James Madison Papers

Motion on Impost, [3 February] 1781

Motion on Impost

MS (NA: PCC, No. 36, IV, 263). In JM’s hand. Endorsed “Motion for Amendment.”

[3 February 1781]

That it be earnestly recommended to the States, as indispensably necessary to the support of public credit and the prosecution of the war, immediately to pass laws laying an impost of 5 PerCt. ad valorem on all goods wares & merchandises imported into them respectively after the 1st. day of May next from any foreign port Island or plantation,1 to vest Congress with full power to collect & to appropriate the same to the discharge of the principal & interest of all debts already contracted or which may be contracted on the faith of the United States during the present war, and to give to the Officers which shall be appointed by Congress to collect the said impost all the legal authorities necessary to the2 execution of his duty.3

1Following “plantation,” JM struck out what appears to have been “excepting the West [Indies?].”

2He wrote and crossed out “punctual” after “the.”

3A motion, introduced in Congress on 3 February by John Witherspoon, to ask the states to empower that body to superintend the “commercial regulations of every State” and to give it an “exclusive right of laying duties upon all imported articles,” occasioned a vigorous debate. Although the resolution was voted down in its original form by a vote of five states to four, it was then considerably amended and adopted by a vote of four to three. As passed, however, it still asked the states to allow Congress to levy for the use of the United States a 5 per cent ad valorem import duty after 1 May 1781 on all goods of foreign origin, excepting a few specified articles such as munitions, clothing, and salt. Joseph Jones, who had recently resumed his seat in Congress, joined JM on each of the two divisions to override Bland’s vote of “Aye” and thereby record Virginia in opposition to the proposal. Judging from JM’s substitute motion, here given, he was against lodging in Congress the power to levy the duty, although in favor of having it collected by congressional appointees and used to help restore the financial credit of the United States. The printed journal indicates neither at what stage of the debate JM introduced his motion (granting that it was ever introduced) nor whether it came to a vote (Journals of the Continental Congress, XIX, 105–6, 110–12; JM to Pendleton, 29 May 1781 in Madison, Writings [Hunt ed.] description begins Gaillard Hunt, ed., The Writings of James Madison (9 vols.; New York, 1900–1910). description ends , I, 136–38).

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