James Madison Papers

Proposals to Furnish Delegates Copies of Papers to Be Debated, [ca. 28 December] 1781

Proposals to Furnish Delegates
Copies of Papers to be Debated

MS (NA: PCC, No. 23, fol. 79). Docketed: “Report of Comee. on Motion of Mr. Middleton Decr. 28. 1781 Mr. Middleton Mr. Clymer Mr. Clark for furnishing the members of Congress with printed Reports before debated.” The first of the proposals shown below is in Edmund Randolph’s hand, the second in JM’s.

[ca. 28 December 1781]

Resolved, that the secretary upon application to him made for that purpose furnish a copy of papers, relating to matters, depending before congress, to the delegates of each state represented; provided that no more than one copy be furnished to the delegates of one state.


That the Secretary furnish a copy of all propositions reports, and ordinances depending before Congress not in their nature secret, to the Delegates, or delegate from each State applying for the same; provided that no more than one copy, be furnished for one State.1

1To determine when these two proposals, or either of them, came before Congress—granting that one or both of them ever did—is the more difficult because the printed journal merely mentions that there was a session on 28 December—the day when, according to the docket, Arthur Middleton (S.C.) submitted the report of his committee. Neither the journal nor the docket indicates when the motion occasioning the appointment of this committee, consisting of Middleton, George Clymer, and Abraham Clark (N.J.), was offered, or whether either or both of the proposals, printed above, led to the naming of the committee. Therefore, these proposals may have been introduced (1) at some time prior to 28 December and led to the appointment of the committee, (2) as substitutes for the committee’s report on 28 December, or (3) unsuccessfully the next day during a debate preceding the adoption of the committee’s report by Congress. The first of these possibilities appears the most likely, even though Randolph and Madison would hardly have offered separate motions on a single subject on the same day. Judging from the phraseology and punctuation, Madison’s proposal was drafted in haste for the purpose of restricting the coverage of Randolph’s by excepting secret documents from the directive to the secretary of Congress.

This restriction formed a part of the Middleton committee’s recommendation which, as agreed upon by Congress, reads:

Ordered, That whenever a day is assigned for the consideration of any ordinance or report, upon a matter of importance and not of a secret nature, the secretary, ex officio, cause to be made out and laid upon the table of Congress, as soon as may be, a copy of such ordinance or report for each State represented in Congress, for the information of members previously to their being debated” (JCC description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds., Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789 (34 vols.; Washington, 1904–37). description ends , XXI, 1184).

Although unrecorded in the printed journal, Congress named Edmund Randolph, Elias Boudinot, and Arthur Middleton, early in January 1782, as a committee to define the duties of the secretary of Congress for the purpose of relieving the president of much onerous detail, of assisting the secretaries of the executive departments to fulfill their duties, and, in short, of enabling Congress to handle the business with greater “regularity and despatch.” The committee’s recommendations were submitted to Congress on 22 January and adopted six days later (NA: PCC, No. 23, fols. 89–92; JCC description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds., Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789 (34 vols.; Washington, 1904–37). description ends , XXII, 55–57). The fifth of the eight directives of Congress for the guidance of the secretary was, in essence, the Middleton committee’s report, quoted above. It reads as follows:

“5th. To cause to be made and laid upon the table for every State represented in Congress, a copy of every ordinance or report upon a matter of importance, and not of a secret nature, for the consideration of which a day is assigned.”

Below the resolutions the irrelevant words, “and from the St of Finance & S at War,” appear to be from Charles Thomson’s pen. Perhaps the papers of the Middleton committee, including the proposals of Randolph and JM printed in the text, were transferred to the Randolph committee, mentioned in n. 1. The report of this committee is also in Thomson’s hand, and the first paragraph of the report mentions documents to be transmitted to the superintendent of finance and the secretary at war. The jotting may relate to the drafting of that paragraph.

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