<br /> Lee Letter: n701

Washington and Lee University

Sender: James Madison
Recipient: Arthur Lee

Dear Sir,

I received your favour of the 16th inst.1
between nine and ten o’clock last night, the post having been delayed
by sickness. I shall pursue your commands with respect to the bill
enclosed in it.

The arrival of the Alliance frigate at Rhode-Island, and the subsequent
arrival of a French cutter at Salem, have furnished congress and the
minister of France with pretty late intelligence from Europe. The
latter has not yet communicated the contents of his despatches. Those
from our ministers at Versailles and at the Hague inform us that
British emissaries had been practising every address to each of them to
feel the pulse of their constituents, and debauch them from their
engagements with France. At the same time very tempting concessions
were held out to the latter for a similar purpose. Proper answers were
given to each of these insidious applications. These circumstances
afford a seasonable admonition to the credulous, of the wickedness of
Mr. Carlton’s mission. We have heard nothing from this gentleman since
the refusal of a passport for his secretary to visit congress.

Mr. Adams seems to be making considerable progress in Holland towards an
acknowledgment of his public character. He says the prince had declared
his inability to resist the torrent in favour of a connexion with the
United States.

We have received no letters from Mr. Dana very lately. If I do not forget,
some have been received since you left us, which contained little more
than a proof that he had not become sensible of the error which his
preceding letter displayed.2 Despatches from
Mr. Jay, transmitted by Col. Livingston, have been lost to us by the
capture of this gentleman by a privateer from
New-York.3 They were not however gained by
the enemy. Col. Livingston is now here, but re strained by his parole
from suggesting the contents of his despatches, or giving any other
intelligence from that quarter.

I have written more fully in cypher to Mr. Randolph, on foreign subjects
and some others, than time or prudence will permit me to repeat here.
For what is omitted, I must therefore beg leave to refer you to

The reasons which recommend an interference of the assembly in the case of
the Flags, do not I confess occur to me. If the goods included in the
capitulation of York were sold, and are to be paid for, it would seem
that a mode of payment, which affords to Virginia a vent for her
staple, and prevents the exportation of her specie, cannot be
complained of by her.5

The enclosed gazette contains the several obscure and contradictory
advices, of the action in the West Indies, which have of late agitated
our hopes and fears. The acknowledged inferiority of the fleet of our
ally, gives some credulity to the articles which are in favour of the
enemy. Should the event however have been ever so disastrous, it can
only affect the duration of the war. The issue of it is fixed by causes
which are superior to every particular event. Every triumph of the
enemy on the ocean is rather a new argument to all Europe in favour of
our independence; and I am somewhat of Mr. Adams’ opinion, that if
America were to betray a disposition to relapse under the dominion of
Great Britain, all the maritime powers would interpose to prevent it.
The tyranny which they have experienced would render any alternation
preferable to a reestablishment of the superiority of power which gave
birth to it.

Notwithstanding the importance of the present crisis, the number of states
in congress does not exceed eight, sometimes seven only, and most of
these represented by only two members. The president is directed to
write to the unrepresented states on the subject, and urge them to
supply the deficiency.6 I wish much for a
reinforcement to the delegation of Virginia, and have pushed Mr.
Randolph to undertake that service immediately. I calculate on your
return so soon as your other undertakings will permit. In the present
moment it is of consequence that every delegation should be tolerably
full, as well as every state represented.

With great respect and regard, I am, dear sir, yours, &c.

J. Madison, Jr.


MS not found; reprinted from Richard Henry Lee, Life of Arthur Lee, LL.D.,
2 vols. (Boston: Wells and Lilly, 1829), 2:328 – 30, where it is
mistakenly dated ;”1778.”

1 See Madison, Papers (Hutchinson), 4:244 – 45.

2 For Francis Dana’s “error,” see Madison to Edmund Randolph, April 23, 1782,
note 6.

3 Col Henry Brockholst Livingston, John Jay’s brother-in-law and secretary,
had been captured on his return from Spain. See these Letters,
11:354, 14:80.

4 See the preceding entry, note 11.

5 For this issue, see Madison to Edmund Randolph, May 29, note 4.

6 See John Hanson to the States, this date.