James Madison Papers

To James Madison from John Armstrong, 2 September 1811

From John Armstrong

Rhinebeck 2d. September 1811.

Dear Sir,

The enclosed paragraph, coming from the quarter it does, would not have made any declaration from me either proper or necessary,1 (any more than that in the National Intelligencer, by which it was followed),2 had not a common friend, for whose opinions I have much respect, hinted to me the propriety of Stating, either privately to you, or publicly in a Newspaper, what was the fact. In choosing between these two modes I could not hesitate & hence it is that I now offer to you the assurance, that the first mentioned paragraph is substantially false, attributing to me conversations I never held. Indeed the anachronisms in the story will entirely destroy its credit with those who give themselves the trouble of enquiring into dates, as I did not arrive in Washington, untill after M. Erwing’s appointment had been confirmed by the Senate.3 I beg you to beleive that I am, with the highest respect and consideration, Your most Obedient & very humble Servant

John Armstrong.

RC and enclosure (DLC). RC addressed by Armstrong to JM in Orange County, Virginia. Docketed by JM. Enclosure dated March 1812 in the Index to the James Madison Papers (see n. 1).

1Armstrong enclosed a newspaper reprint of an article that had first appeared in the Baltimore Federal Republican to the effect that the former minister to France, after leaving Washington the winter before, had stopped in Baltimore where he was “generally communicative and unreserved on the subject of public men and measures.” The report alleged that Armstrong had “indulged a propensity to sarcasm” on the matter of “foreign appointments,” especially those of James Bowdoin and George Erving. Armstrong was further said to have been most critical of the latter, both for his being the son of a Loyalist and for his conduct throughout the crisis occasioned by the electoral tie between Burr and Jefferson in 1800. Erving’s subsequent career in Europe had been characterized by “follies and indiscretions” to the extent that JM had seen fit to reprove him on the basis of a letter he had received from Armstrong, and it was also claimed that JM had told Armstrong that he would never again nominate Erving to office. Erving, however, paid a visit to Monticello, and after he returned to Washington bearing a letter from Jefferson, JM nominated him to the court of Denmark, a decision which Armstrong disapproved and which JM reportedly told Armstrong he had made “in opposition to his own judgment,” adding that “the appointment rested with the Senate, and … he should be pleased with a rejection.” The report repeated the allegation, made by Robert Smith, that Erving had fraudulently pocketed $22,392 of public money and concluded with the verdict that JM was “a mere tool of Jefferson, and wanting in integrity and intellect to fit him for the station he holds.”

2The National Intelligencer, on 13 Aug. 1811, in noting the Federal Republican account of Armstrong’s actions in Baltimore, declared that there could be “no doubt that ⟨th⟩is gentleman will seize the first opportunity of authorising a contradiction ⟨of⟩ a report calculated and no doubt in⟨te⟩nded to weaken the confidence repos⟨ed⟩ in him by republicans as a sound politician.”

3Erving’s nomination as special minister to Denmark was confirmed by the Senate on 20 Dec. 1810, the same day on which Armstrong arrived in Washington after returning from France (Senate Exec. Proceedings description begins Journal of the Executive Proceedings of the Senate of the United States of America (3 vols.; Washington, 1828). description ends , 2:158; Armstrong to JM, 11 Dec. 1810, n. 1). In his private correspondence Armstrong had certainly expressed himself sarcastically about Erving’s mission to Denmark. Writing to Jonathan Russell on 19 Jan. 1811, he had expressed surprise at Erving’s selection “(after so distinguished An anti-gallican Career in Spain) to be Minister of the U. S. at a Court so notoriously under french influence as that of Denmark,” and he added that “this consideration, with others, would have defeated the nomination, had it been decided on by the Senate one day later than it was. Even the Presdt. was heard to say, that he wished the nomination to fail” (RPB-JH: Russell Papers).

Index Entries