James Madison Papers

From James Madison to Edmund Pendleton, 16 October 1781

To Edmund Pendleton

RC (LC: Madison Papers). The cover is missing, but the letter is docketed in Pendleton’s hand, “Jas. Madison jr. Esqr. Octr. 16. 1781.”

Philada. Ocr. 16th. 1781.

Dear Sir

When you get a sight of the Resolution of the Gen: Ass: referred to in your favor of the 8th. you will readily judge from the tenor of it what steps would be taken by the Delegates. It necessarily submitted the fate of the object in question to the discretion and prospects of the Gentleman whom reports it seems have arraigned to you, but who I am bound in justice to testify has entirely supported the character which he formerly held with you. I am somewhat surprized that you never had before known of the Resolution just mentioned, especially as, what is indeed much more surprizing it was both debated & passed with open doors & a full gallery. This circumstance alone must have defeated any reservations attached to it.1

The N. York papers and the intelligence from thence make it evident that they have no hope of relieving Cornwallis,2 unless it can be effected by some desperate naval experiment and that such an one will be made. Their force will probably amount to 26 Sail of the line, and if we are not misinformed as to the late arrival of three Ships of the line to 29 Sail. The superiority still remaining on the part of our Allies and the repeated proofs given of their skill & bravery on the water forbid any apprehension of danger. At the same time we can not help calculating that every addition to the British force proportionally diminishes the certainty of success. A fleet of provisions amounting to about3 40 Sail convoyed by a 44 & 2 frigates have arrived at N. Y. within the week past.4

Having sent all the papers containing the proceedings on the case of Mr. N. agst. V. as they came out, I shall to complete your view of it add the last effort in his favor published in the inclosed No. of the Freemans Journal. I am told however that the publisher ought to have subjoined that the privy Council interposed & directed restitution of the King of Spain’s effects.5

I am Dr Sir Yrs Affecly.

J. Madison Junr.

1For a clarification of this paragraph, see Pendleton to JM, 8 October 1781, and nn. 11 and 12.

2In his letter of 7 October 1781 to the president of Congress, General Heath reported the belief of many New York Tories that Cornwallis would be obliged to surrender (NA: PCC, No. 157, fol. 332).

3JM inadvertently repeated “to about.”

5See JM to Pendleton, 2 October, and n. 2, and 9 October 1781, n. 2. JM evidently enclosed a copy of the Freeman’s Journal of 10 October. In this issue, the anonymous writer of a letter to “Mr. Printer” (Francis Bailey), after referring to the judgment of the Court of Common Pleas of Pennsylvania that a citizen (Simon Nathan) of one sovereign state could not attach, within that state, the property of another sovereign state which allegedly owed money to him, cites the opinion of eminent English jurists in 1653 that “goods of the king of Spain found in London” could lawfully be attached by an English creditor of that monarch. JM points out the failure of the anonymous writer to add that this verdict was annulled on 19 November 1653 by the Lord General, Oliver Cromwell, and other members of the Council of State. Their warrant ordered the judges of the Court of Admiralty “To restore to the King of Spain … the wools taken out of several ships and claimed by the sons of Sir Peter Richaut” (Mary Anne Everett Green, ed., Calendar of State Papers, Domestic Series, 1653–54 [London, 1879], pp. 282, 289, 444; Allen B. Hinds, ed., Calendar of State Papers and Manuscripts, Relating to English Affairs, Existing in the Archives and Collections of Venice and in Other Libraries of Northern Italy, XXIX [London, 1929], 148–49).

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