A Sheet From James Madison’s Lost Revolutionary War Ledgers, Documenting Jewish Financier Haym Salom

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When Madison entered the Continental Congress in March 1780 as a delegate from Virginia, he was its youngest member. The Congress had proposed the Articles of Confederation in 1777, and they took effect in 1781, so Madison found himself serving in the Congress under the Articles. His fellow Virginia delegates during...

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A Sheet From James Madison’s Lost Revolutionary War Ledgers, Documenting Jewish Financier Haym Salom

When Madison entered the Continental Congress in March 1780 as a delegate from Virginia, he was its youngest member. The Congress had proposed the Articles of Confederation in 1777, and they took effect in 1781, so Madison found himself serving in the Congress under the Articles. His fellow Virginia delegates during his tenure there included Theodorick Bland (Continental Army colonel and later a member of the First United States Congress), Joseph Jones (a lawyer whose nephew was James Monroe), and Edmund Randolph (later Governor of Virginia, Secretary of State, and the first U.S. Attorney General). Some young men of station accompanied the Virginians north to Philadelphia to assist the delegation, and John Dawson, a future member of the U.S. House of Representatives, was one of these.   

Madison's letters to Jefferson reveal that from the start he was distrustful of placing too much reliance on the states and supportive of stronger national powers. In 1783, his last year in the Continental Congress, he secured passage of a proposed amendment to the Articles that would give Congress a source of revenue – a circumscribed power to collect duties on imported goods. Adoption of the amendment, however, required the unanimous approval of the 13 states, which never occurred. Madison left for Virginia when Congress adjourned in October 1783. Before long he would turn his attention from amending the Articles to replacing them altogether. His work to draft, pass and ratify the Constitution of the United States would result in his being considered  the Father of the Constitution.   

Haym Salomon was a Jew who immigrated to America in 1775, and who became a prime financier of the American cause during the Revolutionary War. Sympathizing with the Patriot cause, he quickly joined the New York branch of the Sons of Liberty. In September 1776, he was arrested as a spy but the British pardoned him in order to use his abilities as an interpreter for their Hessian mercenaries. Salomon used his position to help prisoners of the British escape and encouraged the Hessians to desert the war effort. In 1778, he was arrested again and sentenced to death, but managed to escape, whereupon he made his way with his family to the American capital of Philadelphia. There he resumed his activities as a broker. He became the agent to the French consul, as well as the paymaster for the French forces in North America.     

In 1781, he began cooperating extensively with Robert Morris, the newly appointed U.S. Superintendent for Finance. Often working out of the London Coffee House on Front Street in Philadelphia, from 1781 until 1784 he converted bills of exchange and foreign government notes into spendable cash at a low rate of interest for the highest obtainable price. He used the proceeds to meet the urgent needs of the U.S. army, navy, and the government. Salomon negotiated the sale of a majority of the war aid from France and Holland, and he also personally supported various members of the Continental Congress during their stays in Philadelphia, including James Madison and James Wilson. Acting as the Patriot he was, he never asked for repayment. In his biography “Haym Salomon”, Madison C. Peters states “When Salomon was called on to advance the entire salary for the ensuing year to Jones, Randolph and Madison, as members of the Revolutionary Congress, they had in writing allotted that Madison should get fifty pounds less than the other two, but Salomon, seeing in young Madison, then only 29 years old, those great talents for which he became distinguished in after years, presented him, from his own private purse, the fifty pounds…”?Madison himself later wrote, “When any member was in need, all that was necessary was to call upon Salomon.” Haym Salomon died in 1785, thus cutting short his usefulness to the nation.     

Madison drew up ledger sheets showing the Virginia delegation’s expenses and receipts, and used these figures to document salaries, identify the sources of funds, and also to seek reimbursement of expenditures for members of the Virginia delegation. We know of just one such sheet that has survived with all of this information, and it, providentially, documents Salomon’s support of Congress.     

Autograph Document Signed, Philadelphia, February 13, 1783 – May 1, 1783. The hand-ruled ledger sheet shows transactions wherein Jones, Madison, Bland and Dawson receive funds from various financiers and merchants.H. Solomons” is listed twice (at the time, the spelling of his surname was just as likely to be “Solomon” or “Solomons” – Madison spelled it “Salomon” in two letters to Salomon’s son in the Library of Congress, as well as “Solomons” in another document). He is both a “drawer” and a “payer” for 500 dollars to “J. Jones.”  Other people and firms making payments were William Young, John Ross, Samuel Inglis, William Trumbull [Turnbull], John Leary, Callendar & Henderson, and James Ross (later a U.S. Senator from Maryland). David Ross, a Continental Army officer and later a delegate from Maryland, received some funds and then passed them on to Madison. In the years before commercial banks were established, funds were handled by “bills of exchange,” and so it was here. Also detailed are the discounter’s rate (interest charged on the money advanced), timing involved, “days sight” (when due), dates of acceptance of the terms of the exchange, and the amounts (ranging up to “1666 60/90” pounds).

The treasurer of the Commonwealth of Virginia, Jacquelin Ambler, kept an account in his ledger book under the heading “1783 James Madison Junr. in Account with the Commonwealth of Virginia,” showing disbursements to Madison and entries that match this ledger sheet. In a letter dated March 22, 1783, Ambler informs Madison that he has sent “Bills on Phila.” amounting to 500 pounds to be “divided among the Gentlemen Delegates,” and that David Ross “was so obliging as to assist me in this remittance otherwise it would have been out of my power to have made one for that Sum.” The delegates to Congress in 1783 were paid eight dollars per day for their service, for a total of 298 days plus 12 days traveling.    

Research indicates that Madison’s Continental Congress ledger sheets are not in the Madison papers, nor any place else we could find. We discovered but two surviving account sheets, one sent to Ambler and one to Edmund Randolph; however, these are merely lists of items with a single column of figures. This ledger sheet therefore appears to be unique and likely shows Madison’s practice. Likewise, original records illustrating Salomon’s contribution as a primary financier of the new republic are virtually absent from the market. We’ve found just two over the past 30 years. Both were notes signed by Robert Morris and thus not nearly as significant.

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