A rare letter of Morgan, mentioning the William Blount treason affair and the state of affairs in France; public records show only a handful having reached the market in decades, and this the first in nearly 15 years
Daniel Morgan, a brigadier general in the American Revolutionary War, was one of the Continental Army’s most valuable tacticians and commander of several of the most successful rifle corps of the war. He served alongside and under several famous officers, including George Washington, Benedict Arnold, and Horatio Gates. Morgan participated in several...
Daniel Morgan, a brigadier general in the American Revolutionary War, was one of the Continental Army’s most valuable tacticians and commander of several of the most successful rifle corps of the war. He served alongside and under several famous officers, including George Washington, Benedict Arnold, and Horatio Gates. Morgan participated in several major campaigns of the Revolution, such as the invasion of Canada, the Saratoga Campaign, and the Southern Campaign. Once Nathaniel Greene assumed command of the Continental Army in the South, he granted Morgan command over one arm of the southern forces and tasked him with harassing Tories in the South Carolina back country. Morgan’s main adversary was the hated British Col. Banastre Tarleton and his Legion of dragoons. In one battle after Americans surrendered, Tarleton’s men attacked and shot them after they laid down their arms. Afterward, Americans ascribed the moniker “butcher” to Tarleton. The two men – Tarleton and Morgan – faced off at Cowpens in South Carolina on January 17, 1781. Morgan emerged victorious and secured his reputation as a skilled military tactician. Utilizing knowledge of his enemy’s aggressive and impulsive behavior, Morgan lured Tarleton into a trap with a fake retreat. Tarleton charged, only to be surprised when Morgan’s infantry turned to fire and a hidden cavalry force joined the conflict. This victory was key in the Southern Campaign that led to the surrender of Cornwallis, and coming by vanquishing Tarleton was particularly sweet. Morgan became a hero; in 1790, Congress granted him a gold medal for his victory at Cowpens.
In 1797, Morgan was a Congressman from Virginia, and voted with the Federalists.
When John Adams became President in March of 1797, the French had seized nearly 300 American ships bound for British ports. They had ordered this measure in retaliation for the Jay Treaty the U.S. had signed with Great Britain, which the French considered evidence of an Anglo-American alliance. Relations between France and the U.S. worsened when Talleyrand, the French foreign minister, rejected the Federalist Charles C. Pinckney as America’s minister to France.
In the U.S., Republicans believed that it was the intention of the Adams administration to stir up trouble with France (like selecting an anti-French ambassador to Paris) so as to steer the U.S. towards the British, and they opposed the President’s measures and appointments. The American people were more disunited and disaffected than ever; the French continued to seize American ships, many Federalists demanded war on France, and Republicans cried foul.
In late May 1797 Adams met with his cabinet met to discuss the situation and to select a special commission to send to France. Adams initially proposed that John Marshall and Elbridge Gerry join Timothy Pinckney on the commission, but his cabinet objected to the choice of Gerry because he was not a strong Federalist. But eventually he was chosen. The French Republic, established in 1792 at the height of the French Revolution, was by 1797 governed by a bicameral legislative assembly, with a five-member Directory acting as the national executive. The Directory, generally not well-disposed to American interests, became notably more hostile to them in September 1797, when an internal coup propelled several anti-Americans into power. These leaders, and Talleyrand, viewed President Adams as hostile to their interests, but did not think that there was significant danger of war. In part based on advice imparted to French diplomats by Jefferson, Talleyrand decided to adopt a measured, slow pace to the negotiations. The American commission arrived in Paris in early October. Pinckney, who headed the mission, sent dispatches back to Congress and the President on his progress. The treatment of this commission by the French would result in the famed XYZ Affair, that further strained tensions between the countries.
The period reinforced the already growing sectional factions in the United States which ultimately led to the development of the strong Party System. While a chasm was intensifying over the power of the federal government versus the power of the states as early as the war over the constitutionality of the Bank, the XYZ Affair exacerbated these differences with Jeffersonian Republicans favoring states’ rights and Hamiltonian Federalists favoring increased power for the federal government. The XYZ Affair initially provided a huge change in American public opinion from a pro-France to a pro-England stance.
In 1797, Morgan, as a Congressman, Morgan took a decidedly hostile position toward France. Jefferson wrote of Morgan and two others, “It is said that three from Virginia separate from their brethren.”
William Blount, a signer of the Constitution and statesman, was an aggressive land speculator, who gradually acquired millions of acres in Tennessee and the trans-Appalachian west. His risky land investments left him in debt, and in the 1790s, he conspired with Great Britain to seize the Spanish-controlled Louisiana in hopes of boosting western land prices. When the conspiracy was uncovered in 1797, he was expelled from the Senate and became the first federal official to face impeachment.
Autograph letter signed, Philadelphia, December 6, 1797, to Virginia Militia captain James Singleton of Virginia. “Your letter of the 27th November was handed to me by our mutual friend Mr. Douglas and am much obliged to you for your good wishes and in return I wish you all the happiness that this crooked world can give you.
“We differ in Politicks and I believe widely too but that shall not nor has not impinged on my friendship for you as I most sincerely wish you well. At the same time I wish we did agree in our politicks. But we shall all come to a point at last to support the Constitution that we live so happily under. Only take a look at France, who have smashed their Constitution and banished 65 of their legislature without the form of a trial… This shocking conduct make me more desirous to support our constitution than ever. Little Business have been done in Congress as yet, indeed nothing has been on the carpet but local matter such as petitions etc – the deposition with respect to Blunt’s conduct, which will be presented. It is a medley which I can’t explain in the compass of a letter. All that I can say at this time is that he is a bad man in my own opinion and wished to bring on some confusion among us. Will you give my good wishes to Mrs. Singleton and accept them yourself. PS Col. Nevill is here and will direct you what do with respect to settling your pay masters account.
At the bottom is written a separate Autograph letter signed. “General Morgan hath shown me your letter relative to message from the accountant (war department) on the subject of your account. There can be no charge against you but for the account of the payrolls nor do I recollect seeing anywhere the second receipt mentioned by you for the same sum. All you have to do is to forward your receipt rolls or vouche for the payment of the monies (the amount of your Rolls) to the officers and soldiers of your company. I am going through my account. Should any mistake of the hand you mention have crept in I will have it rectified, which is not possible as the rolls are the only vouchers and had two months pay been…of one, I should be the person called on for doing so. Presley Neville.”
Letters of Morgan are rare. Public sale records show none having reached the market in the past two decades, and this is our first ever.
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