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Notes on Debates, 7 December 1782

Notes on Debates

MS (LC: Madison Papers). See Notes on Debates, 4 November 1782, ed. n.

No Congress

The Grand Committee met again on the business of the old paper emissions,1 and agreed to2 the plan reported by the subcommittee in pursuance of Mr. Fitzimmon’s motion,3 vz. that the outstanding bills should be taken up & certificates issued in place thereof at the rate of 1 real Dollar for   nominal ds. and that the surpluses redeemed by particular states shod. be credited to them at the same rate.4 Mr. Carroll alone dissented to the plan, alledging that a law of Maryland was adverse to it which he considered as equipollent to an instruction.5 For filling up the blank several rates were proposed 1st. 1 for 40 on which all the votes were no except Mr. Howell6 2d. 1 for 75 no. Mr. White & Mr. Howel ay. 3d. 1 for 100. no[.] Mr. Hamilton & Mr. Fitzimmons ay. 4th. 1 for 150. no. Mr. Fitzs. & H. ay.7 The reasons urged in favor of 1 for 40. were first an adherence to public faith, secondly that the depreciation of the certificates would reduce the rate sufficiently low, they being now negociated at the rate of three or four for one.8 The reason for 1 for 75 was9 that the bills passed at that rate when they were called in, in the Eastern States: for 1 for 100,10 that as popular ideas were opposed to the stipulated rate, and as adopting the current rate might hurt the credit of other securities which derived their value from an opinion that they would be strictly redeemed, it was best to take an arbitrary rate, leaning to the side of liberality.11—for 1 for 150 that this was the medium depreciation when the circulation ceased.12 The opposition to these several rates came from the Southern Delegates, in some of whose States none, in others but little, had been redeemed, & in all of which the depreciation had been much greater.13 On this side it was observed by Mr. Madison that the States which had redeemed a surplus, or even their quotas, had not done it within the period fixed by Congress but in the last stages of depreciation, & in a great degree, even after the money had ceased to circulate;14 that since the supposed Cessation the money had generally changed hands at a value far below any rate that had been named; and that the principle established by the plan of the 18th. of March 1780, with respect to the money in question was, that the Holder of it sd. receive the value at which it was current & at which it was presumed he had received it;15 that a different rule adopted with regard to the same money in different stages of its downfal wd. give general dissatisfaction.16 The Committee adjourned without coming to any decision17

1See Notes on Debates, 26 November 1782, n. 2. The matter at issue in the present notes had been referred by Congress to the grand committee on 18 September (JCC description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds., Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789 (34 vols.; Washington, 1904–37). description ends , XXIII, 591, and n.).

2After “agreed” JM originally placed a comma and inserted between it and “to” a partly interlineated passage, enclosed in parentheses, reading, “Mr Carroll alone dissenting, a law of his State being agst.” See n. 5. JM canceled this remark but neglected to delete the parentheses and the comma. They are omitted by the editors in conformance with what JM obviously intended.

3For the appointment and personnel of the subcommittee, see Notes on Debates, 26 November 1782.

4For this long-standing issue, 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 , IV, 121–22; 123, n. 2; Notes on Debates, 26 November, and nn. 3, 5, 7, 8; Queries and Answers, 3 December 1782–8 February 1783, and nn. 2–8.

5The 1-for-40 ratio had been recommended by Robert Morris. See Notes on Debates, 26 November 1782, n. 5. For Congress to fund the entire domestic debt of the United States by issuing “certificates” in exchange for the diverse types of promises to pay held by public and private creditors, including the personnel of the continental army, might complicate the fiscal policy of Maryland, which in November 1782 passed an act that enabled “the Citizens of this State, Creditors of Congress on Loan Office Certificates &ca” to exchange their paper for state securities (J. Hall Pleasants, ed., Journal and Correspondence of the Council of Maryland, Archives of Maryland, XLVIII, 319, 321, 346, 379; Merrill Jensen, The New Nation, p. 392).

6See n. 17, below. After deliberating anew at a meeting subsequent to 10 December, the grand committee recommended to Congress on 24 December that the rate should be 40 for 1 (JM to Randolph, 10 December; Notes on Debates, 24 December 1782; JCC description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds., Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789 (34 vols.; Washington, 1904–37). description ends , XXIII, 831–32, 832, n. 1). Therefore it would appear that at least a majority of the committee experienced a remarkable change of opinion, perhaps induced by Robert Morris, following the present session. David Howell was an uncompromising defender of state sovereignty and deplored the “woeful versatility” of Congress “in regard to money” (William R. Staples, Rhode Island in the Continental Congress, p. 451).

7Beyond making clear that all four exchange ratios were rejected by the grand committee and that its members unanimously, except for David Howell, voted against a 1-for-40 ratio, JM’s note is ambiguous. Almost certainly he meant that only Phillips White and Howell favored a 1-for-75 ratio, and only Alexander Hamilton and Thomas FitzSimons, 1-for-100 and 1-for-150 ratios. Henry D. Gilpin, in his edition of Madison, Papers description begins (Gilpin ed.). Henry D. Gilpin, ed., The Papers of James Madison (3 vols.; Washington, 1840). description ends (I, 227), omitted “& H. ay.” So, too, did Gaillard Hunt, both in his edition of JM’s works (Madison, Writings description begins (Hunt ed.). Gaillard Hunt, ed., The Writings of James Madison (9 vols.; New York, 1900–1910). description ends , I, 285) and in JCC description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds., Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789 (34 vols.; Washington, 1904–37). description ends (XXIII, 865). In the manuscript JM followed “&” with letters that are either an “H” superimposed upon a “c” or the reverse. If he intended to cancel the “H,” he did not follow his customary practice of drawing a line of ink heavily across a letter, word, or passage. Although the writing is slightly blurred, JM apparently meant to retain the “H” and to signify Hamilton by it. John Hanson and David Howell were also on the grand committee, but the former is not mentioned elsewhere in the notes, and Howell would have been inconsistent with his earlier positions if he had voted for a 1-for-150 ratio.

Having read in the Gilpin edition that Madison listed Hamilton as voting for an exchange rate of 1 to 100 and not for the 1-for-40 ratio stipulated by the ordinance of Congress of 18 March 1780, John Church Hamilton, who was a son of Alexander Hamilton, and his literary executor, implied that, after his father and Madison became political enemies, Madison altered his notes so as to malign his former friend by making him guilty of “a breach of public faith” (John C. Hamilton, History of the Republic of the United States of America, as Traced in the Writings of Alexander Hamilton and of his Cotemporaries [7 vols.; Philadelphia, 1857–64], II, 354 n.). On the contrary, the manuscript for 7 December 1782 is in Madison’s characteristic hand of 1782 and shows no evidence whatsoever of tampering.

John C. Hamilton, who no doubt would have been even more irate if the Gilpin edition had not omitted JM’s “& H. ay” in connection with the vote on the exchange ratio of 1 for 150, also charged JM with falsifying his record by including Alexander Hamilton as a member of the grand committee on 7 December. In making this accusation, the son was misled by the names of the committee’s personnel given in the journal of Congress for 7 January 1783 (ibid., II, 355 n.; 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). By then this roster obviously was out of date, since Jonathan Jackson of Massachusetts, James Duane of New York, and Arthur Lee of Virginia, each of whom had left Congress in the period between 6 October and 27 November 1782, were still listed among the members (JM to Randolph, 8 October 1782; Burnett, Letters description begins Edmund C. Burnett, ed., Letters of Members of the Continental Congress (8 vols.; Washington, 1921–36). description ends , VI, xlvi, xlviii). Neither the journal nor Charles Thomson’s manuscripts reveal the names of their successors on the committee, but almost certainly by 7 December 1782 Jackson’s place had been taken by Osgood, Duane’s by Hamilton, and Lee’s by JM. As delegates for New York in the stead of Duane and Ezra L’Hommedieu, Hamilton and William Floyd attended Congress for the first time in 1782 on 25 and 27 November, respectively (ibid., VI, xlviii; JCC description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds., Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789 (34 vols.; Washington, 1904–37). description ends , XXIII, 750, 754, 755). Of the two, Hamilton was eminently the better qualified to serve on the grand committee. Not only were his views on public finance well and favorably known to Robert Morris, but as a former continental receiver general for his state Hamilton had gained much practical experience to share with his committee colleagues.

The strongest evidence adduced by John C. Hamilton is of a circumstantial nature. In a letter of 30 April 1781, his father had assured Robert Morris, “I have chosen the resolution of March ’80 as a standard. We ought not, on any account, to raise the value of the paper higher than forty to one, for this will give it about the degree of value that is most salutary; at the same time that it will avoid a second breach of faith [see n. 15, below], which would cause a violent death to all future credit.” In line with this statement, Hamilton on 21 December 1782 and on 7 January 1783 voted to sustain the ratio of 1 for 40 (John C. Hamilton, ed., The Works of Alexander Hamilton [7 vols.; New York, 1850–51], I, 248; John C. Hamilton, History of the Republic, II, 355 n.). Therefore, if JM’s entry is accurate, Hamilton’s change of position on this issue must have been confined to about the first three weeks of his attendance as a delegate in Congress.

JM recorded in his Notes on Debates for 26 November 1782 (q.v.), that Hamilton believed Congress should “leave it to the states to level the money by negotiations among themselves”—a policy which certainly would have led to the redemption of the paper currency at ratios varying at least from 1 for 75 to 1 for 1,000. If John C. Hamilton noticed this passage when reading the Gilpin edition, he strangely did not cite it as another example of JM’s untrustworthiness. Hamilton’s alleged proposal of 26 November and his votes on 7 December complement each other and thereby argue, although by no means conclusively, that these entries by JM accurately reflect Hamilton’s views on those days. The New York General Assembly, furthermore, had defined the legal ratio between specie and paper money in that state as 1 for 128 (Harold C. Syrett and Jacob E. Cooke, eds., Papers of Alexander Hamilton, III, 162). For a brief time at the outset of his tenure as a delegate, Hamilton may have felt, as did Daniel Carroll, that a law of his state was “equipollent to an instruction.” For still another explanation of why he perhaps favored on 7 December 1782 a rate of exchange as high as 1 for 100 or 1 for 150, see n. 11.

8The “public faith,” in relation to the 1-for-40 rate, refers to the ordinance enacted by Congress on 18 March 1780. 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, 49, n. 2. JM interlineated “negociated at the rate of.”

9JM added “was” many years after he wrote the original draft of his notes.

10For evidence that this was approximately the average rate of exchange during the year following 18 March 1780, when many northern states had called in the old continental currency, see Burnett, Letters description begins Edmund C. Burnett, ed., Letters of Members of the Continental Congress (8 vols.; Washington, 1921–36). description ends , V, 75, 83, 325, 419, 447, 449, 453, 546; VI, 23–24, 28 n.

11While by “stipulated rate” JM referred to that of 1 for 40, by “current rate” he referred back to the certificates that, “being now negotiated at the rate of three or four for one,” in reality increased the ratio from 1 for 120 to 1 for 160. Thus, to set the rate officially at 1 for 100 would lean “to the side of liberality.” Among the “other securities” were, above all, the interest-bearing certificates issued by the loan offices, and also the certificates given by the army quartermaster and commissary departments in return for supplies (Merrill Jensen, The New Nation, pp. 38–39, 41–42, 390–91). The members of the grand committee who favored a rate of 1 for 100 or 1 for 150 may have hoped that so high a ratio would shock large holders of depreciated paper sufficiently to refocus their interest upon Congress for the purpose of securing a re-evaluation which eventually would yield them large profits. See Brant, Madison description begins Irving Brant, James Madison (6 vols.; Indianapolis and New York, 1941–61). description ends , II, 216–17.

12See n. 7, above.

13The “Southern Delegates” on the grand committee were John Rutledge, chairman, of South Carolina, Hugh Williamson of North Carolina, and JM. For the depreciation of the currency in Virginia, 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 , IV, 27; 48, n. 4; 362, n. 43.

14See 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 , IV, 123, n. 2; 175, n. 3; Notes on Debates, 26 November 1782, and nn. 3, 5, 7, 8, 10. Judging from the handwriting, JM inserted “Mr. Madison” many years after he wrote the original draft of his notes.

15The “principle” was implied by the following extract from the preamble of the ordinance of 18 March 1780 respecting continental “bills of credit”: “insomuch that they are now passed, by common consent, in most parts of these United States, at least 39–40ths below their nominal value” (JCC description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds., Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789 (34 vols.; Washington, 1904–37). description ends , XVI, 263).

16For the report of the grand committee, see Notes on Debates, 24 December 1782.

17That is, about what rate of depreciation to recommend to Congress. Before adjourning, the grand committee adopted FitzSimons’ motion. See n. 4, above; JM to Randolph, 10 December 1782.

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