Notes from Congress’ Secret Journal on
Instructions to Peace Commissioners
MS (LC: Madison Papers). Two pages of notes in JM’s hand, mainly devoted to recording the appointment of committees, the substance of their reports, and how each delegate voted on motions—all bearing upon instructions to the peace commissioners. JM’s entries are for 28 May, 6, 7, 8, 9–15, and 29 June, 28 July, and 21 September 1781, but he does not record when he made them, although he probably did so on or after the date of the final entry. Each entry is given under the date to which it applies.
In a “memorial” of 26 May, laid before Congress two days later, the minister plenipotentiary of France, La Luzerne, made known that Great Britain, manifesting “a desire of peace,” had accepted the offer of the empress of Russia to the courts of Versailles and London to be “mediatrix.” The Holy Roman Emperor had also “proposed his co-mediation to the belligerent powers in Europe.” King Louis XVI had replied to Catherine the Great that “it was not in his power to accept,” since “the consent of his allies was necessary.” La Luzerne added that his sovereign might deem it wise to negotiate in a preliminary way “before the answer of Congress can reach him,” but, however this might be, “it is of great importance that this assembly should give their plenipotentiary instructions proper to announce their disposition to peace … and to convince the powers of Europe that the independence of the thirteen United States, and the engagements they have contracted with the king [of France], are the sole motives which determine them to continue the war; and that whenever they shall have full and satisfactory assurances on these two capital points, they will be ready to conclude a peace.” La Luzerne requested Congress “to name a committee, with whom he will have the honour to treat” (JCC description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds., Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789 (34 vols.; Washington, 1904–37). description ends , XX, 560–61).
1781 May 28.
Com[mitte]e to confer &c. Mr. Carroll, Mr. Jones, Mr. Witherspoon, Mr. Sullivan & Mr. Matthews1
1. Daniel Carroll of Maryland, Joseph Jones of Virginia, John Witherspoon of New Jersey, John Sullivan of New Hampshire, and John Mathews of South Carolina. This same committee had been named by Congress on 25 May to consider another memorial from La Luzerne (JCC description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds., Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789 (34 vols.; Washington, 1904–37). description ends , XX, 533). Congress further directed this committee on 28 May to confer with La Luzerne not only about the matter mentioned in the editorial note but also about his memorial dated 25 May making known “that the second division of the troops commanded by the Count de Rochambeau of the fleet destined for the protection of the coasts of the United States could not be expedited, nor are they to be expected this campaign” (JCC description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds., Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789 (34 vols.; Washington, 1904–37). description ends , XX, 557–58, 562; Virginia Delegates to Jefferson, 22 May 1781, nn. 2 and 3). In his “Notes from the Secret Journal,” JM found occasion to mention every delegate present in Congress. Information about each of these men is readily available in the Biographical Directory of the American Congress, House Doc. 442, 85th Cong., 2d sess. (Washington, D.C., 1961).