James Madison Papers

From James Madison to Edmund Pendleton, 23 January 1781

To Edmund Pendleton

RC (LC: Madison Papers). Mathematical notations by Pendleton appear on the cover sheet.

Philada. Jany 23d. 1781

Dear Sir

I have nothing new this week for you but two reports: the first is that very great discontents prevail in N. York among the German Troops for causes pretty similar to those which produced the eruption in the Pennsylvania line. It is further said on this head that a party of 200 have deserted from Long Island & gone to Rhode Island.1 The other report is that the British Minister either has or proposes to carry a bill into Parliamt. authorising the Commanding officer in America to permit & promote a trade with us in British Goods of every kind except Linens & Woolens. This change of system is said to be the advice of some notable refugees with a view to revive an intercourse as far as possible between the two Countries, & particularly to check the habit that is taking place in the consumption of French Manufactures. Whatever their public views may be it is certain that such a plan would open fine prospects to them in a private view.2

We have recd. no fresh or certain information of the designs of F. and Spain in assembling so great a force at Cadiz. There does not appear to be any object in that Quarter except Gibralter. Should the attempts be renewed agst. that place, it will prove that the former has not that absolute sway in the Cabinet of the latter which has been generally imagined. Nothing would have prevailed on the French to recall their fleet from the Islands at the time they did but the necessity of humouring Spain on the subject of her hobby horse.3

I am glad to hear that Arnold has been at last fired at. It sounded a little unfavorably for us in the ears of people here that he was likely to get off without that proof of a hostile reception. If he ventures an irruption in any other quarter I hope he will be made sensible that his impunity on James River was owing to the suddeness of his appearance & not to the want of spirit in the people.4

I am Dr. Sir Yrs sincerely

J. Madison Junr.

1JM’s information appears to have been erroneous. The origin of it has not been identified. On the other hand, in early January, contingents of Hessian troops had moved from Staten Island to Long Island. General Clinton named Major General Riedesel, shortly after his release as an American prisoner of war in October 1780, to command the British and Hessian troops on Long Island. On 22 February 1781 Riedesel issued a proclamation, promising a conditional pardon to all deserters who returned to duty (Bernhard A. Uhlendorf, trans. and ed., Revolution in America: Confidential Letters and Journals, 1776–1784, of Adjutant General Major Baurmeister of the Hessian Forces [New Brunswick, N.J., 1957], p. 405; William Leete Stone, trans., Memoirs, and Letters and Journals, of Major General Riedesel, during his Residence in America [2 vols.; Albany, 1868], II, 88–89, 92).

2Perhaps JM had already heard the rumor reported on 27 January 1781 in the Pennsylvania Packet (Philadelphia): “We are told from pretty good authority, that the first business of the new parliament will be to enable the ministry to enter into a treaty with America, the consequences of which may easily be foreseen. The majority of the cabinet are for settling matters in any way they can.” This report seems to have stemmed from a letter written in London on 21 October 1780. See Jefferson to Virginia Delegates, 15 January 1781, n. 3.

3Gibraltar was “an excellent ally of the English,” serving to divert much French naval and military aid from the United States during the latter half of the Revolution. In fulfilment of a pledge to help Spain recover the stronghold from the British, France for over three years, beginning in August 1779, co-operated with Spain in besieging Gibraltar. The negotiations under way during all of 1781 between France and Spain to mount a joint and irresistible assault by land and by sea upon the rock culminated in the formidable but unsuccessful efforts under the leadership of the Due de Crillon during the summer and autumn of 1782 (Doniol, Histoire description begins Henri Doniol, Histoire de la participation de la France à l’établissement des États-Unis d’Amérique (5 vols.; Paris, 1886–92). description ends , V, 14–26).

4The now missing letter of 15 January from Pendleton to JM may have mentioned skirmishing in Virginia between the militia and Benedict Arnold’s troops. The Philadelphia newspapers reported nothing to this effect until the 30 January issue of the Pennsylvania Packet. Also see Jefferson to Virginia Delegates, 18 January 1781.

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