Notes on Debates
MS (LC: Madison Papers). For a description of the manuscript of Notes on Debates, see Papers of Madison description begins William T. Hutchinson, William M. E. Rachal, et al., eds., The Papers of James Madison (6 vols. to date; Chicago, 1962——). description ends , V, 231–34.
The declaration of Congs. as to Genl. Funds passed o[n] Jany 29 appears on the Journals;1 and Congress resolved itself into a Come. of the whole2 in order to consider the funds to be adopted & recommended to the States.
On motion of Mr. Mifflin the impost of 5 PerCt. was taken into consideration. As it seemed to be the general opinion that some variations from the form in which it had been first recommended, wd. be necessary for reconciling the objecting States to it,3 it was proposed that the sense of the Come. should be taken on that head. The following questions were accordingly propounded:
Qu: 1. Is it expedient to alter the impost as recomme[n]ded on the day of 1781?4
Mr. Lee said the States particularly Virga. wd. never concur in the measure unless the term of years were limited, the collection left to the States, & the appropriation annually laid before them.5
Mr. Wolcot thought the revenue ought to be commensurate in point of time as well as amount to the debt; that there was no danger in trusting Congs. considering the responsible mode of its appt.6 and that to alter the plan wd. be a mere condescension to the prejudices of the States.
Mr. Ghorum favored the alteration for the same reason as Mr. Lee, He said private letters informed him that the opposition to the impost law was gaining ground in Massts. and the repeal of Virga. would be very likely to give that opposition an ascendance.7 He said our measures must be accomodated to the sentiments of the States whether just or unreasonable.
Mr. Hamilton dissented from the particular alterations suggested, but did not mean to negative the question.8
Mr. Bland was for conforming to the ideas of the States as far as wd. in any manner consist with the object.9
On the Question the affirmative was unanimous excepting the voice of Mr. Wolcot.10
Qu: 2d. Shall the term of duration be limited to 25 years?11
Mr. Mercer professed a decided opposition to the principle of general revenue, observed that the liberties of Engd. had been preserved by a separation of the purse from the sword; that untill the debts sd. be liquidated & apportioned he never wd. assent in Congs. or elsewhere to the scheme of the Impost,12
Mr. Bland proposed an alternative of 25 years, or until the requisitions of Congs. according to the Articles of Confedn. shall be found adequate.13 On this proposition The votes were of N. H. divd. R. I. no. Cont. no. N. Y. no N. J no. Pa. no. Virga. ay. N. C. divd. S. C. ay. so the proposition was not agreed.
On the main question for 25 years, it was voted in the affirmative.14
Q: 3. Shall the appointment of Collectors be left to the States, they to be amenable to & under the Controul of Congs.? Ay, several States as N. Y. & Pa. dissenting.15
1. The “declaration” adopted by Congress on 12 February was James Wilson’s motion of 27 January as “new-modelled” by JM on 28 January, and as amended, reported by the committee of the whole to Congress, and spread on its journal the next day (JM Notes, 27 Jan., and n. 16; 28 Jan., and n. 3; 29 Jan. 1783, and nn. 8, 11–13). The motion was adopted by a vote of seven states. The delegations of Rhode Island, Virginia, and North Carolina deadlocked in the tally. Maryland was represented by only one delegate (JCC description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds., Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789 (34 vols.; Washington, 1904–37). description ends , XXIV, 126–27).
3. For the adoption by Congress on 3 February 1781 of the proposed impost amendment to the Articles of Confederation, see JM Notes, 28 Jan. 1783, n. 29. For the reservations by states which had ratified the amendment, the reasons why it had not been ratified by Rhode Island and Georgia, and why Virginia had rescinded her act of ratification, see Papers of Madison description begins William T. Hutchinson, William M. E. Rachal, et al., eds., The Papers of James Madison (6 vols. to date; Chicago, 1962——). description ends , V, 289; 291, nn. 9, 11; 374, n. 12; 375, n. 15; 414–15; 416, n. 3; 478, n. 2; Randolph to JM, 3 Jan.; Harrison to JM, 4 Jan., and nn. 3, 4; JM Notes, 28 Jan., nn. 29–31; 29 Jan., n. 25; 4 Feb. 1783, n. 10.
4. See n. 3.
5. See n. 7. By stating that Virginia would not ratify the amendment unless its duration was limited, Arthur Lee went beyond the reasons given in the preamble of the rescinding act of her General Assembly on 6 and 7 December 1782 (Randolph to JM, 3 Jan., n. 2; Harrison to JM, 4 Jan. 1783, n. 4; 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, 171). Lee meant by the last of his three provisos that Congress, if authorized to levy an impost, must inform the states annually of the amount of money thereby supplied to the treasury of the Confederation. Massachusetts had included the same proviso in her act of ratification of 3–4 May 1782 (NA: PCC, No. 74, fols. 193–96). See also JM Notes, 19 Feb. 1783, and n. 15.
6. Oliver Wolcott’s remarks about the proper duration of the impost or other source of revenue only emphasized what had been made explicit in the resolutions of Congress submitting the amendment to the states for ratification (JCC description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds., Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789 (34 vols.; Washington, 1904–37). description ends , XIX, 112–13). Although the “mode” whereby the customs collectors should be appointed and controlled had been left ambiguous in those resolutions, Wolcott evidently believed that Congress, comprised of delegates serving at the will of state legislatures, could be trusted to administer the impost equitably and deferentially (JM Notes, 28 Jan. 1783).
7. Arthur Lee’s remarks apparently echoed those expressed by Nathaniel Gorham on 29 January (JM Notes, 29 Jan. 1783). Gorham, a recent arrival in Congress from Massachusetts, was prone to align himself with the Lee-Adams faction, which often had manifested its solidarity on domestic and especially on foreign issues (Papers of Madison description begins William T. Hutchinson, William M. E. Rachal, et al., eds., The Papers of James Madison (6 vols. to date; Chicago, 1962——). description ends , V, 4; 15, n. 3; 403, n. 10; 469, n. 2). The Massachusetts General Court had long delayed its ratification of the impost amendment and had qualified its consent with many provisos (JM Notes, 14 Jan., n. 4; 28 Jan. 1783, n. 29).
8. Alexander Hamilton frequently and vigorously had advocated the proposed impost amendment, together with the appointment of the customs officers by Congress, both as an almost indispensable financial and nationalizing reform (Syrett and Cooke, Papers of Hamilton description begins Harold C. Syrett and Jacob E. Cooke, eds., The Papers of Alexander Hamilton (15 vols. to date; New York, 1961——). description ends , III, 78–80, 213–23; Papers of Madison description begins William T. Hutchinson, William M. E. Rachal, et al., eds., The Papers of James Madison (6 vols. to date; Chicago, 1962——). description ends , V, 376, n. 27; JM Notes, 27 Jan.; 28 Jan. 1783, and n. 12).
10. See n. 6.
12. Although the Lees and the Mercers were long-time rivals in Virginia politics, John Francis Mercer here adopted the argument of “purse and sword,” which Arthur Lee had used against a “general revenue” in the debate on 28 January (Papers of Madison description begins William T. Hutchinson, William M. E. Rachal, et al., eds., The Papers of James Madison (6 vols. to date; Chicago, 1962——). description ends , V, 283, n. 3; 427, n. 7; 455, n. 5; JM Notes, 28 Jan. 1783, and n. 5). For JM’s comment on the issue, see JM Notes, 28 Jan., and n. 28; 21 Feb. 1783, and n. 10.
14. By accepting the “25 years” but rejecting the alternative in Bland’s proposal, the committee of the whole may have sought to preclude a contention by state legislatures that if Congress should deem the income from requisitions to be inadequate, it probably would interpret the “alternative” as a justification for disregarding the stipulated time-span of “25 years.” See JM Notes, 19 Feb. 1783, and n. 3.
15. In view of the insistence by Alexander Hamilton of New York and James Wilson of Pennsylvania that the collectors should be appointed by Congress, the adverse vote of the delegations from those states is not surprising. See JM Notes, 27 Jan., and n. 16; 28 Jan., and n. 12; 11 Feb. 1783, and n. 8. The outcome of this poll may reflect the increasing emphasis upon state sovereignty by some of the state delegations in Congress, or at least the readiness of some delegates, who would have preferred the collectors to be appointed by Congress, to defer to the delegates who were uncompromisingly opposed to that mode. In this connection it should be recalled that only eight state legislatures which ratified the proposed impost amendment had been willing for Congress to appoint and supervise the collectors (JM Notes, 28 Jan. 1783, n. 29). Following the vote on this issue, the committee of the whole adjourned and made its recommendations to Congress the next day (JM Notes, 13 Feb.; 18 Feb. 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, 128).