James Madison Papers

To James Madison from Edmund Pendleton, 27 August 1781

From Edmund Pendleton

Tr (LC: Force Transcripts). Addressed to “The Honble James Maddison jr Esqr Philadelphia.” Another copy is printed in the Proceedings of the Massachusetts Historical Society, 2d ser., XIX (1905), 139–40. An extract from the missing original is printed in Stan. V. Henkels Catalogue No. 694 (1892).

Edmundsbury, Augt 27th 1781

Dear Sir

Finding on my return from a Visit yr kind favr of the 14th with one from Mr Jones of the 7th & not recollecting which I wrote to last, I determined to pay my respects to both by this Post, without expecting an Answer but in the ordinary rotation.1

We had begun to Flatter ourselves with a quiet fall from the departure of the British troops when we heard of their embarkation, but it has vanished upon their relanding & shewing their purpose of taking a stable post at York & Gloucester Towns.2 Whether this extraordinary Maneuvre3 was intended to deceive the Marquis into some security4 which might give them an Advantage, or that they really had a purpose of going elsewhere, which was changed by circumstances, must be left to mere conjecture until they or time shall discover their Secrets, their stay however must prove either that they think neither N. York or Charles Town want their Assistance, or that they would pursue their prospects here at the risque of those. what I know of their & our situation I have mentioned to Mr Jones, but doubt not you have better Accounts of it from camp.

The Recapture of the Fleet conveying the Statia Plunder,5 is a very agreeable piece of Intelligence, I am sorry it was accompanied by one of a very different aspect, the removal of Mr Necker,6 whose distinguished abilities & Integrity in discharging the most important Office in his Nation have been celebrated even by its enemies. However men are frail, & all courts have intrigues, and from one or both of those sources was his fall derived.

We have been so often disappointed in accounts of Fleets coming to America, that I have learn’d to pay little Attention to any report of that kind, otherwise I should think the Ships at Hispaniola might make a safe & useful excursion to the American Coast during the hurricane Months, should they do so, they will be welcome Guests however unexpected.7

The separation & Independence of the people of Vermont is a very serious and unlucky affair, which I wish there had not been Occasion for Congress to decide on. The people had great reason to complain of Injustice, from which they appeared to have no prospect of relief, but in a Separation from that8 State of New York, whose Government had done them the Injury; and yet to divide a state at the request of some members of it, against the will of a Majority, or indeed admitting a Power in Congress to divide9 at all, will establish a precedent, that may prove the Source of much Mischief at some future period: This business, like Agrarian Laws which please the poor & chagrin the Rich, will probably be pleasing to the small States and disgusting to the large, & so produce dissentions amongst Us.10 however as it is ever good policy when evils are inevitable to choose the lesser, these Objections may be greatly over weighed by those inconveniences which would attend the Rejection of their Petition, and may justifie Congress in the step they take. A case like this may never happen again, yet Precedents, of Power especially, are of such a ductile nature, as to be extended to any purpose a Majority shall Wish. I suppose Our friend Ethan will be one of the first Vermont Members.11

The brave Genl. Campbell of our Militia who commanded at King’s Mountain, came ill from our Camp & died last Wednesday in Hanover, much lamented as a Valuable Officer & man; Morgan is also gone home sick.12 I am with very great regard

Dr Sr Yr Affe & obt Servt

Edmd Pendleton

1See JM to Pendleton, 14 August 1781. Judging from the last sentence in the next paragraph, Pendleton had either sent this information in an earlier letter to Joseph Jones, or, as seems far more likely, had mentioned it in one he had just written.

3The copy in the Proceedings of the Massachusetts Historical Society has “measure.”

4That is, “false sense of security.”

6Ibid., n. 5.

8The copies in the Force transcripts and in the Proceedings of the Massachusetts Historical Society read “that.” Henkels Catalogue reads “the.”

9The copy in the Force transcripts erroneously reads, “Power in Congress, against the will of a Majority, or indeed admitting a Power in Congress to divide at all.” Each of the copies mentioned in n. 8 was also independently made from the original, and each has merely “to divide at all” between “Power in Congress” and “will establish.”

10See JM to Pendleton, 14 August 1781, and nn. 11, 12, and 13.

11Perhaps Ethan Allen (1738–1789), a leader of the independence movement in Vermont, would have become a member of the Congress of the United States if he had lived until his state was admitted to the Union in 1791, even though his brother Ira, who held a number of civil offices and was politically prominent in Vermont until 1801, never held a federal office.

12William Campbell was a brigadier general of Virginia militia from December 1780 until his death on 22 August 1781. Arthritis had forced Brigadier General Daniel Morgan in February 1781 to relinquish his command in General Greene’s army and return to his home in Frederick County, Virginia. He was unable to take the field again during the Revolution, except briefly under Lafayette in July and August 1781.

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