James Madison Papers

To James Madison from Edmund Randolph, 13 September 1783 (second)

From Edmund Randolph

RC (LC: Madison Papers). Unsigned, but in Randolph’s hand. Cover addressed by him to “The honble James Madison jr. esq of Congress Princeton.” Docketed by JM, “Sepr. 13. 1783 E.R.” The bracketed letters are those excised from the manuscript by an overly close cropping, especially along the right margin of the second folio.

Richmond Sep: 13. 1783

My dear sir

Norfolk and its neighbourhood are I fear, doomed to perpetual dissensions. Under the former government, their inhabitants were in the most bitter enmity on account of the small pay. the war has carried the irritating distinction of whig and tory to a very unhappy height, and the governor’s proclamation has added fresh fuel to these disturbances. The generality of the third description has given room to one party to expel, or sentence to expulsion, many of the citizens of the other, who are suspected of having adhered to the enemy: Some of those very men too, who have been tried and acquitted. The governor has declared by letter, what the genuine interpretation of the proclamation ought to be, and will by this means, I hope, restrain the violence, now in agitation.1

The tories have spread a report, that congress have instructed the American commissioners to obtain a revocation of the preliminary article, which provides for the payment of british debts, and have resolved not to ratify the definitive treaty without the abolition of that article.2 The report is scarcely attended to; but there is some reason to believe, (tho’ it cannot be asserted with any certainty) that it was circulated to aid the pamphlet, forwarded to you some time ago.3 I doubt the more of its having risen from the patrons of nonpayment, as I do not see the effect, which, if credited, it can have upon their doctrines.

The society of the Cincinnati have for their object what i[s] truly laudable. But at some distant day may it not be a[bus]ed from its present praiseworthy views to something ha[rm]ful? Is it not a mode of assembling on any occasion those, who belong to the army, from North to South, and to keep alive a distinction, between the cit[izen] and soldier? Much better would it have been for the [se]veral states to do justice to their officers, and thus to rend[er] an association for the support of their families unnecess[ary.]4

I should feel most sensibly f[or] congress at the expectation of a new ambassador, if he did not come from Holland: But even at Princeton you ca[n] surely give him a better reception, and better fare, tha[n] the representative of a nation will require, whose negoc[ia]tors at Munster drew out stinking cheese from the[ir] satchels, and were clad in coarse doublets.5

1Few, if any, coastal towns in the United States suffered from the war as much as Norfolk. Largely destroyed by fire in December 1775 and January 1776 during the fighting attending the expulsion of Lord Dunmore, the royal governor, the town was also occupied several times between May 1779 and October 1781 by British troops or bombarded by British ships. For a decade before the Revolution, Parliament’s restrictive economic legislation and the resistance to it in the form of non-importation, non-exportation, and non-consumption agreements had injured Norfolk’s commerce, depressed the wages of her artisans and seamen, and embittered them against the Scottish merchants and other pro-British residents of the town and neighborhood. For these reasons, as well as the ruinous effects during the war of the frequent blockade of Chesapeake Bay by the British navy, the depredations by Loyalist “cruisers,” and the removal of slaves by the British army, every erstwhile “tory” who returned to the area in 1783 was greeted with hostility. Governor Harrison’s proclamation of 2 July encouraged these expressions of enmity (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 , I, 273, n. 4; 284, n. 4; 295, n. 5; II, 152, n. 2; 245, n. 3; 296, n. 6; III, 12, n. 7; 16, n. 8; 17, n. 10; 69, n. 2; 80; 120, n. 1; 194, n. 4; V, 90, n. 2; 310, n. 6; VI, 209, n. 12; 239, n. 22; Randolph to JM, 12 July, and n. 2; Delegates to Harrison, 23 Aug. 1783, n. 2; Thomas Jefferson Wertenbaker, Norfolk: Historic Southern Port [Durham, N.C., 1931], pp. 58–83).

Probably while serving as attorney general during the session of the state Court of Admiralty, which convened in Williamsburg on 3 September, Randolph gathered much of his information about the “disturbances” in Tidewater Virginia (Va. Gazette, and Weekly Advertiser, 20 Sept. 1783). These were by no means confined to Norfolk and neighboring Hampton and Portsmouth. On 18 September 1783 Thomas Smith, a justice of the peace in Gloucester County, wrote to Governor Harrison that, in view of the seeming conflict between the preliminary articles of peace and the laws of Virginia, he did not know how to proceed “with Legality & Propriety” against “such noxious Vermine,” as the “infamous” Loyalists and other “truly British subjects,” who had “within a few days presumed to make their appearance among us” (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 , I, 229, n. 4; Cal. of Va. State Papers description begins William P. Palmer et al., eds., Calendar of Virginia State Papers and Other Manuscripts (11 vols.; Richmond, 1875–93). description ends , III, 530–31). Five days later Harrison replied that Smith should let all British subjects remain “except natives who have adhered to the enemy and been actually in arms against America” (Executive Letter Book, 1783–1786, pp. 200–201, MS in Va. State Library). Harrison’s earlier letter or letters on this subject have not been found. See also Va. Gazette description begins Virginia Gazette, or, the American Advertiser (Richmond, James Hayes, 1781–86). description ends , 27 Sept. 1783, for the letter by “a True Whig” excoriating the Loyalists.

2Congress had instructed the American commissioners of peace to seek from the British a modification, rather than “a revocation,” of the article to which Randolph referred but had not resolved to reject the definitive treaty of peace unless the change was made (JM Notes, 30 May, and n. 3; JM to Jefferson, 10 June 1783).

5JM to Jefferson, 10 June, and n. 23; to Randolph, 30 Sept. 1783. Randolph’s reference was to the “negociators” representing the Estates General of the Netherlands at Münster in 1648 near the close of the Thirty Years War. So desolated by the war was the little German town and its rural environs that a Frenchman labeled it “Swines-ville,” and a diplomat dated a dispatch “from Münster, behind the pig-sty” (Friedrich Heer, The Holy Roman Empire, trans. Janet Sondheimer [New York, 1968], pp. 211, 212). Insofar as the “cheese” is concerned, the tale may have some basis in fact. Professor Karl J. Weintraub of the University of Chicago kindly furnished the editors with the following translation of a passage from a monograph on the Treaty of Münster in Westphalia largely based upon contemporary manuscripts in the Dutch archives at The Hague: “Jointly these gentlemen received 300 guilders for keeping house. This was in addition, of course, to the cost of the provisions they took with them to inhospitable Westphalia—that is to say, wine and beer valued at 2,000 guilders and 5,000 guilders worth of such good Dutch articles as ‘butter, cheese, salt, soap, dried codfish, salted codfish, herring, spices, lard for lacing, vinegar, oil, wax and tallow candles, and all sorts of other necessities.’ We learn, by the way, that by 22 May, thus four months after their arrival, all of these provisions had been consumed” (Jan Joseph Poelhekke, De Vrede van Munster [The Hague, 1948], p. 224).

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