James Madison Papers

To James Madison from Samuel A. Otis, 16 March 1789

From Samuel A. Otis

New York March 16th 1789


It is a duty I owe myself to give you a summary of my pretensions to the public favor; & relying upon your candour shall make no apology for the trouble.1

In the begining of the opposition to British despotism my family & connexions took such a decided part, that I was held a prisoner by General Gage for some time after my fellow citizens were liberated. As soon as I could escape I chearfully left my property in the enimy’s hands; Much of which was plundered after a wanton diminution & waste by the Boston Port Bill. Soon after I was liberated I was elected into the Legislature, & in obedience to a resolve of Congress I was appointed to procure Clothing for the Continental Army; & at the same time a member of a Board of War, whose purchases & importations being very capital, were chiefly appropriated to the orders of General Washington & the resolves of Congress; And so early as the close of the year 1776 I had the honor of the Generals thanks for my exertions. In 1777 I was appointed immediately by Congress, to purchase & forward the Clothing for the army, without limitation. This I did to an immense amount & upon my personal credit, For such was the want of public Spirit, the avarice of the times, & the diffidence of public promises, that I could effect no important purchases without personally obligating myself.

About this time also the Quarter Mr General appointed me his agent, & at a time when that department was destitute also of supplies. A resolution to effect the business undertaken, & the want of almost everything in both departments, with a want of remittance, rendered my life a scene of incessant labour, solicitude, & embarrassment thro the war. For in addition to the above, I was called upon from the Commissary General for transports, & from the last of Decr ’78 to Feb ’79 abt 30 days, I dispatched under the disadvantage of no funds, severity of winter, & domestic Grief, between 30 and 40 transports for rice, for an army almost famished in winter quarters, & with scarce any other dependence than the returns, to enable it to take the field the Spring ensuing.

At another period, with unlimited standing orders, I made a purchase indeed only of absolute necessaries, but to the amount of 140,000 Specie dollars; Yet the Board of war injuriously refused the purchase; by which means this enormous sum hung upon me for twelve months & would have sunk me, but for the necessities of the army, which mutinied that winter as it was, & would have been obliged to disband but for this supply, which Congress was now very happy to be availed of. I have Sir in various branches of business negotiated twenty millions of dollars, a great proportion of which was before money was greatly depreciated, & when from conscious fidelity, & essential service, I had a title to the most liberal settlement, I was refered from auditor to auditor, my accounts were settled & re settled, whilst my personal attendance was required at my own expense; & after all I could never effect a final adjustment, until long after my private property was torn from me to fulfil public engagements; Nor without being harrassed out of a just demand, which left my certified ballance so small, that realized, it would hardly refund the expense of liquidation. I have been near fourteen years in the public service, & am at last left with less property than when I began; but it was never my wish, altho in my power, to glitter in wealth at the public expense; And with fair prospects & pretensions to an honorable appointment in the legislature under the new Constitution, whose principles I have uniformly advocated, I am content to labour in a subordinate ministerial one, for only a decent subsistence for myself & family.2 In this I think I ought not to be supplanted by young men, of small experience, without families, & capable of pushing their fortune in various directions. But I have already trespassed upon your patience, yet knowing your opinion is justly of great weight & importance in the national councils, if I could be fortunate enough to induce it in my favor, it would be esteemed a most important acquisition to Sir Your most obedient & Humble Servant

Sam. A. Otis

RC (DLC). Addressed by Otis. Docketed by JM.

1See PJM description begins William T. Hutchinson et al., eds., The Papers of James Madison (vols. 1–10, Chicago, 1962–77; vols. 11—, Charlottesville, Va., 1977—). description ends , XI, 439 and n. 1.

2Otis was elected secretary of the Senate on 8 Apr. 1789 (DHFC description begins Linda Grant De Pauw et al., eds., Documentary History of the First Federal Congress of the United States of America (3 vols. to date; Baltimore, 1972—). description ends , I, 12).

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