1776. Feb.1
Cant we oblige B. to keep a Navy on foot the Expence of which will be double to what they will take from Us. I have heard of Bullion Sp[anish] Flotas being stoppd least they should be taken—But perishable Commodities never were stopped. Open your Ports to Foreigners. Your Trade will become of so much Consequence, that Foreigners will protect you.2
Wilson. A Gentleman from Mass, thinks that a middle Way should be taken. That Trade should be opened, for some Articles, and to some Places, but not for all Things and to all Places.
I think the Merchants ought to judge for themselves of the danger and Risque. We should be blamed if We did not leave it to them.
I differ from the Gentleman of Massachusetts. Trade ought in War to be carried on with greater Vigour. By what means did B. carry on their Tryumphs last War? The United Provinces their War vs. Spain.
If We determine that our Ports shall not be opened, our Vessells abroad will not return. Our Seamen are all abroad—will not return, unless We open our Trade. I am afraid it will be necessary to invite Foreigners to trade with Us, altho We loose a great Advantage, that of trading in our own Bottoms.
Sherman. I fear We shall maintain the Armies of our Enemies at our own Expence with Provisions. We cant carry on a beneficial Trade, as our Enemies will take our Ships. A Treaty with a foreign Power is necessary, before We open our Trade, to protect it.
Harrison. We have hobbled on, under a fatal Attachment to G.B. I felt it as much as any Man but I feel a stronger to my Country.
Wythe. The Ports will be open the 1st. March. The Q. is whether We shall shutt em up. Faece Romuli non Republica Platonis. Americans will hardly live without Trade. It is said our Trade will be of no Advantage to Us, because our Vessells will be taken, our Enemies will be supplied, the W.I. will be supplied at our Expence. This is too true, unless We can provide a Remedy. Our Virginia Convention have resolved, that our Ports be opened to all Nations that will trade with us, except G.B., I. and W.I. If the Inclination of the People, should become universal to trade, We must open our Ports. Merchants will not export our Produce, unless they get a Profit.
We might get some of our Produce to Markett, by authorizing Adventurers to Arm themselves, and giving Letters of Mark—make Reprisals.
2d. by inviting foreign Powers to make Treaties of Commerce with us.
But other Things are to be considered, before such a Measure is adopted. In what Character shall We treat, as subjects of G.B.—as Rebells? Why should We be so fond of calling ourselves dutifull Subjects.
If We should offer our Trade to the Court of France, would they take Notice of it, any more than if Bristol or Liverpool should offer theirs, while We profess to be Subjects.—No. We must declare ourselves a free People.
If We were to tell them, that after a Season, We would return to our Subjection to G.B., would not a foreign Court wish to have Something permanent.
We should encourage our Fleet. I am convinced that our Fleet may become as formidable as We wish to make it. Moves a Resolution.4
1. First entry in booklet “26” (our D/JA/26), a pocket memorandum book stitched in red-brown leather covers and containing scattered notes of debates in Congress from February to April (possibly early May) 1776.
The day on which the present debate took place can be assigned with some confidence because Richard Smith summarized in his Diary under 16 Feb. a debate of “4 or 5 Hours ... in Grand Comee. [committee of the whole] on Trade,” which corresponds at essential points with JA’s fragmentary notes (Burnett, ed., Letters of Members description begins Edmund C. Burnett, ed., Letters of Members of the Continental Congress, Washington, 1921–1936; 8 vols. description ends , 1:350–52; see JCC description begins Worthington C. Ford and others, eds., Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789, Washington, 1904–1937; 34 vols. description ends , 4:154). See note 4, below.
2. JA does not indicate whose speech this was.
3. Following [Edward] Rutledge’s name there is a blank in the MS amounting to two-thirds of a page. JA probably intended to supply notes on Rutledge’s speech but failed to do so.
“Wyth ... offered Propositions whereof the first was that the Colonies have a Right to contract Alliances with Foreign Powers, an Objection being offered that this was Independency there ensued much Argument upon that Ground. a leading Question was given Whether this Proposn. shall be considered by the Comee. it was carried in the Affirmative 7 Colonies to 5. then it was debated and postponed” (Richard Smith, Diary, 16 Feb., Burnett, ed., Letters of Members description begins Edmund C. Burnett, ed., Letters of Members of the Continental Congress, Washington, 1921–1936; 8 vols. description ends , 1:350–351).
From this point until he sailed for France in Feb. 1778, JA’s Diary is so fragmentary that it is scarcely practical to indicate, even in summary form, the events in his personal and political life which he failed to record. In compensation, however, one may turn to his Autobiography, where the record for the year 1776 is remarkably full, for when he came to deal with that climactic year he read the published Journals of Congress closely, quoted from them copiously, and commented on them with characteristic freedom. (His own extensive collection of the Journals, Phila., 1777–1788, and early reprints, survives in the Boston Public Library; see Cat. of JA’s Library description begins Catalogue of the John Adams Library in the Public Library of the City of Boston, Boston, 1917. description ends , p. 60–61.) What is more, he occasionally dipped into his files of old correspondence, as he had not done at all up to this point in the Autobiography, to support his commentary. The result is that about half of the entire text of Part One of the Autobiography is devoted to the first ten months of 1776 alone, ending with his departure from Congress in October of that year.