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.
A letter was recd. from Genl Washington inclosing his address to the convention of Officers with the result of their consultations.1 This dissipation of the cloud which seemed to have been gathering afforded great pleasure on the whole to Congress; but it was observable that the part which the Genl. had found it necessary & thought it his duty to take, would give birth to events much more serious if they sd. not be obviated by the establishment of such funds as the Genl. as well as the army had declared to be necessary.2
The report of the come. on Mr. Dyer’s motion in favor of a commutation for the half pay was agreed to. The preamble was objected to, but admitted at the entreaty of Mr. Dyer who supposed the considerations recited in it wd. tend to reconcile the State of Cont. to the measure.3
An order passed for granting 35 licences for vessels belonging to Nantucket to secure the whaling vessels agst. the penalty for double papers. This order was in consequence of a deputation to Congs. representing the exposed situation of that island, the importance of the Whale fishery to the U. S. the danger of its being usurped by other nations & the concurrenc of the Enemy in neutralizing such a number of Vessels as wd. carry on the fisheries in an extent necessary for the support of the inhabitants.4
The Come. to whom was referred the letter from the Secy. of F. A. with the foreign despatches &c reported5
1. That our Ministers be thanked for their zeal & services in negociating the preliminary articles:
2. that they be instructed to make a communication of the separate article6 to the Court of France in such way as would best get over the concealment.
3. that the Secy. of F. A. inform them that it is the wish of Congress that the preliminary articles had been communicated to the Court of France before they had been executed.
Mr. Dyer said he was opposed to the whole report; that he fully approved of every step taken by our Ministers as well towards G. B. as towards France, that the separate article did not concern the interests of France7 & therefore could not involve the good faith of the U. S
Mr. Lee agreed fully with Mr. Dyer, said that a special report of facts ought to have been made as necessary for enabling Congs. to form a just opinion of the Conduct of the Ministers, and moved that the report might be recommitted. Mr. Wolcot 2ded. the motion which was evidently made for the sole purpose of delay. It was opposed by Mr. Clarke, Mr. Wilson & Mr. Ghorum the 1[s]t & last of whom had however no objection to postponing; by Mr. Mercer who repeated his abhorrence of the confidence shewn by our Ministers to those of G. B.8 said that ct.9 was about to realize the case of those kicked down the ladder by wch. they had been elevated, & of the viper which was ready to destroy the family of the man in whose bosom it had been restored to life,10 observed that it was unwise to prefer G. B. to Spain as our Neighbours in W. Florida.
Mr. Higgenson supported the sentiments of Mr. Lee. sd. that the Ct. de V. had released our Ministers & that he agreed with those who thought the instruction of June 15. cd. relate only to questions directly between G. B. & U. S.11
Mr. Holten thought there was no sufficient evidence for praise or blame; and that both ought to be suspended untill the true reasons sd. be stated by the Ministers. He supposed that the separate article had been made an ultimatum of the preliminaries by G. B. & that there might also be secret arts: between G. B. & F.12 If the latter were displeased he conceived that she wd. officially notify it.13 Mr. Rutlidge was agst. recommitting but for postponing. The motion for recomg. was disagreed to, but several states being for postponing, the vote was no index as to the main question.14 (continued see No. XII)15
It had been talked of among sundry members as very singular that the British Minister should have confided to Mr. Adams an intended expedition from N. Y. agst. W. Florida; as very reprehensible in the latter to become the depository of secrets hostile to the Friends of his Country, and that every motive of honor & prudence made it the duty of Congs. to impart the matter to the Spaniards.16 To this effect a motion was made by Mr. Mercer 2ded. by Mr. Madison. But it being near the usual hour of adjournment, the house being agitated by the debates on the separate article: and a large proportion of members predetermined agst. every measure wch. seemed in any manner to blame the Ministers; & the Eastern delegates in general extremely jealous of the honor of Mr. Adams, an adjournment was pressed & carried without any vote on the motion.
1. Washington’s letter of 18 March, enclosing his address “To the Officers of the Army” and their resolutions, both dated 15 March, see Fitzpatrick, Writings of Washington description begins John C. Fitzpatrick, ed., The Writings of George Washington, from the Original Sources, 1745–1799 (39 vols.; Washington, 1931–44). description ends , XXVI, 222–27, 228, 229–32; JCC description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds., Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789 (34 vols.; Washington, 1904–37). description ends , XXIV, 306–11. See also JM Notes, 17 Mar., and nn. 1, 2; JM to Randolph, 18 Mar. 1783.
2. In his address to the officers, Washington pledged his “Services to the utmost of” his “abilities” to secure “compleat justice” for them from Congress. He appealed to them to share his “full confidence in the purity of the intentions of Congress” and in its determination to have their accounts “fairly liquidated” before their “dissolution as an Army.” In his letter, after “earnestly entreating” Congress to reach a “most speedy decision” about “the subjects of the late address from the Army,” Washington expressed his “decided opinion” that “the establishment of funds, and security of the payment of all the just demands of the Army will be the most certain means of preserving the National faith and future tranquillity of this extensive continent.” For the memorial from the army and the debates in Congress resulting therefrom, see JM Notes, 10 Mar., and citations in nn. 1 and 2; 17 Mar., and n. 1; 20 Mar., and n. 4; JM to Randolph, 4 Mar. 1783, and n. 5.
On 22 March Washington’s “address” of 15 March, and his letter of 18 March were referred by Congress to a committee, with Samuel Osgood as chairman (JCC description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds., Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789 (34 vols.; Washington, 1904–37). description ends , XXIV, 210, n. 1). The report of this committee on 1 April 1783 is unnoted both in the official journal and in JM’s notes for that day. See NA: PCC, No. 186, fol. 90.
3. JM Notes, 20 Mar. 1783, and n. 4. JM’s reminiscence, partly quoted in that footnote, closed with these words: “The resolution being adopted—the preamble came under consideration. Whereupon a good many criticisms were made upon the preamble (not in earnest; but some of the members felt provoked at the uneasiness which D. had caused them to experience), and he was kept for an hour as pale as a sheet under the apprehension that his preamble would be rejected.” Evidently Eliphalet Dyer wrote the preamble, even though it and the resolutions introduced by it are in the hand of Alexander Hamilton, chairman of the committee to which an earlier report on the army memorial had been referred on 20 March. During the debate on 22 March, Congress slightly amended the committee’s report and rejected substitute resolutions offered by Oliver Wolcott and seconded by Jonathan Arnold. Congress adopted the report by a vote of 9 to 2 (New Hampshire and New Jersey) (JCC description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds., Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789 (34 vols.; Washington, 1904–37). description ends , XXIV, 207–10).
4. On 11 March Congress referred to a committee, with Nathaniel Gorham as chairman, a memorial signed by Samuel Starbuck and William Rotch on behalf of the inhabitants of the island of Nantucket (JCC description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds., Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789 (34 vols.; Washington, 1904–37). description ends , XXIV, 182, n. 1). After portraying their “poverty and distress” during the Revolution because of lack of military aid from Congress or Massachusetts, frequent invasion by the British, and the capture of many whaling ships by the enemy—thus ruining almost the sole industry of Nantucket—the memorial admitted that the islanders’ desperate plight late in the war led them to accept British passports for a few of their vessels. Thereupon several of them had been captured by American privateers and condemned by American admiralty courts. “The coersive law of necessity,” the memorial continued, “may compel” Nantucket families “to relinquish the tender ties of natural affection” for their native land and to succumb to British enticements in the form of protection by a strong navy and a bounty on whale products. After emphasizing the value of these to the United States, the memorial closed by praying Congress speedily, through the issuance of passports, to enable the islanders to “Employ a few Vessels in Whale Fishery, unmolested from American Cruisers” (NA: PCC, No. 41, VII, 91–94).
On 18 March the committee recommended that any Nantucket whaler, provided the boat have aboard only “whaling utensils,” “the produce of fish taken,” and the necessary supplies for the captain and crew, be permitted to operate under one passport issued by the British and a certificate issued by the selectmen of the town of Nantucket. This report thus recommended that Congress exempt Nantucket whalers from the penalty stipulated by the ordinance of 4 December 1781, making any ship with “double papers” subject to “condemnation, unless good cause be shown to the contrary” (JCC description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds., Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789 (34 vols.; Washington, 1904–37). description ends , XXI, 1156; 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 , III, 240; 339, n. 2).
After the report was read for a second and third time on 19 and 20 March, respectively, it was returned to the committee with the instruction to suggest the form of a passport. This document, approved by Congress on 22 March, embodied the provisos mentioned above, had to be renewed every year, and would be issued only to a whaling captain who had a paper from the selectmen attesting to his name and the names of his crew and that his vessel was “bona fide, the property of the inhabitants” of Nantucket (NA: PCC, No. 49, 261–64; JCC description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds., Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789 (34 vols.; Washington, 1904–37). description ends , XXIV, 187, 195, 206–7).
In his autobiography, Rotch mentioned the “great civility” shown to him by JM and other members of Congress, with the exception of “the Massachusetts members.” Congress, Rotch continued, “actually granted to us thirty-five permits for the whale fishery” (“An Autobiographical Memoir of William Rotch Written in the Eightieth Year of His Age,” New England Historical and Genealogical Register, XXXII , 153).
5. For the letter of Robert R. Livingston and its referral to a committee, see JM Notes, 18 Mar. and nn. 12, 14; 19 Mar., and n. 44. The committee’s report, which was submitted to Congress on 21 March 1783, is not mentioned in the official journal of that day or the next, and the manuscript of the report has not been found (NA: PCC, No. 186, fol. 89).
9. The court of St. James.
10. By his remarks Mercer indicated his distaste for placing confidence in the British court, which was about to attain its objective of causing the United States to turn on the ally that had made possible its independence. He may have derived the “kicked-down-the-ladder” metaphor from Shakespeare, Richard II, Act 5, scene 1, line 55. The viper-in-the-bosom metaphor dates at least as early as Aesop (ca. 620–560 B.C.), whose fables in Greek were versified in Latin by Phaedrus (early 1st century A.D.) in his Fabulae Aesopiae. The viper story is No. XIX of Book IV. See G[eorge] H[erbert] Nall, ed., The Fables of Phaedrus (London, 1946), p. 45.
11. JM Notes, 12–15 Mar., n. 6; 19 Mar. 1783, n. 9; Burnett, Letters description begins Edmund C. Burnett, ed., Letters of Members of the Continental Congress (8 vols.; Washington, 1921–36). description ends , VII, 122.
14. See n. 5. The defeat of the Lee-Wolcott motion left unanswered, of course, the main question of whether and by whom the separate article should be revealed to Vergennes and the extent to which, if at all, the American peace commissioners should be censured for their conduct during the negotiations.
15. JM’s parenthetical expression is at the close of the final page of segment No. XI of his notes. For a probable explanation of the Roman numeral, 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.