James Madison Papers
Documents filtered by: Author="Madison, James"
sorted by: author

Amendment to Motion on John Laurens’ Mission, [12 July] 1782

Amendment to Motion on John Laurens’ Mission

MS (NA: PCC, No. 36, I, 347). Docketed, “Mr. Blands and Mr Scots Motion July 12. 1782.” In Bland’s hand, except for the passage written by JM and designated in n. 2, below.

Editorial Note

The background and outcome of Colonel John Laurens’ mission as a special minister of the United States to France have already been summarized (Papers of Madison description begins William T. Hutchinson, William M. E. Rachal, et al., eds., The Papers of James Madison (4 vols. to date; Chicago, 1962——). description ends , II, 207, n. 2; 239, n. 4; 259–60; 260, n. 9; III, 244; 245, n. 5; 247; 248, n. 2; 249; 250, n. 4).

Shortly before Laurens reached L’Orient on 9 March 1781, the court of Versailles had granted the United States a “free gift” of six million livres (Wharton, Revolutionary Diplomatic Correspondence description begins Francis Wharton, ed., The Revolutionary Diplomatic Correspondence of the United States (6 vols.; Washington, 1889). description ends , IV, 278, 281). Franklin proposed and Vergennes agreed that Laurens should use about two million livres of this total to purchase military matériel in France and that the rest of the specie should be shipped to America (ibid., IV, 418–19, 605–6). Insisting that the two million would not suffice to re-equip Washington’s troops, Laurens pressed for an additional grant. In Franklin’s opinion, Laurens “brusqued the ministers too much,” but they consented to have the king’s treasury stand as security for the repayment by Congress of a potential loan from Dutch bankers amounting to an additional ten million livres (ibid., IV, 355–59, 364–66, 391–92, 660–61). Louis XVI also agreed to advance this sum “as soon as possible,” if the “loan should meet with difficulties” (ibid., IV, 418). Although Laurens by 15 May had been notified “of the total refusal of the Dutch to countenance” the loan, he assumed that he was authorized to draw at once against the ten million as guaranteed by France (ibid., IV, 416, 688–89, 692). Prior to embarking for the United States on 1 June 1781 with 2,500,000 livres in specie and a part of the matériel, Laurens arranged with Franklin and Vergennes to have his secretary, Captain William Jackson, bring 1,500,000 livres to America as soon as he could complete the mission (ibid., IV, 545–46, 605–6, 692).

By acting hastily Laurens created the long-lasting and complicated problems reflected in the present motion. After purchasing from Commodore Alexander Gillon for £10,000 goods for which the latter had been unable to pay, Laurens arranged with Gillon to transport them and other supplies to America (ibid., IV, 382–83, 485, 781; Report on Foreign Dispatches, 20 March 1782, nn. 5 and 6). Although Vergennes had expected that the king’s gift of money would be used to purchase French wares, Laurens and Jackson bought heavily, including some goods of British origin, in the Netherlands (Wharton, Revolutionary Diplomatic Correspondence description begins Francis Wharton, ed., The Revolutionary Diplomatic Correspondence of the United States (6 vols.; Washington, 1889). description ends , IV, 383, 484).

News that Jackson had bought beyond the limit of his funds and, with Gillon, had also chartered two merchant vessels to transport the goods, reached Franklin soon after Laurens sailed for America. Lacking money to cover these unanticipated bills, failing to persuade Vergennes to come to his financial rescue, and recognizing that the credit of the United States was in jeopardy, Franklin informed Jackson that the 1,500,000 livres would have to be used to help satisfy his creditors rather than be taken to the United States (ibid., IV, 467–68, 484–85, 493, 522–23, 605–6). Following an acrimonious exchange of letters with Franklin, Jackson sailed with Gillon in August 1781 and finally reached Philadelphia on 28 February 1782 (ibid., IV, 529–31, 543–46, 546 n.; NA: PCC, No. 41, IV, 445–59, and especially fol. 451; JM to Randolph, 29 May 1782).

Jackson necessarily had left in Amsterdam the military stores for which he could not pay and the two vessels wherein these goods were stowed. Both the suppliers of the articles and the shipowners looked to Franklin for remuneration and heavy damages for non-fulfillment of contracts. Gillon’s creditors further complicated matters by seeking their due through “arresting” some of the goods bought by Jackson as Laurens’ agent (Wharton, Revolutionary Diplomatic Correspondence description begins Francis Wharton, ed., The Revolutionary Diplomatic Correspondence of the United States (6 vols.; Washington, 1889). description ends , IV, 705, 827; V, 514). At the time of the present motion and for many months thereafter, Franklin, Adams, and Thomas Barclay were still endeavoring to disentangle these transactions, effect settlements with the claimants, and thereby release for shipment to the United States the articles abandoned by Jackson in the Netherlands (ibid., IV, 835, 838; V, 114, 159–60, 163, 219, 514; Report on Foreign Dispatches, 20 March 1782, n. 6; JCC description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds., Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789 (34 vols.; Washington, 1904–37). description ends , XXV, 574).

In the meantime John Laurens had arrived in Philadelphia on 2 September 1781 and reported to Congress that Jackson would return before long in Gillon’s ship, bringing the balance of the specie and matériel (Wharton, Revolutionary Diplomatic Correspondence description begins Francis Wharton, ed., The Revolutionary Diplomatic Correspondence of the United States (6 vols.; Washington, 1889). description ends , IV, 685–92; JCC description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds., Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789 (34 vols.; Washington, 1904–37). description ends , XXI, 932). Jackson, however, having quarreled with Gillon, disembarked in Spain and reached Philadelphia empty-handed in the following February. While in Spain Jackson had written apologetically to Franklin, admitting that his distrust of Gillon and his refusal to permit the money to be carried on Gillon’s ship had been completely warranted (Wharton, Revolutionary Diplomatic Correspondence description begins Francis Wharton, ed., The Revolutionary Diplomatic Correspondence of the United States (6 vols.; Washington, 1889). description ends , IV, 546 n.).

Although Gillon had much to account for, he was greeted with acclaim when, after his West Indian exploits, he docked his frigate and prizes at Philadelphia on 29 May. He, too, had been aggrieved by Franklin (JM to Randolph, 29 May 1782; JCC description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds., Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789 (34 vols.; Washington, 1904–37). description ends , XXII, 309). By then Congress had received from Franklin at least two letters which included brief explanations of his dealings with Jackson and Gillon (JCC description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds., Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789 (34 vols.; Washington, 1904–37). description ends , XXII, 141 and n., 150–51, 290–91; Wharton, Revolutionary Diplomatic Correspondence description begins Francis Wharton, ed., The Revolutionary Diplomatic Correspondence of the United States (6 vols.; Washington, 1889). description ends , IV, 825–28; V, 218–19).

Ralph Izard began his term in Congress on 7 June, and Arthur Lee resumed his seat on the 27th of that month (Lee to JM, 24 May, n. 4; Jones to JM, 25 June, n. 15; JM to Randolph, 2 July 1782). They and Franklin’s other foes in Congress probably welcomed the opportunity to embarrass Franklin by having a committee investigate his conduct. In a letter to Samuel Adams on 6 August 1782, Arthur Lee designated Franklin’s withholding of the 1,500,000 livres from Jackson as equivalent to “an absolute robbery” (Burnett, Letters description begins Edmund C. Burnett, ed., Letters of Members of the Continental Congress (8 vols.; Washington, 1921–36). description ends , VI, 428–30).

[12 July 1782]

That Col: Laurense’s letters & reports to Congress1 concerning his Mission to the Court of France and the loans & donation in Specie obtaind from that court and the disposition made by him respecting the said Donation & loans—and respecting the purchases and Contracts made by him on the Credit thereof—and for freight &.c.2 [or by others & paid for out of monies obtained from the Ct of France on his application] be referred to a3 Committe4 to make strict enquiry into the Causes of detention of the money goods &c and report thereon to Congress5

1These letters and reports, dated 11, 19, and 20 March, 9 and 24 April, 15 May, 2 and 6 September 1781 are in NA: PCC, No. 165, fols. 53–262, passim. Most of the letters are printed in Wharton, Revolutionary Diplomatic Correspondence description begins Francis Wharton, ed., The Revolutionary Diplomatic Correspondence of the United States (6 vols.; Washington, 1889). description ends , IV, 278–79, 317–21, 355–57, 685–92, 700–701. For the receipt by Congress of these letters and reports on various dates between 28 May and 7 September 1781, see JCC description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds., Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789 (34 vols.; Washington, 1904–37). description ends , XX, 550, 577, 693, 751; XXI, 928, 940.

2Below and to the right of “&.c.,” JM placed a caret and then wrote at the bottom of the manuscript the succeeding passage through “application.” This passage was made a bracketed insertion within the motion. Following “obtained,” JM wrote and deleted “by him.” The purpose of JM’s amendment was clearly to inquire into Jackson’s and possibly Gillon’s conduct as well as Laurens’. JM probably struck out “by him” as tending to accept one version of a subject to be investigated.

3This word is interlineated above a deleted “the.”

4As originally written, “Committe” was followed by “Just Chosen to make strict enquiry into the Causes of detention of the money goods &c and report thereon to Congress.” Although ink lines were drawn through this passage, it was then repeated with the exception of “Just Chosen.” The deletion of these two words and the substitution of “a” for “the” (see n. 3) raise a question to which the printed journal provides no answer. Between the time of drafting and of introducing the motion, Bland and Scott either discovered that the committee to which they expected their motion to be referred had not been appointed, or that it would be more appropriate to have the proposed investigation made by a committee appointed solely for that purpose. The journal for 12 July fails to note any committee “Just Chosen” to which this investigation appropriately could have been assigned (JCC description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds., Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789 (34 vols.; Washington, 1904–37). description ends , XXII, 383–86).

5The editor of the JCC description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds., Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789 (34 vols.; Washington, 1904–37). description ends entered the motion as adopted by Congress in the journal for 12 July before the entry of the version introduced by Bland. Besides a few unimportant changes, chiefly in punctuation and capitalization, the adopted motion placed “on the credit thereof and for freight &c.” in parentheses, and deleted the brackets enclosing the passage contributed by JM (JCC description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds., Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789 (34 vols.; Washington, 1904–37). description ends , XXII, 384).

With Bland as chairman, and Jonathan Jackson (Mass.) and David Howell (R.I.) as the other members, the committee named to prosecute the inquiry was anti-Franklin in outlook. The committee’s report, written by Bland, first read to Congress on 26 September and finally spread upon the journal on 1 November 1782 (NA: PCC, No. 19, III, 449–56; JCC description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds., Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789 (34 vols.; Washington, 1904–37). description ends , XXIII, 700–705), was characterized by JM on 15 October as “shameless” and “unfair” in its treatment of Franklin, and as “one of the signal monuments which party zeal has produced” (Burnett, Letters description begins Edmund C. Burnett, ed., Letters of Members of the Continental Congress (8 vols.; Washington, 1921–36). description ends , VI, 508). See also Report on Congressional Inspection of Departments, 17 June 1782, editorial note.

Index Entries