James Madison Papers

To James Madison from Edmund Pendleton, 21 May 1781

From Edmund Pendleton

Tr (LC: Force Transcripts). Endorsed, “Edmund Pendleton to James Madison.” Another copy is printed in the Proceedings of the Massachusetts Historical Society, 2d ser., XIX (1905), 133–34. An extract from the missing original is in Stan. V. Henkels Catalogue No. 694 (1892).

Virga. May 21, 1781

Dear Sir.

Yr obliging favr of the 1st1 hath raised my curiosity Yet I cannot but approve your Caution, and notwithstanding my keen appetite for News, I would rather be the last man in America to know an Interesting thing, than that our cause should be injured in the smallest degree by my knowing it the first. and I think I told you formerly that I entertained too high a sense of yr honour to expect or desire you to communicate any secrets of yr body:2 It gives me Satisfaction to find that European Politics wear a favourable Aspect for America.3

I have read the Pennsylvania Law for giving Congress a Revenue Independent of the Individual States, and cannot but much approve the Spirit of it, not only as it tends to give more Stable dignity to that Great Council, but the subject of taxation promises an Additional Cement to the Union, by Interesting each State in some degree in the trade of the whole; two doubts appear to me to arise upon the propriety of this Act however, which I mention, that you may if it can be done, remove them & prevent what may otherwise prove some obstruction to the Passage of a Similar Act here, as I mention’d them to a Gentn of our Assembly, who meant to be a Warm Advocate for such a law.

1. The law is perpetual, and as it is in general a dangerous Policy to lay such a tax, so it appears to me particularly wrong to do so in the Infancy of States, and upon an Opening trade, when no just estimate can be made of what it probably may4 amount to, when that trade comes to maturity. I should rather think it should be for a term only when experience may teach whether it is proper to continue, increase or diminish it.

The 2d Objection is to the mode—the law says it shall be “levied & collected as Congress shall direct.” Now how can Congress direct and inforce the Collection of this money, without Judiciary & Executive Powers, which may Interfere with the internal Government reserved to each State by the confederation. I should think therefore that the law imposing the duty should point out the mode of Collection & give speedy and Adequate remedies to inforce the Payment to such person as Congress shall appoint in each State to receive it, and to be subject to their disposition, which will preserve their uncontrollable power over the money without the other Inconveniences. It might give them indeed some Additional weight to have the appointment of the several Collectors, but as it appears to me that they must necessarily be the Naval officers, I suppose the States will scarcely agree to leave the Appointment of them, who are necessary & important Officers in many State Affairs to Congress. you’l consider these things & give me yr sentiments upon them as soon as convenient.5

It is confidently said that Clinton is arrived in our Bay,6 but I give no credit to it—nor indeed can I to any thing I hear even from James River. General Philips is certainly dead & the Command is again in Arnold,7 between whom and the Marquis nothing material has yet happened, how soon they may begin I dont know. Reports as to Ld Cornwallis are various—he has been said to be at Halifax, Hicks’s Ford & even at Petersburg, but now is left at Tar River8 in North Carolina, from whence he sent Cols Hamilton & Tarleton to Hallifax without opposition, nay, they are even brought to Petersburg, but I can’t rely upon any part of it.9 Nor on the Reports of Green’s being in Possession of Camden, which we have had for two days.10

I am told our Army are well supplied with Provisions at present, and I doubt not but the Collection of one tenth of our Cattle lately made, & which are now fatting in the several Counties, will keep up the supply through the year, we shall also furnish them with some Bacon for change of Diet.11 Adieu for this week.

Yrs Affecty

Edmd. Pendleton

1Not found.

2See Papers of Madison description begins William T. Hutchinson, William M. E. Rachal, et al., eds., The Papers of James Madison (2 vols. to date; Chicago, 1962——). description ends , II, 141.

3In view of this sentence, JM probably repeated in his missing letter of 1 May to Pendleton what he had written to Jefferson on the same day, namely, that there was “a good deal of information from Europe” but “I can only say in general that it is favorable.” This vagueness may account for Pendleton’s “curiosity.”

4In the Massachusetts Historical Society version this is “may probably.”

5Pendleton refers to the act of 5 April of the General Assembly of Pennsylvania “to vest in the Congress of the United States, a power to levy duties of five per cent. ad valorem, on certain goods and merchandize imported into this commonwealth, and on prizes and prize goods condemned in the court of admiralty of this state, after the first day of May, 1781, and for appropriating the same” (Journals of the House of Representatives of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, Beginning the Twenty-Eighth Day of November, 1776, and Ending the Second Day of October, 1781 [Philadelphia, 1782], p. 607). The Pennsylvania Packet of 1 May 1781, in which this act appears, most likely accompanied JM’s missing letter of that date. Although JM probably agreed with Pendleton’s “2d Objection,” he strongly supported the amendment of the Articles of Confederation, proposed by Congress to the states on 3 February 1781, to authorize Congress to levy a 5 per cent import duty. At that time, perhaps with the hope of making the suggested measure more palatable by paying greater deference to state sovereignty, JM had urged that the impost be levied by each state separately but be collected by appointees of Congress (Papers of Madison description begins William T. Hutchinson, William M. E. Rachal, et al., eds., The Papers of James Madison (2 vols. to date; Chicago, 1962——). description ends , II, 303–4). When Pendleton wrote the present letter, it had become clear that the unanimity of states, requisite for amending the Articles, could not be obtained. Rhode Island had unequivocally refused to agree and Massachusetts had virtually done so (above, Motion on Impost, 18 April 1781). Hence, if Congress was to have an assured income, it would have to be provided by acts similar to the one of Pennsylvania.

6General Clinton was at his headquarters in New York City.

7Between 13 May, when Phillips died, and 20 May, when Cornwallis reached Petersburg, Benedict Arnold was again in command of the British troops in Virginia. Arnold returned to New York in June.

8Erroneously shown as “Far River” in the Henkels catalogue extract. At its northernmost point the Tar River in North Carolina is about forty miles from Virginia’s southern border. Halifax, Hicks’s Ford, and Petersburg are in southern Virginia.

9See n. 7, above, for Cornwallis’ whereabouts. With Cornwallis were Lieutenant Colonel Tarleton, commanding the British Legion, a cavalry corps, and Lieutenant Colonel John Hamilton (d. 1817), formerly a merchant of Halifax, N.C., commanding a regiment of Loyalists. After the war Hamilton served as British consul at Norfolk, Va. He died in England “At a very advanced age” (Gentleman’s Magazine and Historical Chronicle [303 vols.; London, 1731–1907], LXXXVII, Part 1 [1817], 472; Samuel A. Ashe et al., eds., Biographical History of North Carolina from Colonial Times to the Present [8 vols.; Greensboro, N.C., 1905–17], V, 121–23).

10Lord Rawdon evacuated Camden on 10 May, and Greene occupied it shortly thereafter. About a week later Rawdon established his new base at Monck’s Corner, some thirty miles north-northwest of Charleston (Benjamin F. Stevens, ed., Campaign in Virginia, I, 483, 485; Greene to President of Congress, 14 May 1781, NA: PCC, No. 155, II, 59–64). The rumor of the evacuation of Camden apparently did not reach Lafayette at Richmond until about 26 May (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 , VI, 19, 26).

11A law enacted at the session of May 1780 empowered the executive to seize, for military use and with compensation to the owner, “not more than one half” of his “bullocks and barren cows … fit for slaughter.” This act, in amended form, was revived by the sessions of October 1780 and March 1781. A month after John Brown was appointed in January 1781 to supervise impressments on behalf of the state, Jefferson directed him immediately to “appoint a deputy in each county with orders to furnish you without delay with all the beef that can be eaten” (Hening, Statutes description begins William Waller Hening, ed., The Statutes at Large; Being a Collection of All the Laws of Virginia, from the First Session of the Legislature, in the Year 1619 (13 vols.; Richmond and Philadelphia, 1819–23). description ends , X, 312, 340–41, 344, 394; McIlwaine, Official Letters description begins H. R. McIlwaine, ed., Official Letters of the Governors of the State of Virginia (3 vols.; Richmond, 1926–29). description ends , II, 318). John Brown, rather than the executive, apparently fixed upon 10 per cent as a reasonable amount to demand from the owners of cattle. Judging from George Mason’s letter of 14 May to Jefferson, the county commissaries were arousing much complaint, not only because of the number of cattle impressed at an arbitrarily fixed price, but also because they were not in agreement about whether they should take cattle to the number of one-tenth of the owner’s herd, cattle equaling one-tenth of the total weight of the herd, or cattle worth one-tenth of the total value of the herd (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 , V, 647–48).

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