Virginia Delegates to Benjamin Harrison
RC (Virginia State Library). Written by Theodorick Bland except for JM’s signature. Docketed, “Letter from Virga Delegates recd June 6 1782.” The words written by Bland in the official cipher are italicized below. Accompanying the letter are three pages upon which the cipher was decoded by Archibald Blair, clerk of the Council of State.
Philadelphia May 28th 178
The state of News as it respects the action of the French and English Fleets in the West Indies your Excelly. will be informed of by the enclosed Paper,1 we shall however keep the letter open to add any thing which may occur to throw a light on that important and Interesting event, concerning which we have been under such continued anxiety this fortnight Past.
The letters which came enclosed in your Excellys by last post2 after having perused attentively, we deliverd to the minister of France and Mister R. Morris. no Answer or Comment on the Contents of either has yet been addressd or communicated to us. Nor have [we]3 yet urged to either of them an explanation of the4 subject of [them].5
We think it proper to acquaint your Excellency that a letter from Dr. Franklin to Mister R. Morris read in Congress, leads to this knowledge tho not completely[.] it appears therefrom8 that a loan for the current year has been granted to the United States of ——9 million of livres and that a deduction has been made10 of seven hundred thousand livres therefrom on account of Virginia for stores purchased for that state by the ministry of France whereby the state of Virginia becomes debtor to the United States.11 this appears to us at present to be the act of the ministry in France but from what motive or by whose instigation is not clear to us. When it was determined to sollicit that loan, we can only find that Congress authorized the minister of the war department, of foreign affairs and minister of fina[n]ce12 to explain to the minister of France the absolute ne[c]essity of such a supply.13
We hinted to your Excellency in our last,14 the distressed and critical state of the financees and the measures which wd. probably be persued by Congress in hopes of exciting the states to all the acti[v]ity and energi they are capable of in that line[.] we have not been mistaken in our Conjecture, and congress has deemd speedy exertions [of] such conseq[u]ence to the welfare of the general cause that altho there is but a bare representtation left,15 they have come to a resolution to dispatch two of their members to the southern and two to the eastern states charged with an explanation to the Executives and such of the [legislature]s16 as may be in session of the true state of our finances and the causes leading thereto. They have also orderd an exact state of the loans subsidies and monies rece[iv]ed to be laid before them by the minister of finanance together with an account of their application. Mis[ter] Rutledge and Mr. Clymore are deputed to the south states Mister Root and Mr. Montgomery to the northward the latter set off tomorrow.17 Letters from Dr. Franklin so late as the 30th. of March last18 inform us that England is weary of the War—that she appears19 to want to get out of it if she knew how[—]that she is nevertheless making useless attem[p]ts to withdraw us from France by secret applications to our ministers in Europe at the same time that she is playing the same game by her commissioner here and by secret tho’ fruitless applications to the court of France accompanied by great and advantageous offers to that court which we are informd from another quarter20 France has noble re[je]21cted and has categorically answerd by declaring she will not accept no offer but the independence of the United States. Dr. Franklin also informs us that a Bill is on its passage through the British House of Commons for the Exchange of American Prisoners.22 it appears that an emissary has been sent to Mr. Adams at the Hague from the British Ministry to sound him relative to peace and to know whether he had any powers from Congress to conclude a truce. A conference was held between the Emissary and him in the Presence of Mr. Adams Secry., and terminated as soon as he received information that there were powers lodged in Europe for treating of a Peace which he said no person in England could ascertain, untill then, altho, he confessd it had been announced in all the Papers of Europe.23 we have related these facts to you but as many of them are secret in their Nature we trust they will not be divulged, but in such proportion as they may be usefull in opening the Eyes of our Constituents to the Chicane and Duplicity of our Enemy and the firmness and good faith of our Ally—and, as they may stimulate, all ranks to Energetic exertion to obtain the desired object, of an honorable peace in Conjunction with our Illustrious Ally, and Independence.24 Mr. Adams letter to Dr. Franklin of the 26th of March also informs him that ten or eleven of the Cities of Holland, have declared for our independence and that he expects, that Province, will determine the next day to admit him to an Audience.25 he says the Picture of England drawn by the above mentiond Emissary from G Britain is for them26 a Gloomy one We have at length obtaind and herewith send you a copy of the Pennsylvania Act of Assembly you some time ago requested to have27
we are with the Greatest respect Yr. Excys. most obedt. serts.
J Madison Jr.
Theok. Bland Jr.
1. The Pennsylvania Packet of 28 May 1782 devoted its news columns mostly to accounts of the Battle of the Saints. See also JM to Pendleton, 23 April, n. 3; Virginia Delegates to Harrison, 14 May, n. 14; Pendleton to JM, 20 May 1782, and n. 8.
3. Bland wrote the cipher for “wn” rather than the cipher for “we.”
4. Bland wrote the cipher for “the,” but he also interlineated the word itself.
5. Bland wrote the cipher for “than” rather than “them.”
6. Bland wrote the cipher for “sea” rather than the cipher for “te.”
8. Blair in decoding this paragraph erroneously copied this word as “therefore.”
9. Either the delegates in Congress had agreed to keep in secret the exact amount of the loan or else Bland could not recall the figure and forgot to put in a “six” or its cipher, 197, before posting the dispatch. If the latter, it is strange that he did not leave the space blank rather than filling it with dashes; if the former, it is evident that he was more reticent than JM, who on the same day informed Jones, Randolph, and Lee of the amount without cautioning any of these delegates that they must hold the sum in confidence (q.v.).
10. Here Bland placed an “x,” and encoded the next five words, except “of,” in the left-hand margin of the letter.
11. In his dispatch to Robert Morris of 4 March, read in Congress on 24 May, Franklin mentioned his “perplexity and uncertainty about our money affairs” and his difficulty in finding adequate cargo space for the goods awaiting shipment from France and the Netherlands to the United States. Morris accompanied Franklin’s letter with a statement “of the moneys in France” and with a copy of Vergennes’ letter of 6 February 1782 to Franklin enclosing a “Sketch of the account of Congress with the royal treasury” (Wharton, Revolutionary Diplomatic Correspondence description begins Francis Wharton, ed., The Revolutionary Diplomatic Correspondence of the United States (6 vols.; Washington, 1889). description ends , V, 218–19; JCC description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds., Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789 (34 vols.; Washington, 1904–37). description ends , XXII, 290–93). From this “Sketch,” the Virginia delegates inferred that Vergennes expected Congress would advance from its funds in France and the Netherlands the money needed by Virginia to pay for her purchases in those countries. Morris estimated the amount at 700,000 livres, but both he and Harrison had already refused to assent to this mode of payment (Harrison to Virginia Delegates, 11 May 1782, n. 1).
12. Bland wrote the cipher for “art” rather than for “n.”
13. See Virginia Delegates to Harrison, 24 January 1782, and nn. 1 and 2. By this statement the delegates were merely affirming what Harrison already knew at first hand. In February 1781, when Harrison had come to Philadelphia on behalf of the Virginia General Assembly, he found La Luzerne willing to recommend to Vergennes that the French government send military matériel to Virginia to be paid for after the war. At that time neither Harrison nor La Luzerne had expected the United States to assume the cost of the goods, and certainly Congress had never offered to do so (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, 299, and n. 4; 314; 315, n. 3; III, 4, n. 5). As decoded by Blair, the words after “fina[n]ce,” were erroneously written only “to ask such a supply.”
14. Not found, but the delegates probably mailed the dispatch on 21 May 1782.
15. See Motion Urging States To Send Delegates to Congress, 27 May 1782. Tallied votes in Congress on 25 May 1782 reveal that only seven states were represented by two or more delegates. Of these seven, five states had only two representatives, and hence the vote of any one of these delegations would be rendered ineffective by the temporary absence of one of the delegates or by a disagreement between the two. Acquiescence by the delegations of at least seven states was required to carry a routine motion. Besides the delegations from the seven states, New York had one delegate present. New Hampshire, Connecticut, New Jersey, Delaware, and North Carolina were entirely unrepresented (JCC description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds., Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789 (34 vols.; Washington, 1904–37). description ends , XXII, 298–300).
16. Here Bland erred in his encoding by writing 694,95 which symbolized a meaningless “hurs.” He should have written 674,95, the ciphers for “legislatures.” Harrison must have been puzzled to understand the passage, because Blair rendered it “and such of the hurs as may be in possession.” Blair at first correctly wrote “session” for the ciphers 386,75, but finding “session” made no sense when taken with “hurs,” he struck out “session” and compounded Bland’s mistake by interlineating “possession.”
17. See Report on Mission To Inform States of Financial Crisis, 22 May 1782, editorial note and n. 2.
18. Although Franklin’s letter of 30 March was that of most recent date, the principal sources of the Virginia delegates’ information were his letters of 20 March, and perhaps those of 4 and 7 March, respectively, to Livingston and Morris (Wharton, Revolutionary Diplomatic Correspondence description begins Francis Wharton, ed., The Revolutionary Diplomatic Correspondence of the United States (6 vols.; Washington, 1889). description ends , V, 214–17, 227–29, 277–79).
19. Bland underlined this word.
20. See Virginia Delegates to Harrison, 14 May, and nn. 16 and 17; JM to Randolph, 14 May 1782, and n. 8. The “commissioner” was Sir Guy Carleton. On the date of the present letter, Livingston reported to Congress a “verbal communication” from La Luzerne to the effect that the British had sent “Emissaries” both to Paris and to John Adams in the Netherlands to explore the possibility either of reaching an “accommodation” with Congress or of seducing Louis XVI into making “a separate peace” (JCC description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds., Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789 (34 vols.; Washington, 1904–37). description ends , XXII, 302–3). Franklin had stated in his letter of 20 March 1782 to Livingston (n. 18, above) that he had been “drawn into a correspondence” in a hopeless effort “to get us to treat separately from France.”
21. Bland wrote 383, the cipher for “ence,” rather than 838, the cipher for “ie.” The code included no cipher for “je” and hence 838 was customarily used for that combination of letters.
22. In his dispatch of 30 March 1782 to Livingston, Franklin wrote, “I see that a bill is also passing through the House of Commons, for the exchange of American prisoners, the purport of which I do not yet know” (Wharton, Revolutionary Diplomatic Correspondence description begins Francis Wharton, ed., The Revolutionary Diplomatic Correspondence of the United States (6 vols.; Washington, 1889). description ends , V, 277). See also 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, 233 n.
23. The delegates derived this information from Adams’ letter of 26 March, which had been enclosed in Franklin’s dispatch of 30 March 1782 to Livingston (Wharton, Revolutionary Diplomatic Correspondence description begins Francis Wharton, ed., The Revolutionary Diplomatic Correspondence of the United States (6 vols.; Washington, 1889). description ends , V, 273–75, 277). The “Emissary” was Thomas Digges (1742–1821), formerly of Maryland (William Bell Clark, “In Defense of Thomas Digges,” Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography, LXXVII , 381–438). John Thaxter, Jr., was Adams’ secretary (Report on Salaries of Representatives Abroad, 28 May 1782, n. 19).
25. By “Province,” JM refers to that of Holland and West Friesland. With The Hague as its chief city and meeting place of the States-General, this was the most powerful of the seven provinces comprising the Netherlands. Adams had been permitted on 22 April 1782 to present his letter of credence to the stadholder William V, “his Most Serene Highness the Prince of Orange” and on the following day to lay a proposed treaty of amity and commerce before a committee of the States-General (Wharton, Revolutionary Diplomatic Correspondence description begins Francis Wharton, ed., The Revolutionary Diplomatic Correspondence of the United States (6 vols.; Washington, 1889). description ends , V, 319, 325).
26. Bland underlined “for them.”
27. See Harrison to Virginia Delegates, 27 April 1782, and n. 1. The unspecified act passed by the Pennsylvania House of Assembly before adjourning on 16 April 1782 probably was the law “to redress certain grievances within the counties of Westmoreland and Washington.” The same session further manifested its determination to exercise exclusive jurisdiction over the contested territory by providing for the establishment of ferries on the Monongahela and Youghiogheny rivers (Pennsylvania Packet, 18 and 24 April, and 29 May 1782). See also Harrison to Randolph, 9 May 1782, in 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, 206.