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Motion on Impressment of Supplies, [18 May] 1781

Motion on Impressment of Supplies

Printed text (JCC description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds., Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789 (34 vols.; Washington, 1904–37). description ends , XX, 516). The bracketed names are in the JCC description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds., Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789 (34 vols.; Washington, 1904–37). description ends .

[18 May 1781]

A motion was made by Mr. [James] Madison, seconded by Mr. [Joseph] Jones,

That the Board of War be, and are hereby, directed to transmit to Brigadier General Wayne, copies of the intelligence received yesterday, relating to the sailing of the British fleet from New York;1 and that General Wayne be, and he is hereby, authorised and directed, in case the supplies of provisions and forage necessary for the immediate march of the detachment under his command to the southern department cannot be otherwise obtained, to impress the same, and to report the amount thereof to the executives of the states within which the same shall be taken; such states to be credited therefor as part of the specific supplies due on the requisitions of Congress.2

1The “intelligence” was contained in an enclosure in a letter of 11 May from Washington (JCC description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds., Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789 (34 vols.; Washington, 1904–37). description ends , XX, 511; Virginia Delegates to Jefferson, 17 April, n. 9, and 1 May 1781, n. 7).

2Although a majority of the Pennsylvania delegation voted against JM’s motion, it was unanimously supported by the delegates then attending Congress from nine other states. Obviously the brunt of Wayne’s impressments would fall upon Pennsylvania since his force was at York (Virginia Delegates to Jefferson, 17 April 1781, n. 10). In a letter of 20 May to Nathanael Greene, John Mathews clearly saw the [p. 125] nationalistic implication of JM’s motion. “But remember,” Mathews wrote, “there is no such power literally given to Congress by Confederation.… I conceive it to be a great point gained, to drive them [the strict constructionists] from this ground; it looks like conceding the point, & that necessity will oblige them, to interpret the powers given by the Confederation in their utmost extent.… But I apprehend when these Doughty heroes, have opened their eyes, & looked back, on the tremendous gulph they have passed, they will be astonished at their own temerity; & the next they come to, they will make a halt” (William L. Clements Library, University of Michigan).

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