Notes on Debates
MS (LC: Madison Papers). See Notes on Debates, 4 November 1782, ed. n.
The letter from Mr. Jay inclosing copy of the intercepted letter from Marbois1 was laid before Congress.2 The tenor of it with the comments of Mr. Jay affected deeply the sentiments of Congress with regard to France. The policy in particular manifested by France of keeping us tractable by leaving the British in possession of posts in this country awakened strong jealousies, corroborated the charges on that subject, and with concomitant circumstances may engender the opposite extreme of the gratitude & cordiality now felt towards France;3 as the closest friends on a rupture are apt to become the bitterest foes. Much will depend however on the course pursued by Britain. The liberal one Oswald seems to be pursuing will much promote an alienation of temper in America from France.4 It is not improbable that the intercepted letter from Mr. Marbois came thro’ Oswald’s hands.5 If G.B. therefore yields the Fitsheries6 & the back territory, America will feel the obligation to her not to France who appears to be illiberal as to the 1st. & favorable to Spain as to the 2d. object; and consequently has forfeited the confidence of the States interested in either of them.7 Candor will suggest however that the situation of France is & has been extremely perplexing. The object of her blood & money was not only the independence, but the commerce and gratitude of America; the commerce to render Independence the more useful, the gratitude to render that Commerce the more permanent.8 It was necessary therefore she supposed that America should be exposed to the cruelties of her Enemies, and be made sensible of her own weakness in order to be grateful to the hand which relieved her.9 This policy if discovered tended, on the other hand to spoil the whole.10 Experience shews that her truest policy would have been to relieve America by the most direct & generous means, & to have mingled with them no artifice whatever. With respect to Spain also the situation of France has been & is peculiarly delicate. The claims & views of Spain & America interfere.11 The former attempts of Britain to seduce Spain to a separate peace, & the ties of France with the latter whom she had drawn into the war, required her to favor Spain, at least to a certain degree, at the expence of America.12 Of this G.B. is taking advantage. If France adheres to Spain, G.B. espouses the views of America; & endeavours to draw her off from France. If France sd. adhere to America in her claims, Britain might espouse those of Spain & produce a breach between her & France, and in either case Britain wd. divide her enemies If France acts wisely she will in this dilemma prefer the friendship of America to that of Spain.13 If America acts wisely she will see that she is with respect to her great interests, more in danger of being seduced by Britain than sacrificed by France.14
The deputation to R.I. had set out on the 22d & proceeded ½ days journey.15 Mr. Nash casually mentioned a private letter from Mr. Pendleton to Mr. Madison informing that the Legislature of Virga. had in consequence of the final refusal of R.I. repealed her law for the impost. As this circumstance if true destroyed in the opinion of the deputies the chief argt. to be used by them viz the unanimity of the other States, they determined to return & wait for the Southern post to know the truth of it. The post failing to arrive on the 23d. the usual day, the deputies on this day came into Congress & stated the case. Mr. Madison read to Congress the paragraph in the letter from Mr. Pendleton. Congress verbally resolved that the departure of the Deputies for R.I. sd. be suspended untill the further order of Congress; Mr. Madison promising to give any information he might receive by the post. The arrival of the post immediately ensued. A letter to Mr Madison from Mr. Randolph confirmed the fact, & was communicated to Congress.16 The most intelligent members were deeply affected & prognosticated a failure of the Impost scheme, & the most pernicious effects [to] the character, the duration, & the interests of the confederacy.17 It was at length, notwithstanding[,] determined to persist in the attempt for permanent revenue, and a Committee was appointed to report the steps proper to be taken.18
A motion was made by Mr. Rutlidge to strike out the salvage for recaptures on land, on the same principle as he did the words “accruing to the use of the U.S.” As the latter had been retained by barely 7 States, and one of these was n[ot] present the motion of Mr. Ru[t]ledge succeeded.19 Some of Those who were on the other side, in consequence, voted agst. the whole resolution & it failed. By compromise it passed as reported by the Committee:20
The grand Committee reported after another meeting with respect to the old money: that it sd. be rated at 40 for 1.21 The Chair decided on a question raised, that according to rule the blank sd. not have been filled by the Committee, so the rate was expunged.22
1. Judging from the handwriting and the darker color of the ink, JM inserted “Marbois” long after he first wrote the notes for this day. Except where the present copy retains initials of proper names, JM originally designated them only by a capitalized initial, or by that and the next or the terminal letter of the abbreviated word, and later added the intervening letters. In the case of France he consistently used the official cipher 16, and subsequently interlineated France above that figure without canceling it.
2. See Notes on Debates, 23 December 1782, and n. 5. On 13 March 1782 Barbé-Marbois, JM’s friend and the consul general of France in the United States, wrote in cipher to Vergennes, attacking Samuel Adams for “his manoeuvres and intrigues” in Massachusetts and through his adherents in Congress to have the United States conquer Canada and Nova Scotia and above all to stir “up the passions of the eastern people” to oppose making peace unless they are “admitted to the fisheries, and particularly to that of Newfoundland.” Barbé-Marbois advised that while Congress was still “tractable,” because “New York, Charleston, and Penobscot are in the enemies’ hands,” King Louis XVI should make clear to Congress that he would not delay the conclusion of peace in order to compel Great Britain, against the commercial interests of France, to open the Newfoundland fisheries to United States citizens. Barbé-Marbois pointed out that there were “some judicious” Americans who “for the sake of peace” would welcome a stand by France to this end and even to have the United States recede from the ultimatum demanding that her territory extend west to the Mississippi River.
“It is already observable,” Barbé-Marbois continued, “that the advocates of peace are of those who live in the country; the inhabitants of towns, whom commerce enriches; mechanics, who receive there higher pay than before the war and five or six times more than in Europe, do not wish for it. But it is a happy circumstance that this division be nearly equal in Congress and among the States, since our influence can incline the beam either for peace or war, whichever we may choose” (Wharton, Revolutionary Diplomatic Correspondence description begins Francis Wharton, ed., The Revolutionary Diplomatic Correspondence of the United States (6 vols.; Washington, 1889). description ends , V, 238–41). For an earlier memorandum of Barbé-Marbois adverse to having the Mississippi River as the western boundary of the U.S., see Papers of Madison description begins William T. Hutchinson, William M. E. Rachal, et al., eds., The Papers of James Madison (5 vols. to date; Chicago, 1962——). description ends , II, 114–16.
The British, having intercepted, decoded, and translated this dispatch into English, contrived to have a copy of it fall into Jay’s hands on 10 September. He enclosed a copy in his dispatch of 18 September to Livingston, but Congress received this on 24 December, or one day after receipt of a second copy, which Jay had included with his dispatch of 13 October 1782 (NA: PCC, No. 110, II, 263–71; No. 185, III, 50). Here was a boon to the anti-French members of Congress, an embarrassment to JM and all other delegates who were determined to honor the terms of the alliance with France, and a new source of strength to Jay in his resolve to negotiate with the British peace commissioners without consulting Vergennes. “I think, however, as I thought before,” Jay wrote on 18 September to Livingston, “that your commissioners here should be left at liberty to pursue the sentiments of their country.… Let us be honest and grateful to France, but let us think for ourselves” (Wharton, Revolutionary Diplomatic Correspondence description begins Francis Wharton, ed., The Revolutionary Diplomatic Correspondence of the United States (6 vols.; Washington, 1889). description ends , V, 740). See also Richard B. Morris, The Peace Makers: The Great Powers and American Independence (New York, 1965), pp. 324–25; Notes on Debates, 30 December 1782.
3. JM interlineated “now felt.” The exposure of the letter was especially inopportune, because “the gratitude and cordiality” had been enhanced by the arrival in Philadelphia of Rochambeau and members of his staff on their journey from Boston to Annapolis to embark for France. On 24 December the agenda of Congress included two resolutions, drafted by Livingston, “expressive of the Acknowledgements of Congress to his Most Chr Mty. & to Ct de Rochambeau for the benefits the Ud Ss. have recd. by the Army sent by his Majesty to their Aid under the command of Ct. de Rochambeau” (NA: PCC, No. 186, fols. 73, 77; Notes on Debates, 21 December 1782, n. 5). After Livingston had somewhat amended these resolutions, Congress adopted them unanimously on 1 January 1783 (JCC description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds., Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789 (34 vols.; Washington, 1904–37). description ends , XXIV, 1–2).
5. JM interlineated “Oswald’s” above a canceled “his.” Although Jay stated that he was “not at liberty to mention the manner” in which the copy of Marbois’ letter came into his possession, JM’s surmise may have been correct. Franklin later wrote that the letter had been handed “us through the British negociators” (Wharton, Revolutionary Diplomatic Correspondence description begins Francis Wharton, ed., The Revolutionary Diplomatic Correspondence of the United States (6 vols.; Washington, 1889). description ends , V, 740; VI, 581).
7. JM interlineated and canceled “U.” before “States.” For the opposition of Spain to having the United States extend her territory to the Mississippi River and navigate freely the entire length of that stream, see Comments on Instructions to Peace Commissioners, 2 August, ed. n., n. 3; to Jay, 6 August, and n. 2; to Peace Commissioners, 8 August 1782, and ed. n., and nn. 4, 8. See also Papers of Madison description begins William T. Hutchinson, William M. E. Rachal, et al., eds., The Papers of James Madison (5 vols. to date; Chicago, 1962——). description ends , II, 127–36; 239, n. 5; III, 168–69; 280, nn. 11, 12; IV, 216, n. 6.
8. In this sentence JM interlineated “and gratitude of America; the” above a canceled “& affection of Am.”; “Independence” above a canceled “it”; “commerce” beside a canceled “Help to,” which is above a canceled “treaty,” which is above a canceled “it”; and “permanent” above what appears to have been a canceled “certain & favble.” JM seems to have made all these alterations and those noted in later footnotes when he first drafted his notes for this day.
9. In this sentence JM interlineated “she supposed that America should” above “that Ama.,” “her” above a canceled “their,” and “grateful to” above a canceled “sensible of.”
10. JM deleted “she” by writing “if” over it, interlineated “tended,” and substituted “hand to” for a canceled “side tended to.”
11. See n. 7, above. In 1779 France had drawn Spain into the war by promising to help her expel the British from Gibraltar and Minorca. Uncommitted to aid toward these ends, the United States of course would oppose prolonging the conflict in the hope of attaining them.
In a dispatch on 30 March 1782 the French ambassador at the court of Madrid, Armand Marc, Comte de Montmorin Saint Hérem, warned Vergennes of “the absolute carelessness or even the repugnance of Spain to the establishing the independence of America. If it is so marked now, what will it be when Spain succeeds in taking Gibraltar? Then the war will have no other object than that same independence, which she now regards with so much indifference and perhaps fear” (Wharton, Revolutionary Diplomatic Correspondence description begins Francis Wharton, ed., The Revolutionary Diplomatic Correspondence of the United States (6 vols.; Washington, 1889). description ends , V, 287–89).
12. In this sentence JM interlineated “former”; interlineated and canceled after “peace” a passage of eleven words, of which the last nine are “as the engaging her in the war by France”; interlineated “France” above a canceled “the”; and for insertion after “latter,” interlineated “whom she had drawn into the war.” Between “whom” and “she” in this last interlineation, JM canceled what appears to have been “by the wish to draw her into the war.” For Great Britain’s efforts in 1780 and 1781 to conclude “a separate peace” with Spain, see Papers of Madison description begins William T. Hutchinson, William M. E. Rachal, et al., eds., The Papers of James Madison (5 vols. to date; Chicago, 1962——). description ends , II, 223; 225, n. 2; III, 130; 131, n. 3.
13. JM interlineated “in this dilemma” after “will,” interlineated “the” after “prefer,” and interlineated “to that of Spain” after “America.” This last interlineation is written above a canceled “to Sp in this dilemma.”
14. JM canceled “suppose” between “will” and “see,” and “their” between “that” and “she.” In this paragraph JM appears to be recording his own thoughts—perhaps voiced in a speech in Congress—rather than what other delegates said during a debate, if any, occasioned by Barbé-Marbois’ intercepted dispatch. These reflections are less attuned to Jay’s distrust of France, emphasized in his dispatches of 18 September and 13 October, than to Franklin’s caution, expressed in his dispatch of 14 October 1782, against relying confidently upon the continuing good faith of Great Britain in the peace negotiations. See Notes on Debates, 23 December 1782, and nn. 4, 5, 7; also n. 2, above.
16. Before leaving Philadelphia on Sunday, 22 December, with the other two “deputies” commissioned by Congress to proceed to Rhode Island, Abner Nash evidently had been shown the pertinent part of Pendleton’s letter of 9 December to JM (q.v., and n. 12) or told by JM of its contents. Possibly because this information was unofficial and Pendleton’s words might be construed to mean that the Virginia General Assembly had made the repeal of its ratification of the 5 per cent impost amendment effective only so long as the legislature of Rhode Island should remain obdurate, Nash mentioned the development “casually” to his colleagues when the delegation was “1/2 days journey” toward Providence. Evidently they were more impressed than he had been. Upon returning to Philadelphia, one or more of the trio sought JM out “on the 23d.” to learn what the “Southern post” might divulge. Although no official word from Virginia arrived on 24 December, the mail contained Randolph’s letter of 13 December 1782 to JM (q.v.), with its unwelcome news that the Virginia General Assembly had unqualifiedly rescinded its ratification of the proposed amendment.
17. Before “scheme” JM interlineated “Impost.” Having been among the foremost members of Congress in urging that pressure be used to induce Rhode Island to ratify the amendment, JM no doubt was the more embarrassed, chagrined, and discouraged by the news from Richmond, especially because it arrived at the very time when the exposure of Barbé-Marbois’ dispatch had shaken his faith in his friend’s good will toward the American cause (n. 2, above; Randolph to JM, 13 December; JM to Randolph, 30 December 1782).
18. After resolving that “the deputation to Rhode Island be for the present suspended,” Congress appointed a committee, comprising Alexander Hamilton, chairman, Thomas FitzSimons, and JM, “to report such further measures as it may be proper for Congress to take upon the subject at large” (JCC description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds., Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789 (34 vols.; Washington, 1904–37). description ends , XXIII, 831, and n. 2). This committee seems never to have reported, possibly because “the subject at large” was already under consideration by a grand committee, of which the three men were members. See Notes on Debates, 26 November, and n. 2; 7 December 1782, and nn. 6, 13.
19. Between “the” and “motion,” JM canceled “yeas and nos on this.” See Report on Property Recaptured on Land, 23 December, and n. 14; Notes on Debates, 23 December 1782, and n. 2. There being no vote tallied in the journal for 24 December, the state which had cast an effective vote on the twenty-third but was unable to do so the next day is not identifiable.
20. Before “Those” JM interlineated “Some of” and inadvertently wrote “compromised” instead of “compromise.” The “principle” that Rutledge had favored in attempting to eliminate the phrase “accruing to the use of the U.S.” in the second resolution was that advanced by Governor John Mathews of South Carolina (Report on Property Recaptured on Land, 23 December, and n. 8; Notes on Debates, 23 December 1782, and n. 2). By adopting Rutledge’s present motion, Congress eliminated the portion of the same resolution reading “excepting only so much, or the value, thereof, not exceeding ¼ of the whole value, as the said Majr Genl Greene may have promised, or may be deemed by him a proper compensation, to the Recaptors.”
At this juncture the delegates realized that, although by adopting the first resolution they had approved “the steps taken by Majr. Genl Greene,” by deleting the words quoted above from the second resolution they had repudiated his policy. Thereupon, and certainly to Rutledge’s discomfiture, sufficient votes were mustered to reject the remainder of the second resolution, thus freeing General Greene from any obligation to return the recaptured horses to their original owners. As a result, neither of the opposing sides had achieved its purpose. Consequently “by compromise,” they reinstated and accepted the second resolution, as originally drafted by JM (Report on Property Recaptured on Land, 23 December 1782, and n. 14). The third resolution was then adopted (ibid., and n. 15). JM failed to note that Congress on 24 December “negatived” his fourth proposed resolution (ibid., and n. 22).
22. See JCC description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds., Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789 (34 vols.; Washington, 1904–37). description ends , XXIII, 831. As recently as 26 November Congress had decided that a 40-for-1 rate was “unjust” (Notes on Debates, 26 November 1782). Although not recorded in the printed journal, Congress on 19 November 1782 “Resolved that when a proposition consists of a negatived Resolution and a negatived Amendment, said Resolution is out of order” (Burnett, Letters description begins Edmund C. Burnett, ed., Letters of Members of the Continental Congress (8 vols.; Washington, 1921–36). description ends , VI, 545, n. 2). Therefore, apparently without hesitation, President Boudinot applied this procedural rule by declaring “out of order” the renewed proposal of that same ratio. On 31 December 1782 Congress decided to postpone further consideration of the grand committee’s report (NA: PCC, No. 20, I, 141). It would be debated again on 7 January 1783 (JCC description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds., Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789 (34 vols.; Washington, 1904–37). description ends , XXIV, 39–42).