Motion on Protection of Commerce
MS (NA: PCC, No. 28, fol. 241). Written by JM. With a sharper quill than the one he used to draft the motion, JM penned at the top of the page, “Resolved that next be appointed to receive.” Almost certainly he made this note on 2 May, when Congress agreed upon a date for receiving La Luzerne (JCC description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds., Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789 (34 vols.; Washington, 1904–37). description ends , XXII, 235). In the PCC, immediately following this page, is another bearing the docket, “Report of Committee on Memorial of the Merchants of Philada. referred to the Agent of Marine to take order May 2, 1782.” Perhaps, in view of the comments in n. 1, below, this docket is misplaced and belongs in the PCC with fol. 243a, upon which the committee appointed to consider the memorial wrote its recommendation.
[2 May 1782]1
Resolved That the Agent of Marine be instructed to employ the naval force of the U. States under his direction in such manner as will most effectually protect the Trade & Commerce of the U States, and that he be Directed2 to make application to any of the Commanders of the fleets of his M. C. M.3 or of his C. M.4 for such assistance as they may respectively be able to afford for the like purpose5
1. On 29 April 1782, after listening to the undated “Memorial of the Merchants and Traders of the City of Philadelphia in behalf of themselves and of the commercial interests” of all the states, Congress referred it to a committee of five delegates under the chairmanship of Samuel Osgood. On 2 May, although JCC description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds., Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789 (34 vols.; Washington, 1904–37). description ends makes no mention of the fact, JM evidently introduced his motion, and Congress sent it to the committee as a directive. Following a conference with Robert Morris, the agent of marine, the committee submitted its recommendation on 4 May, and Congress adopted it on that day (JCC description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds., Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789 (34 vols.; Washington, 1904–37). description ends , XXII, 218 n., 237 and nn.; NA: PCC, No. 185, III, 25; No. 186, fol. 25).
The memorial was occasioned by the grievous losses of American ships and cargoes to British men-of-war and privateers in the spring of 1782. In response to pleas from Philadelphia businessmen, the Pennsylvania General Assembly on 15 April authorized the purchase of armed ships to protect merchant vessels owned by citizens of the state (Colonial Records of Pennsylvania, XIII, 270; Pennsylvania Archives description begins Samuel Hazard et al., eds., Pennsylvania Archives (9 ser.; 138 vols.; Philadelphia and Harrisburg, 1852–1949). description ends , 1st ser., IX, 531–32; Pennsylvania Journal, 17 April 1782; Pennsylvania Packet, 25 April and 15 May 1782). Unknown to the legislature when it took this action, the most devastating blow to the sea-borne trade of the city had occurred on 14 April. That day, off the Delaware capes, British ships captured from nine to eleven Philadelphia-owned cargo vessels and soon brought these rich prizes into New York Harbor, where, according to Rivington’s Royal Gazette, their arrival was “to the unspeakable satisfaction of all who wish the annihilation of the rebel commerce” (quoted in Pennsylvania Gazette, 8 May 1782; see also Pennsylvania Packet, 2 May 1782). In Philadelphia, on the other hand, the Baron von Closen commented in his journal about “the stupid policy of sending out so many ships at once” and noted that the “merchants were furious at the loss of 9 ships loaded with wheat and beef” (Acomb, Journal of Closen description begins Evelyn M. Acomb, trans. and ed., The Revolutionary Journal of Baron Ludwig von Closen, 1780–1783 (Chapel Hill, N.C., 1958). description ends , pp. 202–3).
The memorial was signed by eighty-seven “Merchants and Traders,” who observed that the British, “finding themselves incompetent to the purpose of conquering our Territory, seem determined to destroy our Trade.” The memorialists emphasized that success in the war depended upon a continuation of this commerce. Without it, there would be neither sufficient consumer goods for troops and civilians nor adequate public revenues derived from taxes, import duties, and requisitions upon the states. Expressing “the most alarming disquietudes” because of “the incompetency of the naval force of the United States to afford protection to our Commerce,” the petition closed with a request that Congress extend as much “permanent relief and assistance” as possible (NA: PCC, No. 41, VI, 283–85).
2. A substitute by JM for a deleted “authorized.”
3. His Most Christian Majesty King Louis XVI of France.
4. His Catholic Majesty King Charles III of Spain.
5. In his response of 4 May to this directive, Morris informed Congress that, since “the Navy of the United States is not in a situation to afford protection,” he should be directed, as “Superintendant of the Finances,” to “prepare a state of the Commerce of the United States together with a plan for the protection thereof,” and, as “Agent of Marine,” be authorized to request “the Commanders of the fleets of France and Spain in the West Indies” to provide men-of-war to convoy American cargo vessels. Congress at once acquiesced to these recommendations and also directed Morris to “prepare a draught of application” for Congress to present to the French court (JCC description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds., Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789 (34 vols.; Washington, 1904–37). description ends , XXII, 237–38). The decisive British naval victory in the Battle of the Saints blasted hope that Admiral de Grasse might help (JM to Pendleton, 23 April 1782, n. 3; Clarence L. Ver Steeg, Robert Morris, pp. 138–39). See Motion To Request France To Protect American Commerce, 14 May 1782.