James Madison Papers

From James Madison to Edmund Randolph, 25 February 1783

To Edmund Randolph

RC (LC: Madison Papers). In JM’s hand but lacks signature, cover, and docket. The contents of the letter and the handwriting of the interlineated decoding permit no doubt that Randolph was the recipient. Words italicized in the text are those enciphered by JM in Randolph’s code. For this code, 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, 307; 309, n. 1.

Philada. Feby. 25th. 1783.

My dear Sir

Congress are still engaged on the subject of providing adequate revenues for the public debts, particularly that due to the army.1 The recommendation of the Impost will be renewed with perhaps some little variation, to which will be superadded probably a duty on a few enumerated art[i]cles.2 Master Mercer altho’ he continues to be adverse to the measure declares now that he will not carry his opposition out of Congress.3 Whether any other general revenues will be recommended is very uncertain. A poll tax seems to be the only one sufficiently simple & equal for the purpose, and besides other objections to which even that is liable, the Constitution of Maryland which interdicts such a tax is an insuperable bar.4 The plan talked of by some for supplying the deficiency is to call on the States to provide each its proportion of a permanent revenue within itself, and, to appropriate it to the continental debt. The objections against this plan are that as the execution of it will depend on a unanimous & continued punctuality in the 13 States; it is a precarious basis for public credit5—that the precariousness will be increased by mutual jealousies among the States that others may be sparing themselves exertions which they are submitting to; and that these jealousies will be still more increased by the mutual opinion which prevails that they are comparatively in advance to the U. States; an opinion which cannot be corrected without closing the accounts between all of them & the U. States; prerequisites to which are a valuation of the land, and a final discrimination of such parts of the separate expenditures of the States as ought to be transferred to the common mass, from such parts as ought in justice to fall on the particular States themselves.6 Some States also will contend and it would seem neither agst. the principles of justice nor the spirit of the Confederation, for a retrospective abatement of their share of the past debt according to their respective disabilities from year to year throughout the war.7 What will be the end of this complication of embarrassments time only can disclose. But a greater embarrassment than any is s[t]ill behind. The discontents and designs of the army are every day takeing a more solemn form It is now whispered that they have not only resolved not to lay down their arms ti[l]l justice shall be done them [but] that to prev[en]t surprize a public declaration will be made to that effect8 It is added and I fear with too much certainty, that the influence of General [Washington] is rapidly decreaseing in the army insomuch that it is even in contemplation to substitute some less scrupulous guardian of their interests9

There are a variety of rumours concerning peace but none of them of sufficient authority to be particularized. The Speech of the King of G B. to his parliament and the letter to the Lord Mayor of London from Secy. Townsend as it is stated are the only respectable evidence yet recd. There are also rumours on the adverse side which have still less the complection of authenticity.10

A quantity of cloathing on its passage through this State to the British prisoners of war under a passport of Genl Washington was lately siezed and condemned under a law of this State agst. the importation of British goods. After several fruitless experiments to prevail on the siezors to relinquish their appeal to the law, the Legislature have I am told cut the business short by declaring the law as far as it interfered with the authority of the passport to be unconstitutional & void ab initio.11

You will suffer me to renew my exhortations to an exchange of your office under the State for a seat in the Legislature. It depends much in my opinion on the measures which may be pursued by Congress & the several States within the ensuing period of 6 months whether prosperity & tranquility, or confusion and disunion are to be the fruits of the Revolution.12 The seeds of the latter are so thickly sown that nothing but the most enlightened and liberal policy will be able to stifle them. The easetern13 states particularly Massachussetts conceiv[e] that compared with the Southern they are greatly in advance in the general account14

A respectable delegate from Massachussetts a few days ago being a little chafed by some expressions of Masters Lee and Mercer unfavorable to loan office creditors said that if justice was not to be obtained thro the general confederacy, the sooner it was known the better [so] that some states might be forming other confederacys adequate to the purpose[,] adding that some had suffered immensely from the want of a proportional compliance with deman[ds] for men & mon[ey] by others15

However erroneous these ideas may be, do they not merit serious attenttion? Unless some amicable & adequate arrangements be speedily taken for adjusting all the subsisting accounts and discharging the public engagements, a dissolution of the union will be inevitable Will not in that event the S[outhern] S[tates] which at sea will be opulent and weak, be an easey prey to the easetern which will be powerful and rapacious? and particularly if supposed c[l]aims of justice are on the side of the latter will they not be a ready prete[x]t for reprisals?16 The consequence of such a situation would probably be that at alliances would be soug[h]t first by the weaker and then by the stronger party and this country be made subservi[ent] to the wars and politics of Europe17

I inclose you the residue of the Extract from Mr. J——s remarks, according to my promise.18 I could have wished for another conveyance than the post, but preferred the latter to the uncertainty of finding such an one. The badness of the roads or something else has prevented the arrival of the post as yet, so that I must suspend acknowledgmt. of your favor by him till the next week.19


1JM Notes, 29 Jan., and n. 13; 4 Feb., and nn. 7, 10, 11, 13–15; 12 Feb.; 21 Feb., and nn. 27, 28; 25 Feb. 1783, and nn. 1–4, 11.

2JM Notes, 18 Feb., and nn. 11, 12; 19 Feb., and n. 17; 20 Feb. 1783, and nn. 9, 14.

3JM Notes, 12 Feb., and nn. 5, 12; 18 Feb., and n. 3; 21 Feb.; 27 Feb.; JM to Randolph, 18 Feb. 1783, and nn. 2, 3.

4JM Notes, 28 Jan., and nn. 35, 42, 43; 29 Jan. 1783, and n. 16.

5JM Notes, 28 Jan., and nn. 11, 23, 45; 29 Jan. 1783, and n. 25.

6JM Notes, 28 Jan., and nn. 19, 23; 5–6 Feb., and n. 9; 7 Feb.; 8 Feb., and n. 3; 11 Feb., and n. 2; 19 Feb., and n. 6; 21 Feb. 1783, and n. 14.

7JM Notes, 14 Jan., and n. 9; 27 Jan., and nn. 13, 27; 4 Feb.; 17 Feb., and nn. 1, 3, 4; 19 Feb. 1783, and n. 6.

8JM to Randolph, 13 Feb., and n. 6; JM Notes, 19 Feb., and nn. 11, 12, 19; 20 Feb. 1783, and nn. 18–20. Instead of using the cipher 156 meaning “but,” JM wrote 136 standing for “bar.”

9JM Notes, 20 Feb. 1783, and nn. 18, 19. Although JM should have encoded “Washington” as 491, he wrote 490, meaning “way.”

10JM Notes, 13 Feb., and n. 10; JM to Jefferson, 18 Feb., and n. 2; Harrison to Delegates, 21 Feb. 1783, and n. 4. An extract from a letter written on 9 December 1782 in Nantes stated that the renewed peace negotiations in Paris “promise either a speedy termination of hostilities, or an obstinate continuance of them” (Pa. Packet, 25 Feb. 1783).

11JM Notes, 13 Feb., and nn. 6, 8; 20 Feb. 1783, and nn. 10–12.

12Randolph to JM, 1 Feb., and n. 5; JM to Jefferson, 11 Feb., and n. 14; to Randolph, 11 Feb., and n. 3; Jefferson to JM, 14 Feb. (1st letter), and n. 4. The contents of the present letter from this point to the end of the paragraph much resemble what JM wrote in the footnote to his notes for 21 Feb. (q.v.).

13Here and twice again in this paragraph JM used the cipher for “ease,” probably because Randolph’s code lacked a cipher for “eas.”

14JM Notes, 19 Feb. 1783, and n. 6.

15The “respectable delegate” was Nathaniel Gorham (JM Notes, 21 Feb. and the citations in n. 23). See also JM Notes, 28 Jan., and n. 45; 30 Jan. 1783, and nn. 2, 4, 6.

16JM’s premise was that the opulence of the southern states depended upon the overseas market for their agricultural staples. Those states were vulnerable because, unlike New England, they lacked sea power and relied largely upon ships of that region to transport their exports and to bring them return cargoes from Europe and slaves from Africa. In 1786 Jefferson estimated that tobacco, rice, and indigo, from the standpoint of their value, constituted 36.4 per cent of all American exports (Boyd, Papers of Jefferson description begins Julian P. Boyd et al., eds., The Papers of Thomas Jefferson (18 vols. to date; Princeton, N.J., 1950——). description ends , X, 146–47).

17JM’s meaning would have been clearer if he had not written, perhaps inadvertently, the cipher 557, meaning “at,” before the ciphers for “alliances.” The second syllable of “subservi[ent]” is doubtfully decoded from two ink-blotted ciphers which seem to have been 219 and 380, together standing for “ser.” The 380 is plainly followed by 474 meaning “vi,” but a 378 standing for “ent” has to be interpolated if it is assumed that the intended word was “subservient.”

18JM to Randolph, 18 Feb. 1783, and n. 5. “J——s” was “Jefferson’s.”

19JM used “him” to refer to the postrider. JM probably referred to Randolph’s letter of 15 February (q.v.), although he did not acknowledge its receipt in his letter of 4 March to Randolph.

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