James Madison Papers

Certification to a Committee of Congress, [16–17 November] 1780

Certification to a Committee of Congress

RC (NA: PCC, No. 62, fol. 435).

[16–17 November 1780]

[At] the request of the Honble. T. Matlack Esqr. I received the enclosed papers from him Octr. 27. and have since had them in my care. The two certificates of faithful “each”[?] entry, on the margin of two[?] of the sheets by Mr. Walker were signed in my presence at the time I received them. Mr. Walker was not desired to certify the like with regard to the other passages. He observed that he was constantly present during the enquiry and had no doubt that the whole of the within minutes were a true recital of facts.1

J Madison Junr.

1On 3 July 1780, Congress appointed Thomas McKean the chairman of a committee of three members to investigate charges brought by the Board of Treasury against Francis Hopkinson, the treasurer of loans. His countercharges also became a part of the committee’s business (Journals of the Continental Congress, XVII, 585, 598). On 31 July, Timothy Matlack (1730–1829) of Pennsylvania and John Walker were named to replace McKean’s two committee colleagues, who had left the city (ibid., XVII, 683–84). During the next two months the Hopkinson vs. Board of Treasury issue expanded to include additional allegations about the inefficiency or misconduct of the board and of the commissioners of the chamber of accounts, or particular members of each. Between 9 and 26 October the McKean committee conducted an elaborate inquiry. During these hearings they recorded the testimony of witnesses not only about the Hopkinson question but also about other evidences of financial mismanagement by the fiscal agents of the Continental Congress. McKean was absent during the last few days of the inquiry and from then until mid-November. On the day following the close of this investigation, these minutes were sealed and, as the above certificate states, turned over by Matlack and Walker to JM for safekeeping. JM notes that, in his presence and at that time, Walker certified to the truth of what was written on two of these sheets of minutes. They numbered fifty-three pages in all. Walker’s marginal attestation on a leaf of the 25 October testimony reads: “This is a just & faithful entry of what passed on the subject to which the Paragraphs within the crotchets [brackets] relate. Jn. Walker.” He also wrote in like manner on a page of the minutes of the next day (NA: PCC, No. 62, fols. 255–307, esp. fols. 283 and 297). Walker may have been asked to provide these certifications because Congress might not call upon the committee to report before his expected early departure for Virginia. Why Matlack wanted Madison, or any other “neutral” in Congress for that matter, to be the custodian of the minutes is more puzzling. The answer is suggested, however, by a statement made by Matlack on 17 November. On the day before, two of the commissioners of the Board of Treasury whose conduct had particularly been under attack presented a petition to Congress asking to be heard by the McKean committee in their own defense. Congress immediately granted this plea and, at the same time, added three new members to the committee. McKean thereupon reconvened it on the next day and evidently asked JM to turn over the minutes in his charge. When JM did so in person, he accompanied the sealed packet with the above note of certification, written on either 16 or 17 November. The minutes of the committee reveal that on 17 November, after JM’s note was read, McKean “desired the former minutes to be opened and read by Mr. Matlack. To this Mr. Matlack objected, because he could not consent to have those minutes put into his hands, as it might be hereafter alledged, that he had made alterations therein” (NA: PCC, No. 62, fol. 339). Matlack’s caution on this occasion probably explains why he gave the minutes to Madison for safekeeping three weeks before.

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