James Madison Papers

From James Madison to Edmund Pendleton, 16 July 1782

To Edmund Pendleton

RC (New York Public Library). Unsigned and cover missing. Docketed by Pendleton, “James Madison, jr. Esqr. July 16th. 1782.”

Philada. July 16th. 1782

Dear Sir,

Your favor of the 8th. instant1 escaped the danger of late incident to the post; the robbers having removed to the Northward for the purpose of attacking the Eastern mail which fell into their hands near Trenton last week. It is said to have been the identical party.2

I am not yet so happy as to be able to transmit the expected intelligence from Europe, no vessels having arrived from that quarter or from the W. Indies. Our only news is a report that Charlestown has been evacuated & burn[ed]; of which you will be a better judge than I am.3

Genl Washington & Ct. Rochambeau met here on Saturday evening.4 The object & result of their consultations belong to the military cabinet.

Genl Carlton in a correspondence with Genl W. yesterday laid before Congress5 complains much of legal proceedings agst. adherents to the British cause, as Traitors, adopts the maxim that “in a civil war between people of one empire there can during the contest be no traitors at all.” and asks a passport for Genl Robinson & Mr. Ludlow to confer & settle arrangements on that idea.6 He at the same time and from a similar policy, proposes in order to remove our objection agst. exchanging B. soldiers [and] Amer: seamen, that the latter shall be free & the former restrained from serving agst. the 13 Provinces for one year, within which he is sanguine an end will be put to the calamities of the present war.7

Other parts of the letter which speak of Lippincut make it probable that Asgil will at last be left to expiate the guilt of this mu[r]derer.8 Having less time for perparing for the post than I usually devote to my friends I must conclude abruptly with begging an excuse for the defects which render this scarcely legible or intelligible.

1Not found.

2See Harrison to Virginia Delegates, 8 June, n. 1; Report on Mail Robbery, 19 June, and n. 3; Jones to JM, 25 June 1782, and n. 4. The interception of the mail, allegedly by “about Twelve Men,” occurred at noon on 10 July at Penn’s Manor, approximately eight miles south of Trenton, N.J., on the road to Philadelphia. According to the account in the Pennsylvania Packet of 18 July, the “armed villains” informed the postrider that they had robbed “the southern post, a few weeks ago in Maryland.” 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, 385 n.

3See Virginia Delegates to Harrison, 16 July 1782, and n. 8. JM evidently meant that, if the report was true, Pendleton would probably have been so informed by his nephew, Captain Nathaniel Pendleton, Jr., an aide-de-camp of Greene.

4JM was misinformed. See Virginia Delegates to Harrison, 16 July 1782, and n. 7.

5Ibid., and n. 9.

6Two Loyalists, who had been taken into custody from aboard a British flag-of-truce ship docked at Elizabethtown, N.J., were charged with “High Treason” and convicted by a civil tribunal of that state. In a letter of 20 June 1782 to Washington, after declaring this verdict to be a measure “of the most fatal Extremity,” Carleton continued: “In a Civil War between people of one Empire there can, during the Contest, be no Treason at all, or each party assuming the other to be Traitors, shall be able, by the same or different Laws, some made even during the very Contest, to effect more Carnage than by the Sword.” Carleton suggested that Lieutenant General James Robertson (ca. 1720–1788), royal “Governor” of New York, and Captain George James Ludlow (1758–1842) of the 1st Regiment of Foot Guards meet with Washington or with his representatives for the purpose of placing “these Questions for the future, on the Ground of some mutual good Understanding” (NA: PCC, No. 152, X, 617, 621–24; 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, 420 n.). In his reply on 22 June to Carleton, Washington disclaimed any control whatsoever over the civil authorities of a state (ibid., XXIV, 372; NA: PCC, No. 152, X, 625–27).

During most of the Revolution American captives in Great Britain were charged with high treason, denied the right of a writ of habeas corpus, and imprisoned at the king’s pleasure. Carleton’s proposals reflected the change of policy embodied in a parliamentary statute of 25 March 1782 whereby Americans were to be incarcerated or detained “according to the custom and usage of war, and the law of nations” (Olive Anderson, “The Treatment of Prisoners of War in Britain during the American War of Independence,” [University of London] Bulletin of the Institute of Historical Research, XXVIII [1955], 63–83). Carleton’s phrase, “Ground of some mutual good Understanding,” no doubt embraced a hope that at the end of the war Congress would enable Loyalists to regain their citizenship and property by taking the requisite oaths of allegiance.

8See JM to Randolph, 1 May 1782, nn. 17 and 18.

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