James Madison Papers

From James Madison to Edmund Randolph, 20 August 1782

To Edmund Randolph

RC (LC: Madison Papers). Unsigned but in JM’s hand. Cover missing but contents make clear that the addressee was Randolph. Docketed by Randolph, “J. Madison jr. Aug. 20. 1782.” In the first two paragraphs the italicized words are those encoded by JM in the official cipher; in the third paragraph, the Lovell cipher. On JM’s roster of letters written to Randolph (JM to Randolph, 13 August 1782, headnote), he described the present letter as “relating to the Controul given to F. over Comrs. Ministers for peace—Cession of back land by Virga.—Cypher.”

Philada. Aug: 20th 1782

My dear Friend,

In1 my last I informed you that the motion to rescind the controul given to France over the American ministers had been parried and would probably end in an adoption of your report2 It was parried by a substitute so expressed as to give a committee sufficient latitude in reporting without implying on the part of Congress a design to alter past instructions The composition of the committee appointed according well with the object of the substitute a report was made that the expository report should be referred to the secretar[y] for foreign affairs to be by him revised and transmitted to the ministers in Europe and that the latter should communicate so much thereof as they might judge fit to his M C M representing to him &c3

In4 this train the business was going on smoothly each of the opposite partys seeming to concur, from a fear of some thing more distant from their wishes—when

Mr. L.——l—5 The reading of the argument in favor of boundary drawn from the federal source presented to Bland a snake in the grass This jealousy was supported by Lee by suggestions which pointed to Franklin6 The arguments used by these gentlemen raised up the advocates for the federal pretensions and the merits of this question were altercated with a warmth which ended in an adjournment7 nothing could have been more fatal to the report than to connect this dispute with it in the mind of Congress and I have no longer any hope of its success I rather surmise that a new struggle will ensue against the obnoxious clause8

I am at a loss to account for the impenetrability of the cypher in my late letters, of which your favor of the 6th. instant9 complains. I regret it too the more as I have since made liberal use of it.10 The rule I have observed has been to select the colums beginning with the several letters of the Key word,11 to arrange them in the same order in which thes[e] letters follow each other in the Key word and to use them in that rotation, always beginning afresh after the use of a word syllable or letter written in the usual character,12 & often throwing in these characters merely to break a sentence or paragraph into parts, & thereby circumscribe the influence of an error.13 This explanation I hope will be satisfactory. The printed cypher of Mr. Livingston is too large for four sheets to be sent by the Post as you propose. If a private conveyance offers I shall embrace it.14

Your very friendly attention to my pecuniary affairs lays me under a very great obligation. Nothing but the utmost distress will induce me [to] encroach on your Tobo. which I consider as possessing an intrinsic value too far beyond its immediate price to be unnecessarily disposed of.15 I inclose you an authority16 to obtain any aid which the Auditors may be able to afford. As my accounts already transmitted specify all the monies recd. prior to the 20th. of March I am at a loss to understand why they cannot be settled up to that date at least. Is the depreciation to be liquidated by the scale established by Congress—by Pena. or by Virga.? I have red. since that date £281.5. Pena. Currency, of Mr. Whitesides in consequence of arrangements made with him by Mr. Ross.17

The stigma on “Some of the U.S.” contained in the preamble to the Ordinance agst. collusive captures is a typographical erratum. It sd. have run “some of the citizens &c.18

I differ from Mr. L. in opinion that the Cession of Va. will be accepted. The repugnance to it seems indeed to have in some degree subsided, owing perhaps to a change of members in Congress, and a cooler view of the subject, but in its present form I cannot think it will at this time obtain a sufficient number of votes.19

Upon what authority was the condemnation of the flag vessel included in the decree agst. the contraband merchandize?20

I am not able to add a syllable to what I have heretofore written on the subject of Paciefic negociations. The silence of our Ministers in Europe is amazing, unless a miscarriage of their despatches be the cause of our not hearing from them. The Minister of France is in the same suspense as Congress. We have not yet recd. even a line from Mr. Adams notifying the resolution of the States Genl. in his favor; an event which we cannot suppose he would be backward to communicate.21 I inclose you from the Freeman’s Journal of the 7th. inst: a very curious letter from that Gentln. to his friend Mr. Searle which was taken with the Vessel from which the latter escaped in the Bay of Delaware & published in N.Y.22

I have no other information relative to the French fleet than what you will receive from the Gazettes. It seems they very unluckily left the tract to N. York a little before the arrival of a fleet with the Garrison & Stores of Savannah.23

The description you give of the drought in Virga.24 is equally suited to this Country since their Wheat Harvest. New Jersey & Maryland are under the same calamity. The States East of the North River have escaped this providential visitation.

1Many years later JM or someone by his direction placed a bracket at the opening of this paragraph and another bracket at the close of the third paragraph, thus designating the portion of this letter to be published in the first edition of JM’s writings. Henry D. Gilpin, the editor, published the first two paragraphs only, probably because he had no key to the Lovell cipher (Madison, Papers description begins (Gilpin ed.). Henry D. Gilpin, ed., The Papers of James Madison (3 vols.; Washington, 1840). description ends [Gilpin ed.], I, 160–61).

2See JM to Randolph, 13 August 1782, and n. 12.

4Preceding 59, the symbol for “In,” JM wrote 764, the symbol for paragraph, and also interlineated “¶.” above the 764.

5Mr. James Lovell. JM inserted the name here in abbreviated form to remind Randolph that the numbers in the third paragraph would conform with the Lovell rather than the official code.

6See Comments on Randolph’s “Facts and Observations,” 16 August 1782, and ed. n. For Arthur Lee’s hostility toward Benjamin Franklin, see 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, 250, n. 13; 343, ed. n.; 408–9; 435; 436, ed. n.; 441, ed. n.

8JM evidently was writing to Randolph on 20 August before Lee and Bland resumed their attack after Congress convened on that day. See Instruction to Secretary for Foreign Affairs, 20 August 1782, and ed. n., and n. 2.

9Q.v., and n. 13.

10The Lovell cipher.

11CUPID. See 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, 396; 398, nn. 19, 20.

12That is, not encoded.

13See the third paragraph of the present letter. For a fuller explanation of the Lovell cipher, see Edmund C. Burnett, “Ciphers of the Revolutionary Period,” American Historical Review, XXII (1916–17), 331.

14See 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, 417; 419, n. 4; Randolph to JM, 6 August 1782. The encoding and decoding sheets of one of the ciphers used by Robert R. Livingston as secretary for foreign affairs fill four folio-size pages (University of Virginia Library).

15See Randolph to JM, 6 August 1782, and n. 12. JM meant exchange value by “intrinsic value.” Tobacco, besides being acceptable at above the market price in payment of taxes in Virginia, was rising in value in response to rumors of an early peace (Pendleton to JM, 12 August 1782, and n. 10). Once the war ended, insurance rates on shipments of the staple to western Europe should decline and the British market would reopen. Hence Randolph would sacrifice a future profit by selling tobacco in August 1782 in order to lend money to JM. Randolph’s tobacco was of more value because the Virginia crop in 1782 “was the shortest ever known” (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, 353, 447).

16Not found, but see JM to Virginia Auditors, 20 August; Ambler to JM, 24 and 31 August 1782; and, especially, Ambler to JM, 9 November 1782, n. 1.

17Peter Whiteside of Peter Whiteside and Company and David Ross, former commercial agent of Virginia and a prominent merchant of that state. See JM to Virginia Auditors, 20 August 1782, and nn. 3, 4, and 5. The scales of depreciation in terms of the old continental currency varied widely. That of Congress was 40 to 1 (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 , II, 3); of Pennsylvania, 225 to 1; and of Virginia, 1,000 to 1 (Henry Phillips, Jr., Historical Sketches of American Paper Currency, 2d ser. [Roxbury, Mass., 1866], pp. 207, 208).

18See Randolph to JM, 6 August 1782, and n. 18.

19Ibid., and nn. 23 and 24. “Mr. L.” was Arthur Lee.

21See 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, 422, n. 30; 431, n. 6; 450, n. 17.

22For James Searle, see ibid., IV, 113, n. 6; 364, and n. 3. The weekly newspaper, The Freeman’s Journal: or, the North-American Intelligencer, was established in Philadelphia by Francis Bailey on 25 April 1781 (Clarence S. Brigham, History and Bibliography of American Newspapers, 1690–1820 [2 vols.; Worcester, Mass., 1947], II, 907). Adams’ intercepted letter of 26 December 1781 to Searle was printed in James Rivington’s Royal Gazette of New York City on 10 July and copied in the Freeman’s Journal of 7 August 1782. JM probably alluded to Adams’ statement that “The secretaryship for the mission to Versailles, I am convinced will never be filled up while the present minister lives.” This statement appears to hint of nepotism, because the “present minister” had long employed as private secretary his own grandson, William Temple Franklin. Even though Congress had named William Carmichael to the secretaryship for the mission to Versailles (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, 279; 282, n. 16), there was some fear of Benjamin Franklin’s resignation from the peace commission if his grandson was not officially elevated to that or an equivalent position (Burnett, Letters description begins Edmund C. Burnett, ed., Letters of Members of the Continental Congress (8 vols.; Washington, 1921–36). description ends , VI, 453, n. 8; Wharton, Revolutionary Diplomatic Correspondence description begins Francis Wharton, ed., The Revolutionary Diplomatic Correspondence of the United States (6 vols.; Washington, 1889). description ends , IV, 383–84).

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