Thomas Jefferson Papers
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Jefferson’s Annotated Copy of Franklin’s Proposed Articles of Confederation, [June–July 1775]

Jefferson’s Annotated Copy of Franklin’s Proposed Articles of Confederation

[June-July 1775]

Articles of confederation and perpetual Union proposed by1 the delegates of the several colonies of New Hampshire &c. in General Congress met at Philadelphia May. 10. 1775.

Theº name of this confederacy shall henceforth be ‘The united <colonies>2 states of North3 America.’

Theº said united colonies hereby severally enter into a firm league of friendship with each other binding on themselves and their posterity for their common defence against their enemies for the security of their liberties and properties, the safety of their persons and families4 and their5 mutual and general welfare.

Thatº each colony shall enjoy and retain as much as it may think fit of it’s o[wn] present6 laws, customs,6 rights, privileges and peculiar7 jurisdictions within it’s own limits; and may amend it’s own constitution as shall seem best to it’s own assembly or convention.

Thatº for the more convenient management of general interests, delegates shall be annually elected in each colony to meet in General congress at such time and place8 as shall be agreed on in the next preceding Congress. Only where particular circumstances do not make a deviation necessary, it is understood to be a rule that each succeeding Congress be held in a different colony till the whole number be gone through and so in perpetual rotation; and that accordingly the next Congress after the present shall be held at [Annapolis in Maryland].9

Thatº the power and duty of the Congress shall extend to the determining on war and peace,10 the entring into alliances, the reconciliation with Great-Britain;11 the settling all disputes and differences between colony and colony12 if such should arise; and the planting of new colonies when proper. The Congress shall also make such general ordinances as, tho’ necessary to the general welfare, particular assemblies cannot be competent to viz. those that may relate to our general commerce, or general currency, to the establishment of posts, the regulation of our common forces. The Congress shall also have the appointment of all officers civil and military appurtaining to the General confederacy, such as General Treasurer, Secretary &c.

Allº charges of wars and all other general expences to be incurred for the common welfare, shall be defrayed out of a common treasury, which is to be supplyed by each colony in proportion to it’s number of male polls between 16. and 60. years of age; the taxes for paying that proportion are to be laid and levied by the laws of each colony.

Theº number of Delegates to be elected and sent to the Congress by each colony shall be regulated from time to time by the number of such polls returned; so as that one Delegate be allowed for every [5000.] polls,13 and the Delegates are to bring with them to every Congress, an authenticated return of the number of polls in their respective provinces which is to be triennially taken for the purposes abovementioned.

Eachº Delegate at the Congress shall have a vote in all cases, and if necessarily absent shall be allowed to appoint any other Delegate from the same colony to be his proxy who may vote for him. At every meeting of the Congress a majority one half14 of the members returned exclusive of proxies shall be necessary to make a Quorum.

Anº executive council shall be appointed by the Congress out of their own body, consisting of [12.]15 persons; one person from each colony;16 of whom in the first appointment one third viz. [4.] shall be for one year, [4] for two years, and [4] for three years; and as the said terms expire the vacancies shall be filled by appointments for three years, whereby one third of the members will be changed annually, and each person who has served the said term of three years as counsellor shall have a respite of three years before he can be elected again.17 This council (of whom two thirds shall be a Quorum) in the Recess of the Congress is to execute what shall have been enjoined thereby, to manage the general Continental business and interests, to receive applications from foreign countries, to prepare matters for the consideration of the Congress; to fill up pro tempore Continental offices that fall vacant; and to draw on the general Treasurer for such monies as may be necessary for general services and appropriated by the congress to such services.

Noº colony shall engage in an offensive war with any nation of Indians without the consent of the Congress or great council abovementioned who are first to consider the justice and necessity of such war.

Aº perpetual alliance offensive and defensive is to be entered into as soon as may be with the Indian six18 nations; their limits to be19 secured to them; their lands not to be encroached on, nor any private or colony purchases made of them hereafter to be held good; nor any contract for lands to be made but between the great council of the Indians at Onondaga20 and the General congress. The boundaries and lands of all the other Indians shall also be ascertained and secured to them in the same manner; and persons appointed to reside among them in proper districts who shall take care to prevent injustice in the trade with them, and be enabled at our general expence by occasional small supplies to relieve their personal wants and distresses, and all purchases from them shall be by the Congress for the General advantage and benefit of the United colonies.21

Asº all new institutions may have imperfections which only time and experience can discover, it is agreed, that the General Congress from time to time shall propose such amendments of this constitution as may be found necessary; which being approved by a majority of the colony assemblies, shall be equally binding with the rest of the articles of this Confederation.

Anyº and every colony from Great Britain upon the continent of North America not at present engaged in our association may upon application and joining the said association be received into this Confederation, viz. Quebec, Canada, St. John’s, Nova Scotia, Bermudas, and the East and West Floridas:22 and shall thereupon be entitled to all the advantages and obligations23 of our union, mutual assistance and commerce.

These articles shall be proposed to the several provincial conventions or assemblies to be by them considered and if approved they are advised to empower their delegates to agree to and ratify the same in the ensuing Congress: after which the union thereby established is to continue firm till24 the terms of reconciliation proposed in the petition of the last Congress to the king are agreed to, till the acts since made restraining the American commerce and fisheries are repealed, till reparation is made for the injury done to Boston by shutting up it’s port; for the burning of Charlestown, and for the expence of this unjust war; and till all the British troops are withdrawn from America. On the arrival of these events, the colonies are to return to their former connection and friendship with Britain: but on failure thereof this Confederation is to be perpetual.25

Tr (DLC); copy in TJ’s hand, with “additions” and comments by him.

This is the plan of union as drawn by Benjamin Franklin and read in Congress on 21 July 1775, though not acted upon at that time. TJ’s observations upon it are of the first importance; an amendment offered by him to the 1776 revision of the Franklin plan by Dickinson and the committee of which he was a member is equally important. While there is no evidence to show that TJ made this copy in 1775, there is both his own statement and internal evidence indicating that he probably transcribed and almost certainly made use of it when the matter came officially before Congress in 1776. Of this plan of union TJ wrote in 1786: “I was absent from Congress from the beginning of January, 1776, to the middle of May. Either just before I left Congress, or immediately on my return to it (I rather think it was the former) Doctor Franklin put into my hands the draught of a plan of confederation, desiring me to read it and tell him what I thought of it. I approved it highly” (TJ to François Soulès, 13 Sep. 1786). The notes below indicate that TJ’s copy was not transcribed from the MS in Franklin’s handwriting that was read before Congress; that MS (DLC: PCC, No. 47:1–7; printed in JCC description begins Worthington C. Ford and others, eds., Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789, Washington, D.C., 1904–37, 34 vols. description ends , ii, 195) was probably not the only one made by Franklin, but it is the only one known to be extant. Numerous other copies of Franklin’s plan were made by members of Congress, and there is evidence that some of these were intended for circulation to legislatures or conventions of the several colonies, though Congress took no official action on Franklin’s plan. For example, “A Draught of Articles of Confederacy, proposed for the Consideration of the several Colonies in North America was brought into [the Provincial] Congress” of North Carolina on 24 Aug. 1775, and the secretary was ordered to “furnish the delegates for each County with a Copy thereof” (Colonial Records of N. Car., x, 174–9). This draft was prefaced by a statement, evidently prepared by the North Carolina delegates in Congress, that the plan should “be considered not as having had the sanction of the Continental Congress, or Recommended by them, or as expressing the Sentiments of the Delegates who Represented this province in the last Continental Congress,” but “as a Subject which will be proposed to the Continental Congress at their next session” and as Articles to be “dispassionately Debated and approved or Condemned upon their own Intrinsick merits.” This proliferation of copies in North Carolina resulted in publication in England, though the title and first Article were lacking in all cases (Gent. Mag., xlv [1775], 572–3; Scot’s Magazine, xxxvii [1775], 665–7). Publication in the Annual Register for 1775 (“Chronicle,” p. 252–3), however, proceeded evidently from another source, for its title was not only present but given as “Articles of Confederation and Perpetual Union entered into by the several colonies of New Hampshire, &c.” (italics supplied). A variation of the Franklin Plan also appeared in the Pennsylvania Evening Post, 5 Mch. 1776. Other copies of the Franklin Plan are: (1) copy (Ct), which varies in important respects from the Franklin MS; (2) copy in John Hancock’s hand (Mhi: Miscellany), which agrees most closely with the Franklin MS and was very probably copied from it; (3) copy in an unidentified hand (MHi: Miscellany); (4) copy (NHi: Duane Papers); (5) copy in a hand attributed to George Wythe and with some “Remarks by G:W” (DLC: PCC, Miscellany; JCC description begins Worthington C. Ford and others, eds., Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789, Washington, D.C., 1904–37, 34 vols. description ends , ii, 199).

The Franklin plan was unquestionably before the committee appointed 12 June 1776 “to prepare and digest the form of a confederation to be entered into between these colonies” (JCC description begins Worthington C. Ford and others, eds., Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789, Washington, D.C., 1904–37, 34 vols. description ends , v, 433). The draft reported on 12 July 1776 is in John Dickinson’s handwriting and follows the Franklin Plan in many particulars, though with important additions and variations (DLC: PCC, No. 47: 9–18; JCC description begins Worthington C. Ford and others, eds., Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789, Washington, D.C., 1904–37, 34 vols. description ends , v, 546–54). This draft contains an amendment in TJ’s hand (see note 21, below). The draft reported by the committee was ordered to be printed under strict injunctions of secrecy (JCC description begins Worthington C. Ford and others, eds., Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789, Washington, D.C., 1904–37, 34 vols. description ends , v, 555–6; Evans 15148); a copy of this printing of the committee report is in DLC: TJ Papers, 1:5; 1:140–1; it contains annotations by TJ, though these are principally indications of amendments made in the course of debates (JCC description begins Worthington C. Ford and others, eds., Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789, Washington, D.C., 1904–37, 34 vols. description ends , v, 674–89; see Notes of Proceedings in the Continental Congress, below). The revision of this committee report by Congress was also printed (JCC description begins Worthington C. Ford and others, eds., Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789, Washington, D.C., 1904–37, 34 vols. description ends , v, 689; Evans 15149), and a copy of it is in DLC: TJ Papers, 2: 292–4, but contains no marginalia or notes by TJ, since the subject did not come before Congress again during his period of service in 1776. Thereafter his connection with the progress of the Articles of Confederation was indirect, being confined to the suggestion made to John Adams concerning a compromise solution to the vexed problem of methods of voting (TJ to John Adams, 16 May 1777), and to his comments to J. N. Démeunier (see TJ’s Observations on the Article Etats-Unis, 22 June 1786).

1Franklin MS reads “proposed <agre>” with the words “entred into” interlined above.

2All copies of the Franklin MS listed above read “colonies”; TJ must have added the word “states” during 1776, perhaps during the debates of July and August, since the report of the Committee of 12 July 1776 in Dickinson’s hand employed the word “colonies” (except in the title).

3The word “North” is enclosed by rectangular lines; the significance of this and other similar markings noted below is not always clear.

4The words “for the security … persons & families” are enclosed in rectangular lines; the copy in Ct omits this phrase in Franklin MS: “the Safety of their Persons and Families.”

5Above “their” TJ inserted “(a)” and, on the last page of his copy, wrote this significant comment: “(a) qu. what ‘their mutual and general welfare’ means. There should be no vague terms in an instrument of this kind. It’s objects should be precisely and determinately fixed.”

6This word is enclosed in rectangular lines.

7The words “privileges and peculiar” are enclosed in rectangular lines.

8The words “and place” are enclosed in rectangular lines.

9Brackets in MS.

10The Franklin MS has the following interlined at this point: “sending and receiving ambassadors and.” Neither TJ’s copy nor any of those listed above includes this interlineation, indicating that the addition must have been made after the Franklin Plan was read 21 July 1775, or that TJ and the other copyists employed a different prototype. See note 12, below.

11The phrase “the reconciliation with Great-Britain” is enclosed in rectangular lines in TJ’s copy and bracketed in Franklin MS.

12The Franklin MS has the following interlined at this point: “about Limits or any other cause.” Neither the copy by TJ nor any of the others listed above includes this addition; see note 10 above.

13Above “[5000.]” (brackets in MS) TJ interlined “(b) 10,000” and, on the last page of his copy, wrote the following: “(b) a vote for every 10,000 male polls will make 75. members in the whole, supposing we have 3. millions. But this clause should go further and have some such clause as this ‘provided that when by the increase of male polls the whole number of delegates shall be likely to amount to more than one hundred the Congress shall so <adjust> al<lot>ter and adjust the number of male polls entitled to send a delegate as that there shall not be more than 100. <in the> nor less than 50. in the whole: and so from time to time as the increase or decrease of male polls may require, the members shall be so adjusted as to keep the whole number of delegates within those limits.’” TJ’s Draft of a Constitution for Virginia included a similar provision for maximum and minimum representation, with the right of adjustment according to fluctuation in voting population vested in the legislature.

14The words “one half” are enclosed in rectangular lines and the words “a majority” are interlined above. In the Franklin MS the words “At every meeting … to make a Quorum, and” are written in the margin and a caret inserted at the beginning of the words “Each Delegate at the Congress. …” The copy by Hancock, the copy in the Duane Papers, and the North Carolina copy follow the arrangement indicated by Franklin; the fact that copies by TJ and others depart from this sequence is an indication that they were using a different prototype.

15The brackets around “12” and the numbers that follow in this paragraph are in both Franklin’s MS and in TJ’s copy of it.

16The words “[12.] persons” are enclosed in rectangular lines, and the words “one person from each colony” are interlined.

17It is to be noted that TJ’s Draft of a Constitution for Virginia provided for a somewhat similar method of overlapping of terms of service in the Senate.

18The word “six” is enclosed in rectangular lines and the word “Indian” interlined above.

19Franklin MS has the words “ascertain’d and” interlined at this point.

20The words “at Onondaga” and, following this, the words “the boundaries … in the same manner” are enclosed in rectangular lines.

21Opposite Article xiv of the MS of the Dickinson draft of 12 July 1776 (corresponding to the subject matter of Article XI of the Franklin plan) there is a slip of paper in TJ’s hand, with the following words in Charles Thomson’s hand written on it: “Amendment proposed.” This highly significant amendment offered by TJ reads as follows: “Art. xiv. No purchases hereafter to be made by individual states or persons of lands on this continent not within the boundaries of any of the United states, shall be valid: but all purchases of such lands shall be made by contract between the United states assembled or persons authorized by them, and the great Councils of the Indians; and when purchased shall be given freely to those who may be permitted to seat them.” The italicized words have lines drawn through them, probably because this part of the proposed amendment was struck out before the whole was rejected (JCC description begins Worthington C. Ford and others, eds., Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789, Washington, D.C., 1904–37, 34 vols. description ends , v, 680). Abernethy, Western Lands, p. 170–1, citing E. S. Corwin, French Policy and the American Alliance of 1778, and W. H. Mohr, Federal Indian Relations, 1774–1788, asserts that a determined effort was made by Franklin, Dickinson, and others to secure for Congress the right to fix boundaries “of the States claiming Western lands” and to make all purchases of territory from the Indians and that the Virginia delegates opposed this. As to the former (right to fix state boundaries), TJ opposed it; but as to the latter (right to control purchases of lands lying outside state boundaries), TJ’s amendment, which he offered on 25 July 1776, proves that the Virginia delegation was not unanimously opposed (JCC description begins Worthington C. Ford and others, eds., Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789, Washington, D.C., 1904–37, 34 vols. description ends , vi, 1076–7, 1083).

22The word “Quebec” is enclosed in rectangular lines and the word “Canada” interlined above; Franklin MS reads: “[Ireland], the West India Islands, Quebec, St. Johns, Nova Scotia, Bermudas, and the East and West-Floridas.”

23The words “and obligations” do not appear in Franklin MS or in any of the copies listed above and are interlined in TJ’s copy. They were perhaps inserted by TJ as a suggested alteration.

24All of the remainder of this paragraph was enclosed in rectangular lines. The copy of the Franklin plan in Ct ends at this point with the words: “the union thereby established is to continue firm and inviolate.”

25Following this TJ wrote: “Read before Congress July. 21. 1775.” and, on the next page three paragraphs headed “Additions.” The first of these reads: “No colony shall keep any standing forces without consent of General Congress or the colonies bordering on it.” The second and third paragraphs are given above in notes 5 and 13 respectively.

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.]

º Art. I.

º Art. II.

º Art. III.

º Art. IV.

º Art. V.

º Art. VI.

º Art. VII.

º Art. VII[I.]

º Art. IX.

º Art. X.

º Art. XI.

º Art. XII.

º Art. XIII.

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