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Report on Memorial of Massachusetts General Court, [19 September] 1783

Report on Memorial of Massachusetts General Court

MS (NA: PCC, No. 20, I, 155–56).

Editorial Note

In a memorial of 11 July to Congress, the General Court of Massachusetts justified its refusal to sanction the impost proposed in the Plan for Restoring Public Credit by protesting against the high salaries paid to Congress’ too numerous civil officials and the full pay promised to officers of the continental army for five years. This latter was “more than an adequate reward for their Services and, inconsistent with that Equality which ought to subsist among citizens of free and Republican states.” The memorial also emphasized that those measures, besides violating “the spirit and general Design of the Confederation,” were so contrary to the ideals of “Frugality and Virtue,” inherited by citizens of Massachusetts from “their Ancestry,” as to produce “the greatest Concern and uneasiness, and involve the Legislature thereof in no small Embarrassments” (NA: PCC, No. 65, II, 185–88; JCC description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds., Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789 (34 vols.; Washington, 1904–37). description ends , XXV, 607–8). For comments by JM on this unrest, for the receipt by Congress of the memorial, and for its referral to successive committees, see Pendleton to JM, 21 July, n. 6; JM to Randolph, 21 July, and n. 5; 12 Aug.; 18 Aug., and n. 8; 8 Sept., and n. 8; to Jefferson, 11 Aug., and n. 19; to Pendleton, 8 Sept. 1783, and n. 6.

On 2 September a report on the memorial was submitted by a committee of which James Duane was chairman. Six days later Samuel Huntington, chairman of a new committee, submitted “the first part” of a revised report, dealing only with the issue of the civil officials’ salaries. Gaillard Hunt inserted that “part” in the journal of Congress under the date of 16 September, when consideration was resumed (JCC description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds., Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789 (34 vols.; Washington, 1904–37). description ends , XXV, 571–73). On 17 September 1783 Congress recommitted the Huntington report to a third committee, with Duane again chairman (JCC description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds., Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789 (34 vols.; Washington, 1904–37). description ends , XXV, 572, n. 1). Thereby and thereafter, the “civil-list” issue, precipitated by the memorial, was usually separated from the issue of the army officers’ full pay for five years (NA: PCC, No. 186, fol. 125; JCC description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds., Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789 (34 vols.; Washington, 1904–37). description ends , XXIV, 483, n. 2; XXV, 571–74, 572, n. 1, 577, 584, 623–25, 625, n. 1; XXVII, 405; Burnett, Letters description begins Edmund C. Burnett, ed., Letters of Members of the Continental Congress (8 vols.; Washington, 1921–36). description ends , VII, 296).

On 18 September Congress appointed a committee, composed of JM, chairman, John Francis Mercer, and James Duane, to reconsider the portion of the original Duane committee’s report of 2 September dealing with the Massachusetts memorial’s protest against the pledge of full pay for five years (JCC description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds., Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789 (34 vols.; Washington, 1904–37). description ends , XXIV, 483, n. 2; XXV, 582–85, 584, n. 1). Although the report of the Madison committee, submitted on 19 September, is two paragraphs longer than that of the Duane committee, this difference arises mainly from the division of some of the paragraphs in the latter report and the elaboration of the contents rather than from marked changes in the conclusions or in the arguments sustaining them. The first and third paragraphs of the Madison committee’s report and the first and second paragraphs of its predecessor are almost identical; the last two paragraphs of both reports, dealing briefly with the civil-list issue, are entirely so (JCC description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds., Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789 (34 vols.; Washington, 1904–37). description ends , XXV, 582–84, 609–12).

The only manuscript of the Madison committee’s report known to exist is a fair copy made by a clerk after Congress had adopted the amended report on 25 September 1783. For this reason, the clerk’s copy provides no clue to the identification of the member or members of the committee who drafted one or another portion of that report (NA: PCC, No. 20, fols. 147–48). Filed with the manuscript, however, are two folios in JM’s hand, reproduced below, three in Mercer’s hand, and three almost entirely in that of Duane (NA: PCC, No. 20, fols. 149–53, 155, 156, 159). The last three are a rough copy of the portions of the Duane committee’s report which were incorporated virtually unchanged in that of the Madison committee. Taken together, these eight folios reveal at least most of the contribution by each member of the committee.

[19 September 1783]

The Come. to whom was referred the Report on the Memorial of the Massts. Legislature recommend the following alterations1

1st. To prefix to the 2d paragraph these words viz. “That without dwelling on the reasonableness & justice of a provision in favor of those whose former professions pursuits and prospects have in a long course of military service given place to habits & acquirements which on the return of peace, however honorable they may be to the possessor, cease to be a source of profit to him; or urging the example of other nations who have considered such provision as indispensable since war is become a Science & is carried on by regular armies”2

2d. after “Yet” in line 7 of ¶ 2d.3 to insert “It is to be considered that the diversity of sentiments and circumstances among the Constituents of Congress must often render partial disapprobations an inevitable consequence of measures which in a collective view have the most salutary tendency, and that4

1That is, in the report of the Duane committee (JCC description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds., Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789 (34 vols.; Washington, 1904–37). description ends , XXV, 582–84).

2The words beginning with “or urging” and ending with “regular armies” were deleted, evidently in a session of the committee; but with or without this deletion, the words closing with “viz.” at the outset of the paragraph mean that the portion of it enclosed in quotation marks was intended to be joined to the “2d paragraph” of the Duane committee’s report. In the journal, however, Charles Thomson, secretary of Congress, indented both prefix and paragraph, thus conveying the appearance of two separate paragraphs (JCC description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds., Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789 (34 vols.; Washington, 1904–37). description ends , XXV, 585, 609).

3JM should have written “after ‘Yet’ in line 7 of ¶ 3d” rather than “2d.” of the manuscript of the Duane committee report (NA: PCC, No. 20, fol. 149). As printed in the journal, the reference becomes line 9 of the fourth indentation, or if a paragraph be accepted in the sense of writing that must end with a completed sentence, the reference is to line 9 of the third paragraph.

4In the manuscript a crosshatch, probably exemplifying a decision reached within the committee, cancels JM’s suggestion. Besides including JM’s first addendum, the Madison committee chiefly altered the Duane committee’s report by inserting between its third and fourth paragraphs three others drafted by Mercer (NA: PCC, No. 20, fols. 151–53).

On 19 September, following the submission of the Madison committee’s report to Congress, David Howell, seconded by Silas Condict, moved to strike “constitutionally and” from the passage in the third from last paragraph of the report reading: “yet as it [the commutation] is not now under the arbitration of Congress, but an act constitutionally and finally adopted.” An effort to prevent the deletion of these two words was defeated by a tallied vote showing that their retention was desired by only five of the nine states effectively represented in Congress (JCC description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds., Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789 (34 vols.; Washington, 1904–37). description ends , XXV, 586–87, 612). The clerk’s copy of the Madison committee’s report omits “constitutionally and” and all other cancellations in the report as submitted to Congress or made necessary by amendments in Congress. For this reason there is no doubt that the clerk’s copy was prepared on or after 25 September. See ed. n. On that day, probably after further amending the report, Congress adopted it by a vote of seven to two (Rhode Island and New Jersey). Maryland, having only one delegate present, cast an ineffective “ay” vote. New Hampshire and Massachusetts, also underrepresented, each cast an ineffective “no” vote (JCC description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds., Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789 (34 vols.; Washington, 1904–37). description ends , XXV, 613; Burnett, Letters description begins Edmund C. Burnett, ed., Letters of Members of the Continental Congress (8 vols.; Washington, 1921–36). description ends , VII, 316–17).

The adoption of the report failed to quiet the opposition of Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and Connecticut. Despite the favorable vote of the Connecticut delegates, a protest from the House of Representatives of that state obliged Congress to appoint another committee and consider another report similar in tenor to that of the Madison committee (JCC description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds., Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789 (34 vols.; Washington, 1904–37). description ends , XXV, 786; XXVI, 100–103, 135, 265–69; XXVII, 397, 404; Burnett, Letters description begins Edmund C. Burnett, ed., Letters of Members of the Continental Congress (8 vols.; Washington, 1921–36). description ends , VII, 462, 473, 480, 513, 518).

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