the Assembly which would otherwise have been taken for ratifying the Confederation. Under the cautions I have suggested, they may still be taken with perfect security. Congress have promoted Col. Morgan to the rank of a Brigadr. on the representations in favor of it from Govrs. Rutledge & Jefferson & Gl. Gates. The latter is directed to be made a subject of a Ct. of Inquiry and Gl Washington is to send a successor into the Southern department.4 The new arra[n]gement of the army sent to the Genl. for his revision has brought from him many judicious & valuable observations on the subject which with the arrangement are in the hands of a Committee.5

The inclosed papers leave little to be added under the title of news. The Capture of British fleet mentioned in the letter from Eustatia is considered here as pretty certain.6 The Saratoga has returned. She parted a few days before she got in with several of her prizes containing about 1000 Hhds. of rum & several hundred do. of sugar, which having been not since heard of we begin to fear have fallen back into the possession of the Enemy.7 There is a report brought to Town by Baron Stuben that an embarkation sailed from N. Y. on thursday last but the genl has not yet confirmed it.8 Dr. Lee has been here several days.9 The inclosed letters were found between the pages of Vattel.10

General Scott’s cause was decided on saturday. The inquisition was confirmed by the jury on the testimony of Fleetson who swore that the force was confessed to him by the General himself. Had it not been for this confession it is pretty certain the contrary evidence would have prevailed. Fortunately however after a pretty nice and tedious discussion the Inquisition was quashed by the Court, and we now stand in a secure situation.11


J. Madison Jnr.

A letter from the Continental Agt. at Statia just rcd. by the Commercial Committee reduces the Capture of the B. fleet by the Spaniards almost to certainty.12

1Brackets inclosing the first two paragraphs of this letter indicate that JM, later in his life, selected them for publication.

2In this paragraph, JM is referring to the vote in Congress on 10 October upon the report of the committee to which had been referred the western lands resolutions, introduced on 6 September by Jones and seconded by JM (Jones to JM, 2 October 1780, n. 2). The committee’s report closely followed the tenor of these resolutions in that it recommended (a) that lands in the West, ceded to the United States, should be formed into “distinct republican states” to be admitted to the federal union and to be equal in “sovereignty” to each of the original thirteen states; (b) that any of the “landed states” which ceded its western lands would have the rest of its territory guaranteed to it by the United States; (c) that a ceding state which had undergone expense in holding its western territory against the British would be reimbursed by the United States (but not for the cost of its civil government there, as the Jones-Madison resolutions had stipulated); (d) that Congress could determine how ceded territory should be “granted and settled”; (e) that purchases by private persons of land from Indians in the ceded area would be invalid unless approved by the legislature of the ceding state; and (f) that Congress would not deem any private purchase as valid unless it had been approved by the legislature of the state concerned. Congress struck out b and e and then accepted a, c, and d without a recorded vote. By a vote of six states to four, with two equally divided and Delaware absent, Congress refused, however, to adopt the final proposal (Journals of the Continental Congress, XVIII, 915–16). JM’s “chagrin” was the greater because his colleagues, Theodorick Bland and John Walker, deserted him on the issue and thus caused Virginia’s vote to be registered with the adverse majority. Although at first he wanted to oblige them to justify their action to the General Assembly, JM decided merely to summarize, for Jones’s use, the general reasons explaining the opposition vote. As mentioned earlier, Jones expected to attend the legislature in order to work for an offer of cession to the United States of Virginia’s territory north of the Ohio River (Jones to JM, 19 September 1780, n. 2; and JM to Jones, 10 October 1780, n. 7).

3JM probably had the Vandalia and Indiana land companies principally in mind.

4See Jameson to JM, 20 September 1780, n. 4; and Jones to JM, 9 October 1780, n. 6; 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, 266, 270, 316.

5See Jones to JM, 2 October 1780, n. 5. In his letter of 11 October, Washington commented at length upon the proposals of 3 October by Congress for the reorganization of the army. After a committee had considered Washington’s suggestions, Congress amended the plan so as to embody most of them. Washington’s wish to assure half pay for life to officers serving for the duration of the war was apparently his most controversial recommendation, but Congress acceded to it on 21 October, with JM among the delegates voting in its favor. Later that day, while JM was absent, Congress adopted the other amendments designed to meet Washington’s objections to its original proposals (Fitzpatrick, Writings of Washington description begins John C. Fitzpatrick, ed., The Writings of George Washington, from the Original Sources, 1745–1799 (39 vols.; Washington, D.C., 1931–44). description ends , XX, 157–67; Journals of the Continental Congress, XVIII, 931, 958–62).

6Not found, but probably they were Philadelphia newspapers. The Pennsylvania Packet of 17 October contained a report from St. Eustatius of the capture of fifty-four British ships by the Spanish navy (below, n. 12).

7Captain John Young, commanding the eighteen-gun sloop of war “Saratoga,” brought into the Delaware River on 13 September 1780 a captured vessel with a cargo of “234 Puncheons of Rum.” Young was then ordered to join the frigates “Trumbull” and “Deane” at sea (Charles O. Paullin, ed., Out-Letters of Board of Admiralty, II, 268–70). On this cruise the “Saratoga” took, and subsequently lost, “four valuable prizes” (Gardner W. Allen, A Naval History of the American Revolution, II, 510).

8Friedrich Wilhelm Ludolf Gerhard Augustin, Baron von Steuben (1730–1794), was at this time the inspector general of the armies of the United States. The British vessels bearing Major General Leslie and his troops to Chesapeake Bay sailed from New York on 16 October (Harry M. Lydenberg, ed., Archibald Robertson: Diaries and Sketches, pp. 241–42).

9Arthur Lee.

10Letters not found. As chairman of the committee to draft a letter to John Jay, explaining the instructions of Congress to him on the western boundary of the United States, JM had found occasion to quote from Emmerich de Vattel’s Le droit des gens (above, Draft of Letter to Jay, 17 October 1780, n. 12).

11See JM to Jones, 10 October 1780, n. 6. “Fleetson” (Plunket Fleeson) was at this time judge of the Pennsylvania Court of Common Pleas (Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography, XXVI [1902], 341).

12On 6 August 1780 about fifty-five British transports and merchantmen were captured off Cape St. Vincent by a combined Spanish and French fleet commanded by Don Luis de Córdova ([Louis] É[douard] Chevalier, Histoire de la marine française pendant la guerre de l’indépendance américaine [Paris, 1877], p. 203; Captain W. M. James, The British Navy in Adversity: A Study of the War of American Independence [London, 1926], p. 247). The agent of the United States on the island of St. Eustatius was Samuel Curson (ca. 1753–1786) of the New York firm of Curson and [Isaac] Gouverneur. He was being considered for the post of American consul at London when he was killed in a duel (J. Hall Pleasants, The Curzon Family of New York and Baltimore and Their English Descent [Baltimore, 1919], pp. 41–42).

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