James Madison Papers

To James Madison from George Armitage, 28 January 1812

From George Armitage

Philadelphia 28 Jany. 1811 [1812]

Honoured Sir

My name aving apeared several times of late in the Aurora concerning the making of the yallow Metal Buttons—I make bold to state to You— That about 10 Years sinc I was encouraged by Mr. Whelen to cumenc the Manafacture wich I did to the satisfaction of all and to aney number wanted But when Mr. Cox came in that Offic he cumenced his Injustice by refuseing to take the Buttons I ad made by the Order of Mr. Whelen and sufired a person he caled his friend to soply the English Buttons after I showed him the English markes on the back of the Buttons—at the same price and not so good—and after maney entreaty to take mine all reddy made to Mr. Whelen Order but in vain. And finding his subsequant actes like to his first I was obliged to giv up the work after great expenc and disapointment. But it being now Probabl my servic in that line mite be reciprocal to make what mite be wanted or a serton number for a serton time—but I will ave nothing to do with Mr. Cox. Honoured Sir I remain with sincear Respect Your Obdt. Sert.

Geo. Armitage1

NB wat as been said in the Aroura [sic] is been intirely wihout my knolige.2

RC (DNA: RG 107, LRRS, A-34:6). Misdated 28 Jan. 1811 by Armitage and docketed by a War Department clerk as received 4 Jan. 1812 (see n. 2). Postmarked Philadelphia, 31 Dec., and filed at 28 Jan. 1812.

1George Armitage was a silver plater with premises at 438 Sassafras Street (Robinson, Philadelphia Directory for 1811 [Shaw and Shoemaker description begins R. R. Shaw and R. H. Shoemaker, comps., American Bibliography: A Preliminary Checklist for 1801–1819 (22 vols.; New York, 1958–66). description ends 23676], p. 21).

2Beginning on 20 Dec. 1811 William Duane’s Philadelphia Aurora General Advertiser printed a series of essays on the military establishment and “the faculties required for conducting war” which stated that misconduct on the part of the purveyor of public supplies, Tench Coxe, was responsible for the unprepared state of the army. As evidence of the inadequacy of the clothing supply, Duane offered the example of “an excellent workman of the name of Armitage in this city, who has frequently offered to make the buttons required for the public service for several years, repeated offers were unavailing; at length he made some that were allowed to be superior to the article of the same description imported.” “What does this patriotic purveyor of public supplies do? He sends to England for buttons in the rough, that is unstamped, and he applies to this man to stamp them … but what was the result? That besides injuring the American manufacturer, the buttons were worse, and cost the public more than they could be made for here.”

On 17 Jan. 1812 Duane continued the attack by publishing a copy of a letter Armitage had sent to Coxe in response to the latter’s claim that he had been able to obtain artillery buttons elsewhere at prices lower than those charged by Armitage. The manufacturer pointed out that it had been a condition of his dealings with Coxe’s predecessor, Israel Whelen, that any buttons he made “be as low as imported buttons,” and he complained of Coxe’s “bad faith” in not honoring agreements made by Whelen. He also challenged Coxe to produce evidence of his claim that he had received bids for making buttons at costs lower than those proposed by Armitage. The next day Duane referred to this letter as proof that Armitage should have received a preference and declared that Coxe was guilty of impropriety and favoritism in the award of contracts for army supply. He then published another letter Armitage had sent to Coxe containing similar allegations with respect to the making of buttons for the infantry (Aurora General Advertiser, 20 Dec. 1811, 17 and 18 Jan. 1812).

The publication of these essays was a continuation of a long-standing campaign on the part of Coxe’s enemies, led by U.S. senators William Branch Giles and Michael Leib, to abolish Coxe’s office and to replace it with the new position of quartermaster general (see Cooke, Tench Coxe, pp. 473–79).

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