James Madison Papers

To James Madison from Arthur Lee, 16 May 1782

From Arthur Lee

RC (University of Virginia Library). Addressed to “The Honble James Madison Esqr. in Congress Philadelphia.” Docketed by JM, “A. Lee.”

Richmond May 16th. 1782

Dr.[?] Sir:

I am extremely obligd to you, my dear Sir, for yr. favor of the —— together with the letter enclosd, which you were so good as to forward.1 It seems to me that the Party in G. Britain who flatter themselves, at this period of the contest, with being able to conciliate us; are still more weak than that which hopd to reduce us by force. To suppose we can dishonorably abandon Allies who have assisted us, for Enemies who have endeavord to destroy us, merely because those endeavors have been frustrated, to suppose we shoud of choice adopt a character of the extremest folly & perfidy, when we can with more security adhere to honorable engagements, & enjoy a reputable name; is worthy of those only, who in the whole of this business, seem to have been acting under an immediate visitation from Heaven to their shame & ruin.2

This is the third day that we have had a House.3 Mr. Tyler is again our Speaker.4 A Committee is appointed to prepare Instructions for us.5 And when the appropriation of the taxes comes on care will be taken to provide for the support of the Delegation.6 I am inclind to think that the flags sent here by Mr. Morris for Tobacco for the N. York Merchants, will be returnd empty; the House of Delegates not seeming disposd to suffer any such practice.7 We are exceedingly embarrassd about raising hard-money for recruiting & other necessary purposes of Government. Not a shilling can be borrowd, distant & inadequate as the taxes are they are complaind of as oppressive; there is little money in the State, & as little prospect of more coming in.8 That fatal article in the capitulation which allowd the British Merchants to sell their goods at York, was so speedy & effectual a drain from us of Specie, as to throw an insurmountable bar in the way of all Operations depending upon this.9

I shall be very much obligd to you for a continuation of your correspondence, & particularly for what is receivd from our Ministers in Europe.

May I take the liberty of requesting you to receive the Contents of the enclosd Bill, & keep them subject to my order? Please to make my Compts to the Ladies & Gentlemen of your House.10


A. Lee

1See JM to Lee, 7 May 1782, and n. 2.

3It was the second day (Randolph to JM, 5 May 1782, n. 9).

7See Ambler to JM, 20 April 1782, and n. 4. On 11 February 1782 Congress had adopted the report of a committee, which included JM among its members, recommending the issuance of passports to flag-of-truce vessels so as to enable them to load in Virginia for delivery in New York City to the “traders capitulants at Yorktown” an amount of tobacco equal in value to the total sales price of their property which, by the ninth of the Articles of Capitulation, these merchants had been permitted to sell following the surrender of Cornwallis (JCC description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds., Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789 (34 vols.; Washington, 1904–37). description ends , XXII, 70–71). Being authorized by Congress to arrange for this traffic, Robert Morris requested Governor Harrison to admit the British flag-of-truce ships “New York” and “Fame” to the ports of Virginia. The Governor in Council withheld his assent, ordered the ships to anchor in Hampton Roads, and referred the issue to Attorney General Edmund Randolph and to the General Assembly (McIlwaine, Official Letters description begins H. R. McIlwaine, ed., Official Letters of the Governors of the State of Virginia (3 vols.; Richmond, 1926–29). description ends , III, 222–23, 230–31; 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, 34, 41, 85, 86, 88). The contract with the traders-capitulant pledged that in return for the $25,000 ($44,037⅔ Spanish milled dollars) worth of goods which they had sold to the United States at Yorktown, they would receive 685 hogsheads of tobacco averaging 1,000 pounds a hogshead (NA: PCC, No. 75, fols, 376–78). For the next mention of this long-lived issue, see Randolph to JM, 16–17 May 1782, and n. 25. See also Randolph to JM, 5 July 1782, nn. 2 and 3.

8In his letter of 6 May 1782 to the speaker of the House of Delegates, Harrison remarked that, although the General Assembly at its session of October 1781 had authorized the treasurer to borrow money on terms “very advantageous” to the lender, “not one shilling has been obtained” and the yield of taxes had been “too inconsiderable” to cover the necessary public expenses (McIlwaine, Official Letters description begins H. R. McIlwaine, ed., Official Letters of the Governors of the State of Virginia (3 vols.; Richmond, 1926–29). description ends , III, 213).

9Since at least part of these goods were to be paid for in tobacco (n. 7, above), this explanation of the shortage of specie in Virginia needs to be supplemented by mentioning the trade of civilians with the merchants-capitulant at Yorktown as well as indirectly with dealers in the northern states. See 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 , XXIII, 354–55; Pendleton to JM, 15 April 1782.

10See 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 , II, 92, n. 8.

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