James Madison Papers

Motion Commending French Fleet, [4 April] 1781

Motion Commending French Fleet

MS (NA: PCC, No. 36, IV, 503). Docketed, “Motion of Mr. Madison. Respecting Monsr. De touches Commandr. of H M. C Majesty’s Squadron.” This note is written on a cover addressed to “His Excellency The President of Congress.”

[4 April 1781]

[Resolved,] That the President inform Monsr.1 Destouches Commander of the Squadron consigned by his M. C. Majesty to the Succour of his Allies, that the United States in Congress Assembled have seen with the highest satisfaction the vigilance & zeal he has manifested on every occasion to fulfill the generous intentions of his sovereign and the wishes of these States; and that he present to Monsr. Destouches, and the officers & men under his command, their particular thanks for the bravery ardor & good conduct displayed in the late enterprize against the Enemy at Portsmouth in Virginia, in which although the accomplishment of the object was prevented by [un]foreseen2 casuelties, the gallant & advantageous contest maintained on the 16th. of March off the Capes of Chesapeak Bay against a superior British Fleet does so much honor to the arms of his M. C. M. and is so happy a presage of decisive advantages to the United States.3

1Twice JM crossed out “Admiral” and replaced it with “Monsr.” in this manuscript.

2JM crossed out “unfortunate.”

3See Virginia Delegates to Jefferson, 6 March 1781, n. 4. Each fleet had eight ships of the line in the battle, but the British guns totaled 562 and the French 528. The British force also included four light frigates. The French had two, together with a cargo vessel (W. M. James, British Navy in Adversity, p. 446). John Sullivan and John Mathews received identical letters from George Washington, written on 31 March, suggesting that Congress congratulate Destouches and Rochambeau. Washington declared that the “attempt of the Chevr. Des touches at the time he sailed was bold and enterprising; for this and political reasons; and because I know it will be grateful to the French General and Admiral I take the liberty of hinting to you the propriety (if it is not already done) of Congress paying them a compliment on the occasion. It may have a happy effect, which is the only apology I can offer for the freedom of suggesting it” (Fitzpatrick, Writings of Washington description begins John C. Fitzpatrick, ed., The Writings of George Washington, from the Original Sources, 1745–1799 (39 vols.; Washington, 1931–44). description ends , XXI, 400). Sullivan and Mathews probably asked JM to introduce an appropriate motion because he was a Virginian. Thereupon Sullivan seconded it. Although the resolution passed as JM presented it, it was revised on 5 April to include Rochambeau, whom JM had forgotten to compliment. Also in the revision, besides a few unimportant changes in the arrangement of words, “wishes” became “expectations,” “the Chevalier” replaced “Monsr.,” “ardor” was softened to “firmness,” “events” was substituted for “casuelties,” and the French forces were accorded “honor” rather than “so much honor” (JCC description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds., Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789 (34 vols.; Washington, 1904–37). description ends , XIX, 348–50, 356–57). Rochambeau’s and Destouches’ answers were published in the Pennsylvania Packet of 12 May 1781.

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