James Madison Papers

To James Madison from Edmund Pendleton, 6 July 1781

From Edmund Pendleton

Tr (LC: Force Transcripts). At the bottom, the clerk noted, “The signature cut off by some Autograph hunter.” The letter is addressed, “The Honble James Maddison jun. Esqr Philada[,] Hond by E. Randolph, Esqr.” Edmund Randolph took his seat in Congress on 16 July 1781 (JCC description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds., Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789 (34 vols.; Washington, 1904–37). description ends , XX, 750). Another version is printed in the Proceedings of the Massachusetts Historical Society, 2d ser., XIX (1905), 136–37.

Mountains1 July 6th. 1781

My Dear Sir:

I think my last to you was the 27th of May when I prophecied that my next would be probably dated from hence.2 It was on the day after that, more to comply with the earnest importunity3 of my neighbours than influenced by my own Judgment or inclination, I took flight from Caroline with a few slaves & necessaries to enable me to exist if what I left should become a prey to the Enemy. Our Neighbourhood however happily escaped the hostile Visit hitherto, & I hope will yet do so, unless some reverse of fortune or change of circumstances, should change the present disposition of the Enemy or the Marquis’s Army.4 After the hurry of Spirits which5 usually attend a precipitate flight were over, I have enjoyed some pleasant hours with my friends, Amongst others a few happy days at yr fathers, who6 I was glad to find enjoying fine health, after being many years without seeing him, Tho’ I was the less surprised at it, after experiencing the Salubrious Air of his fine Seat, not to be exceeded by any Montpelier in the Universe;7 I wish you would hasten peace, that you may return to the Influence of it upon your crazy constitution.8 In this happy retirement I regret nothing but the dearth of News; Your last favr was the 29th of May, There are probably others below which have not reach’d me.9 You have been at much pains to remove my objections to the Mode of the Congress duty. I wish they may operate as forceably upon those whose duty it is to give effect to the measure, as on me, who tho’ I think them [st]ill10 founded on propriety in General, must yield to the necessity of giving stable credit to congress so far as their engagements require, which greatly overweigh in consequence any possible inconvenience on the other side. I am not over-jealous of power, but my creed is to withold from no public body So much as is necessary to their Appointment, & give them not an Iota that is unnecessary—upon this rule should I determine was it my province, upon every11 demand of Congress. It is time however I quitted this subject by begging pardon of Congress for supposing these difficulties which had been so fully discuss’d, had escaped them.12

You’l probably have by this post a much better Account of the Enemy than I can give you at this distance; when I last heard of them they were supposed to be between Wms.burg & York, and their light horse plundering in Gloucester, their intentions whether to fortify at York, where their ships are, or leave Us, Or change the scene of devastion, not yet discovered13 They have had a small skirmish wch ended to our advantage,14 and I am told our Militia are full of Ardor for a Battle.

The proffitable trade open’d with Spain & the Metalic returns, give a flatering Prospect of having our finances on a better footing, and will soon abolish our paper and all Inconvenience & iniquitous Speculations upon it,15 towards wch Mr Morris’s Bank,16 appears to me a promising Aid. Our Assembly have stop’d the circulation of the old notes, except to the Treasury, & even the 1 new for 40 are not to be Issued [but]17 by order of the Executive; I wish they could also have avoided the Expedient of emitting more State money.18

Pray what are the Powers of Europe doing? Are they holding a Congress at Antwerp? or has the Contest between France & Britain whether America shall have a Plenipo there, or be entirely excluded from any consideration in the Pacific plan, put an end to it?19

1Pendleton had been in Staunton on 23 June, but where in the “Mountains” he was staying when he wrote this letter is unknown (David J. Mays, Edmund Pendleton, II, 173–74).

2See the postscript of Pendleton to JM, 28 May 1781.

3In the version printed in the Proceedings of the Massachusetts Historical Society, this word is “importunities.”

5Following “which,” the clerk wrote and then crossed out “naturally.”

6Written above a deleted “where.”

7Pendleton most likely had Montpellier in southern France chiefly in mind, although, by 1785 at least, there was a “Montpellier” estate in Rockingham County, less than fifty miles from JM’s home (Virginia Gazette, or, the American Advertiser [Richmond, Hayes], 29 October 1785). The editors believe that the present letter is the earliest extant document using the name to designate the Madison plantation or its mansion. Of the latter, as it appears today, only the central portion existed in 1781, and it had been constructed about twenty years before. Until JM became president of the United States, he apparently never referred to his home as “Montpelier,” either in the text or on the covers of his letters. From 1809 until his death, however, he identified himself consistently with “Montpelier,” or more usually, “Montpellier.” In the will of JM’s father, signed on 17 September 1787, the home plantation is designated merely as “the tract of land whereon I now live,” and the family dwelling as “my mansion House” (Orange County Court Records, microfilm in the Virginia State Library). Among the father’s extant records is his application of 30 May 1799 for fire insurance on “Buildings on my Plantation called Montpelier.” The present editors have been unable to find an earlier use of the title by James Madison, Sr., in his surviving papers. Although this evidence is altogether negative in character, it does pose the unanswerable questions of whether Pendleton, having recently admired the beauty of the Madison plantation, with its backdrop of the Blue Ridges, may have been suggesting to JM in this letter an appropriate name rather than employing one already in use, or whether he may even have been repeating a name suggested to him by JM or someone else. And yet, in either case, the fact that eighteen years were to pass before the estate would customarily be referred to as “Montpel[l]ier” seems to render highly improbable any connection between the possible suggestion and the subsequent use of the name.

8In his extant letters of about this time, JM makes no mention of being sick. Furthermore, although several days often elapsed in Congress without a roll-call vote being noted in the journal, JM was present at every recorded tally of this kind between 16 April and 6 July 1781. For these reasons, Pendleton’s comment may have reflected only his general knowledge of JM’s susceptibility to illnesses (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 , I, 164, n. 1).

9JM apparently did not write to Pendleton between 29 May and 31 July 1781 (q.v.).

10The word “ill” in the Force transcript most probably should be “still,” as in the version printed in the Proceedings of the Massachusetts Historical Society. By viewing “objections” as the antecedent of “them,” the sense of the sentence harmonizes with the objections raised by Pendleton in his letter of 21 May to JM.

11The printed version mentioned in n. 10 likely errs in having “our” instead of “every.”

12For the context of Pendleton’s comments upon “the Congress duty,” see JM’s letter of 29 May 1781 and nn. 1, 2, 4, 5.

13On 8 July, at his headquarters at “Amblers Plantation” on Jamestown Island, Lafayette wrote to Washington that Cornwallis “seems to have given up the conquest of Virginia” (Louis Gottschalk, ed., Letters of Lafayette to Washington, p. 204). On the same day, writing from Cobham (a town now long extinct) at the mouth of Gray’s Creek, across the James River from Jamestown, Cornwallis informed Clinton that the troops he had requested to be sent back to New York would soon embark at Portsmouth. This embarkation never occurred because, also on 8 July, Clinton was penning a dispatch to Cornwallis, leaving to his discretion the matter of depleting his force in Virginia. By this date Cornwallis seemed willing, even eager, to turn over his command in Virginia to a successor and return to Charleston, S.C. (Benjamin F. Stevens, ed., Campaign in Virginia, II, 20–21, 24–25, 50–51, 56–58).

14See Lee to Virginia Delegates, 12 June 1781, n. 5. On 26 June, the day after Cornwallis reached Williamsburg, following his slow withdrawal from the upper Piedmont of Virginia, a detachment of Lafayette’s army attacked Simcoe’s Queen’s Rangers and a party of German light infantry at Spencer’s Ordinary, about six miles from Williamsburg, as they were returning to that town “from the destruction of some boats & Stores on the Chickahominy; The Enemy tho’ much superior in numbers, were repulsed with considerable Loss” (Cornwallis to Clinton, 30 June 1781, in Benjamin F. Stevens, ed., Campaign in Virginia, II, 33). Simcoe reported eleven of his total force killed, about twenty-five wounded, and one captured, with thirty-two American prisoners taken (John G. Simcoe, Journal of the Operations of the Queen’s Rangers, pp. 165, 167). There appears to be no extant, first-hand report by an American of the patriot loss in killed and wounded.

15See JM to Pendleton, 29 May 1781, n. 8. The increase of trade with Spain, largely via Cuban ports, helps to account for the growing emphasis upon the Spanish milled dollar as a standard of American currency.

16Robert Morris’ plan for the Bank of North America, laid before Congress on 21 May, had been accepted five days later. A roll-call vote appears to have been recorded only on the paragraph of the plan providing for the incorporation of the bank by Congress. On this tally JM differed from his three Virginia colleagues by voting “no.” Of the twenty-four delegates present, twenty voted “ay” (JCC description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds., Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789 (34 vols.; Washington, 1904–37). description ends , XX, 519, 545–47). In 1830 JM would inform Andrew Stevenson that his negative vote had been based upon the absence within the Articles of Confederation of any authority, even that of “inferred necessity,” to create a bank “to carry on the war.” For his further reflections on the subject, see Madison, Writings (Hunt ed.) description begins Gaillard Hunt, ed., The Writings of James Madison (9 vols.; New York, 1900–1910). description ends , IX, 419–20. JM may have sent Pendleton the Pennsylvania Packet of 29 May, which printed the plan and Morris’ defense of it.

17“But” appears in the version of the letter published in the Proceedings of the Massachusetts Historical Society.

19Mention of a possible peace conference at Antwerp or Vienna was made in the Pennsylvania Packet of 29 May. In its issue of 25 August, under the headline “Antwerp, April 5,” is the statement: “It is well known for a certainty, that all the efforts made for holding a Congress for a general pacification have miscarried. Neither this city nor Vienna will have the honour to be chosen for that glorious object. The demands of England have appeared so exorbitant, that the powers which offered to become mediators, have absolutely rejected them.” For the mediation proposals of the empress of Russia and the Holy Roman Emperor, see Virginia Delegates to Jefferson, 22 May, and n. 3; Notes from Secret Journal, 28 May, editorial note; 6 June, and nn. 2 and 3; 9–15 June, and nn. 1 and 3; Motion on Peace Negotiations, 6 June; Motions on Boundaries, 8 June; Motion on Treaty of Commerce, 29 June 1781, editorial note.

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