James Madison Papers

From James Madison to Joseph Jones, 21 November 1780

To Joseph Jones

RC (LC: Madison Papers).

Philada. Novr. 21st. 1780

Dear Sir.

Your favor of the 10th. came by yesterday’s post. I1 am glad to find you have at last got a house [of Delegates]2 and have made so auspicious a beginning, as a unanimous vote to fill up our line for the war. This is a measure which all the States ought to have begun with. I wish there may not be some that will not be prevailed on even to end with it. It is much to be regretted that you are not in a condition to discontinue another practice equally destructive with temporary enlistments.3 Unless an end can by some means or other be put to State emissions & certificates they must prove the bane of every salutary regulation. The depreciation in this place has lately run up as high as 100 for 1, and it cannot be satisfactorily accounted for on any other principle than the substitution of certificates in the payment of those taxes which were intended to reduce its quantity and keep up a demand for it.4 The immediate cause of this event is said to have been the sudden conversion of a large quantity of paper into specie by some Torys lately ordered into exile by this State.5 It is at present on the fall and, I am told the Merchants have associated to bring it down & fix it at 75. The fate of the new money is as yet suspended. There is but too much reason however to fear that it will follow the fate of the old. According to the arrangement now in force it would seem impossible for it to rise above 1 for 40. The resolutions of Congress which establish that relation between the two kinds of paper must destroy the equality of the new with Specie unless the old can be kept down at 40 for 1. In New Jersey I am told the Legislature have lately empowered the Executive to regulate the exchange between the two papers according to the exchange between the old & the new, in order to preserve the equality of the latter with specie. The issue of this experiment is of consequence, and may throw light perhaps on our paper finance.6 The only infallible remedy whilst we can not command specie, for the pecuniary embarrassments we labour under, will after all be found to be a7 punctual collection of the taxes required by Congress.

I hope you will not forget to call the attention of the Assembly as early as8 the preparations for defence will admit to the means of ratifying the confederation, [by a Cession of territory]9 nor to remind it of the conditions which prudence requires should be annexed to any territorial cession that may be agreed on. I do not believe there is any serious design in Congress to gratify the avidity10 of land mongers, but the best security for their virtue in this respect will be to keep it out of their power. They have been much infested since you left us with memorials from these people; who appear to be equally alarm[e]d & perplexed. Mr. G. Morgan, as Agent for the Indiana claimants[,] after memorializing Congress on the subject has honored the Virginia Delegates with a separate attention He very modestly proposes to them a reference of the Controversy between the Company & Virginia to arbitration in the mode pointed out in the Confederation for adjusting disputes between State & State. We have given him for answer that as the State we represent had finally determined the question, we could not with any propriety attend to his proposition[,] observing at the same time that if we were less precluded we could not reconcile with the sovereignty & honor of the State an appeal from its own Jurisdiction to a foreign tribunal, in11 a controversy with private individuals.12

The last account we had of the embarkation at N. York was that the Ships had fallen down to the Hook, that the number of troops as well as their destination was unknown. That Philips was to command them. The Cork fleet is I fear at last certainly arrived.13 The 2d. Division of French fleet has not yet made its appearance. It is made a question at present whether the squadron taken for it, as mentioned in my last[,] was not a British fleet.14 Mr. Adams in a letter of the 23 of Augt from Amsterdam received yesterday speaks of General Prevost being sent out from England with a few frigates (and it is to be supposed some land forces as he is a land officer though Mr. Adams does not expressly say as much) for Cape fear to facilitate the Operations of the Enemy in N. Carolina.15 A New York paper of the 17th. announces the death of your worthy friend General Woodford.16 I suppose it has reached you through some other channel before this.

I have the books of Accts. with the papers connected with them ready to go forward to the Auditors under the care of Col. Febiger who will in a day or two send off a number of Waggons for the Southward.17 I shall soon write you on some private matters which ought not to be entrusted to a conveyance by post.18

I have engaged to take Pleasants house for you on the terms given in to you with the difference, that one quarter of the rent is to be paid on the first of January and remainder as it becomes due, and you are to pay for the whole year if you leave it in Novr. The first of these conditions I was authorised to make, the last I thought it better to submit to than leave you unaccomodated or on a footing of uncertainty. You will be at liberty [to] keep it a second year on the same terms if you please[.] [I] hope you will not leave it at the time you proposed to limit the bargain to and at any rate you can only lose two months rent a little more than 4 half Joes, a sum not worth regarding in a matter of such consequence to your private convenience & perhaps to the public Service. He engages to let you have the furniture you saw in the house and says he will spare you any other Articles which he may not need himself, but I believe it would be prudent not [to] rely much on this resource.19

I am Yrs. Sincerely,

J. Madison Jnr.

1From here through the second paragraph, the text is inclosed in brackets to mark the part of the letter which, years later, JM or a member of his family selected for publication.

2This bracketed above-the-line insert, adding what would have been obvious to Jones, was probably not in the letter as originally written but was interpolated by JM at a much later date to help the expected readers of the printed extract.

3Instead of “not in a condition to discontinue,” JM first wrote, “likely to be forced to continue.” JM inserted “with temporary enlistments” above the line. It is uncertain whether these were editorial emendations made by him in later years or before he mailed the letter to Jones.

4See JM to Jones, [24] October and 14 November 1780; Jones to JM, 5 November, n. 3, and 10 November 1780. John Sullivan’s letters of 15 November and 3 December 1780 describe the state of the currency in Philadelphia in greater detail (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, 446–49, 478).

5After President Joseph Reed and the council of Pennsylvania ordered David Franks and others, suspected of conniving with Benedict Arnold, to leave Philadelphia posthaste, they were charged with inventing excuses to delay their departure in order to have time to convert their paper currency into specie. On 20 November, Franks stated under oath that neither he nor anyone else to his knowledge was guilty of this charge (Colonial Records of Pennsylvania, XII, 495–96, 499, 547; Pennsylvania Archives description begins Samuel Hazard et al., eds., Pennsylvania Archives (9 ser., 138 vols.; Philadelphia and Harrisburg, 1852–1949). description ends , 1st ser., VIII, 611, 615–17).

6New Jersey’s action in this regard came before Congress on 24 November in the form of “a memorial and representation” from the state’s legislature. Congress referred this memorial to a three-man committee including JM (Journals of the Continental Congress, XVIII, 1087–89). For the committee’s report, see below, 23 December 1780.

7Between “a” and “punctual,” JM crossed out “vigorous and.”

8After “as,” JM wrote and then deleted “possible to.”

9Probably many years later, for purposes indicated in n. 2, JM wrote and bracketed this phrase in pencil, above the line. See Jones to JM, 19 September, nn. 2 and 3, 9 October 1780, and 2 December 1780. George Mason had expected to attend the legislature to wield his great influence on behalf of cession, but illness confined him at home (Mason to JM, 2 August 1780, n. 3; Kate Mason Rowland, The Life of George Mason, 1725–1792 [2 vols.; New York, 1892], II, 1–2).

10JM first wrote “to listen to the claims” instead of “to gratify the avidity.”

11Between “in” and “a,” JM crossed out three or four words so completely that they cannot now be read.

13Major General William Phillips did not leave the New York City area until late March 1781. From then until his death, about two months later, he commanded the British troops in Virginia. If Cornwallis had not needed assistance in South Carolina in November 1780, and if Washington had depleted his force around New York to aid General Greene in North Carolina, General Clinton probably would have sent some of his soldiers on an expedition up the Delaware River. The reports of embarkation may have stemmed from the activity attendant upon the departure on 16 November of Rodney’s ships and of two convoys—one bound for Falmouth with commercial cargoes and the other with supplies and a few troops for Cornwallis’ army. The Cork fleet had arrived in New York harbor six days before (William B. Willcox, ed., The American Rebellion, pp. 221, 234, 254–55).

15John Adams’ letter was read in Congress on 20 November (Wharton, Revolutionary Diplomatic Correspondence description begins Francis Wharton, ed., The Revolutionary Diplomatic Correspondence of the United States (6 vols.; Washington, D.C., 1889). description ends , IV, 41–42; Journals of the Continental Congress, XVIII, 1072). Major General Augustine Prevost (d. 1786) had commanded in Georgia and South Carolina in 1778–1779. The rumor that he was bringing reinforcements from England persisted at least until February 1781 (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 , XXI, 295).

16General William Woodford died as a prisoner of war in New York City on 13 November.

17As an episode in a distinguished military record extending from the Battle of Bunker Hill in 1775 until the close of 1782, Colonel Christian Febiger (1746–1796) was named to command the 2d Virginia Regiment in September 1777. He spent most of the autumn of 1780 in Philadelphia, collecting and forwarding military supplies to Virginia and North Carolina.

19See Jones to JM, 2 October 1780, n. 14. A half joe was about $10.00. JM inadvertently wrote “conconvenience” for “convenience.”

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