James Madison Papers

Virginia Delegates to Benjamin Harrison, 9 August 1782

Virginia Delegates to Benjamin Harrison

RC (Virginia State Library). Written by Arthur Lee, except for the signatures of Theodorick Bland and JM. The third page of the letter is docketed, “Virginia Delegates to Govr of Virginia Augt 19. 1782.” The cover is franked by “A. Lee,” addressed to “His Excellency The Governor of Virginia,” and docketed, “Lr. f’m Virga. Del. August 19. 82.” The dates on these two dockets should have been “9” rather than “19” August, as the contents of the letter make clear. At the head of the letter, after neglecting to cross the “t” in “Augt,” Lee followed it closely with a “9,” thus making the date appear to be “19.” The delegates conveyed to Governor Harrison almost the same information sent on the same day by JM to Randolph (q.v.).

Phidelphia Augt. 9th. 1782


An Express despatchd, this day, gives an opportunity of conveying to your Excellency, the following Extract of a Letter receivd from Sir Guy Carleton & Admiral Digby, by Genl. Washington, & by him communicated, this day, to Congress.

“We are aquainted Sir, by authority, that negociations for a general Peace, have already commencd at Paris, & that Mr. Grenville is invested with full Powers, to treat with all Parties at war, & is now at Paris in the execution of his Commission, & we are likewise, Sir, further made acquainted, that his Majesty, in order to remove all obstacles to that Peace, which he so ardently wishes to restore, has commanded his Ministers to direct Mr. Grenville that the independency of the 13 Provinces shoud be proposd by him, in the first instance, instead of making it a condition of a general treaty; however not without the highest confidence, that the Loyalists shall be restord to their possessions, or a full compensation made them for whatever Confiscations may have taken place”: dated Augt. 2d. 1782”1

The british Commanders add a repetition of their proposition for an exchange of our Seamen for their Soldiers.2

The Commander in chief also informs Congress, that Troops are embarking at N. York, as it is said for Charlistown.3

The Enemy appear to have publishd & circulated the above declaration of the Instructions given to their plenipotentiary, thro the U. S.4

Your Excellency will perceive that the Enemy are providing for war while they are flattering us with propositions of Peace & Independence, & therefore that we should be well advisd not only, not to remit of our preparations, but to redouble our efforts, which may make, what might be a feint, a reality.5

We have the honor to be with the greatest respect Yr. Excellencys most Obedt. Servts

Theok. Bland Jr

J Madison Jr.

A. Lee

1On 9 August the president of Congress received Washington’s letter of 5 August 1782, enclosing a copy of a dispatch written to him three days before by General Sir Guy Carleton and Rear Admiral Robert Digby, British peace commissioners in New York City (JCC description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds., Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789 (34 vols.; Washington, 1904–37). description ends , XXII, 460, n. 2; 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, 466–67; Papers of Madison description begins William T. Hutchinson, William M. E. Rachal, et al., eds., The Papers of James Madison (5 vols. to date; Chicago, 1962——). description ends , IV, 237; 241–42; 243, n. 8). Except for differences in paragraphing, punctuation, and capitalization, and the omission of “the” before “execution” in the first sentence, Lee accurately copied the second and third paragraphs of the Carleton-Digby letter. In their first paragraph, they chiefly mentioned the arrival from Great Britain of mail bringing “very important information” (NA: PCC, No. 152, fols. 669–71). The mail, including an account of debates in the House of Commons as late as 11 June, had reached New York City aboard the “Roebuck Packet” on 31 July (Pennsylvania Packet, 8 August 1782).

The Carleton-Digby letter conveyed too optimistic an impression of the state of the peace negotiations in Paris prior to, and even for two months after, the death of the Marquis of Rockingham on 1 July. See JM to Randolph, 5–6 August, nn. 8, 9, 10. Thomas Grenville (1755–1846) on 1 June had informed Franklin, the only American peace commissioner then in Paris, that Charles James Fox had revised his instructions so as to empower Grenville “to treat with France and her allies” and “to acknowledge the independence of America previous to the commencement of the treaty.” Franklin insisted that, before preliminary negotiations could begin, Grenville should present a “special commission” referring explicitly to the United States of America. “I imagine,” Franklin confided to John Adams in a letter of 2 June, “that there is a reluctance in their king to take this first step, as the giving such a commission would itself be a kind of acknowledgment of our independence.” Richard Oswald, the particular agent of the Earl of Shelburne as Grenville was of Charles James Fox, also failed to satisfy Franklin that his commission identified the United States of America with sufficient clarity, or that Parliament had unequivocally endorsed what Fox seemed about ready to concede (Wharton, Revolutionary Diplomatic Correspondence description begins Francis Wharton, ed., The Revolutionary Diplomatic Correspondence of the United States (6 vols.; Washington, 1889). description ends , V, 431–32, 474–75, 563–72, 579, 583–84; Papers of Madison description begins William T. Hutchinson, William M. E. Rachal, et al., eds., The Papers of James Madison (5 vols. to date; Chicago, 1962——). description ends , IV, 416, n. 6).

2That is, in the words of the Carleton-Digby letter, “your sailors shall be at liberty to serve the moment they are exchanged.”

3Washington included this news in his dispatch of 5 August to the president of Congress, mentioned in n. 1, above (NA: PCC, No. 152, fol. 666). A fleet of twenty-six ships, bringing a few troop replacements and stores to Major General Alexander Leslie’s command in Charleston, reached the South Carolina coast on 25 August (NA: PCC, No. 155, II, 511–17).

4The Carleton-Digby letter was published in the Royal American Gazette of New York City on 6 August and in the Pennsylvania Packet four days later. See also Virginia Delegates to Harrison, 13 August 1782, and n. 4.


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