James Madison Papers

From James Madison to Edmund Randolph, 14 May 1782

To Edmund Randolph

Tr (LC: Madison Papers). Above the date line of his transcription, the anonymous copyist wrote “To Edmund Randolph.” Someone also unknown, while checking the four pages of copy against the now missing original, interlineated two omissions (see nn. 9 and 10) and then wrote at the top of the first page, “a Duplicate letters both corrected the same Sep 14, ’38.” See Papers of Madison description begins William T. Hutchinson, William M. E. Rachal, et al., eds., The Papers of James Madison (4 vols. to date; Chicago, 1962——). description ends , I, xvii, for the probable explanation of this statement.

Philadelphia May 14. 1782

Dear Sir

The Ceres man of War we are informed by a New York paper arrived there in twenty five days on the 5th. instant having on board his Excellency Sir Guy Carleton, Commander in chief &c., and Commissioner for making peace or war1 in North America. The intelligence brought by this conveyance is that the vibrations of power between the Ministry and their rivals had terminated in the complete dissolution of the former organization of the latter.2 What change of measures will follow this change of men is yet concealed from us. The bill for empowering the King to conclude a peace or truce with the revolted Colonies in North America had been brought into Parliament on the 27th. of March. The language of it is at the same time cautious and comprehensive, and seems to make eventual provision for our Independence, without betraying any purpose of acknowledging it. The terms peace and truce are scarcely applicable to any other Conventions than National ones. And the King is authorized to annul or suspend all acts of Parliament whatever as far as they speak of the Colonies.3 He can therefore clearly remove any parliamentary bar to his recognition of our Independence and I know of no other bar to his treating with America on that ground. All this is however very different from a real peace. The King will assuredly prefer war as long as his Ministry will stand by him, and the sentiments of his present Ministry, particularly of Shelburne are as peremptory against the dismemberments of the Empire as those of any of their predecessors. They will at least try a campaign of negociation against the United States and of war against their other enemies before they submit to it.4 It is probable that the arrival of Sir Guy Carleton will not long precede an opening of the first campaign. Congress will I am persuaded give a proper verbal answer to any overtures with which he may insult them5 but the best answer will come from the States in such supplies of men and money as will expel him and all our other enemies from the United States.

We have at length brought our territorial business to an issue. It was postponed sine die on the 6th. instant. We have transmitted the whole proceeding to the Governor to be laid before the Assembly.6

There are various accounts from the West Indies which render it pretty certain that an engagement has taken place between the two fleets. The circumstances are not ascertained. The issue seems at least to have been so far in favor of our Allies as to leave them free to pursue their course with their Convoy to Hispaniola, where a junction is to be made with the Spaniards. The object of this junction is universally supposed to be Jamaica.7

Since I finished the above a letter has come to Congress from General Washington enclosing one to him from Sir Guy Carleton announcing his commission in conjunction with Admiral Digby to treat of peace with this Country, and requesting a passport for his Secretary Mr. Morgan to bring a similar letter of compliment to Congress. The request will certainly be refused and General Washington probably directed to receive and forward any despatches which may be properly addressed to Congress.8

A public audience was yesterday given to the Minister of France, in which he formally announced the birth of the Dauphin. It was deemed politic at this crisis to display every proper evidence of affectionate attachment to our Ally. The Minister was accordingly received with Military honors and the audience concluded with the discharge of cannon and a feu de joi of small arms. A public entertainment followed and fireworks (at night-left out) closed the scene.9

The answer reported by the Committee on Mr Dana’s letter (animadverted on his precipitancy and/left out) gave him a cautionary instruction. It afterwards went to the Secretary of foreign affairs and thence I suppose in his dress to Petersburgh.10 Mr. Jones will give you more satisfactory information on this as also with respect to the answer of Mr. Jay’s letter.11

Your surmises relative to a revival of paper currency alarms me. It is impossible that any evil can render such an alternative eligible. It will revive the hopes of the Enemy [,] increase the internal debility of the State, and awaken the clamours of all ranks throughout the United States against her. Much more to Virginia’s honor would it be to rescind the taxes, altho’ the consequence of that can but be of a most serious nature.12

1The italicized words here and in the fourth paragraph are lightly underlined in the transcript. For the news brought by the “Ceres,” which had sailed from Great Britain on 11 April, see Virginia Delegates to Harrison, 7 May, and n. 4; and 14 May 1782, and n. 17. The facts upon which JM comments in this paragraph appeared in the Pennsylvania Packet of 11 May 1782.

2Assuming that either JM or the copyist had erred, Henry D. Gilpin rephrased this sentence after “dissolution” to read, “of the former and organization of the latter” (Madison, Papers [Gilpin ed.] description begins Henry D. Gilpin, ed., The Papers of James Madison (3 vols.; Washington, 1840). description ends , I, 127).

Lord North’s opponents were able to unite only in forcing his resignation on 20 March. One week later King George III reluctantly consented to have the Marquis of Rockingham head a new ministry. Among the chief members of the Rockingham cabinet, the Earl of Shelburne and Charles James Fox disagreed on issues of foreign policy and on the concessions which should be granted to the United States at the outset of peace negotiations. Moreover, prominent leaders who failed to gain high position after helping to unseat Lord North quickly joined former opponents to resist measures recommended by his successor (Cambridge Modern History description begins A. W. Ward, G. W. Prothero, Stanley Leathes, eds., Cambridge Modern History (13 vols.; Cambridge, England, 1902–12). description ends , VI, 457–60; JM to Pendleton, 23 April, n. 5; Virginia Delegates to Harrison, 14 May 1782, and nn. 17 and 18).

3As reported by the Pennsylvania Packet (n. 1, above), the measure empowered the king to conclude “a peace or truce with said colonies or plantations, or any of them, or any parts thereof; any law, act or acts of parliament, matter, or thing, to the contrary notwithstanding.” To this end, the king was accorded “full power and authority … to repeal, annul, and make void, or to suspend, any act or acts of Parliament.” JM reminded Randolph that, because in international law the words “peace” and “truce” were restricted in usage to the relations between sovereign powers, Parliament implicitly had recognized the independence of the United States or at least had granted the king the authority to do so.

4In the Pennsylvania Packet of 11 May, an item dated in London about a month earlier stated that British armed forces would launch an offensive against France and Spain at once.

6See Virginia Delegates to Harrison, 14 May 1782, and nn. 3, 7, 8, and 10.

7Ibid., and n. 14.

8See n. 5, above. Later in the day on which the present letter was written, Congress resolved, “That the Commander in Chief be, and hereby is, directed to refuse the request of Sir Guy Carleton, of a passport for Mr. Morgan to bring despatches to Philadelphia” (JCC description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds., Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789 (34 vols.; Washington, 1904–37). description ends , XXII, 263). On 21 May Washington forwarded a copy of this resolution to Carleton, who acknowledged its receipt two days later (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, 270). See also JM to Randolph, 4 June 1782, and n. 37. By using the phrase, “letter of compliment,” and underlining it, JM probably was referring ironically to the same expression as employed by Carleton in his letter of 7 May 1782 to Washington. Carleton had written, “I am further to acquaint you, Sir, that it was my Intention to have sent this Day a Similar Letter of Compliment to Congress” until he found that the courier would have to have a “passport” from Washington (NA: PCC, No. 152, X, 560). The adverb “properly” connotes that, in JM’s view, no dispatch from Carleton would be received unless it related strictly to military matters.

9See Report on Form of Public Audience for La Luzerne, 7–9 May, and editorial note; Revised Reply of President of Congress to La Luzerne, 8–12 May 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, 261–63. The words “at night-left out” were placed in parentheses and interlineated by the person who compared the copy with the original manuscript. See headnote, above.

Although some patriots were inclined to negotiate with Carleton, Turbutt Wright very likely expressed the view of the majority when he wrote on 4 June 1782: “If any Propositions are to be made that America can listen to, the Way is open on the other side the Water, where there are Persons properly authorized to treat in Conjunction with our Allies, to them let the Applications be made” (Burnett, Letters description begins Edmund C. Burnett, ed., Letters of Members of the Continental Congress (8 vols.; Washington, 1921–36). description ends , VI, 366).

10See JM to Randolph, 23 April 1782, and n. 14. Henry D. Gilpin omitted in his edition (Madison, Papers [Gilpin ed.] description begins Henry D. Gilpin, ed., The Papers of James Madison (3 vols.; Washington, 1840). description ends , I, 129) the words “animadverted on his precipitancy,” which were inserted in parentheses in the clerk’s copy by the person who checked it against the original manuscript. For Livingston’s letter to Dana, see Wharton, Revolutionary Diplomatic Correspondence description begins Francis Wharton, ed., The Revolutionary Diplomatic Correspondence of the United States (6 vols.; Washington, 1889). description ends , V, 411–14. See also Motion on Instructions to Dana, 27 May 1782.

12See Randolph to JM, 5 May, and n. 7, and 10 May 1782.

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