James Madison Papers

Notes on Debates, 18 March 1783

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.

On the report of the Committee to whom the 3 paragraphs of the report on revenues1 (see March 6).2 had been recommitted, the said paragraphs were expunged so as to admit the following amendment which took place without3 opposition, viz

“Resolved that it be recommended &c &c (see 1st. ¶)4

Upon all rum of Jamaica proof per Gallon 4/90
Upon all other spirituous liquors 3/90
Upon Madeira wine 12/90
Upon the wines of Lisbon, Oporto, those called Sherry } 6/90
& upon all French wines
Upon the wines called Malaga or Teneriff5 5/90
Upon all other wines 4/90
Upon common Bohea Tea perlb.6 6/90
Upon all other Teas 24/90
Upon pepper perlb. 3/90
Upon Brown Sugar perlb ½/90
Upon loaf Sugar 2/90
Upon all other Sugars 1/90
Upon Molasses per Gallon 1/90
Upon Cocoa & Coffee perlb 1/90
Upon salt after the war per Bushel 1/87

And upon all goods except arms, ammunition & cloathing or other articles* imported for the use of the U. S. a duty of 5 perCt. ad valorem: provided that there be allowed a bounty of ⅛ of a dollar for every Quintal of dried fish exported from these U. S. and a like sum for every Barrel of pickled fish, beef or pork, to be paid or allowed to the exporter thereof at the port from which they shall be so exported.8

The arguments urged by Mr. Wilson in behalf of his motion [see Journal] for a land tax of ¼ of a dollar per 100 Acres,9 other than those heretofore generally urged were that it was more moderate than had been paid before the revolution & it cd. not be supposed the people wd grudge to pay as the price of their liberty what they formerly paid to their oppressors; that if it was unequal, this inequality wd. be corrected by the States in other taxes, that as the tax on trade would fall cheifly on the inhabitants of the lower Country who consumed the imports, the tax on land wd. affect those who were remote from the Sea & consumed little;10

On the opposite side it was alledged that such a tax was repugnant to the popular ideas of equality & particularly wd. never be acceded to by the S. States, at least unless they were to be respectively credited for the amount; and if such credit were to be given, it wd. be best to let the States chuse such taxes as would best suit them.11

A letter came in & was read from the Secry. of For Affrs. stating the perplexing alternative to which Congs. were reduced by the secret article relating to West Florida either of dishonoring themselves by becoming a party to the concealment or of wounding the feelings & destroying the influence of our Ministers by disclosing the article to the French Court:12 and proposing as advisable on the whole

1. that he be authorized to communicate the article in question to The French Minister13 in such manner as wd. best tend to remove unfavorable impressions which might be made on the Ct. of F. as to the sincerity of Congress or their Ministers.

2. That the sd. Ministers be informed of this communication, and instructed to agree that the limit for W. F. proposed in the separate article be allowed to whatever power the said Colony may be confirmed by a Treaty of peace.

3. That it be declared to be the sense of Congress that the preliminary articles between U. S & G. B. are not to take effect untill peace shall be actually signed between the Kings of F. & G. B.*14

Ordered that tomorrow be assigned for the consideration of the said letter.15

1In the original report of the committee, the second paragraph recommended a duty on prizes and prize goods (Report on Restoring Public Credit, 6 Mar., and n. 2). In keeping with the recommendation of Robert Morris, that paragraph had been deleted by the committee (JM Notes, 11 Mar. 1783, and n. 2). Hence, the “3 paragraphs” mentioned by JM in the present item represent a complete revision of the original first and third paragraphs and the addition of a provision for a bounty on certain exports.

2Above this citation in parentheses JM interlineated “Mar: 6 & 7”—no doubt because his notes for 7 March (q.v.) recorded changes made on that day by Congress in the text of the original report.

3Between “expunged” and “without,” JM at first wrote, “& the following amendment agreed to be substituted.”

4That is the first paragraph of the original report as amended between 7 and 18 March. See JCC description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds., Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789 (34 vols.; Washington, 1904–37). description ends , XXIV, 118.

5These were wines respectively of Spain and of Tenerife in the Canary Islands.

7JM Notes, 28 Jan., and n. 35; 27 Feb., and nn. 8–10; 3 Mar., n. 2; 11 Mar., and nn. 1–3; Report on Restoring Public Credit, 6 Mar. 1783, and nn. 1–3, 5.

8Ibid.; JM Notes, 11 Mar. 1783, and n. 3. A quintal is a hundredweight. By adopting the motion of Abraham Clark, mentioned by JM in his footnote, “wool cards, cotton cards, and wire for making them” would no longer be specifically put on the free list, even though they were not included among the imports recommended to be taxed at the ports of entry. Clark’s motion was not entered in the official journal, but the words just quoted are canceled in the manuscript of the revised “3 paragraphs” (n. 1, above), drafted by FitzSimons and submitted to Congress on 18 March (NA: PCC, No. 26, fols. 423–24).

9JCC description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds., Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789 (34 vols.; Washington, 1904–37). description ends , XXIV, 191. James Wilson’s motion, seconded by Alexander Hamilton, would have provided that the tax be levied “on all located and surveyed land within each of the states.” At least as early as 27 January, these two men seem to have had in mind a tax on land “to be collected by Congress” (JM Notes, 27 Jan.; 28 Jan., and nn. 3–5, 42; 29 Jan., and n. 19; 7 Feb. 1783, and nn. 5, 8). The brackets are JM’s.

10That is, “consumed little” of the articles of foreign origin upon which duties would be levied. The assumption, of course, was that the importer would add the amount of the duty to the price which the ultimate consumer would have to pay. See JM Notes, 29 Jan. 1783, and n. 10.

11A land tax, unless graduated in rate to reflect the quality of the land, obviously would be unfair, especially to poor people whose holdings were often infertile as well as small. See JM Notes, 14 Jan., and n. 9; 27 Jan., and n. 24; 28 Jan., and nn. 4, 5, 11, 35, 42; 29 Jan., and n. 19; 20 Feb., and n. 14; 11 Mar., and nn. 5, 8; Report on Restoring Public Credit, 6 Mar. 1783, and nn. 7, 8. Wilson’s motion failed to carry by a vote of 6 to 4. Every delegate from the states south of Delaware 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 , XXIV, 192).

12For Livingston’s letter of 18 March to Congress, see Wharton, Revol. Dipl. Corr description begins Francis Wharton, ed., The Revolutionary Diplomatic Correspondence of the United States (6 vols.; Washington, 1889). description ends ., VI, 313–16. See also JM Notes, 12–15 Mar., and nn. 6, 12, 13; Delegates to Harrison, 12 Mar. 1783, and n. 10.

13The Chevalier de La Luzerne.

14The three recommendations are virtually quoted by JM from Livingston’s letter to Congress. Following the words “agreed on by” in the footnote, the meaning would be clearer if JM had written: “France and Great Britain; & the latter be ready to sign, although the former might decline to sign until Spain and the Netherlands also indicated readiness to sign their respective peace treaties with Great Britain.”

Authorial notes

[The following note(s) appeared in the margins or otherwise outside the text flow in the original source, and have been moved here for purposes of the digital edition.]

* The other exception as to Cards & wire for making them &c. was struck out unanimously on the motion of Mr. Clarke; being considered as no longer necessary & contrary to the general policy of encouraging necessary manufactures among ourselves.

* This was meant to guard agst. a construction that they were to take effect when peace sd. be agreed on by those powers, & the latter be ready to sign, altho the former sd. be restrained untill the other parties sd. be ready for signing

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