James Madison Papers

From James Madison to Edmund Pendleton, 13 November 1781

To Edmund Pendleton

RC (LC: Madison Papers). Addressed to “The honble Edmund Pendleton Esqr. Caroline County Virginia.”

Philada. Novr. 13th. 1781.

My Dear Sir

I was favored with yours of the 5th.1 yesterday. There are some flattering reports here of a meeting between the fleets which brought another drubbing on the English, but the most probable report is that the British fleet have returned to their station at the Hook, judging it inadvisable to hazard a battle after the object of it is removed.2

Nothing definitive has taken place on the territorial cessions. That of Virga. will not I believe be accepted with the Conditions annexed to it.3 The opinion seems to be that an acceptance of the Cession [by] N. York will give Congress a title which will be maintainable against all the other claimants.4 In this however they will certainly be deceived, and even if it were otherwise it wd. be their true interest as well as conformable to the plan on which the cessions were recommended, to bury all further contentions by covering the territory with the titles of as many of the claimants as possible. We are very anxious to bring the matter to issue that the State may know what course their honor and security require them to take.5 The present thinness of Congress makes it but too uncertain when we shall be able to accomplish it.

Will not the Assembly pay some handsome compliments to the Marquis for his judicious & zealous services whilst the protection of the Country was entrusted to him? His having baffled and finally reduced to the defensive so powerful an army as we now know he had to contend with, and with so disproportionate a force, would have done honor to the most veteran officer and, added to his other merits and services, constitute a claim on their gratitude which I hope will not be unattended to.6

I am Dr. Sir Yrs. Sincerely

J. Madison Junr.

A series of intercepted letters from Mr. Deane to his correspondents in America have been lately published in New York.7 The object of all of them, with degrees varying from cautious insinuation to direct advice, is to bring America back to a dependence on Britain modified according to the terms proposed by the Commissioners in 1778.8 The genuineness of some of these letters is upon good grounds questioned, but most of them contain marks of authenticity which clearly denounce him to be an apostate, and consign his character to the same infamy with that of his friend Arnold. This sentence is delivered here against him with the less hesitation because a prior and indubitable evidence of his degeneracy had been received through another channel.9 Whether this defection has proceeded, from a mercenary contract with the enemy, from a view of obtaining such an one, or from a chagrin at the obstac[les] which his Country has by a total prohibition of intercou[rse] with the enemy opposed to the commercial projects he went to Europe to execute is as yet matter of speculation

1Not found.

2See Virginia Delegates to Nelson, 16 October 1781, n. 1. The British squadron under Admiral Graves, which sailed from New York on its futile mission to rescue Cornwallis’ army, avoided hostile action against Grasse’s fleet, superior both in fire power and number of ships. General Heath’s dispatch of 8 November, read in Congress on the date of JM’s present letter, accurately reported Graves’s return to New York harbor early in November (JCC description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds., Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789 (34 vols.; Washington, 1904–37). description ends , XXI, 1113 n.; NA: PCC, No. 157, fols. 395–96).

4On 1 March 1781 New York offered to cede its western claims, but Congress delayed accepting the gift until 29 October 1782 (JCC description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds., Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789 (34 vols.; Washington, 1904–37). description ends , XIX, 208–13; XXIII, 693–94). In his letter of 7 November 1781 to Nelson, Randolph summarized his own view, and probably that of JM as well, of New York’s alleged title to western lands (Burnett, Letters description begins Edmund C. Burnett, ed., Letters of Members of the Continental Congress (8 vols.; Washington, 1921–36). description ends , VI, 259–60).

6Late in his life JM or someone at his direction put one bracket at the end of this paragraph and a second at the opening of the paragraph immediately preceding. These two paragraphs appear in Madison, Papers (Gilpin ed.) description begins Henry D. Gilpin, ed., The Papers of James Madison (3 vols.; Washington, 1840). description ends , I, 101. On 17 and 18 December 1781 the Virginia General Assembly resolved unanimously to commission the execution in Paris of a marble bust of Lafayette for presentation to him “as a lasting monument of his merit, and of their gratitude” (Journal of the House of Delegates description begins Journal of the House of Delegates of Virginia, March 1781 Session in Bulletin of the Virginia State Library, XVII, No. 1 (January 1928). description ends , October 1781, pp. 43, 46). In 1785, acting for Virginia, Jefferson engaged Jean Antoine Houdon as the sculptor. Placed in the City Hall of Paris in 1787, the bust was smashed by a revolutionary mob a few years later. A replica by Houdon fills the only niche in the rotunda of the state capitol at Richmond not occupied by a bust of a Virginia-born president of the United States (Louis Gottschalk, Lafayette between the American and the French Revolution, 1783–1789 [Chicago, 1950], pp. 179, 250–51, 253; 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 , VIII, 422–23; X, 407–9; XI, 560, 673; XIII, 661; XIV, 54–55). See also Report on Lafayette, 23 November 1781.

7Between 24 October and 12 December 1781, Rivington’s Royal Gazette of New York City printed eleven “intercepted letters” written by Silas Deane. Of these, JM could have seen only five or six by the date of the present letter. Apparently they were not noticed by Philadelphia newspapers until the 14 November issue of the Pennsylvania Journal. After sharing prominently in resisting British policies, Silas Deane of Wethersfield was chosen to be a delegate from Connecticut in the First and Second Continental Congresses. In France from 1776 to 1778 as an envoy of Congress, Deane obtained money and supplies, accepted a few excellent officers for service with the patriot army, and helped induce the court of Louis XVI to conclude the treaties of alliance and commerce with the United States. At the same time he sought to profit in private business ventures from his knowledge of state secrets (Julian P. Boyd, “Silas Deane: Death by a Kindly Teacher of Treason?” in William and Mary Quarterly, 3d ser., XVI [1959], 165–87, 319–42, 515–50). Late in 1776 Congress had sent Benjamin Franklin and Arthur Lee to join Deane in Paris. Charged by Lee with using public funds for his own financial gain, and with other types of malfeasance, Deane was ordered home by Congress to render an accounting. Owing in some measure at least to the factionalism caused by differences of opinion about his conduct in France, Deane was unable to convince Congress of his financial integrity. In the summer of 1780, avowedly to collect vouchers in support of his claims, he returned to Paris as a private citizen. Again unsuccessful and in desperate straits by February of the next year, he sold his “intercepted” letters to the British secret service in return for a trifling commercial concession. Addressed to prominent Americans, these dispatches expressed his disgust with the “hopeless” American cause, his sympathy for Benedict Arnold, his hatred of the French, and his belief that a reconciliation with Great Britain would be sound policy. Without disclosing how he had obtained the letters, Lord North forwarded them to Sir Henry Clinton to use as he might see fit (Carl Van Doren, Secret History of American Revolution, pp. 417–18). Deane soon admitted that some of the “intercepted” letters were his, while Benjamin Franklin had “no doubt of their being all genuine.” Impoverished, bitter, and convinced that Congress owed him £12,000 sterling, Deane spent the few remaining years of his life in Ghent and Great Britain. In 1842 Congress, uninformed that Deane had connived with the enemy in 1781 and interested only in the period of his service as an envoy of the United States, awarded $37,000 to his heirs after declaring that the audit of his accounts, made by Arthur Lee’s partisans, had been “ex parte, and is erroneous” (JCC description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds., Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789 (34 vols.; Washington, 1904–37). description ends , XXI, 930–31, 955; XXII, 37–38; Wharton, Revolutionary Diplomatic Correspondence description begins Francis Wharton, ed., The Revolutionary Diplomatic Correspondence of the United States (6 vols.; Washington, 1889). description ends , IV, 22, 223, 415–16, 797–801; V, 146, 216; Senate Doc. 88, 27th Cong., 2d sess. [3 February 1842], p. 3; House Report 952, 27th Cong., 2d sess. [27 July 1842], pp. 1–11). For copies of the “intercepted” letters, see Collections of the New-York Historical Society, XXII (1889), 311–15, 321–27, 335–89, 394–99, 403–17, 419–38, 500–505.

8See above, Report on Retaliation, 1 October 1781, n. 2. The Carlisle peace commission had offered the rebels almost everything they were fighting for, except independence itself.

9Arthur Lee. See 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, 108, n. 10; 165; 167, n. 4; 237, n. 5; 239, n. 4.

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