James Madison Papers

From James Madison to Edmund Pendleton, 25 February 1782

To Edmund Pendleton

RC (LC: Madison Papers). The cover is missing, but the letter was docketed by Pendleton, “James Maddison jr. Feb. 25th. 1782.” In another hand, “E. Pendleton Esq Caroline County Va” appears at the bottom of the second page of the letter.

Philada. Feby. 25th. 1782

Dear Sir

The irregularity of the post has again left me two of your favrs. to acknowledge at once, the first of which is of the 28th. Ultimo & the other of the 11th. instant. My two last it seems have miscarried altogether.1

You2 have been misinformed I find with respect to that article in the scheme of the bank which claims for it the exclusive privilege of issuing circulating notes. It is true Congress have recommended to the States to allow it such a privilege, but it is to be continued only during the present war. Under such a limitation it was conceived both necessary to the success of the scheme, & consistent with the policy of the several States; it being improbable that the collective credit & specie of the whole wd. support more than one such institution, or that any particular State wd. during the war stake its credit anew on any paper experiment whatever.3

We have letters from Cadiz as late as the 7 of Jany. which impart that a Spanish fleet composed of 41 Sail of the line sailed from that port on the 3d. of the same month which had under their convoy transports with 4000 troops supposed to be destined for the Havanna. It was said the fleet was to cruize off Madiera & to await the junction of the Ct. de Guichen who had sailed from Brest on the 11th. of December with 19 ships of the line convoying 15,000 troops wch. with a part of the fleet it was supposed would also proceed for the W. Indies. It was reported however that an action, the issue of wch. was unknown, had taken place between de Guichen and a British squadron of 13 Ships under Admiral Kempenfeldt. This it was apprehended might disconcert the arrangement with the Spaniards.4 Nothing definitive had happened at Minorca, but the reports continued to be flattering.5

The fate of Brimstone Hill the only remaining post on St. Kitts is not yet known here. A flag which came in a few days ago, with prisoners from Antigua confirms a preceding rumor of an engagement between Hood & de Grasse the former of whom had made an essay to relieve St. Kitts. An Antigua paper labours to make it probable that Hood had succeeded & that the French had lost a ship of the line, but the private information reverses the probability. The next post I hope will remove the uncertainty in which this must leave you.6

The inclosed papers will at length gratify you with the speech of the British King & the address of the two Houses of Parliament. The debates to which they must have given birth are either not arrived at N. York or they are backward in publishing them. The amendment proposed to the Address in the Upper House could not well fail to have produced an interesting skirmish between the oratorical combatants.7

The Gentleman from this place who reported the certain evacuation of N. York was an impudent liar. There has not existed here a whisper to palliate his offense.8

I am Dr. Sir with very sincere regard Yr. &c

J. Madison Jr.

1These were JM’s letters of 22 January and 7 February 1782. When Pendleton received the earlier of these is unknown to the editors, but he acknowledged the one of the seventh in his letter of 25 February (q.v.).

2Late in life JM, or someone at his bidding, bracketed this paragraph to designate it for publication. See Madison, Papers (Gilpin ed.) description begins Henry D. Gilpin, ed., The Papers of James Madison (3 vols.; Washington, 1840). description ends , I, 113–14.

4JM’s information came from two letters, written at Cadiz on 7 and 8 January, respectively. Carried in the brigantine “Fox” to Philadelphia, extracts of them appeared in the Pennsylvania Packet of 19 February, with the names of writer(s) and addressee(s) omitted. JM probably saw the full text of these dispatches, because he mentions here a few details not found in the published excerpts. Commanding a fleet of thirteen war vessels and outmaneuvering Comte de Guichen with his nineteen ships of the line, Rear Admiral Richard Kempenfelt (1718–1782) in mid-December 1781 captured twenty French transports, manned by about five hundred sailors and carrying over one thousand troops. In consequence of this loss and of further damage suffered shortly thereafter in a heavy gale, Guichen was obliged to sail back to Brest, his port of departure. The reinforcement of Grasse in the West Indies with ships and soldiers was necessarily delayed for several months. Don Luis de Córdova’s Spanish fleet, which Guichen had intended to join, returned to Cadiz (David Hannay, A Short History of the Royal Navy, 1217–1815 [2 vols.; London, 1898–1909], II, 272–73; W. M. James, British Navy in Adversity, pp. 312–15, 366). See JM to Pendleton, 9 April 1782.

5A combined force of French and Spanish troops, led by the Duc de Crillon, had forced the British to surrender Castle St. Philip and Port Mahon, Minorca, on 4–5 February 1782 (Wharton, Revolutionary Diplomatic Correspondence description begins Francis Wharton, ed., The Revolutionary Diplomatic Correspondence of the United States (6 vols.; Washington, 1889). description ends , V, 171, 175).

6See Virginia Delegates to Harrison, 15 February 1782, n. 5. JM is reporting what would appear in the Pennsylvania Packet of 26 February. This issue admits that the British, instead of losing two frigates in Basseterre Roads, St. Kitts, as reported in the Packet of 23 February, had captured or destroyed one of Grasse’s warships there. This report was also erroneous. In the operations around St. Kitts between 23 January and 1 February, the small British frigate “Solebay” was wrecked on the coast of the neighboring island of Nevis, and the “Alfred” was damaged in a collision. British cannon balls obliged Grasse to make extensive repairs to the hull of his flagship “Ville de Paris” (Wm. Laird Clowes, The Royal Navy: A History from the Earliest Times to the Present [7 vols.; Boston, 1897–1903], IV, 112; David Hannay, Short History of the Royal Navy, II, 274). On 28 February the Pennsylvania Packet announced that the Brimstone Hill garrison had surrendered to the French.

7JM probably enclosed the Pennsylvania Packet of 19 and 23 February. The latter issue reported that the following amendment by the Earl of Shelburne on 27 November 1781 to the “Address to the King” in the House of Lords had been voted down: “And we will without delay apply ourselves with united hearts to propose and digest such councils, as may in this crisis excite the efforts, point the arms, and by a total change of system, command the confidence of all his majesty’s subjects.” After “united hearts,” the official version reads, “to prepare and digest such councils to be laid at his royal feet, as may excite the efforts, point the arms, and command the confidence of all his subjects.” The amendment was rejected by a vote of 75 to 31 (Hansard’s Parliamentary Debates description begins William Cobbett, ed., The Parliamentary History of England from the Earliest Period to the Year 1803 (36 vols.; London, 1806–20; continued as Hansard’s Parliamentary Debates). description ends , XXII, cols. 649, 679).

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