James Madison Papers

From James Madison to Arthur Lee, [7] May 1782

To Arthur Lee

RC (Harvard University Library). The cover is missing. JM addressed the letter to “The Hon. A. Lee, Esq.,” according to the version, wrongly dated “May, 1778,” published in Richard Henry Lee, Life of Arthur Lee, LL.D. (2 vols.; Boston, 1829), II, 331–32. In Arthur Lee’s handwriting, in the right-hand margin of the manuscript’s second page, appears a notation, obviously relating to the price of tobacco, reading, “Deep Creek heavy /25 pr C.wt Jas River Indian Creek.” Deep Creek, in the northwestern part of Lancaster County, flows into the Rappahannock River. Indian Creek forms a small portion of the common boundaries of Lancaster and Northumberland counties and flows into Chesapeake Bay. Both creeks were the sites of tobacco-inspection warehouses. See Jones to JM, 21 May 1782, and n. 6.

Philada. May [7,] 17821

Dear Sir

The letter inclosed2 herewith came to my hands from the Eastern post. I forward it not knowing how far its contents may interest you.

The parliamentary intelligence published in the gazette of this morning3 shews that4 some revolution in the Councils of the Legislative branch has taken place, which will probably have some effect on those of the Executive. But as the delusive idea of a federal5 if not a political connection with this Country founded on the ruins of its connection with France, still pervades their policy, no conclusion whatever can be drawn from it that will justify the smallest relaxation in our public measures. The efficacy of conciliatory overtures seems to be as foolishly & obstinately persisted in by one party as that of Military coercion has been by the other; and if the former should be indulged in their favorite experiment, it is more probable that their disappointment & vexation will make them converts to the views of the latter, than that both parties will lay aside their prejudices & embrace the terms we hold out to them.6

A letter from Mr. Jay & two from Mr. Carmichael were recd. yesterday. They all speak the same language with that recd. from the former a little before you left us. The success of the Spanish arms at Minorca will we are told be followed by redoubled efforts against Gibralter.7

We have several times repeated our call for the order8 on the Western Cessions, and have in every instance experienced a repetition of the same indecent obstructions & evasions of which you were a witness, & which nothing will explain but the cause to which we have from the beginning imputed them.9 It will neither be consistent with the respect we owe to our own public characters nor with the dignity of those we serve, to persist longer in fruitless applications to Congress for an answer. We shall therefore wind up the business as well as we can in a few days,10 and transmit a state of it for the G. Assembly, who will certainly be fully justified in taking any course with respect to their Western claims which the interest of the State shall prescribe.

I am Dr [Sr?] [yr.] sincere frd. & hble sert.

J Madison Jr

1JM probably meant to insert “7” in the date line. The contents of this letter resemble those of the delegates’ dispatch of 7 May to Harrison (q.v.).

2Not identified.

4Here JM heavily deleted a word that may have been “considerable.”

5JM replaced “commercial” with “federal.”

6See Virginia Delegates to Harrison, 7 May 1782, and n. 4. For the peace terms, see Instructions on Peace Negotiations, 7 January, editorial note and nn.

7See Virginia Delegates to Harrison, 7 May 1782, nn. 5 and 6. JM may refer to Jay’s letter of 3 October 1781. Read in Congress on 18 March, this dispatch had been referred to a committee, under JM’s chairmanship, which rendered its report on 22 April 1782, only a day or two before Lee left Philadelphia to return to Virginia (JM to Randolph, 9 April, n. 5; Report Approving Jay’s Negotiations with Spain, 22 April 1782, and n. 2).

8The “order of the Day” in Congress from 1 to 6 May 1782 had been the report of the Boudinot committee on the western lands (Motion on Point of Order, 3 May 1782, n. 1).

10JM evidently viewed the vote in Congress on 6 May to postpone a consideration of the Boudinot committee report (n. 8, above) as merely another temporary decision, adverse to the wishes of the delegates from Virginia, which they might be able to reverse within a few days. As already mentioned, the issue of the western lands was not revived until 31 July (Motion on Point of Order, 3 May 1782, n. 2). See also Burnett, Letters description begins Edmund C. Burnett, ed., Letters of Members of the Continental Congress (8 vols.; Washington, 1921–36). description ends , VI, 343.

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