James Madison Papers

To James Madison from Joseph Sansom, 16 December 1813

From Joseph Sansom

Philada. 12th. Mo. 16th. 1813

The privilige of literary habits, and peaceful pursuits, is respectfully, and submissively, requested for the following communication, by Joseph Sansom (Authr. of Letters fm. Europe).1

Spending an evening, a few days since, with Judge Smith (Frederick Smith, sometime Chief Justice of New Jersey, now an old man of eighty two) the improbability of a speedy termination of the present difficulties was one of the subjects of conversation; upon which the old Gentleman, whose memory is a perfect chronicle of past events, took occasion to observe, that Peace was often brought about very unexpectedly, and sometimes by the intervention of apparently trifling occurrences: instancing one of the French Wars, in the reign of George the Second. Lord Ligonier happening to be a prisoner in France, on parole, accidentally fell in company with the King at Paris, who accosted him familiarly with “Well my Lord, when will the King your Master let us have Peace?” ‘Whenever your Majesty shall be pleased to signify that such is your pleasure,’ was the courtly reply. To which the King instantly rejoined, “I dont care how soon.” On this overture his Lordship repaired to London, had an audience of the Ministry, and the negociation was immediately set on foot which put an end to the war.

The above historical anecdote made so little impression, at the time, that I did not then think of enquiring upon what authority it rested. I have since learned, with regret, that it is from one of those Apocryphal books, that were penned with so much more ease than accuracy by the fertile genius of Voltaire.2 But whether this story be founded on fact, or arose spontaneously in the brilliant imagination of the Author, no one will pronounce it improbable, or at all unlikely to have produced the predicated effect; and it has rested upon my own mind till every consideration of prudence, or propriety, has been absorbed in the importance of possible consequences, should the President be disposed to declare himself, with the same frankness, as Lewis the Fifteenth is said to have done.

Forgive the freedom of the inference, in favour of the humanity of its motive. If such was known, at London, to be the President’s pleasure, effect might yet be given to the Russian Mission, by a friendly invitation to the American Commissioners to make the British Capital the seat of negociation in the Spring.

RC (DLC). Unsigned; docketed by JM “Sanson Jos: Decr. 16 1813.”

1Sansom referred to his Letters from Europe, during a Tour through Switzerland and Italy, in the Years 1801 and 1802 (Philadelphia, 1805; 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 9311). A Philadelphia Quaker, Sansom (1767–1826) painted silhouettes of JM and other prominent persons in the early 1790s. He designed a series of medals depicting major events in American history which were produced in 1806–7 and for which he was elected a member of the American Philosophical Society (Charles Coleman Sellers, “Joseph Sansom, Philadelphia Silhouettist,” PMHB description begins Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography. description ends 88 [1964]: 395, 397, 401). He also authored Sketches of Lower Canada, Historical and Descriptive; … during a Tour to Quebec, in the Month of July, 1817 (New York, 1817; 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 42052).

2Voltaire mentioned this incident in the twenty-sixth chapter of his 1768 Précis du siècle de Louis XV (Œuvres complètes de Voltaire [1877–85 ed.], 15:147–48, 306–9). A version of the story had been published previously in An Apology for a Late Resignation: In a Letter from an English Gentleman to His Friend at the Hague (London, 1748; pp. 32–33), a pamphlet believed to have been authored by Philip Dormer Stanhope, Earl of Chesterfield.

Index Entries