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TO PHILIP MAZZEI. 1 - James Madison, The Writings, vol. 1 (1769-1783) 
The Writings of James Madison, comprising his Public Papers and his Private Correspondence, including his numerous letters and documents now for the first time printed, ed. Gaillard Hunt (New York: G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 1900). Vol. 1.
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TO PHILIP MAZZEI.1
Philadelphia, July 7, 1781.2
My Dear Friend,—
I have received two copies of your favor of the 7th of December last, and three of that of the 30th of November preceding. Having neglected to bring with me from Virginia the cypher concerted between you and the Executive, I still remain ignorant of the paragraph in your last which I suppose the best worth knowing.
The state of our affairs has undergone so many vicissitudes since you embarked for Europe, and I can so little judge how far you may have had intelligence of them, that I am at a loss where I ought to begin my narrative. As the present posture of them is the most interesting, I shall aim at nothing further at present than to give you some idea of that, referring to past events so far only as may be necessary to explain it.
The insuperable difficulties which opposed a general conquest of America seemed as early as the year 1779 to have been felt by the enemy, and to have led them into the scheme of directing their operations and views against the Southern States only. Clinton accordingly removed with the principal part of his force from New York to South Carolina, and laid siege to Charleston, which, after an honorable resistance, was compelled to surrender to a superiority of force. Our loss in men, besides the inhabitants of the town, was not less than two thousand. Clinton returned to New York. Cornwallis was left with about five thousand troops to pursue his conquests. General Gates was appointed to the command of the Southern department, in place of Lincoln, who commanded in Charleston at the time of its capitulation. He met Cornwallis on the 16th of August, 1780, near Camden, in the upper part of South Carolina and on the border of North Carolina. A general action ensued, in which the American troops were defeated with considerable loss, though not without making the enemy pay a good price for their victory. Cornwallis continued his progress into North Carolina, but afterwards retreated to Camden. The defeat of Gates was followed by so general a clamor against him, that it was judged expedient to recall him. Greene was sent to succeed in command. About the time of his arrival at the army, Cornwallis, having been reinforced from New York, resumed his enterprise into North Carolina. A detachment of his best troops was totally defeated by Morgan with an inferior number, and consisting of a major part of militia detached from Greene’s army. Five hundred were made prisoners, between two and three hundred killed and wounded, and about the like number escaped. This disaster, instead of checking the ardor of Cornwallis, afforded a new incentive to a rapid advance, in the hope of recovering his prisoners. The vigilance and activity, however, of Morgan, secured them. Cornwallis continued his pursuit as far as the Dan river, which divides North Carolina from Virginia. Greene, whose inferior force obliged him to recede this far before the enemy, received such succors of militia on his entering Virginia that the chase was reversed. Cornwallis, in his turn, retreated precipitately. Greene overtook him on his way to Wilmington, and attacked him. Although the ground was lost on our side, the British army was so much weakened by the loss of five or six hundred of their best troops, that their retreat towards Wilmington suffered little interruption. Greene pursued as long as any chance of reaching his prey remained, and then, leaving Cornwallis on his left, took an oblique direction towards Camden, which, with all the other posts in South Carolina except Charleston and Ninety-Six, have, in consequence, fallen again into our possession. His army lay before the latter when we last heard from him. It contained seven or eight hundred men and large quantities of stores. It is nearly two hundred miles from Charleston, and, without some untoward accident, cannot fail of being taken. Greene has detachments all over South Carolina, some of them within a little distance of Charleston; and the resentments of the people against their late insolent masters ensure him all the aids they can give in re-establishing the American Government there. Great progress is also making in the redemption of Georgia.
As soon as Cornwallis had refreshed his troops at Wilmington, abandoning his Southern conquests to their fate, he pushed forward into Virginia. The parricide Arnold had a detachment at Portsmouth when he lay on the Dan; Philips had reinforced him so powerfully from New York, that the juncture of the two armies at Petersburg could not be prevented. The whole force amounted to about six thousand men. The force under the Marquis De La Fayette, who commanded in Virginia, being greatly inferior, did not oppose them, but retreated into Orange and Culpeper in order to meet General Wayne, who was on his way from Pennsylvania to join him. Cornwallis advanced northward as far as Chesterfield, in the county of Caroline, having parties at the same time at Page’s warehouse and other places in its vicinity. A party of horse, commanded by Tarleton, was sent with all the secrecy and celerity possible to surprise and take the General Assembly and Executive who had retreated from Richmond to Charlottesville. The vigilance of a young gentleman who discovered the design and rode express to Charlottsville prevented a complete surprise. As it was, several Delegates were caught, and the rest were within an hour of sharing the same fate. Among the captives was Colonel Lyon of Hanover. Mr. Kinlock, a member of Congress from South Carolina, was also caught at Mr. John Walker’s, whose daughter he had married some time before. Governor Jefferson had a very narrow escape. The members of the Government rendezvoused at Stanton, where they soon made a House. Mr. Jefferson’s year having expired, he declined a re-election, and General Nelson has taken his place. Tarleton’s party retreated with as much celerity as it had advanced. On the junction of Wayne with the Marquis and the arrival of militia, the latter faced about and advanced rapidly on Cornwallis, who retreated to Richmond, and thence precipitately to Williamsburg, where he lay on the 27th ultimo. The Marquis pursued, and was at the same time within twenty miles of that place. One of his advanced parties had had a successful skirmish within six miles of Williamsburg. Bellini has, I understand, abided patiently in the college the dangers and inconveniences of such a situation. I do not hear that the consequences have condemned the experiment. Such is the present state of the war in the Southern Department. In the Northern, operations have been for a considerable time in a manner suspended. At present, a vigorous siege of New York by General Washington’s army, aided by five or six thousand French troops under Count De Rochambeau, is in contemplation, and will soon commence. As the English have the command of the water, the result of such an enterprise must be very uncertain. It is supposed, however, that it will certainly oblige the enemy to withdraw their force from the Southern States, which may be a more convenient mode of relieving them than by marching the troops from New York at this season of the year to the southward. On the whole, the probable conclusion of this campaign is, at this juncture, very flattering, the enemy being on the defensive in every quarter.
The vicissitudes which our finances have undergone are as great as those of the war, the depreciation of the old continental bills having arrived at forty, fifty, and sixty for one. Congress, on the 18th of March, 1780, resolved to displace them entirely from circulation, and substitute another currency, to be issued on better funds, and redeemable at a shorter period. For this purpose, they fixed the relative value of paper and specie at forty for one; directed the States to sink by taxes the whole two hundred millions in one year, and to provide proper funds for sinking in six years a new currency which was not to exceed ten millions of dollars, which was redeemable within that period, and to bear an interest of five per cent., payable in bills of exchange on Europe or hard money. The loan-office certificates granted by Congress are to be discharged at the value of the money at the time of the loan; a scale of depreciation being fixed by Congress for that purpose. This scheme has not yet been carried into full execution. The old bills are still unredeemed, in part, in some of the States, where they have depreciated to two, three, and four hundred for one. The new bills, which were to be issued only as the old ones were taken in, are consequently in a great degree still unissued; and the depreciation which they have already suffered has determined Congress and the States to issue as few more of them as possible. We seem to have pursued our paper projects as far as prudence will warrant. Our medium in future will be principally specie. The States are already levying taxes in it. As the paper disappears, the hard money comes forward into circulation. This revolution will also be greatly facilitated by the influx of Spanish dollars from the Havannah, where the Spanish forces employed against the Floridas* consume immense quantities of our flour, and remit their dollars in payment. We also receive considerable assistance from the direct aids of our ally, and from the money expended among us by his auxiliary troops. These advantages, as they have been and are likely to be improved by the skill of Mr. Robert Morris, whom we have constituted minister of our finances, afford a more flattering prospect in this department of our affairs than has existed at any period of the war.
The great advantage the enemy have over us lies in the superiority of their navy, which enables them continually to shift the war into defenceless places, and to weary out our troops by long marches. The squadron sent by our ally to our support did not arrive till a reinforcement on the part of the enemy had counteracted their views. They have been almost constantly blocked up at Rhode Island by the British fleet. The effects of a hurricane in the last spring on the latter gave a temporary advantage to the former, but circumstances delayed the improvement of it till the critical season was past. Mr. Destouches, who commanded the French fleet, nevertheless hazarded an expedition into Chesapeake bay. The object of it was to co-operate with the Marquis de la Fayette in an attack against Arnold, who lay at Portsmouth with about fifteen hundred British troops. Had he got into the bay, and taken a favorable station, the event would certainly have been adequate to our hopes. Unfortunately, the British fleet, which followed the French immediately from Rhode Island, reached the capes of Virginia first. On the arrival of the latter, a regular and fair combat took place. It lasted for several hours, and ended rather in favor of of our allies. As the enemy, however, were nearest the capes, and one of the French ships had lost her rudder, and was otherwise much damaged, the commander thought it best to relinquish his object, and return to his former station. The damage sustained by the enemy, according to their own representation, exceeded that of the French; and as their number of ships and weight of metal were both superior, it does great honor to the gallantry and good conduct of Mr. Destouches. Congress, and indeed the public at large, were so sensible of this, that their particular thanks were given him on this occasion.
No description can give you an adequate idea of the barbarity with which the enemy have conducted the war in the Southern States. Every outrage which humanity could suffer has been committed by them. Desolation rather than conquest seems to have been their object. They have acted more like desperate bands of robbers or buccaneers than like a nation making war for dominion. Negroes, horses, tobacco, &c., not the standards and arms of their antagonists, are the trophies which display their success. Rapes, murders, and the whole catalogue of individual cruelties, not protection and the distribution of justice, are the acts which characterize the sphere of their usurped jurisdiction. The advantage we derive from such proceedings would, if it were purchased on other terms than the distresses of our citizens, fully compensate for the injury accruing to the public. They are a daily lesson to the people of the United States of the necessity of perseverance in the contest; and wherever the pressure of their local tyranny is removed, the subjects of it rise up as one man to avenge their wrongs and prevent a repetition of them. Those who have possessed a latent partiality for them, as their resentment is embittered by their disappointment, generally feel most sensibly their injuries and insults, and are the foremost in retaliating them. It is much to be regretted that these things are so little known in Europe. Were they published to the world in their true colors, the British nation would be hated by all nations as much as they have heretofore been feared by any, and all nations would be sensible of the policy of abridging a power which nothing else can prevent the abuse of.
[1 ]From Madison’s Works.
[2 ]Mazzei was an Italian who had come to Virginia to introduce the planting of olives and grapes. He was an ardent revolutionist at this time and held a commission from Virginia to purchase supplies for the army. He had a scheme for borrowing money in Italy, but insisted that the purchases should be made where it might be borrowed. Before leaving America he wrote to Madison from Hob’s Hole, Va., June 13, 1779:
[* ]They have lately taken West Florida with a garrison of 1,500 troops. [Note probably in MS.]