Motion for Complete Non-Intercourse
with Great Britain
MS (NA: PCC, No. 36, I, 123, 129–30). Written by JM. Docketed by Charles Thomson, “Motion of Mr Madison Mr Duane March 16. 1781. Monday assigned for the consideration thereof.”
[16 March 1781]
Whereas in order to afford to1 the Virtuous individuals2 of G. B. an asylum from the tyranny against which these States had taken arms, and to favor the importation of such warlike stores as were necessary for the defence of the sd States, all Vessels belonging to any inhabitant or inhabitants of G. Britain bringing settlers arms ammunition or warlike Stores for the use of these [then Colonies] now United States, were, together with such Stores & the effects of such settlers, by a Resolution of the 23 of March 1776 exempted from siezure and condemnation as lawful prize, which exemption by a Resolution of the 24 of July 1776 became extended to all Vessels under like circumstances belonging to any subject or subjects of the King of G. B.3 And Whereas from compassion to the distresses of the Inhabitants of Bermudas and Providence or the Bahama Islands All4 Vessels, and all goods wares and merchandizes belonging to the said Inhabitants were by the Resolution last referred to excepted from being deemed & adjudged lawful prize, which exception as far as it relates to the inhabitants of the Bermuda Islands is still in force:5 And whereas the original grounds of these indulgences no longer exist; and there is also reason to apprehend that under cover thereof a clandestine trade and intercourse is carried on with the enemy by which they are the better enabled to support the burdens of the War, and prosecute the arts of seduction among the Citizens of these States as well as to give colour to their misrepresentations in Europe of a latent predilection in these States towards them; and it moreover doth not accord with the intimate connection6 subsisting between the United States and his M. C. Majesty that any of the subjects of the power with which they are both at war, should be regarded as friends or neutrals by the one7 whilst they are regarded as enemies by the other party, and the more especially as the communication resulting from their being regarded as friends or neutrals by the former may interfere with8 the commercial advantages of the latter,9 at the same time that it adds to the resources of the common enemy for protracting the war:
Resolved that all the resolutions above recited or referred to, so far as they exempt Vessels belonging to any subject or subjects of the King of G. B. bringing settlers, arms, ammunition or warlike Stores10 for the use of the United States or the Citizens thereof, or such warlike stores or the effects of such Settlers; or which exempt the Ships & other Vessels or the goods wares & merchandizes belonging to any inhabitant or inhabitants of the islands of Bermudas, from capture and condemnation11 be & they are Hereby repealed. Resolved that the Board of Admiralty or the Secretary of Marine12 make such alterations in the Commissions & instructions issued & the bonds taken in that department as the foregoing resolution may require.13
And Whereas there is just ground to suspect14 that the letters of Protection which have been granted by Congress in particular instances to15 Citizens & inhabitants of the United States for the removal of their property from places within the dominion or possession of the Enemy have notwithstanding the precautions with16 which they were guarded been17 made subservient to a commercial intercourse with the enemy; And whereas there is equal ground to suspect18 that Vessels19 the property of subjects of the King of G. B & laden with merchandize20 the property of the said subjects have been imported into the United States under fraudulent21 clearances from places not within22 the dominion or possession of the Enemy:
Resolved That from & after the date hereof the United States in Congress assembled will grant no23 letters of protection for the purpose above mentioned; and that after the day of no benefit shall be claimed from any such as have been already granted.
Resolved that it be recommended to the24 Executives of the several States to take the most vigilant & effectual measures for detecting & suppressing such fraudulent importations.
Ordered25 That copies of the foregoing resolutions be transmitted to the Executives of the States, to the public Ministers of the United States,26 at foreig[n] Courts, & that the same be communicated to the Honble. the Minister Plenipotentiary of his Most. C. Majesty27
1. Between “afford” and “to” JM wrote and deleted “an asylum of liberty.”
2. This word is interlineated above a crossed-out “inhabitants.”
4. Between “Islands” and “All” JM first wrote and then crossed out, “were by the Resolution last.”
5. On 29 March 1779 Congress withdrew from the Bahama Islanders the exemption extended in their favor by the resolution of 24 July 1776 (JCC description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds., Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789 (34 vols.; Washington, 1904–37). description ends , XIII, 388).
6. After the semicolon following “them,” JM originally wrote, “and it is moreover not consistent with the friendship & convention alliance.”
7. JM interlineated “one” over a deleted “former.”
8. The words “interfere with” seemed to JM preferable to his original “be injurious to.”
9. By Articles V and VI of the Treaty of Alliance on 6 February 1778, Louis XVI renounced “forever the possession of the islands of Bermudas” and gave assurance that if taken by American arms they “shall be confederated with or dependent upon the said United States.” See also Articles I, XXIV, XXV, and XXVI of the Treaty of Amity and Commerce concluded by France and the United States on the same day (JCC description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds., Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789 (34 vols.; Washington, 1904–37). description ends , XI, 421–22, 437–40, 450).
10. After this word JM struck out “into any one” and substituted “for the use.”
11. JM first wrote after this word “be and they are hereby repealed.” Although he crossed it out, he apparently concluded that it should stand and wrote the same words above it.
12. When JM introduced this motion, Congress was not certain that it had filled the position of secretary of marine. Although Congress on 27 February 1781 had elected to that office Major General Alexander McDougall (1732–1786), then a delegate from New York, he had informed Congress in a letter dated 9 March that he wished to return to his field command and, even though he did not so return, he could not accept the secretaryship if its tenure obliged him to resign his commission in the army. Under these circumstances, Congress on 30 March resolved that it did “not therefore expect his acceptance of that office.” The position was never filled (JCC description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds., Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789 (34 vols.; Washington, 1904–37). description ends , XIX, 203, 333–34; Burnett, Letters description begins Edmund C. Burnett, ed., Letters of Members of the Continental Congress (8 vols.; Washington, 1921–36). description ends , VI, 25–26).
13. Following this paragraph, JM began a new one by writing “Resolved that copies of this act of the United States in Congress assembled.” He then deleted these words and started anew, as shown in the text.
14. A substitute for a deleted “believe.”
15. This and the four preceding words were inserted above the line.
16. JM first wrote “by” rather than “with.”
17. After this word JM struck out “productive.”
18. This word replaced a deleted “believe.”
19. JM crossed out “laden” after “Vessels.”
20. This word takes the place of a deleted “goods wares and.”
21. A substitute for JM’s original “pretended.”
22. JM replaced “out of” with “not within.”
23. “Such” is crossed out after “no.”
24. The deleted word after “the” may have been “several.”
25. JM first wrote “Resolved.”
26. Following the comma, “in Europe, and” was stricken out.
27. Following a debate on this motion on 26 and 27 March, Congress adopted “An ordinance relative to the capture and condemnation of prizes” (JCC description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds., Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789 (34 vols.; Washington, 1904–37). description ends , XIX, 312, 314–16). Although the provisions of the act are more stringent and much more detailed than those of the motion and rarely copy its wording, they embody the general purport of JM’s proposal. The ordinance apparently does not exist in manuscript and its draftsman is unknown. In NA: PCC, No. 36, I, 127, 131, on the other hand, are two statements—one by James Duane and the other by JM—which reveal the origin of the portion of the ordinance reading “when any prize, having been taken and possessed by the enemy twenty-four hours, shall be taken from them, the whole of such re-captured prize shall be condemned for the use of the recaptors; but in cases where the prize shall have continued in the possession of the enemy less than twenty-four hours, it shall be restored to the original owner or owners, except one-third part of the true value thereof, which shall be allowed as salvage to the recaptors.” Duane’s version reflects this wording much more closely than the following by JM: “Article VIII If any Vessel belonging to our subjects be retaken from the Enemy, after it shall have been 24 hours in their possession, the prize shall be good: and if it has been made within less than 24 hours, it shall be restored to the owner with [here JM wrote and deleted ‘the cargo’] every thing therein, except one third which shall be allowed to the Vessel which shall have made the recaption.” For JM’s share in persuading Congress to relax the enforcement of the act sufficiently to permit Virginia and South Carolina to import salt from Bermuda, see Motion of Virginia Delegates, 9 August 1781. See also JCC description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds., Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789 (34 vols.; Washington, 1904–37). description ends , XXI, 1152–54; and Motion on Illicit Trade with Great Britain, 26 December 1781.