Motion on Slaves Taken by the British
MS (NA: PCC, No. 36, I, 379). In JM’s hand, except as mentioned in nn. 5, 9, and 10 (qq.v.). Docketed by Charles Thomson, “Motion of Mr. Madison seconded by Mr. Lee passed Septr 10th 1782.”
[10 September 1782]
That1 the Secy. of foreign affairs2 be Directed3 to obtain as speed[i]ly as possible authentic returns of the slaves & other property4 which have been carried off or distroyed5 in the course of the war by the Enemy; and to transmit the same to the Ministers Plenipotentiary6 for negociating a peace.7
That the said Ministers be instructed in case any stipulations should become unavoidable in a Treaty of peace in favor of a restitution of property confiscated within the U. S. to contend in the most earnest manner for a restitution to the Citizens of the U. S. of such slaves & other property as aforesaid as shall appear to have been plundered from them by the Enemy or their adherents11
1. Governor Harrison’s dispatch to the Virginia delegates on 30 August (q.v.), mentioning the slaves removed from the state by the British, probably accounts for JM’s introduction of this motion.
2. Robert R. Livingston.
3. The words “and he is hereby” appear immediately before “Directed” in the printed journal (JCC description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds., Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789 (34 vols.; Washington, 1904–37). description ends , XXIII, 562).
4. Following this word, “capable of being identified” was deleted, probably during the debate on the motion.
5. Charles Thomson interlineated “or distroyed.”
6. John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, John Jay, and Henry Laurens.
7. Congress adopted this paragraph by a vote of nine states to two. The delegates from Massachusetts, Connecticut, New York, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Georgia were unanimous in their acquiescence; Maryland and New Jersey voted “no” (JCC description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds., Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789 (34 vols.; Washington, 1904–37). description ends , XXIII, 562–63). Charles Thomson wrote “passed” in the left margin of the manuscript, opposite this paragraph, and also opposite the next paragraph.
8. In the printed journal, “the Secretary for Foreign Affairs” replaces “he” (JCC description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds., Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789 (34 vols.; Washington, 1904–37). description ends , XXIII, 563).
9. Following “Ministers,” JM originally wrote “that great numbers of slaves & such other property.” The fact that “such” was deleted and Charles Thomson substituted “Many thousands” for “great numbers” permits little doubt that these changes were made after JM introduced the motion.
10. Following “property,” JM had written “as aforesaid have been carried off.” Probably as directed by Congress, Thomson deleted “as aforesaid,” interlineated “to a very great amount” after “property,” and added “or distroyed by the Enemy” at the end of the sentence.
11. In this paragraph, JM interlineated “in a Treaty of peace” after “unavoidable,” “as aforesaid” after “other property,” and replaced a deleted “deprived of” with “plundered.” He also crossed out “in the course of the war” after “adherents.” In the stead of this paragraph, which has ink lines drawn through it in the manuscript, Congress adopted the following substitute proposed by John Rutledge, “And that in the opinion of Congress the great loss of property which the citizens of the United States have sustained by the enemy will be considered by the several states as an insuperable bar to their making restitution or indemnification to the former owners of property which has been or may be forfeited to or confiscated by any of the states” (JCC description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds., Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789 (34 vols.; Washington, 1904–37). description ends , XXIII, 563).
In accordance with the instructions embodied in the first two of these resolutions, Livingston directed a letter to each governor on 12 September 1782, calling attention to a similar but unheeded request of 12 November 1781 and asking him to send four copies of an accounting, with the great seal of the state affixed thereto, of the “kind and value of property wantonly destroyed by the British” (Wharton, Revolutionary Diplomatic Correspondence description begins Francis Wharton, ed., The Revolutionary Diplomatic Correspondence of the United States (6 vols.; Washington, 1889). description ends , IV, 839; V, 720). In a note of 12 September, enclosing a copy of the resolutions, Livingston warned Franklin that the governors would probably take “very long” to supply the requisite data (ibid., V, 726). On 1 July 1782 the Virginia General Assembly directed the county courts to collect the information. Referring to this statute in his reply to Livingston on 28 September 1782, Governor Harrison added, “I expect the returns will be made by the month of November” (Minute Book, House of Delegates, May 1782 description begins Minute Book, House of Delegates, May 1782, MS in Virginia State Library. description ends , p. 85; Hening, Statutes description begins William Waller Hening, ed., The Statutes at Large; Being a Collection of All the Laws of Virginia, from the First Session of the Legislature, in the Year 1619 (13 vols.; Richmond and Philadelphia, 1819–23). description ends , XI, 27; McIlwaine, Official Letters description begins H. R. McIlwaine, ed., Official Letters of the Governors of the State of Virginia (3 vols.; Richmond, 1926–29). description ends , III, 334).