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Notes on Debates, [14] January 1783

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.

No. V

Congress adjourned for the meeting of The Grand Committee to whom was referred the report concerning the valuation of the lands and who accordingly met.2

The Committee were in general strongly impressed with the extreme difficulty & inequality if not impracticability of fulfilling the article of Confederation relative to this point;3 Mr. Rutlidge however excepted, who altho’ he did not think the rule so good a one as a census of inhabitants, thought it less impracticable than the other members. And if the valuation of lands had not been prescribed by the fœderal articles, the Committee wd. certainly have preferred some other rule of apportionment, particularly that of numbers under certain qualifications as to Slaves. As the fœderal Constitution however left no option, & a few* only were disposed to recommend to the States an alteration of it,4 it was necessary to proceed 1st. to settle its meaning, 2dly. to settle the least objectionable mode of valuation. On the first point, it was doubted by several members wher. the returns which the report under consideration required from the States would not be final and whether the Arts: of Confn: wd. allow Congress to alter them after they had fixed on this mode:5 on this point no vote was taken. a 2d. question afterwards raised in the course of the discussion was how far the Art: required a specific valuation, and how far it gave a latitude as to the mode. on this point also there was a diversity of opinions,6 but no vote taken.

2dly. As to the mode itself referred to the Gd. Comme., it was strongly objected to by the Delegate from Cont. Mr. Dyer, by Mr. Hamilton, by Mr. Wilson by Mr. Caroll & by Mr. Madison, as leaving the States too much to the bias of interest, as well as too uncertain & tedious in the execution.7 In favr. of the Rept. was Mr. Rutlidge the father of it, who thought the honor of the States & their mutual confidence a sufficient security agst. frauds & the suspicion of them. Mr. Ghoram favd. the report also, as the least impracticable mode, and as it was necessary to attempt at least some compliance with the fœderal rule before any attempt could be properly made to vary it. An opinion intertained by Massachusts that she was comparatively in advance to the U. S. made her anxious for a speedy settlement of the mode by which a final apportionment of the common burden cd. be effected.8 The sentiments of the other members of the Committee were not expressed.

Mr. Hamilton proposed in lieu of a referrence of the valuation to the States, to class the lands throughout the States under distinctive descriptions, viz arable, pasture, wood &c. and to annex a uniform rate to the several classes according [to] their different comparative values calling on the States only for a return of the quantities & descriptions. This mode would have been acceptable to the more compact & populous States, but was totally inadmissible to the Southern States.9

Mr. Wilson proposed that returns of the quantity of land & of the number of inhabitants in the respective States sd. be obtain’d, and a rule deduced from the combination of these data. This also would have affected the States in a similar manner with the proposition of Mr. Hamilton. On the part of the So. States it was observed that besides its being at variance with the text of the Confederation10 it would work great injustice, as would every mode which admitted the quantity of lands within the States, into the measure of their comparative wealth & abilities.

Lastly it was proposed by Mr Madison that a valuation sd. be attempted by Congress without the intervention of the States.11 He observed that as the expence attending the operation would come ultimately from the same pockets, it was not very material whether it was borne in the first instance by Congress or the States, and that it at least deserved consideration whether this mode was not preferable to the proposed reference to the States.

This conversation ended in the appt. of a Subcommittee consisting of Mr. Madison Mr. Carroll & Mr. Wilson who were desired to consider the several modes proposed, to confer with the Superintendt of Finance, & make such report to the Gd. Come. as they sd. judge fit.12

1Many years later, to amend the erroneous dating of his original caption, JM interlineated the correct day “14” in brackets without canceling “15th.” For a probable explanation of the Roman numeral above the date, 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.

2For the appointment of the Rutledge committee on this subject, for the first submission of the report to Congress, and for the “valuation” provision of the Articles of Confederation, see JM Notes, 9–10 Jan., and nn. 2, 3, 8; 13 Jan. 1783. See also n. 7, below. Having on 13 January appointed, and referred the report to, a grand committee comprising the twelve members (Georgia was then unrepresented in Congress), each of whom had been nominated by his state delegation, Congress directed the committee to “meet in the comte room tuesday Jany 14 in the afternoon at six o’clock” (NA: PCC, No. 186, fol. 79). Congress adjourned by that hour, for, in accord with Article 19 of the “Rules for conducting business,” every delegate “may attend the debates of a grand committee” (JCC description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds., Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789 (34 vols.; Washington, 1904–37). description ends , XX, 479).

4See JM’s footnote. Probably only “a few” in Congress shared the more or less “strenuous” wish of Alexander Hamilton, James Wilson (Pa.), JM, and Nathaniel Gorham to have the states agree to a change in the “rule of apportionment” stipulated by the Articles of Confederation, because an amendment to become effective required the ratification of every state legislature. “We are,” Hamilton wrote to George Clinton, governor of New York, “tied down by the Confederation” (Syrett and Cooke, Papers of Hamilton description begins Harold C. Syrett and Jacob E. Cooke, eds., The Papers of Alexander Hamilton (15 vols. to date; New York, 1961——). description ends , III, 241).

“The declared sense of Virga.” was a resolution enacted by the General Assembly in its session of May 1782 and laid before Congress by the Virginia delegates on 24 July of that year, stating that “it will not be expedient to authorise Congress to alter the mode appointed by the Confederation, for apportioning the quotas of the respective states, as is proposed in the act of 20 February, 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, 413; 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 , IV, 55; 57, n. 6). Gorham had first attended Congress on 12 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, 786).

5The “several members” evidently doubted whether Congress, if it adopted the Rutledge report, could change data sent in by a sovereign state so as to make them accord with the stipulations of that report. In other words, would Congress have the constitutional right to devise a single standard whereby to measure and equalize the returns?

6Article VIII of the Articles of Confederation delegated to Congress the power to “direct” and “from time to time” to alter the mode to be used by each state for evaluating within its borders the privately owned land, “as such land and the buildings and improvements thereon shall be estimated” (JCC description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds., Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789 (34 vols.; Washington, 1904–37). description ends , XIX, 217). Doubt is warranted whether Congress in prescribing “the mode” could require a separate listing of the value of these three types of property, or whether, if so, a consolidated figure for each type, rather than “a specific valuation” of each type, shown opposite the name of the owner, would be sufficient.

Furthermore, if the grammatical construction of the relevant sentence in Article VIII must be solely depended upon to define its meaning, unimproved land on which there were no buildings might thereby be exempted. Until the issues of the western cessions and their controversial boundaries should be resolved, great quantities of land might be either taxed more than once, or, more likely, not taxed at all for the benefit of the Confederation.

7See n. 4. “Mr. Caroll” was Daniel Carroll of Maryland. The government of a state would be inclined from “a bias of interest” to underestimate the value of privately owned land within the state in order to keep its financial quota as small as possible.

“Uncertain” and “tedious” reflect the following complicated “mode” recommended by the Rutledge committee: (1) each state legislature, as it might “judge most convenient and proper,” would divide the state into districts and appoint in each district “principal” resident “freeholders” to make the valuation; (2) these “commissioners” would return a “schedule” to the executive of the state listing the name of each landowner and the value “in specie dollars” of his land, buildings, and improvements; (3) the executive, on or before 1 January 1784, would “transmit to Congress” a copy of the state’s valuation law and the “returns” of the quantity and value of land and of the buildings and improvements thereon in each district; (4) Congress would “examine” the estimates from each state and “proceed,” provided the estimates were “approved,” “to make such requisitions upon the respective states, as shall be agreeable to the Articles of Confederation.” Of this summary, the fourth portion may have been added to the Rutledge report after 15 January 1783 (JCC description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds., Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789 (34 vols.; Washington, 1904–37). description ends , XXIV, 113, and n.).

8Although by 31 December 1782 Massachusetts had paid merely 7 per cent of her quota for that year, she was exceeded in this respect only by Connecticut, Rhode Island, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania (NA: PCC, No. 137, II, 757–61).

9With the exception of New York, where the old “patroonships” of the Hudson River Valley remained in relatively few hands and imposed a barrier to expansion of the population, the ratio of land to inhabitants was measurably higher in the southern states than in those north of Chesapeake Bay. Much land, especially the enormous acreages west of the Appalachians held by Georgia, North Carolina, and Virginia, had not been surveyed, but to tax it, under whatever classification, would have been manifestly unfair to these war-ravaged southern states.

Many years later a son of Hamilton denied that his father made so “impracticable” a recommendation, for it contravened the eighth article of the Articles of Confederation and hence “would certainly have been rejected by the States” (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, 399 n.). The younger Hamilton so interpreted the eighth article as to limit its application to those lands only upon which there were “buildings and improvements.” See n. 6. He did not know, because the information was not to be found in the printed journals of Congress available in his day, that on 6 February 1783 his father unsuccessfully moved in Congress that the states “be required” to form themselves into districts and report to Congress the “quantity of land” therein, including that “unimproved” (Syrett and Cooke, Papers of Hamilton description begins Harold C. Syrett and Jacob E. Cooke, eds., The Papers of Alexander Hamilton (15 vols. to date; New York, 1961——). description ends , III, 249; JCC description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds., Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789 (34 vols.; Washington, 1904–37). description ends , XXIV, 114 n.).

John Church Hamilton was convinced that JM often falsified his notes in order to asperse the reputation of Alexander Hamilton (John C. Hamilton, History of the Republic, II, 356 n., 358 n., 362 n., 368 n., 374 n., 439 n.; 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, 234; 379, n. 7). JM and Hamilton in 1783 were closely attuned on most ways and means of providing Congress with money. The proposal here at issue accorded with Hamilton’s nationalism and his view of the land-valuation dilemma (n. 4, above; JM Notes, 27 Jan., and n. 23; 28 Jan., and nn. 12, 45; 31 Jan. 1783, and n. 17). For evidence of the concord between the two men on financial questions submitted to tallied votes in Congress, see JCC description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds., Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789 (34 vols.; Washington, 1904–37). description ends , XXIV, 39–42, 94, 115–16, 131–32.

10JM Notes, 9–10 Jan. 1783, n. 3; also n. 4, above.

11Article VIII of the Articles of Confederation sanctioned JM’s nationalistic proposal.

12For the conference of this subcommittee with Robert Morris, see JM Notes, 31 Jan. 1783.

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.]

* Mr. Hamilton was most strenuous on this point. Mr. Wilson also favd. the idea. Mr. Madison also but restrained in some measure by the declared sense of Virga.: Mr. Ghoram, and several others also, but wishing a previous experience.

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