James Madison Papers

Committee Report on Letter from Jonathan Trumbull, [29 July] 1780

Committee Report on Letter
from Jonathan Trumbull

MS (NA: PCC, No. 20, I, 261). In JM’s hand. Docketed by Charles Thomson “Report of the Comee on the letter of May 1. 1780 from Govr Trumbull—Delivered July 29. 1780 passd.”

[29 July 1780]

The Committee to whom was referred the letter from Governor Trumbull of May 1. 1780, report as their opinion that Jeremiah Wadsworth late commissary general be directed to make sale of the public sugars stated in the said letter to be in his hands, and report to Congress the amount thereof.1

1On 1 May 1780 Governor Jonathan Trumbull of Connecticut wrote President Samuel Huntington asking, among other things, that Wadsworth (1743–1804), commissary general in 1778 and 1779, be allowed to sell sugar, mainly in a prize ship at New London, to pay certain long overdue U.S. debts. These debts were chiefly owed to “Fatners of Cattle.” Trumbull requested this authorization “without the Loss of a moment,” because “this Failure of payment not only retards the Collection of our Taxes, but also renders the Growers unable to purchase lean Cattle to put into their Pastures, by which the Army will fail of its necessary supplies. We tremble in fear of such an Event” (NA: PCC, No. 66, II, 41). On 11 May, Congress referred the matter to James Duane, Nathaniel Folsom (N.H.), and JM. Their recommendation, written by JM, was adopted by Congress, apparently without a dissenting vote (Journals of the Continental Congress, XVII, 423, 680, 783). JM drafted this brief report probably because Duane was not in Congress during July, and Folsom lacked skill with his pen.

Why Trumbull’s plea for fast action was ignored is unknown. The delay, coupled with the requirement that Wadsworth report the amount of the sugar receipts to Congress rather than use them to pay the overdue debts, may reflect the suspicions of some members of Congress that he and his agents had profiteered (Edmund Cody Burnett, The Continental Congress [New York, 1941], pp. 395–99). Following the Revolution, Wadsworth was prominent in banking, manufacturing, insurance, and as a Federalist in Connecticut politics.

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