James Madison Papers

From James Madison to Edmund Pendleton, 16 January 1781

To Edmund Pendleton

RC (LC: Madison Papers).

Philada. Jany. 16th: 1781

Dear Sir

I1 was very glad at not being disappointed in my expectations of a favor from you by yesterday’s post.2 Several reports in quick succession of the arrival & progress of the predatory band under Arnold had rendered us exceedingly anxious to hear the truth & particulars of the matter. Some letters by the post tell us that the Governor with Baron Steuben was wholly engaged in removing & securing the arms & ammunition. If so he was better employed than in writing to Congress on the subject, which from his usual punctuality was expected.3 The enterprise against Richmond at this season was certainly an audacious one and strongly marks the character which directed it. Having been long sensible that the security of the country as high up as tide water reaches has been owing more to the ignorance & caution of the enemy than to its own strength or inaccessibleness, I was much less astonished at the news than many others. To those who are strangers to the sparse manner in which that country is settled & the easy penetration afforded by its long navigable rivers, the rapid and unopposed advances of the Enemy appear unaccountable & our national character suffers imputations which are by no means due to it.4

Congress have yet received no official report of the result of the conciliatory measures taken with the revolted Soldiers at Trenton. From oral & circumstantial evidence There is no doubt that they have been successful. A discharge of a part from the service & a supply of cloathing & money to the rest is the price of their submission.5 This much considered in itself was required by justice & is consequently consistent with dignity. But considered with respect to the circumstances attending the negotiation, there is but too much ground to suspect that it will be attributed to our fears, & is therefore not a little mortifying. Happily the example, as we understand by a letter from Genl Washington recd. yesterday had not infected the other parts of the Army.6 As the same causes however which engendered this malignant humour in the Pennsylvania line are known to exist in the other lines, we cannot be sure that the same effects will not yet take place in the latter unless they be speedily removed. As one step towards it Congress are endeavoring to profit of the alarm which this event must have excited in the States by calling upon them for the means of immediately furnishing some pay to the troops of their respective lines.7

You ask me what I think of the Delegate Extraordinary to Congress?8 I wish you had told me what you think of such an appointment. It is pretty certain I believe that people in general will not consider it as a proof of confidence in the ordinary Delegation. As Mr. Jones who I believe possesses the confidence of his Country & I am sure will have as much weight in Congress as any man that will be sent on such an occasion, will come about the same time, & having attended the Legislature will be as well informed in every point of view I can not deny that the appointment appears to me to be at least a supernumerary one.9 I wish the good effects of it may shew that I am mistaken.

The trade of this City has just suffered a very severe blow. No less than seven fine vessels have been taken out of an Outward bound fleet & carried into N. York.10

I am Dr Sir Yrs. very sincerely

James Madison Junr.

The Emissary from Clinton with his guide were executed on Saturday morning last.11

1Evidently selecting this letter for publication, JM or a member of his family, many years later, put a bracket before the “I” and a companion bracket after the postscript. With the exception of the complimentary close and JM’s name, the entire letter is published in Madison, Papers (Gilpin ed.) description begins Henry D. Gilpin, ed., The Papers of James Madison (3 vols.; Washington, D.C., 1840). description ends , I, 79–81.

2Not found. Pendleton likely had written on 8 January.

3JM most probably had read in the Pennsylvania Journal of 10 January the extract from a letter written two days before by an unknown correspondent in Fredericksburg. This informant, however, erroneously reported that Jefferson and Steuben had preserved the stores and records by moving them to Manchester before the forces of Benedict Arnold occupied “West Ham.” On the contrary, the British destroyed some of the stores and public documents at Westham, along with the foundry there. Most of the firearms cast into the James River by the militia to prevent their capture were soon recovered. Arnold’s foray, obliging Jefferson to abandon Richmond for a few days, naturally prevented him from writing to Congress or the Virginia delegates during the emergency. The British entered Richmond on 5 January, burned its few makeshift public buildings, and withdrew the next day. Jefferson returned to the town on 8 January (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, 259, 326; Dumas Malone, Jefferson the Virginian, pp. 336–40). Jefferson’s letter of 10 January to Congress was received eight days later (Journal of the Continental Congress, XIX, 70).

4In similar vein, Washington commented in his letter of 6 February 1781 to Jefferson that “considering the situation of your state, it is to be wondered you have hitherto suffered so little molestation” (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, 191).

5JM’s “evidence” was substantiated by the committee on the mutiny when it reported to Congress on 24 January 1781 (Journals of the Continental Congress, XIX, 79–83).

6In his letter of 6 January 1781 to the president of Congress, Washington warned that the patience of other troops than those of the Pennsylvania line might also become exhausted. Hence it would be “far better to meet them with a part of their just dues, than to put them to the necessity of demanding them in a manner disreputable … to the service and the Cause, and totally subversive of all military discipline” (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, 64–66).

7On 15 January 1781 Congress agreed upon a circular letter to the states, attributing the mutiny to their failure to comply with the requisitions of Congress and urging “great and spirited exertions” immediately (Journals of the Continental Congress, XIX, 58–61).

10On 10 January 1781 the Pennsylvania Journal reported that, about five days before, the British had captured off the Delaware capes one American ship inbound from Hispaniola and six ships outbound from Philadelphia.

11JM should have written “on Thursday” rather than “Saturday” (Journals of the Continental Congress, XIX, 82).

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