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Notes on Debates, 25 February 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 Congress till Teusday 25.

In favor of the motion of Mr. Gilman [see Journal of this date]1 to refer the officers of the army for their half pay to their respective States2 it was urged that this plan alone would secure to the officers any advantage from that engagement: since Congress had no independent fund out of which it could be fulfilled, and the States of Cont. & R. I. in particular would not comply with any recommendation of Cong. nor even requisition for that purpose.3 It was also said that it would be satisfactory to the officers; and that it would apportion on the States that part of the public burden with sufficient equality. Mr. Dyer said that the original promise of Congress on that subject was considered by some of the States as a fetch upon them, and not within the spirit of the authority delegated to Congress.4 Mr. Wolcot said the States wd. give Congs. nothing whatever unless they were gratified in this particular. Mr. Collins said R. I. had expressly instructed her delegates to oppose every measure tending to an execution of the promise, out of monies under the disposition of Congress.5

On the other side it was urged that the half pay was a debt as solemnly contracted as any other debt; and was consequently as binding under the 12th article of Confederation on the States,6 & that they could not refuse a requisition made for that purpose; that it would be improper to countenance a spirit of that sort by yielding to it; that such concessions on the part of Congs. wd. produce compliances on the part of the States, in other instances, clogged with favorite conditions; that a reference of the officers to the particular States to whose lines they belong, would not be satisfactory to the officers of those States who objected to half pay,7 and would increase the present irritation of the army; that to do it without their unanimous consent would be a breach of the contract by which the U. S. collectively were bound to them; and above all that the proposed plan, which discharged any particular State which should settle with its officers on this subject, altho’ other States might reject the plan, from its proportion of that part of the public burden, was a direct and palpable departure from the law of the Confederation. According to this instrument the whole public burden of debt must be apportioned according to a valuation of land, nor cd. any thing but a unanimous concurrence of the States dispense with this law.8 According to the plan proposed so much of the public burden as the 1/2 pay sd. amount to, was to be apportioned according to the number of officers belonging to each line; the plan to take effect as to all those States which should adopt it, without waiting for the unanimous adoption of the States,9 and that if Congress had authority to make the number of officers the rule of apportioning one part of the public debt on the States, they might extend the rule to any other part or the whole, or might10 substitute any other arbitrary rule which they should think fit. The motion of Mr. Gilman was negatived see the ays & noes on the Journal11

1Brackets inserted by JM. On 25 January Congress appointed a committee, Samuel Osgood chairman, to consider the offer included in the memorial from the army to have full pay for an unspecified number of years substituted in the stead of the half pay for life promised by Congress to army officers who should serve for the duration of the war (JM Notes, 13 Jan., and nn. 11, 21; 25 Jan. 1783, and n. 12). The report of the committee, first submitted on 3 February, was debated inconclusively the next day in the committee of the whole (JM Notes, 4 Feb. 1783, and n. 15). For three weeks thereafter the unfulfilled financial pledges to the ominously discontented army were mentioned frequently in JM’s notes and in the letters of the delegates, but the Osgood committee’s report apparently did not again become the focus of discussion until 25 February.

This report proposed that the duration-of-war officers in the continental line of each state should decide collectively for themselves and for the supernumerary officers of their line whether to accept full pay for an unspecified number of years or the half pay for life stipulated in the ordinance of Congress of 21 October 1780. The same option should be exercised collectively by officers similarly entitled to half pay for life but who were in the continental corps not associated with any state. General officers should be privileged to decide individually. Half pay for life should be paid “to the widows of such officers as shall die in the service, during their continuance as widows” (JCC description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds., Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789 (34 vols.; Washington, 1904–37). description ends , XXIV, 146).

The same page of the journal records that a motion by John Taylor Gilman, seconded by Silas Condict of New Jersey, requested that further debate on the Osgood committee’s report be delayed in order to give consideration to a substitute proposal.

2JM summarized only the first of the two chief recommendations embodied in the Gilman-Condict motion. The second of these proposed that all states which should compensate the qualified officers of their respective continental lines with half pay for life or with an acceptable “commutation for such sum, in gross,” should be “fully and finally discharged from their respective proportions of all taxes and all other payments of monies whatsoever, on account of half-pay,” provided that they agree to pay “their just proportion” of the money required to assure half pay for life to continental officers who were not members of the continental line of any state. Benjamin Lincoln, secretary at war, should be instructed to report the “names and rank” of the second group of officers to Congress (JCC description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds., Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789 (34 vols.; Washington, 1904–37). description ends , XXIV, 146–47). The provisions of the ordinance of 17 August 1779, which was superseded by the ordinance of 21 October 1780, closely resembled the recommendations of the Gilman-Condict motion (JCC description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds., Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789 (34 vols.; Washington, 1904–37). description ends , XIV, 974–76).

3The arguments noted in this sentence and in the remainder of the paragraph repeated for the most part those voiced in the debate on 4 February (JM Notes, 4 Feb. 1783, and nn. 10, 11, 13, 14).

4The word “fetch” is used as a noun meaning “stratagem” or “trick.” Dyer perhaps had some warrant for his reference to “a fetch.” In a long letter of 11 October 1780, commenting upon Congress’ plan to “reform” the continental army by merging some of the regiments and thereby rendering some of the officers supernumerary, Washington urged that all officers, including those moved to the inactive list, should be assured of half pay for life, or at least full pay for seven years, following their retirement.

The report of the committee, Samuel Adams, chairman, to which Washington’s letter was referred, recommended in this regard only that some of the supernumerary officers be allowed half pay for an unspecified number of years. On 20 October 1780 John Mathews of South Carolina, seconded by JM, moved that the blank be filled with the words “for life.” Congress adopted this motion over the opposition of two members of the committee (Adams and Ezekiel Cornell) and, in fact, of all the delegates from the four New England states and New Jersey. The next day, over the unanimous dissent of the delegates from Massachusetts, Connecticut, and New Jersey, Congress further amended the committee’s report by adopting the motion of James Duane to guarantee “half pay during life” to all continental officers “who shall continue in the service to the end of the war.” The entire report, as amended, was then adopted though the delegates of Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut, and New Jersey voted in the negative unanimously (Fitzpatrick, Writings of Washington description begins John C. Fitzpatrick, ed., The Writings of George Washington, from the Original Sources, 1745–1799 (39 vols.; Washington, 1931–44). description ends , XX, 157–67, and esp. 157–60; JCC description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds., Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789 (34 vols.; Washington, 1904–37). description ends , XVIII, 786, 931, 956–57, 958–62; 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 , II, 137; 138, n. 5; JM Notes, 4 Feb. 1783, and nn. 10, 11).

5JM Notes, 4 Feb. 1783, and nn. 10, 14.

6Article XII of the Articles of Confederation “solemnly pledged” that the United States in Congress assembled, following the ratification of the Articles, would assume the payment of all “bills of credit emitted, monies borrowed and debts contracted by, or under the authority of congress” before the Articles became effective (JCC description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds., Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789 (34 vols.; Washington, 1904–37). description ends , XIX, 221).

7See n. 4.

8The speaker had in mind articles VIII, XII (n. 6, above), and XIII, limiting amendments to those approved by Congress and every state legislature (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, 221–22). For Article VIII, see JM Notes, 14 Jan., n. 6; 28 Jan. 1783, n. 5.

9See n. 2.

10JM inadvertently wrote this word twice.

11JM added this sentence in his old age. Six states opposed the motion; two (New Hampshire and Connecticut) favored it. The two delegates of New Jersey were unable to concert their vote, and Massachusetts and Rhode Island were each represented by only one delegate. The five Virginians, who comprised the largest delegation then in Congress, all voted “no,” except John Francis Mercer. Following the tally, Congress decided to postpone further consideration of the Osgood committee’s report (n. 1, above) until the next day (JCC description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds., Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789 (34 vols.; Washington, 1904–37). description ends , XXIV, 148).

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