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 the Govr, of R. Island with resolutions of the Legislature of that State justifying the conduct of Mr. Howell.1
On the arrival of the French Cutter with the acct of the signing of the general preliminaries, it was thought fit by Congress to hasten the effect of them by calling in the American Cruisers.2 It was also thought by all not amiss to notify simply the Intelligence to the British Commanders at N.Y.3 In addition to this it was proposed by the Secy. of F. A. and urged by the Delegates of Pa. by Mr. Lee, Mr. Rutlidge & others, that Congress should signify their desire & expectation that hostilities sd. be suspended at sea on the part of the Enemy.4 The arguments urged were that the effusion of blood might be immediately stopped & the trade of this Country rescued from depredation. It was observed on the other side that such a proposition derogated from the dignity of Congs.; shewed an undue precipitancy; that the intelligence was not authentic enough to justify the British commander in complying with such an overture; and therefore that Congs. would be exposed to the mortification of a refusal. The former considerations prevailed & a verbal sanction was given to Mr. Livingston’s expressing to the sd. Commanders the expectation of Congs. &c. This day their answers were recd. addressed to Robt. R. Livingston Esqr. &c&c&c. declining to accede to the stopping of hostilities at sea, & urging the necessity of authentic orders from G. B. for that purpose.5 With their letters Mr. Livingston communicated resolutions proposed from his office, “that inconsequence of these letters the orders to the American Cruisers sd. be revoked; and that the Executives sd. be requested to embargo all vessels.[”] Congs. were generally sensible after the rect. of these papers that they had committed themselves in proposing to the British Commanders at N.Y. a stop to naval hostilities; & were exceedingly at a loss to extricate themselves. On one side they were unwilling to publish to the world the affront they had recd. especially as no written order had been given for the correspondence and on the other it was necessary that the continuance of hostilities at sea should be made known to American Citizens. Some were in favor of the revocation of hostilities. others proposed as Col: Bland & Genl. Mifflin, that the Secy of F. A. should be directed verbally to publish the letters from Carlton & Digby. This was negatived. The superinscription was animadverted upon particularly by Mr. Mercer, who said that the letters ought to have been sent back unopened. Finally it was agreed that any member might take copies & send them to the press & that the subject should lie over for further consideration6
1. JM Notes, 3 Jan., and n. 3; 9–10 Jan., and n. 21; 4 Feb., n. 14; JM to Randolph, 14 Jan. 1783, and n. 5; JCC description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds., Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789 (34 vols.; Washington, 1904–37). description ends , XXIV, 222, n. 2. The resolutions of the Rhode Island General Assembly are printed in William R. Staples, Rhode Island in the Continental Congress, pp. 427–28.
2. From the opening of this paragraph to the sentence beginning “This day their answers,” JM summarized proceedings of Congress on 24 March. See JM Notes, 24 Mar., and n. 1; Delegates to Harrison, 25 Mar. 1783, and nn. 2, 4.
3. General Sir Guy Carleton and Admiral Robert Digby (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 , I, 291, n. 2; III, 198, n. 6).
4. In separate dispatches of 24 March, carried under flag by Lewis Morris, Jr., one of Robert R. Livingston’s secretaries, Livingston expressed to Carleton and Digby hope that they would follow the example of the French and of Congress by “adopting such measures as humanity dictates” to “prevent the further effusion of blood at sea” (Wharton, Revol. Dipl. Corr description begins Francis Wharton, ed., The Revolutionary Diplomatic Correspondence of the United States (6 vols.; Washington, 1889). description ends ., VI, 336–37; Burnett, Letters description begins Edmund C. Burnett, ed., Letters of Members of the Continental Congress (8 vols.; Washington, 1921–36). description ends , VII, 102, n. 4; 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 , XXV, 413, and nn. 15, 16; XXVI, 258 n.). The delegates from Pennsylvania, present in Congress, were Thomas Mifflin, Thomas FitzSimons, Richard Peters, James Wilson, and Joseph Montgomery (JCC description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds., Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789 (34 vols.; Washington, 1904–37). description ends , XXIV, 219, 224).
5. The significance of JM’s underlining of “verbal” becomes clear later in his notes for this day. Copies in the Papers of the Continental Congress show Carleton’s reply of 26 March to have been addressed to “Robert R. Livingston, Esq. &c &c,” and Digby’s of 27 March to “Robert R. Livingston, Esqr.” Both answers reached Livingston on 30 March, the day on which he sent them, with a brief covering note, to Congress (NA: PCC, No. 119, fols. 261–64; Wharton, Revol. Dipl. Corr description begins Francis Wharton, ed., The Revolutionary Diplomatic Correspondence of the United States (6 vols.; Washington, 1889). description ends ., VI, 346). The British commanders suggested that upon receiving official notification of peace, which they daily expected, there should be a general release of prisoners as well as a cessation of war at sea. Digby further recommended that until that word reached the British headquarters in New York City, Congress could protect American ships by forbidding them to leave port.
6. For the “superinscription,” see n. 5; also Delegates to Harrison, 1 Apr. 1783; Burnett, Letters description begins Edmund C. Burnett, ed., Letters of Members of the Continental Congress (8 vols.; Washington, 1921–36). description ends , VII, 121–22, 125, 128, 132. The letters of Carleton and Digby to Livingston are printed in the Pennsylvania Gazette of 2 April and the Pennsylvania Packet of 3 April 1783.
Congress apparently gave no “further consideration” to the dilemma before it was resolved on 9 April by the receipt of dispatches from Carleton and Digby enclosing copies of the preliminary articles of peace between Great Britain, France, and Spain, signed on 20 January; the British peace commissioners’ “Declaration of the Cessation of Hostilities” on that day; and the announcement of King George III on 14 February proclaiming “a Cessation of Arms.” See Jefferson to JM, 7–8 Feb., nn. 3, 4, 8; Pa. Packet broadside of 9 Apr.; JM Notes, 10 Apr. 1783; Wharton, Revol. Dipl. Corr description begins Francis Wharton, ed., The Revolutionary Diplomatic Correspondence of the United States (6 vols.; Washington, 1889). description ends ., VI, 223–24, 251–52.