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Notes on Debates, 19 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. All the brackets and the words contained within them in this item are JM’s own entries.

No. IX

The motion made yesterday by Mr. Hamilton for opening the doors of Congress when the subject of finances should be under debate was negatived, Penna. alone being ay.2

A motion was made by Mr. Hamilton seconded by Mr. Bland to postpone the clause of the report made by Come. of the whole for altering the Impost, viz, the clause limiting its duration to 25 years,3 in order to substitute a proposition declaring it to be inexpedient to limit the period of its duration: first because it ought to be commensurate to the duration of the debt. 2dly. because it was improper in the present stage of the [p. 259] business, and all the limitation of which it wd. admit had been defined in the Resolutions of   1782.4

Mr. Hamilton said in support of his motion that it was in vain to attempt to gain the concurrence of the States by removing the objections publickly assigned by them against the Impost, that these were the ostensible & not the true objections: that the true objection on the part of R. I. was the interference of the impost with the opportunity afforded by their situation of levying contributions on Cont. &c which rcd. foreign supplies through the ports of R. I:5 that the true objection on the part of Va. was her having little share in the debts due from the U. S. to which the impost would be applied;6 that a removal of the avowed objections would not therefore, remove the obstructions whilst it would admit on the part of Congs. that their first recommendation went beyond the absolute exigences of the public; that Congs. having taken a proper ground at first, ought to maintain it till time should convince the States of the propriety of the measure.

Mr. Bland said that as the debt had been contracted by Congress with the concurrence of the States, and Congs was looked to for payment by the public creditors, it was justifiable & requisite in them to pursue such means as would be adequate to the discharge of the debt: & that the means would not be adequate if limited in duration to a period within which no calculations had shewn that the debt wd. be discharged.7

on the motion the States were N. Hamshire divided—Masts. no. R. Island ay Cont. divd. N. York. ay. N. Jersey ay. Pena. ay. Virga. no [Mr. Bland ay] N. Carolina ay. S. Carolina ay.8 Mr. Rutlidge said he voted for postponing not in order to agree to Mr. Hamiltons motion but to move & he accordingly renewed the motion, made in the Come. of the whole; viz that the Impost should be appropriated exclusively to the army. This motion was seconded by Mr. Lee9

Mr. Hamilton opposed the motion strenuously, declared that as a friend to the army10 as well as to the other Creditors & to the public at large he could never assent to such a partial dispensation of Justice; that the different States being differently attached to different branches of the public debt would never concur in establishg a fund wch. was not extended to every branch; that it was impolitic to divide the interests of the civil & military Creditors, whose joint efforts in the States would be necessary to prevail on them to adopt a general revenue.11

Mr. Mercer favored the measure as necessary to satisfy the army & to avert the consequences which would result from their disappointment on this subject: he pronounced that the Army would not disband until [p. 260] satisfactory provision should be made, & that this was the only attainable provision;12 But he reprobated the doctrine of a permanent debt supported by a general & permanent revenue & said that it would be good policy to separate instead of cementing the interest of the Army & the other public creditors, insinuating that the claims of the latter were not supported by justice & that the loan office certificates ought to be revised.13

Mr. Fitzimmons observed that it was unnecessary to make a separate appropriation of the Impost to one particular debt, since if other funds sd. be superadded, there would be more simplicity & equal propriety in an aggregate fund for the aggregate debt funded: and that if no other funds should be superadded it wd. be unjust & impolitic: that the States whose Citizens were the chief creditors of the U. S. wd. never concur in such measure; that the mercantile interest which comprehended the chief Creditors of Pena. had by their influence obtained the prompt & full concurrence of that State in the Impost; and if that influence were excluded the State wd. repeal its law: He concurred with those who hoped the army wd. not disband unless provision sd. be made for doing them justice14

Mr. Lee contended that as eve[r]ybody felt and acknowledged the force of the demands of the army, an appropriation of the Impost to them wd. recommend it to all the States: that distinct & specific appropriations of distinct revenues was the only true System of finance, and was the practice of all other nations who were enlightened on this subject; that the army had not only more merit than the mercantile creditors; but that the latter would be more able on a return of peace to return to the business which would support them.15

Mr Madison said that if other funds were to be superadded as the gentleman [Mr. Rutledge] who made the motion admitted, it was at least premature to make the appropriation in question;16 that it wd. be best to wait till all the funds were agreed upon & then appropriate them respectively to those debts to which they sd. be best fitted; that it was probable the impost would be judged best adapted to the foreign debt;17 as the foreign Creditors could not like the domestic ever recur to particular States for separate payments, and that as this wd. be a revenue little felt, it would be prudent to assign it to those for whom the States wd. care least, leaving more obnoxious revenues for those Creditors who wd. excite the sympathy of their Countrymen and cd stimulate them to do justice.18

Mr. Williamson was agst. the motion; said he did not wish the army [p. 261] to disband untill proper provision should be made for them; that if force sd. be necessary to excite justice, the sooner force were applied the better.19

Mr. Wilson was against the motion of Mr. Rutlidge, observed that no instance occured in the British history of finance in which distinct appropriations had been made to distinct debts already contracted; that a consolidation of funds had been the result of experience; that an aggregate fund was more simple & would be most convenient: that the interest of the whole funded debt ought to be paid before the principal of any part of it; and therefore in case of surplus of the impost beyond the interest of the army debt, it ought at any rate to be applied to the interest of the other debts, and not, as the motion proposed, to the principal of the army debt. He was fully of opinion that such a motion wd. defeat itself, that by dividing the interest of the civil from that of the military Creditors provision for the latter would be frustrated.20

on the question on Mr. Rutledge’s motion the States were N.H. no Mas: no. Cont. no. N.J. no. Virga. no. [Mr. Lee & Mr. Mercer ay]. N.C. no. S. Carolina ay21

On the clause reported by the Come: of the whole in favor of limiting the impost to 25. years the States were N.H. ay Mas: ay Cont. divd.* N.Y. no. N.J. no. Pa. ay Va. ay [Mr. Bland no] N. Carolina ay. S. Carolina ay. So the question was lost22

On the question whether the appointment of Collectors of the Impost shall be left to the States, the Collectors to be under the controul of & amenable to Congs. there were 7 ays—N.Y. & Pena. being no & N.J. divided.23

1The printed journal omits mention of a session of Congress on this day. For a probable explanation of the Roman numeral, 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.

2JM Notes, 18 Feb. 1783, and n. 14.

3On 13 February the committee of the whole laid before Congress a revised version of the impost amendment which two years earlier had been submitted to the states for ratification. Among the revisions was the “25 years” limitation (JCC description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds., Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789 (34 vols.; Washington, 1904–37). description ends , XIX, 112–13, 124–25; JM Notes, 12 Feb., and n. 15; 13 Feb. 1783). See also 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 , III, 140; 142, n. 2.

During the debates in the committee of the whole and occasionally in Congress upon altering the impost amendment and relating it to the solution of the larger problem of providing Congress with an adequate “general revenue,” Hamilton had manifested far more interest in assuring that Congress should appoint the collectors of the tariff than in preventing its limitation in time. Bland, who moved from a states’-rights to a mildly nationalistic position during this prolonged discussion, [p. 262] apparently wished above all to help reconcile opposing views, thus enabling Congress to adopt a revenue-producing ordinance which all the states might accept. Eager to effect a compromise, Bland was willing to be inconsistent on matters of detail. Thus on 29 January he was against a “25 years” limitation; on 12 February he supported it; on 19 February he joined Hamilton in an effort to eliminate the proviso from the recommendation of the committee of the whole (JM Notes, 24 Jan.; 27 Jan.; 28 Jan., and nn. 12, 45; 29 Jan., and nn. 8, 14, 40, 41; 31 Jan.; 12 Feb. 1783, and nn. 8, 9, 13–15).

4Hamilton almost surely referred to resolutions with which he, as chairman of a committee, had closed its long report in rebuttal of the reasons advanced by the Rhode Island General Assembly to justify its refusal to ratify the proposed impost amendment to the Articles of Confederation. Congress adopted the report and the resolutions on 16 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, 798–810). For a summary of the limitations “defined in the Resolutions,” 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, 407, and n. 1.

5In support of Hamilton’s statement about the dependence of Connecticut (“Cont.”) upon Rhode Island for goods of foreign origin, 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, 375, n. 15; 414–15; JM Notes, 29 Jan. 1783, and n. 28.

6Governor Benjamin Harrison probably would have challenged the accuracy of this statement. Although Virginia was greatly delinquent in paying the financial requisitions of Congress and although, as compared with citizens of Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, and several other states, Virginians owned small amounts of loan-office certificates and continental currency, they and the government of their state were creditors of Congress for many provisions and supplies furnished to the continental army (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, 58, and n. 4; 169, and n. 2; 279, n. 4; 282; 287, n. 17; 291, n. 11; 328; 347; 349, and nn. 4–6, 10; 351, n. 23; 431, n. 4; 454, n. 3, 457–58; 458, n. 5; 459–60; Harrison to JM, 4 Jan., n. 4; 31 Jan., and n. 7; 7 Feb., and n. 4; Randolph to JM, 15 Jan., n. 13; Rev. James Madison to JM, 16 Jan.; JM Notes, 28 Jan., n. 19; 8 Feb. 1783, and n. 3).

7See n. 3. Even the most sanguine members of Congress, including JM, who shared in the debates in the committee of the whole apparently doubted whether any financial plan acceptable to all the states would provide in the near future much more “general revenue” than enough to pay the day-by-day expenses of Congress and the annual interest on the foreign and domestic debt and on the money owed to civilian and military creditors (JM Notes, 28 Jan.; 29 Jan., and nn. 14, 15, 20; 18 Feb. 1783, and nn. 3, 5).

8For the Hamilton-Bland motion, see the second paragraph of JM’s notes for this day. The motion would have carried if it had been favored by a majority of the delegates from one more state. Consistent with his position on 12 February, JM evidently voted against the motion (JM Notes, 12 Feb. 1783, and n. 13).

9JM Notes, 18 Feb. 1783, and nn. 2–9.

10By November 1781, when Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Hamilton returned to civilian life, he had served over five years as an officer in the continental army, including over four (1 March 1777 to 30 April 1781) as Washington’s military secretary and aide-de-camp.

11Papers 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, 322; 324, nn. 10, 14; 366, n. 23; 376, n. 27; JM Notes, 27 Jan.; 28 Jan., and n. 12; 29 Jan., and nn. 40, 41; 12 Feb. 1783, and n. 8. In line with his opposition to the Rutledge-Lee motion and his concern lest civilian creditors not receive their just due, Hamilton tried without success to have the “doors of Congress” opened whenever “the subject of finances” should be discussed. See JM Notes, 18 Feb. 1783. In a confidential letter written on or about 17 February to Washington, Hamilton “lamented” because there was “much ground” for the opinion widely held in Philadelphia that if the troops laid “down their arms” and scattered to their homes, they thereby would surrender their sole “means” of securing “justice” from Congress (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, 253–55).

[p. 263]

12John Francis Mercer probably considered himself to be as warm “a friend to the army” as did Hamilton. 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 , IV, 154, n. 14. See also ibid., V, 474, n. 8; JM Notes, 13 Jan., and nn. 5, 17; 13 Feb.; 20 Feb. 1783. On 27 February Joseph Jones wrote to Washington from Philadelphia: “Reports are freely circulated here that there are dangerous combinations in the Army, and within a few days past it has been said, they are about to declare, they will not disband until their demands are complied with” (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 , XXV, 431–32, n. 42). See also JM Notes, 20 Feb. 1783, n. 18.

13JM Notes, 18 Feb. 1783, and the references cited in its nn. 7, 8.

14As a prominent banker and merchant of Philadelphia, Thomas FitzSimons could speak authoritatively about how largely the influence of businessmen had accounted for the ratification of the impost amendment by the Pennsylvania General Assembly on 5 April 1781. 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 , III, 128, n. 5. By “Creditors of Pena.,” JM meant creditors of Congress in that state. See JM Notes, 24 Jan., and nn. 17, 20; 28 Jan., nn. 2, 29; 30 Jan. 1783, and nn. 1, 2, 6.

15On 29 January Arthur Lee had seconded the motion of Rutledge to use the revenue from the proposed impost for three types of debt, including the arrears due to the army,” and on 12 February he prophesied that the states would never ratify the amendment unless it required Congress to inform each state annually how the money accruing from the tariff had been spent (JM Notes, 29 Jan.; 12 Feb. 1783, and n. 5). Although Lee’s statement about the “practice” of the legislatures of “enlightened” nations in this regard was accurate, he apparently did not add that the “practice” had been employed as a salutary financial check on the executive branch of the government. The Articles of Confederation provided only for a central Congress and, unlike the case of the sovereign British Parliament, restricted the powers of Congress to those specifically delegated by the sovereign states. See JM Notes, 21 Feb. 1783, and n. 10.

16JM Notes, 18 Feb. 1783, and nn. 2–9. The “question” at issue was whether the revenue derived from levying an impost should be devoted “exclusively to the army.”

17On 29 January Oliver Ellsworth of Connecticut had argued that paying the interest on and principal of the foreign debt was the “first object” to which the revenue accruing from the impost should be applied (JM Notes, 29 Jan. 1783).

18Among “those Creditors” were the war veterans or their widows and children, farmers whose property had been taken or destroyed by the continental army, and citizens of little wealth who held depreciated continental currency, loan-office certificates, or other paper evidences of debts owed by Congress. For examples of the “more obnoxious revenues,” see JM Notes, 27 Jan.; 28 Jan., and nn. 35, 42, 43; 29 Jan. 1783, and nn. 16–21.

19JM Notes, 28 Jan. 1783. On 17 February 1783, Hugh Williamson wrote to James Iredell of North Carolina: “The cloud of public creditors, including the army, are gathering about us; the prospect thickens. Believe me, that I would rather take the field in the hardest military service I ever saw, than face the difficulties that await us in Congress within a few months” (Burnett, Letters description begins Edmund C. Burnett, ed., Letters of Members of the Continental Congress (8 vols.; Washington, 1921–36). description ends , VII, 46–47). See also ibid., VII, 97–98.

20See n. 7; also JM Notes, 21 Feb. 1783, and n. 10. Although James Wilson and Hamilton were probably the most influential of the ardent nationalists in Congress, Wilson, as a citizen of Pennsylvania, may have been even more determined than was Hamilton to gratify the large number of civilian creditors in his home state. See n. 11, above; JM Notes, 30 Jan., n. 6; 18 Feb. 1783, and n. 4.

21That is, for appropriating the impost revenue “exclusively to the army.”

22This entire paragraph after “On the” was interlineated by JM as a revision in arrangement of a deleted but equivalent analysis by him of the same tally. In [p. 264] making the revision he appended the footnotes at the bottom of his page. For a renewal of the issue of a twenty-five-year limitation, see JM Notes, 20 Feb. 1783.

23The outcome of this tally confirmed the vote in the committee of the whole on 12 February, and thus again rebuffed not only the New York and Pennsylvania delegations but also a few other prominent members of Congress, including JM and Bland of Virginia and David Ramsay of South Carolina (JM Notes, 28 Jan.; 29 Jan.; 12 Feb. 1783, and n. 15). In a letter of 24 February to Governor George Clinton of New York, Hamilton remarked that he had been “left in a small minority” (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, 268).

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.]

* Cont. [Mr. Dyer ay, Mr. Wolcot no].

 Pa. [Mr. Wilson & Fitzsimmons no.]

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