Motions on United States Boundaries
MSS (NA: PCC, No. 25, I, 441–44, 447).
According to the JCC description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds., Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789 (34 vols.; Washington, 1904–37). description ends , these two motions in JM’s hand were “made by the State of Virginia.” Following them, as given below, and on the same general subject, is a third proposal, also drafted by JM. The JCC description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds., Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789 (34 vols.; Washington, 1904–37). description ends makes no mention of this undated proposal and hence it may never have been introduced. The manuscript of it is in NA: PCC, separated from the other two proposals by a document in an unknown hand, dated 15 July 1781.
[8 June 1781]
Provided1 that you shall not recede from the former ultimatum2 of Congress on the subject of the boundaries of the U. States, in any part thereof except with respect to3 so much of the sd. Ultimatum4 as delineates the boundary from the intersection of the 45th. degree of N. Latitude with the River St. Laurence, to5 the mouth of the Illinois River,6 from which you are authorized to recede so far as to agree that the boundary of the U. States, between these two points shall run from the intersection aforesaid through the middle of the said River; of Lake Ontario; of the Straight7 of Niagara, & of Lake Erie to the mouth of the Miamis River,8 thence in a direct line to the source of the River Illinois9 & thence down the middle of the sd. River to its confluence with the Mississippi
Provided10 that you shall not in any case agree to11 a cession of any part of the territory lying on the S. East side of the River Ohio; nor admit any exclusive claims on the part of Great [Britain] to the territory lying between the sd. River, the Rivers Mississippi & Illinois and the Lakes Erie & Ontario.
With12 respect to the boundaries of the 13. U. States you may, if any obstacles to peace can be thereby avoided, & it should be approved by our Ally, leave the same altogether untouched & open to future adjustment. But as they will in all probability become an article of discussion, you13 are in the first instance to use every prudent endeavor to obtain an admission on the part of G. B. of the boundaries described in the Ultimatum14 of Congress on that subject: In case neither of these purposes can15 be effected you are to insist on the exclusive right of the U. States to all the territory included in the sd. Ultimatum which is actually settled by Citizens of any one of the 13 States, and avoid admitting any exclusive claims in [resp?]ect of G. B. to the16 territory remaining within the boundaries described in the aforesaid Ultimatum, which is settled neither by Citizens of the U. States nor by Subjects of the King of G. B.
1. This motion is endorsed, “First motion of State of Virginia June 8. 1781 Passed in the negative by yeas & nays.” Although the manuscript is in JM’s hand, the motion was apparently introduced by Joseph Jones and seconded by Theodorick Bland, for their names were written by Charles Thomson below the motion. It was intended to be added as a proviso to the first part of Witherspoon’s motion, quoted in n. 2 of Notes from Secret Journal, 6 June 1781. All members of Congress who were present, except the four Virginians and William Sharpe of North Carolina, voted against the proviso (JCC description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds., Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789 (34 vols.; Washington, 1904–37). description ends , XX, 611–12).
3. Here JM first wrote and then crossed out “that part of the boundary which lies between.”
4. This word and the three preceding words are interlineated above a deleted “thereof.”
5. Written above a deleted “and.”
6. The boundary today between the province of Quebec and New York is approximately 45º north latitude. From the intersection of this parallel with the St. Lawrence River, the “Ultimatum” of 14 August 1779 specified the boundary as “Thence straight to the South end of Lake Nipissing, and thence Straight to the Source of the River Mississippi; [on the] West by a line to be drawn along the middle of the River Mississippi from its source to … the 31st degree of North Latitude.” Further along in the “Ultimatum” this particular instruction was qualified by the words, “if the line [to] be drawn from the mouth of Lake Nipissing to the Head of the Mississippi cannot be obtained without continuing the war for that purpose, you are hereby empowered to agree to some other line between that point and the River Mississippi, provided the same shall in no part thereof be to the Southward of latitude 45° North” (JCC description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds., Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789 (34 vols.; Washington, 1904–37). description ends , XIV, 958–59). The Illinois River, not mentioned in the ultimatum, joins the Mississippi a short distance south of 39° north, about fifteen miles from the present city of Alton, Ill.
7. After this word, “connecting the said lake with Lake Erie” is crossed out.
8. The Little Miami and Great Miami rivers in the present state of Ohio flow into the Ohio River. JM probably meant the Maumee River which joins the southwestern end of Lake Erie.
9. If a straight line had been drawn west from the mouth of the Maumee River, at about 41° 50’ north latitude, to the source of the Illinois River, at about 41° north, not far southwest of Chicago, it would have placed all of Lake Michigan under British domination.
10. Defeated on the preceding resolution, the Virginia delegates next endeavored to assure the control of their state over the Kentucky country and much of the Old Northwest by presenting this motion. The docket of the manuscript is endorsed, “Second motion of State of Virginia June 8. 1781 Passed in the negative by the yeas & nays.” Above JM’s draft of the motion is written “Mr Madison Mr M Smith State of Virginia.” The vote called for by JM on the part of the motion ending with “the River Ohio” was adverse, with only William C. Houston of New Jersey and James M. Varnum of Rhode Island upholding the Virginians. The rest of the motion, according to a marginal note by Charles Thomson on the vote tally written below the motion, was then defeated by the “States only [being] called.” Smith and Bland then moved to strike out from the Witherspoon motion (Notes from Secret Journal, 6 June 1781, n. 2) the portion which left the settlement of boundaries to “the judgment and prudence” of the peace commissioner and directed him to keep the French ministers informed about every phase of negotiations with the common enemy. This motion, too, was defeated, and the boundary provisions of the Witherspoon motion, with only the four Virginians dissenting, were incorporated in the instructions (JCC description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds., Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789 (34 vols.; Washington, 1904–37). description ends , XX, 613–14).
11. After “to,” JM wrote and crossed out “recede from.”
12. See above, editorial note.
13. Here JM crossed out “are in that case” and interlineated the four words after “you.”
14. See above, n. 6. After “Ultimatum” JM wrote and deleted what appears to be “or fixed by your previous.”
15. Beginning after the colon, JM originally wrote “and in case that,” as well as several other words too heavily deleted to be legible. He drew a line through “and” and “that,” capitalized “in” and wrote “neither of these purposes can” above “that” and the illegible passage. Having done this, he neglected to change the colon after “subject” to a period.
16. Here JM crossed out “unsettled.”