Virginia Delegates to Benjamin Harrison
RC (Virginia State Library). Except for the signatures of JM and Joseph Jones, the letter was written, franked, and addressed by Arthur Lee to “His Excellency Benjamin Harrison Esqr. Governor of Virginia.” Docketed, “Virga. Delegates Lr. March 19th 1782.”
Philadelphia March 19th. 1782
The Motion we made for Congress to accept the Beef, that might be supplied by the State for the southern Army above her former quota of that article, in discount for its value in the last Quota; is referrd to the Super-intendant of Finance, who has not yet reported upon it.1 If our accounts are true, touching the evacuation of Charlestown, which is said to have taken place on the 24th. ult.2 it will hardly be an object for us to press, considering the precedent it will establish.3
The capture of Cornwallis and of his Army, has made a great impression on the European Courts in our favor;4 & the evacuation of the southern parts of the U. S. will probably raise such an opinion of the establishment of our Independancy beyond the power of G. B. to shake, as to incline some of those Courts to an Alliance, that may make our Enemies dispair of ever succeeding against us. The alarm in England is very great. Strong & pointed Petitions have been presented against continuing the war,5 the opposition in the House of Commons has reachd within 41 of the ministerial majority,6 & the accounts from N. York are, that the Lords North, Germaine & Sandwich are actually displaced.7 Vigorous preparations, on our part, for the ensuing campaign, will give such efficacy to these impressions, as may probably put a period to the war.
We enclose the Paper, which will shew the success of our Ally in the W. Indies.8
Our Colleague Mr. Randolph, who left this place for Richmond yesterday, will give you a more particular account of the contents of our latest Dispatches,9 & of the proceedings here, than it is proper for us to commit to Paper.
We have the honor to be, with the greatest respect, Sir, Yr. Excellency’s most obedt. & most Humb. Servts.
J Madison Jr.
1. On 15 March 1782 Congress “Ordered, That the motion of the Delegates of Virginia to be credited out of requisition of quota of 8 Millions for Beef she may furnish more than required in the Act for Specific Supplies be referred to the Superintendant of Finance” (JCC description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds., Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789 (34 vols.; Washington, 1904–37). description ends , XXII, 136). The meaning of this order is highly ambiguous unless it is borne in mind that the “8 Millions” stand for the entire quota of money requisitioned by Congress from the thirteen states during 1782—”to be paid quarterly in equal proportions, the first payment to be made on the first day of April” 1782 (JCC description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds., Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789 (34 vols.; Washington, 1904–37). description ends , XXI, 1087–88). When Congress on 2 November 1781 decided what portion of the “8 Millions” each state should pay, it allotted Virginia $1,307,594. Although on that day Congress empowered Robert Morris, the superintendent of finance, to decide what percentage of this sum might be discharged with food “and other articles of supplies for the army,” Congress quickly prohibited these payments in kind, probably at Morris’ own suggestion (JCC description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds., Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789 (34 vols.; Washington, 1904–37). description ends , XXI, 1090–92, 1112). Viewing taxes in kind as “vicious,” he aimed to make the notes of the Bank of North America and the notes issued under his own signature (“Morris notes”) a “national” currency and to oblige every state to pay its financial quotas in those media or in specie rather than in “specifics” or in its own depreciated paper money. He was determined to press toward this goal, even though it was unrealistic in terms of the economic situation in Virginia and other war-ravaged southern states in 1782 (Clarence L. Ver Steeg, Robert Morris, pp. 79, 87, 134–36, 141, 151–56). For this reason, although his reply to the order of Congress of 15 March, quoted above, has not been found, he probably thwarted the effort of the Virginia delegates to have an “Act for Specific Supplies” passed in 1782. Morris, of course, was the more opposed to state quotas paid in “specifics” because they conflicted with the private-contractor system, inaugurated by him in 1781, for supplying the continental army outside the South (Harrison to Virginia Delegates, 9 February, n. 3; Virginia Delegates to Harrison, 25 February 1782, n. 3). See also Virginia Delegates to Harrison, 15 February, and n. 4, and 12 March; Harrison to Virginia Delegates, 1 March 1782, and n. 4.
2. Although British troops remained in Charleston until 14 December 1782, rumors of their leaving were often current in Philadelphia during the nine months preceding that date (Burnett, Letters description begins Edmund C. Burnett, ed., Letters of Members of the Continental Congress (8 vols.; Washington, 1921–36). description ends , VI, passim).
3. The implication is that if the news from South Carolina was true, need for meat in Greene’s army would be reduced and Virginia’s economic situation would improve. The exception requested of Congress would, therefore, be less urgent, and pressure should not be exerted to establish a “precedent” which might sanction a resort to a barter economy by the Confederation even after the close of the war.
4. This statement reflects a comment by John Adams in his letter of 4 December 1781, read in Congress on 18 March 1782 (JCC description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds., Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789 (34 vols.; Washington, 1904–37). description ends , XXII, 140). In his dispatch of 18 December, Adams also remarked that the French ambassador to The Hague had advised him, in view of “the late Cornwallization,” to “assume a higher tone” in his dealings with the Dutch government (Wharton, Revolutionary Diplomatic Correspondence description begins Francis Wharton, ed., The Revolutionary Diplomatic Correspondence of the United States (6 vols.; Washington, 1889). description ends , V, 36, 55).
5. The Pennsylvania Packet of 16 March 1782 printed a petition from residents of Westminster, asking for a cessation of the American war.
6. See JM to Jefferson, 18 March 1782, n. 7. A division of the Commons on 12 December 1781, although on an order of the day, had the effect of defeating, 220 to 179, an opposition motion, the crux of which was that “all further attempts to reduce the revolted colonies to obedience are contrary to the true interests of this kingdom, as tending to weaken its efforts against its ancient and powerful enemies” (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. 802–3, 831).
7. The source of these reports is unknown. Lord George Germain was secretary of state for colonies, and John Montagu (1718–1792), fourth Earl of Sandwich, first lord of the admiralty. The North ministry fell on 20 March, following the adoption by the House of Commons on 4 March 1782 of a resolution denouncing as “enemies to His Majesty and this country” all who should advise or attempt “the farther prosecution of offensive war on the continent of North America, for the purpose of reducing the revolted colonies to obedience by force” (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. 1064, 1085; Ian Ralph Christie, The End of North’s Ministry, 1780–1782 [London, 1958], pp. 367–69).
8. Probably the Pennsylvania Packet of 19 March 1782, in which appears the Articles of Capitulation, whereby the British surrendered St. Kitts and Nevis to the French, and reports that both the British and French fleets in the West Indies had been strengthened.