James Madison Papers

From James Madison to Edmund Randolph, 30 August 1783

To Edmund Randolph

RC (LC: Madison Papers). Unsigned, but in JM’s hand. Cover franked by “J. Madison Jr” and addressed by him to “Edmund Randolph Esqr. Richmond.” Docketed by Randolph, “J. Madison Aug: 30. 1783.”

Princeton Aug. 30. 1783.

My dear Sir

We hear nothing from Europe that can be depended on relative to the definitive Treaty, nor any thing from N. York as to the time of its evacuation.1 A Pamphlet has lately come over from G. Britain which appears to be well adapted to retard if not prevent a commercial Treaty, & which is said to be much attended to. It urges an adherence to the principle of the Navigation Act by which American Vessels will be excluded from the trade between the separate parts of the Empire, and from all intercourse with the dependent territories. It undertakes to shew from an enumeration of the produce of the U.S. & the manufactures consumed by them that those of G. B. recommended by the superior credit which her merchant[s] can give, will be sufficiently sure of a preference in the American Market. And lastly it maintains that the interests of the States are so opposite in matters of Commerce, & the authority of Congs. so feeble that no defensive precautions need be feared on the part of the U.S. and threatens that in case they should refuse to let British Vessels exclusively carry on a Commerce between the U.S. and the W. Indies as far as the interest of the Islands may require, the Vessels of one State shall not be permitted to carry the produce of another to any British Port.2 The whole tenor of the reasoning supposes that France will not permit Vessels of the U.S. to trade with their Islands, in which there is good reason to believe they are not mistaken. The object of the French Administration is said to be to allow a direct trade between the U.S. & their W. India possessions, but to confine it to French Bottoms.3

The Legislature of Penna. have unanimously adopted the Recommendations of Congs. both as to Revenue & a change of the fœderal rule for apportioning the common burdens.4 They will also present an invitation to Congs. we understand, to resume their Sessions at Philada. if that place be judged most fit for the despatch of public business untill a permanent seat be chosen & prepared; giving at the same time explicit assurances of support in case it should on any occasion be needed. What effect this conciliatory proposition may have on the temper of Congs. is precarious.5 With some the complaisance shewn to the late recommendations of Congs. will be far from softening the dislike. With others Philada. will ever be obnoxious while it contains and respects an obnoxious Character.6 Annapolis has siezed the present occasion to forward her views with respect to Congs. and has courted their presence in the most flattering terms.7 During this contest among the rival seats, we are kept in the most awkward situation that can be imagined; and it is the more so as we every moment expect the Dutch Ambassador.8 We are crowded too much either to be comfortable ourselves or to be able to carry on the business with advantage. Mr. Jones & myself on our arrival were extremely put to it to get any quarters at all, and are at length put into one bed in a room not more than 10 feet square.9

1JM to James Madison, Sr., 30 Aug. 1783, and citations in nn. 4 and 5.

2JM referred to John Baker Holroyd (1735–1821), Baron, 1st Earl (1816 ff.) of Sheffield and Viscount Pevensey, Observations on the Commerce of the American States with Europe and the West Indies: including the Several Articles of Import and Export; and on the Tendency of a Bill now Depending in Parliament (75 pp.; London: J. Debrett, 1783). This may have been among the pamphlets received by Congress from overseas on 18 August (NA: PCC, No. 185, III, 75). Later editions, of which at least the sixth had been published before the close of 1784, were enlarged by adding extensive appendixes. Sheffield, a leading authority on agriculture and commerce, was a persuasive champion of mercantilism, alleging that to repeal the Navigation Acts, as advocated by the free-trade followers of Adam Smith, would be economically ruinous to Great Britain. Both by his pamphlet and his speeches as the member from Bristol in the House of Commons, Sheffield may have induced Lord Shelburne by the summer of 1783 to abandon his support, given earlier that year, of a commercial treaty which would have opened to American merchantmen many avenues of trade prohibited to them by the Navigation Acts (JM to Jefferson, 13 May, nn. 6, 7, 9; 10 June, nn. 5, 6, 8, 21; Rights of Neutral Nations, 12 June, n. 4; Delegates to Harrison, 14–15 Aug., and n. 9; JM to Randolph, 18 Aug. 1783). On 15 April 1783 in the House of Commons, Sheffield concluded a speech in regard to “opening the trade with America” by remarking that the framing of a treaty to that end would be “the most important subject for negociation the country had ever known. It was to decide whether we were to be ruined by the independence of America or not. The peace, in comparison, was a trifling object” (Hansard’s Parliamentary Debates description begins William Cobbett, ed., The Parliamentary History of England from the Earliest Period to the Year 1803 (36 vols.; London, 1806–20; continued as Hansard’s Parliamentary Debates). description ends , XXIII, col. 764).

Although the Pennsylvania Packet in its issue of 4 September published excerpts from Sheffield’s pamphlet, that newspaper in its issues of 28 and 30 August and 6 and 13 September copied from the London Public Advertiser of 16 June 1783 a free-trade essay entitled, “Upon the American Commerce and Commerce in General,” signed “A By-Stander.” In the Pennsylvania Packet of 28 August also appeared, under a London, 16 June 1783, date line, the statement, “The commercial treaty between this country and America is not likely to be ratified for some considerable time.” A “considerable time,” of course, would not be until 19 November 1794, when John Jay’s Treaty of Amity, Commerce, and Navigation was signed in London; and finally, on 29 February 1796, proclaimed to be in force (Hunter Miller, ed., Treaties and Other International Acts, II, 245–74).

3JM’s information, although from a source unknown to the editors, appeared to be confirmed by John Adams’ dispatches of 3, 14, and 18 July, received by Congress on 12 September 1783 (NA: PCC, No. 185, III, 79; Wharton, Revol. Dipl. Corr description begins Francis Wharton, ed., The Revolutionary Diplomatic Correspondence of the United States (6 vols.; Washington, 1889). description ends ., VI, 512, 540–41, 552; William E. O’Donnell, Chevalier de La Luzerne, pp. 238–40; Burnett, Letters description begins Edmund C. Burnett, ed., Letters of Members of the Continental Congress (8 vols.; Washington, 1921–36). description ends , VII, 304–5, 353, 366–67, 389–90; Delegates to Harrison, 20 Sept. 1783). In the report of a committee, to which Congress referred these and other dispatches, is the statement: “although the Court of France hath not yet explicitly disclosed her intentions with respect to our future intercourse with her Colonies, there is too much reason to apprehend that she will restrain it to those articles of import and export which do not interfere with her own exports or consumption, and which are in fact of very inconsiderable value” (JCC description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds., Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789 (34 vols.; Washington, 1904–37). description ends , XXV, 587–88, 629).

4For a correction of this statement, see JM to James Madison, Sr., 30 Aug. 1783, n. 8.

6The “obnoxious Character” may not have been John Dickinson, whom Edmund C. Burnett believed him to be, but Robert Morris, whom influential members of Congress, including Theodorick Bland, Arthur Lee, Samuel Osgood, and Stephen Higginson, especially disliked (Papers of Madison description begins William T. Hutchinson, William M. E. Rachal, et al., eds., The Papers of James Madison (7 vols. to date; Chicago, 1962——). description ends , IV, 386; VI, 207; 304; 305, n. 4; 306, n. 6; 347, n. 4; 357; 409, n. 1; Burnett, Letters description begins Edmund C. Burnett, ed., Letters of Members of the Continental Congress (8 vols.; Washington, 1921–36). description ends , VII, xl, 77, 156, and n. 2, 167, 252, n. 5, 272, 282, and first n. 3, 299–300).

9JM to James Madison, Sr., 30 Aug. 1783, and n. 10. Many years later JM or someone by his direction placed a bracket at the close of the paragraph to signify that the letter should be included in the first extensive edition of his writings. See Madison, Papers (Gilpin ed.) description begins Henry D. Gilpin, ed., The Papers of James Madison (3 vols.; Washington, 1840). description ends , I, 566–68.

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