James Madison Papers

Virginia Delegates to Benjamin Harrison, 7 May 1782

Virginia Delegates to Benjamin Harrison

RC (Virginia State Library). In JM’s hand. Addressed to “His Excelly. The Governor of Virginia.” Docketed: “Virga. Delegates Letter May 7th recd May 16. 82[.] Will soon send information as to Inhabitant[s] transfered from Jurisdiction of Virginia to that of Pensylvania. Fifty commissions forwarded by Secretary of Congress for armed Vessels. A vigorous effort to expel the enemy from our country called for.” The “Fifty” should be “Twenty.” Words written in the official cipher are italicized.

Philada. May 7. 17821


Your Excellency’s favor of the 27th. ulto. came to hand yesterday. There has not been since time sufficient to procure the information the Executive wish for relative to the inhabitants lately transferred from the jurisdiction of Virginia to that of Pennsylvania. We shall endeavor to obtain it for the next post.2 The Se[c]retary of Congress assures us that 20 Commissions for armed Vessels were forwarded on the 30th. Ulto. in consequence of a letter from Mr. Blair on the subject.3 If that number is insufficient the balance shall be supplied on the first notice.

The enclosed Gazette will furnish your Excellency with all the parliamentary intelligence by which we are as yet enabled to interpret the views of the Enemy. The perseverence of the antiministerial party in the supposed efficacy of conciliatory overtures seems to be no less obstinate than that of the Court has been with respect to military coercion, and as manifestly portends a delay of peace. The path of our duty under these circumstances cannot be mistaken. A scrupulous fidelity to our foreign engagements & a vigorous preparation for expelling the enemy from our Country must press them selves on every attention.4

Letters from Spain inform us that the Garrison taken at Minorca consisted of 26,00 including every description, but 1500 only of effective troops; and that this success of the Spanish arms would be followed by redoubled ardor in the siege of Gibraltar.5 Our affairs at this court make no progress whatever toward the allyance sought for. If it does not take place at all we shall have at least the consolation of saveing the Mississippi.6

We have been supplied with no news of late from the W. Indies, owing cheifly to the success of the Enemy’s Cruisers on the inward as well as outward bound trade of this river, which is in a manner annihilated by them.7

We have the honor to be with sentiments of the highest respect Yr. Excelly’s obt. & very hble servants.

J. Madison Jr.

Theok: Bland Jr.

1As mentioned in the headnote, this date also appears in the docket of the letter. On 18 May the journal of the Virginia Council of State noted that “A Letter was writ to our Delegates in Congress in answer to theirs of the 7th instant” (Journals of the Council of State description begins H. R. McIlwaine et al., eds., Journals of the Council of the State of Virginia (3 vols. to date; Richmond, 1931——). description ends , III, 92). Yet Governor Harrison specified in his dispatch to the delegates on 18 May (q.v.) that he was acknowledging their letter of 4 May. Probably he or his clerk erred, because no letter from the delegates on that day, a Saturday, has been found. They usually wrote on post day, which was Tuesday of each week. Furthermore, Harrison’s reply makes clear that, if the delegates wrote to him on 4 May, they must have commented on the same topics included in their dispatch three days later.

2See Harrison to Virginia Delegates, 27 April; and Virginia Delegates to Harrison, 28 May 1782, n. 27. The steps taken during the spring of 1782 by the legislature and executive of Pennsylvania to extend her jurisdiction effectively over the Monongahela and Youghiogheny valleys, and the strong likelihood that the boundary between that state and Virginia would soon be surveyed in conformance with the agreement reached at Baltimore in 1779, caused much unrest among the Virginia settlers in the disputed area. They feared that, once the line was determined upon, their land titles and their rights as citizens would be at the mercy of an “alien sovereign,” and probably of the Indiana Company as well (Randolph to JM, 26 April 1782, and n. 2).

3In his letter of 18 April asking Charles Thomson for twenty more privateering commissions, Archibald Blair, clerk of the Council of State, remarked that there was “a great demand” for them in Virginia (NA: PCC, No. 71, II, 361). Thomson noted on the letter that he had received it on 30 April. Evidently he fulfilled the request the same day, but his reply has not been found.

4Most likely the delegates sent with their letter a copy of the Pennsylvania Packet of 7 May, which devoted much space to the debate of 7 February in the House of Lords on a motion to make Cornwallis’ surrender a subject of inquiry; to the debates from 27 February to 4 March in the Commons regarding the adoption of a resolution to abandon further efforts to subdue the colonies and in their stead to try conciliation as a means “to bring about peace and tranquility”; and to the response on 2 March of King George III to the address by the Commons “humbly” advocating this change of policy. The last sentence of this paragraph probably also reflects the delegates’ knowledge that Vergennes and La Luzerne were disturbed lest American war weariness and British offers of generous political and economic concessions should seduce Congress to desert France and make a separate peace (William E. O’Donnell, Chevalier de La Luzerne, pp. 212–15). As part of the revised British strategy, Sir Henry Clinton had already ordered the royal forces on the North American mainland to suspend offensive operations (Benjamin F. Stevens, ed., Campaign in Virginia, I, xxvii; Pennsylvania Packet, 14 May 1782). On the date of the present letter General Sir Guy Carleton, who arrived in New York City on 5 May as Clinton’s successor and as head of a peace commission, asked Washington by letter to inform Congress of the commission’s readiness to begin negotiations. In his dispatch of 10 May forwarding to the president of Congress a copy of Carleton’s overture, Washington expressed alarm at the great effect these maneuvers might have “upon the Exertions of the States which are already too feeble and void of energy.” His personal belief was that “instead of relaxing we ought to improve the present Moment as the most favorable to our Wishes.” That course vigorously pursued, “I think the game is our own” (Fitzpatrick, Writings of Washington description begins John C. Fitzpatrick, ed., The Writings of George Washington, from the Original Sources, 1745–1799 (39 vols.; Washington, 1931–44). description ends , XXIV, 241–44).

5The Pennsylvania Packet of 7 May summarized the Articles of Capitulation of 5 February 1782, consequent upon the surrender the day before of the British garrison on Minorca to the Duc de Crillon. The delegates appear to be relaying information contained in William Carmichael’s dispatch of 18 February to Livingston, which had been read in Congress on 6 May. Carmichael, however, stated that there had been 1,300 British troops fit for service on Minorca rather than 1,500 (Wharton, Revolutionary Diplomatic Correspondence description begins Francis Wharton, ed., The Revolutionary Diplomatic Correspondence of the United States (6 vols.; Washington, 1889). description ends , V, 175; JM to Lee, 7 May 1782). In the present letter JM obviously intended to write 2,600 rather than “26,00.”

6Besides Carmichael’s letter, mentioned in n. 5, Congress also listened on 6 May to his dispatch of 27 February, and to Jay’s letter of the 6th of that month (JM to Lee, 7 May 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, 150–51, 204–5; NA: PCC, No. 185, III, 26). These communications emphasized the unwillingness of the court of Madrid to begin negotiations looking toward a treaty of alliance. Probably the delegates of Virginia were not made unhappy by Spain’s procrastination, because the absence of an alliance, now that the military outlook had brightened, would spare Congress from sacrificing American claims to the free navigation of the Mississippi River (Report Approving Jay’s Negotiations with Spain, 22 April, and nn. 3, 5; Motion Approving Jay’s Negotiations with Spain, 30 April 1782, and editorial note).

7See Motion on Protection of Commerce, 2 May 1782, and n. 1. The Pennsylvania Packet of 14 May listed three dozen British ships which were infesting the American coast.

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