James Madison Papers

From James Madison to Edmund Randolph, 24 December 1782

To Edmund Randolph

RC (LC: Madison Papers). Addressed to “The honble Edmund Randolph Esqr Richmond.” Cover also franked and signed, “J Madison Jr.” Docketed by Randolph, “J Madison. Decr. 24. 1782.” In the last three paragraphs the italicized words or abbreviations are those encoded by JM in the official cipher.

Philada. Decr. 24th. 1782

My dear Sir

Since my last the Danae a French frigate has arrived from France with money for the French army and public despatches A snow storm drove her on shore in this Bay where she was in danger of following the fate of one the last Frigates from France The accident as it turned out only cost her all her masts.1 The despatches for Congress are from Mr. Franklin, Mr. Jay & the Marquis de la Fayette, and come down to the 14th. Ocr. They advise that the 1st. Commission issued to Mr. Oswald empowered him to treat with certain Colonies &c. which being objected, another issued explicitly empowering him to Treat with Commisrs. from the thirteen United States.2 The latter, of which a copy was inclosed, and which will be transmitted to the Executives, is grounded on the Act of Parliament, but is to continue in force no longer than July 1783.3 It is no doubt on the whole a source of very soothing expectations, But if we view on one side the instability & insidiousness of the British Cabinet, and on the other the complication of interests and pretensions among the Allies, prudence calls upon us to temper our expectations with much distrust.4

Mr. Adams concluded his Treaty of Amity & Commerce on the 7th. of Ocr. and had in hand 1½ Million of Florins out of the 5 Million for which subscriptions had been opened. As this however was the sum subscribed in June last, it is no certain evidence of any other progress than that of the payments.5

There are accounts but neither official nor certain that Madrass had been taken by the combined arms of France & Hyder Ally.6 3/5 of Constantinople had been reduced to ashes by incendiaries inspired with the desperate purpose by the public distresses and a blind revenge agst. the Vizier who was regarded as the cause of them.7 The havoc suffered by the French & Spaniards in the attempt to storm Gibralter before its relief, appears to have been dreadful indeed. The loss on the English side which amounted to about 500 is a proof that the effort was a bloody one.8

Mr. Livingston has been prevailed on to hold his office for this winter. The election of a successor was within a moment of being made when the practicability of retaining his services was discovered. The Gentlemen in nomination were General Schuyler, & Mr. Clymer   Mr. Reed had been nominated but withdrawn.9

The deputation for Rhode Island is still here. A report that Maryland is receding with respect to the object of their mission, and information conveyed in a letter from Mr. Pendleton to me that Virga. on hearing of the unanimous refusal of R.I. had repealed her accession, by disarm[in]g them of their most pointed argument has produced great hesitation. They wait at present however only for intelligence with respect to Md. & Va. which was expected by yesterday’s post. But the post is not even yet come.10 The inferences which R.I. will probably draw from Oswalds Commission are another source of apprehension.11 If justice & honor however preside in her Councils she will feel as much the obligation of providing for the discharge of past engagements as for contracting those which may be necessary in future. Our debts at this moment liquidated & unliquidated, cannot I conceive be less than forty million Dollars. The interest therefore alone is a very serious object, and I am persuaded that unless it be raised by some plan which will operate at the same time & in due proportion throughout the Union, that neither its amount nor punctuality can be confided in.12 Besides the other obvious causes, a jealousy is already perceived among some States that others will eventually elude their share of the burden13 The interest on the sum borrowed by Mr. A. is now running and soon will[,] if a part hath not already, become due. Nor is their any fund in contemplation for its payment but that of the Impost.14

Of——l. Cy——r15 The french army are embarking for the West Indies count R——u says that in case the war sd. be renewed against us they will instantly return Great efforts will I fancy be made on that theatre unless arrested by peace16 I need not give other intimations of secrecy on these [poin]ts than the nature of them & the use of the Cypher17

J. M.

intended the paper inclosed to Mr. A. for you.18 you may exchange if worth while.

1The “Danae” had sailed from Rochefort, France, on 8 November. The Pennsylvania Journal of 21 December reported that she had run aground in Delaware Bay during a blinding snowstorm. In the issue of 28 December 1782, the same newspaper announced the arrival of the dismantled frigate at Philadelphia.

3See Virginia Delegates to Harrison, 24 December 1782, n. 5. For the “Act of Parliament,” 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, 241; 242, n. 3. George III stipulated in Richard Oswald’s revised commission that it would “become utterly null and void” on 1 July 1783, unless revoked by him before that date (Wharton, Revolutionary Diplomatic Correspondence description begins Francis Wharton, ed., The Revolutionary Diplomatic Correspondence of the United States (6 vols.; Washington, 1889). description ends , V, 749).

4Between “interests” and “and,” JM canceled “which are to be.” After “pretensions” he interlineated “among the Allies.” See Virginia Delegates to Harrison, 24 December 1782, n. 7.

5Ibid., n. 8. See also JM to Randolph, 16–17 September, and nn. 6, 8; Notes on Debates, 4 December 1782. On 11 June 1782 John Adams had arranged for the loan by two banking firms of Amsterdam. By 1 January 1783, 1,800,000 florins (about $720,000) had been made available (NA: PCC, No. 144, fols. 181–82). See n. 15.

7During the summer and autumn of 1782, a plague took a heavy toll of lives throughout much of the Ottoman Empire, including Constantinople. In that city on 29 July, and especially on 22 August, fires destroyed the homes of over 200,000 people. Although apparently without blame for these disasters, the grand vizier, Ysed Mehemet, was deposed on 24 August 1782 and exiled (The Annual Register, or a View of the History, Politics, and Literature for the Years 1784 and 1785, XXVII [London, 1787], 25, 26–28). See also Pennsylvania Packet, 14 December 1782; Virginia Gazette description begins Virginia Gazette, or, the American Advertiser (Richmond, James Hayes, 1781–86). description ends , 25 January 1783.

8See JM to Pendleton, 15 October 1782, and n. 10. In the final and “grand” assault, the French and Spanish allies sustained 2,000 casualties; the British defenders only 81 (Frederic George Stephens, A History of Gibraltar and Its Sieges [London, 1870], pp. 275–76). The Pennsylvania Packet of 24 December 1782 states that about 4,000 French and Spanish troops had been killed in the assaults upon the British stronghold.

10This sentence makes clear that JM was writing to Randolph before Congress convened on 24 December or at least before the mail, which arrived that day, had been delivered. See Notes on Debates, 24 December 1782, and nn. 15–18. Neither the Maryland Gazette nor any Philadelphia newspaper reported that “Maryland is receding” from the impost amendment. On 28 December 1782 Governor William Paca informed the Maryland General Assembly of Rhode Island’s refusal to ratify. This refusal, as well as Virginia’s repeal of her act of ratification, effectively achieved the possible goal of opponents of the amendment in the Maryland legislature, without cost to themselves in any respect (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, 221, n. 11; Burnett, Letters description begins Edmund C. Burnett, ed., Letters of Members of the Continental Congress (8 vols.; Washington, 1921–36). description ends , VI, 566; J. Hall Pleasants, ed., Journal and Correspondence of the Council of Maryland, Archives of Maryland, XLVIII, 330).

11See n. 3, above. The favorable prospect of an early treaty of peace, as evidenced by the wording of the revised commission of Oswald and the terms to which Great Britain seemed likely to agree, judging from Franklin’s dispatch of 14 October, might strengthen the conviction of the Rhode Island legislature that Congress had no need to levy a 5 per cent duty on imports.

12In his report of 29 July 1782, Robert Morris estimated that by the close of the year the public debt would be about $30,000,000, requiring the payment of interest amounting to nearly $2,000,000 annually (Clarence L. Ver Steeg, Robert Morris, pp. 124, 126; JM to Randolph, 16–17 September 1782, n. 13).

13Perhaps “elude” by assuming the debts owed to their own citizens by Congress but refusing to help pay their proportionate share of the sums owed in Europe or the interest charges thereon. See Report on Payment of New Jersey Troops, 1 October, and ed. n.; Notes on Debates, 20 November, and nn. 1, 10; 26 November, and n. 3; 4 December; Virginia Delegates to Harrison, 10 December; JM to Randolph, 10 December 1782.

14See n. 5, above. By 30 June 1783 interest of approximately 85,000 florins (about $34,000) was largely in default on the loan from the Dutch bankers (NA: PCC, No. 144, fol. 125).

15The italicizations above, excepting those in the first two paragraphs, also signify passages which JM wrote in the official code.

16See Notes on Debates, 21 December 1782, and n. 5. Although France and Spain expected to launch a powerful offensive against the British in Jamaica, no important engagement between the belligerents occurred in the West Indies during the winter of 1782–83 (W. M. James, The British Navy in Adversity, pp. 360–64).

17Between “not” and “give,” JM canceled “intimate.”

18No letter of 24 December from JM to Jacquelin Ambler has been found. JM may have meant that he was enclosing with the present letter two newspapers but inadvertently had written Ambler’s name on the one he had intended for Randolph. The two papers probably were the Pennsylvania Packet of 21 and 24 December, or one of those, and the Pennsylvania Journal of 21 December.

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