James Madison Papers

From James Madison to Edmund Randolph, 2 December 1782

To Edmund Randolph

RC (LC: Madison Papers). Cover addressed to: “The honble Edmund Randolph Esqr. Richmond Favd. by Mr. Nathan.” See n. 10, below. Docketed by Randolph, “J. Madison jr. Philad: Decr. 2. 1782.” The italicized words are those which JM encoded in the official cipher.

Philada. Decr. 2d. 1782.

Dear Sir

The Secy. of F. Affairs communicated to me a few days ago his determination speedily to resign his office He asked me in the course of conversation whether I thought Mr. Jefferson would prefer the vacancy to his foreign appointment I answered him in the negative. He then asked whether I supposed he wd. accept the commission of Jay1 at Madrid in case the latter should prefer the secretariship of foreign affairs and be appointed to it. I told him I could not answer that question, but doubted much whether Congress would consent to part with the services of Mr Jay as a negociator of peace2 I wish you to mention this conversation to  3 and acquaint me with the result. The want of a cypher with him will be an apology for omitting a direct communication. Thro’ your hands also it may be accompanied with explanations if requisite.4 I leave it to yourself to decide how far it may be worth while to feel the pulse of our friend Mclurg with respect to the vacancy in question5

Mr. Marbois6 apprised me the evening before last that a French frigate will sail from this port in about three weeks and that it is probable Ct. R——u and the Chevr. de Chatt——x will take their passage in her than in the frigate in the Chesapeak7 If the river should not be threatened with ice the time of her sailing may possibly be procrastinated Should this obstruction not take place before the middle of January there will be some chance of another frigate at this port These circumstances may be very interesting to Mr Jefferson8 and I beg you to give him the earliest notice of them. If I cd. suppose that these & other considerations cd leave any uncertainty as to his coming hither in the first instance I would press that point anew, being more & more convinced of its utility not to say necessity & finding that it is generally viewed in the same light9

I send this by Mr. Nathan who visits Richmond in pursuit of his demand agst. the State.10 A duplicate of it will make a part of my letter by the post tomorrow.11

I am my dear friend

J. M.

1Instead of 262, the code number for “y,” JM wrote 264, the cipher for “os.”

2For the contents of the paragraph to this point, see Notes on Debates, 28 November; 2 December 1782.

3JM, of course, realized that Randolph would interpret this blank to mean “Jefferson.”

4Being unable to confer with Jefferson, who had returned to Monticello, Randolph presented these matters to him in a letter (Jameson to JM, 10 December, n. 1; Randolph to JM, 13 December 1782). If Jefferson received this inquiry, he may have decided to reply orally to JM. Jefferson left Monticello on 19 December and arrived in Philadelphia eight days later. See JM to Randolph, 30 December 1782; Boyd, Papers of Jefferson description begins Julian P. Boyd et al., eds., The Papers of Thomas Jefferson (17 vols. to date; Princeton, N.J., 1950——). description ends , VI, 211.

5Although without diplomatic experience, Dr. James McClurg was widely traveled. Sent on a “grand tour” of Europe at the age of seventeen, he subsequently was granted a medical degree by the University of Edinburgh, studied as a postgraduate in London and Paris, and later became internationally known as a medical theorist (Wyndham B. Blanton, Medicine in Virginia in the Eighteenth Century, pp. 85, 328–34). On 25 February 1784 Thomas Jefferson, then in Congress, nominated McClurg to be secretary for foreign affairs (NA: PCC, No. 186, fol. 1). In 1793 President Washington considered offering him the secretaryship of state as Jefferson’s successor (Paul Leicester Ford, ed., The Writings of Thomas Jefferson [10 vols.; New York, 1892–99], VI, 439). See also 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 , I, 296, n. 3; Randolph to JM, 13 December 1782, and n. 34; Brant, Madison description begins Irving Brant, James Madison (6 vols.; Indianapolis and New York, 1941–61). description ends , II, 123, 259.

6The Marquis de Barbé-Marbois.

7On 1 December the Comte de Rochambeau and the Chevalier de Chastellux left Providence, R.I., to travel overland to Baltimore, Md., where they expected, as did Jefferson, to embark for France on the “Romulus,” “the frigate in the Chesapeak”; but the two Frenchmen eventually sailed in “L’Émeraude” bound for Cadiz (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, 43–44, n. 4; 141; 142, n. 2; 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. 270–71; Boyd, Papers of Jefferson description begins Julian P. Boyd et al., eds., The Papers of Thomas Jefferson (17 vols. to date; Princeton, N.J., 1950——). description ends , VI, 246).

8JM mistakenly encoded the first two letters of this name as 830, meaning “Thursday,” rather than 838, symbolizing “Je.”

10Simon Nathan. See Nathan to Virginia Delegates, 17 October; Harrison to Virginia Delegates, 2 November 1782, and nn. 2, 5. Besides the financial claims mentioned in these citations, Nathan was concerned because a bill of exchange for 15,000 livres, drawn in his favor by Virginia on Penet, d’Acosta Frères et Cie., had been returned unpaid. Although the House of Delegates resolved on 27 December that he should be remunerated with this sum, plus accrued interest at 10 per cent and the amount of what the protest of the bill of exchange had cost him, the General Assembly adjourned the next day, before the Senate could act (Journal of the House of Delegates description begins Journal of the House of Delegates of the Commonwealth of Virginia; Begun and Held at the Capitol, in the City of Williamsburg. Beginning in 1780, the portion after the semicolon reads, Begun and Held in the Town of Richmond. In the County of Henrico. The journal for each session has its own title page and is individually paginated. The edition used is the one in which the journals for 1777–1786 are brought together in two volumes, with each journal published in Richmond in 1827 or 1828, and often called the “Thomas W. White reprint.” description ends , October 1782, pp. 34, 44, 57, 85). On 5 December 1783 Nathan again presented his petition (ibid., October 1783, p. 48), but this and other claims continued to lie until 14 June 1784, when, in response to a letter from Edmund Randolph in his capacity as attorney general, a member of the House, apparently JM, successfully introduced a resolution once again preparing the way for arbitration of the whole of Nathan’s claims (ibid., May 1784, pp. 27, 56–57, 60).

11See JM to Randolph, 3 December 1782. Judging from the fact that Randolph did not, in accordance with his custom, interlineate a decoding of the ciphers in the present letter, Nathan’s delivery of it probably postdated Randolph’s receipt of JM’s communication of 3 December. The date of Nathan’s arrival in Richmond has not been determined.

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