James Madison Papers

Virginia Delegates to Benjamin Harrison, [18 March] 1783

Virginia Delegates to Benjamin Harrison

Printed summary (Calendar of Virginia State Papers, III, 458). The original letter has not been found, but the enclosure and a portion of the cover are in the Virginia State Library. On this fragment of the cover is “His Excellency Ben” in the hand of John Francis Mercer and also his signature below the franking word “Free.” As a rule the member of the Virginia delegation who drafted its weekly letter to Harrison also addressed the cover. Therefore in this instance Mercer probably was the author, except for the signatures of some or all of his colleagues from Virginia.

The cover docket, “Our Dellegates in Congress March 18. 83 inclosg Auby’s Memorial,” refers to the memorial of Louis Auly, alias Lewis Abraham Pauly (Livingston to Delegates, 15 Mar. 1783, and n. 1). Clearly having that memorial in mind, Harrison jotted on the cover: “Barclay Peter Penett & co. Livrs 77,502 Interest from Apr. 1782.” The abbreviation “Livrs,” for Livres, is written immediately above “77,502.”

[Philadelphia, 18 March 1783]

The import of the last Dispatches received by Capt: Burney had been communicated. A Letter from Mr. Laurens received at the same time had not been read in Congress. Its date was posterior to those of his colleagues,1 and conveyed strong suspicions of the designs of the Court of London—that their plan was to disunite the belligerent Powers & he thinks the spirit of the English high “for the prosecution of the war against France.”2

This minister’s reflections were wise and deserved “the most serious attention.” He recommends we “should ardently adhere in all points to every engagement with the Court of France,” whose views he did not suspect, and cautions us against “trusting to our new but half-made Friends.”3 The news-paper reports of the Parliamentary debates discovered indecision, even in the Cabinet of the British King, consequently he inferred Ld: Shelburne had not disclosed his ultimate views even to them.4

Refer to sundry claims against the State for goods furnished by French Houses &c. and recommends Mr. Barclay the consul in France, be appointed to settle them.5 P. S.—By a letter from Genl: Washington, rec’d the day before, they “find the army in a situation highly alarming & truly critical.” They “trust much to the prudence & discretion of the General to prevent desperate measures.”6

1Perhaps this summary should have read “posterior to most of those,” for Franklin’s dispatch of 24 December 1782 bore the same date as that of Laurens’ (JM Notes, 12–15 Mar. 1783, and n. 1). “Capt: Burney” was Captain Joshua Barney.

2Ibid., and n. 8. For Laurens’ dispatch, see Wharton, Revol. Dipl. Corr description begins Francis Wharton, ed., The Revolutionary Diplomatic Correspondence of the United States (6 vols.; Washington, 1889). description ends ., VI, 164–65.

3Laurens wrote: “I see no cause for entertaining more particular jealousy than ought to be kept upon guard against every negociating court in the world, nor half so much as should at this moment be upon the watch against every motion arising from our new half friends”—that is, the English.

4The information conveyed in this sentence was derived by the delegates from the Pennsylvania Journal of 15 March and the Pennsylvania Packet of 15 and 18 March rather than from Laurens’ dispatch. The excerpts in these newspapers from the debates in the House of Commons on 9, 11, and 14 December and in the House of Lords on 13 December make clear that Shelburne, supported by his cabinet colleague the Duke of Richmond, contended that the recognition of American independence would become irrevocable only after the conclusion of peace between Great Britain and France. Simultaneously in the House of Commons the younger William Pitt, chancellor of the exchequer, supported by his cabinet colleague Thomas Townshend, as well as by Edmund Burke and Charles James Fox, held that the acknowledgment of American independence had been “free and unbounded,” no matter whether the war against their country’s remaining foes should end. Pressed by his opponents in the debate to reveal the position of George III on this issue, Shelburne refused on the grounds that he was “bound, by his office, to keep the secrets of the king.” See Richard B. Morris, The Peacemakers, pp. 411–14.

6JM Notes, 17 Mar. 1783, and nn. 1, 2.

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