James Madison Papers

From James Madison to Thomas Jefferson, 18 February 1783

To Thomas Jefferson

RC (LC: Madison Papers). Addressed to “The honble T. Jefferson.” Unless otherwise noted, the words italicized are those that were written by JM in the cipher described in Jefferson to JM, 31 Jan. 1783, ed. n. After recovering the present letter from Jefferson, JM wrote “Madison Jas.” above the date line. In his old age he or someone at his direction placed a bracket at the close of both the second and fourth paragraphs to indicate that they should be printed in the first comprehensive edition of his writings. Henry D. Gilpin, the editor of that compilation, included only the second paragraph (Madison, Papers [Gilpin ed.] description begins Henry D. Gilpin, ed., The Papers of James Madison (3 vols.; Washington, 1840). description ends , I, 508).

Philada. Feby. 18th. 1783.

Dear Sir

Your two favors of the 14th. one of them inclosing a letter to Miss Floyd1 were recd. by yesterday’s mail.

The last paper from N.Y. as the inclosed will shew you has brought us another token of the approach of peace. It is somewhat mysterious nevertheless that the preliminaries with America should be represented by Secy. Townsend as actually signed and those with France as to be signed, as also that the signing of the latter would constitute a general peace.2 I have never been without my apprehensions that some tricks would be tried by the British Court notwithstanding their exterior fairness, of late, and these apprehensions have been rendered much more serious by the tenor of some letters which you have3 seen and particularly by the intimation of minister of France to Mister Livingston.4 These considerations have made me peculiarly solicitous that your mission5 should be pursued as long as a possibility remained of your sharing in the object of it.

Your portrait of your amanuensis6 is I conceive drawn to the life.7 For all unconfidential8 services he is a convenient instrument. For any thing farther ne sutor ultra crepidam.9

The turn which your case has for the present taken makes it unnecessary to answer particularly the parts of your letter which relate to the expediency of a flag—and the extent of its protection. on the first point, I am inclined to think that the greatest objection with Congress would have been drawn from the risk of a denial. on the second I have no precise knowledge, but the principle would seem to extend to every thing appertaining to the mission as well as to the person of the Minister. Nor can I conceive a motive to the latter indulgence which would admit of a refusal of the former.10

I am impatient to hear of the plan which is to dispose of you during the suspense in which you are placed. If Philada. as I flatter myself, is to be your abode, your former quarters will await you.11

I am Dear Sir Yr. Affecte. friend,

J. Madison Jr.

An answer to Miss Patsy’s letter is in the same mail with this.12

1Qq.v. Martha (Patsy) Jefferson’s letter to Maria Floyd was enclosed in Jefferson’s earlier letter of 14 February to JM.

2JM, who probably enclosed a copy of the Pennsylvania Packet of 18 February 1783, underlined rather than encoded the italicized words. His comments appear to reflect two items in this issue of the Packet: (1) a copy of the letter of 5 December 1782 from Thomas Townshend, British secretary for the home department, to the lord mayor of London, informing him of the signing of the preliminary articles of peace with the United States, and adding, “it now only remains to sign the same articles between Great-Britain and France, to constitute a general peace”; and (2) an extract from an anonymous letter of 12 February 1783 from Elizabethtown, N.J., in which the author, after mentioning a rumor from New York City concerning the signing of a preliminary peace with the United States on 30 November 1782, labeled the report as “too absurd and inconsistent to be credited; because all the powers at war must have signed at one and the same time.” Townshend’s observation, quoted above, naturally made JM wonder why Spain and the Netherlands had not been mentioned.

3JM symbolized “have” as 400.29. rather than as 401.29.

4JM’s combined symbols for “Livingston,” 485.37.a. and 763.31., deciphered respectively as “living” and “son.” For examples of JM’s “apprehensions,” see Papers of Madison description begins William T. Hutchinson, William M. E. Rachal, et al., eds., The Papers of James Madison (6 vols. to date; Chicago, 1962——). description ends , V, 159; 171; 172, n. 13; 187; 196–97; 390; 448; JM to James Madison, Sr., 1 Jan.; JM Notes, 13 Jan. 1783. For the “letters” which Jefferson probably saw during his stay in Philadelphia from 27 December 1782 to 26 January 1783, see Papers of Madison description begins William T. Hutchinson, William M. E. Rachal, et al., eds., The Papers of James Madison (6 vols. to date; Chicago, 1962——). description ends , V, 438, n. 9; 441; 443, n. 2; JM Notes, 1 Jan., n. 2; JM to Randolph, 7 Jan. 1783, n. 9.

5That is, as a member of the American peace commission.

6JM correctly encoded “amanuensis” as 29.18. For Jefferson’s labored encipherment of the word, see Jefferson to JM, 14 Feb. 1783 (2d letter), n. 12.

7For Jefferson’s “portrait” of David Salisbury Franks, see Jefferson to JM, 14 Feb. 1783 (2d letter), and n. 19.

8JM achieved “confidential” by combining 183.21. (“confident”), 425.31. (“I”), and 24.1., which begins the “AL” column in Nugent’s dictionary.

9Ne supra crepidam sutor indicaret—“let the cobbler stick to his last,” from Plinius Secundus Major, Historia Naturalis (H[arris] Rackham, trans., Pliny Natural History, with an English Translation … [10 vols.; Cambridge, Mass., 1938–63], IX, 324). JM contrived his incorrect and abbreviated rendition of the quotation by writing, “ne 796.6. [‘suitor’], 843.31. [‘u’], 470.31. [‘l’], 830.1. [‘TR’ column], a cre 603.1. [‘pi’], 226.22. [‘dam’].”

11JM to Jefferson, 15 Feb. 1783, and n. 5. Jefferson’s “former quarters” had been in Mrs. Mary House’s boarding house in Philadelphia (Jefferson to JM, 31 Jan. 1783, and nn. 28, 29).

12The letter “in the same mail” evidently was Maria Floyd’s reply to the letter mentioned in n. 1, above.

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