James Madison Papers

To James Madison from Jacquelin Ambler, 18 May 1782

From Jacquelin Ambler

RC (LC: Madison Papers). The cover is missing, but the letter is docketed by JM, “May 18. 1782.”

Richmond Virginia 18th. May 1782

Dear Sir

The paper which you were so kind to send me does indeed contain intelligence of most interesting concern to us.1 had the lust for exorbitant power, and the prejudices of that haughty infatuated Nation been thus corrected four years ago, she would then have had good ground for the hope which some of the Members of Parliament seem now so fondly to cherish.2 A reunion in any degree compatible with the Idea which appears to be the prevailing one there is impossible. The British Empire is shaken to its foundation; it is not at all surprizing, therefore, that her Citizens, who know and who have her real Interests at heart, think no sacrifice too great which may tend to restore her lost preeminence among the Nations: they are obliged at length to acknowledge this cannot be done but by such a connection with America as must not now be admitted. Every effort, however, which the most consummate policy can dictate will no doubt be tried to effect it, and of course to sow dissensions among the States, and seperate us from our great Ally, to whom, under Providence, we are principally indebted for the present humiliating situation of our Enemy.3 May Heaven continue its aid, and direct our National Councils at this important Crisis. On Wednesday, and not before, a sufficient number of Delegates met to constitute a House;4 you may imagine little has yet been done. I will endeavor to transmit you the Journals weekly if a Copy can be had. Mr. Webb will be with you early in next week.5

I am with very great esteem Yr. affect Servt

J: Ambler

P.S. Since the above I hear there is an Antigua Paper come to Town which gives a dreadful Account of the Naval Engagement in the West Indies—that our Allies lost 6. Ships of the Line; & that the Count de Grasse was taken.6 I dread a confirmation.

1Probably the Pennsylvania Packet of 7 May 1782. The contents of any letter which JM may have written to Ambler on or about that date probably resembled those in his letters of 7 May to Arthur Lee and Randolph (q.v.). See also Virginia Delegates to Harrison, 7 May 1782, and nn. 4 and 5.

2Ambler may refer to the belated efforts of Lord North in 1778 to ward off an alliance between France and the United States by dispatching to America a commission of conciliation authorized to offer “practically everything that had been asked short of independence” (Burnett, The Continental Congress, pp. 330–39; 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 , III, 272, n. 2).

4See Lee to JM, 16 May 1782, and n. 3.

5Foster Webb, Jr. See Ambler to JM, 11 May 1782, and n. 3.

6The news of Admiral Rodney’s decisive victory in the Battle of the Saints would have been known by JM three days before Ambler wrote this letter (Virginia Delegates to Harrison, 14 May 1782, n. 14). On 11 May the Baron von Closen at Williamsburg had noted in his journal (Acomb, Journal of Closen description begins Evelyn M. Acomb, trans. and ed., The Revolutionary Journal of Baron Ludwig von Closen, 1780–1783 (Chapel Hill, N.C., 1958). description ends , pp. 203–4) the arrival of “a flag from Antigua” with word about the engagement. Closen added that since “the news came from the enemy, the public refused to credit it.” Perhaps this incredulity explains why, as late as 25 May, the Virginia Gazette description begins Virginia Gazette, or, the American Advertiser (Richmond, James Hayes, 1781–86). description ends published a “pretty certain” report that the outcome of the battle had been “considerably in favor” of the French. Finally, in its issue of 8 June 1782, the Gazette included the long account, dated 20 April in Antigua, of the engagement which had appeared on 25 May in Rivington’s Royal Gazette of New York City. See JM to Pendleton, 23 April 1782, n. 3.

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