Motion of Virginia Delegates
on Illicit Trade with Great Britain
MS (NA: PCC, No. 36, I, 249–50). Docketed: “Dec. 26, 1781 Motion of Mr Jones Mr Madison to be considered 27.–29 Decr. 1781 Referred to Mr Randolph Mr Ellery Mr Law.”
[26 December 1781]1
To render more effectual the regulation contained in the ordinance of the fourth day of this month for suppressing the importation into the U. States of goods wares and merchandizes of the growth produce or manufacture of Great Britain or the territories depending thereon2
That it be earnestly recommended to the legislatures of the several States to pass laws providing for the seizure and forfeiture of all goods wares and merchandizes of the growth produce or manufacture of Great Britain or of any territory depending thereon imported within their respective jurisdictions in any ship or Vessell belonging to Citizens of the United States, or to the subjects of any neutral power.3
1. This date is taken from the docket. The printed journal is a blank for 26 December, except that the final paragraph entered under Monday, 24 December, notes that business was transacted two days later. In spite of the note on the docket, the journal does not mention the referral of the motion to a committee on 29 December. Even though the motion is in Jones’s hand and was introduced by him rather than by JM, it appropriately belongs in this volume, because the subject had been of much concern to JM and would be again in 1782. See Motion for Non-Intercourse with Great Britain, 16 March; Changes Suggested in Ordinance on Captures at Sea, ca. 12 August, and ca. 28 August–4 December 1781; and n. 3, below.
2. On 4 December the delegates of Virginia joined with the delegates of six other states to add to the pending ordinance on captures at sea, adopted later that day, a clause making “liable to capture and condemnation” after 1 March 1782 any British or British-colonial goods found on an American or neutral ship, “within three leagues of the coasts, and destined to any port or place of the United States” (JCC description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds., Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789 (34 vols.; Washington, 1904–37). description ends , XXI, 1152–53). The present motion obviously sought to extend the scope of this provision by having the states agree to seize these goods after the ships carrying them had reached port, or after the cargoes had been landed, so closing a legal loophole otherwise potentially open to shippers whose craft might successfully slip through the three-league zone.
3. See headnote. The report of the committee—Edmund Randolph, William Ellery (R.I.), and Richard Law (Conn.)—to consider this resolution was written by Randolph and approved by Congress on 2 January 1782 (JCC description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds., Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789 (34 vols.; Washington, 1904–37). description ends , XXII, 3). As adopted, the Jones-Madison motion, after the word “jurisdictions,” was altered to read, “unless the same shall have been imported before the first day of March, 1782, or shall have been captured from the enemy.” In short, the capture of enemy goods under sail outside or within the three-league zone would be the business of Congress; otherwise, seizure would be an obligation to be assumed by the several states within their respective ports (Changes Suggested in Ordinance on Captures at Sea, ca. 12 August 1781, n. 14; Papers of Madison description begins William T. Hutchinson, William M. E. Rachal, et al., eds., The Papers of James Madison (2 vols. to date; Chicago, 1962——). description ends , II, 167, n. 3). On 21 June 1782, upon the recommendation of a committee with JM as chairman, Congress would adopt further resolutions on this subject (JCC description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds., Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789 (34 vols.; Washington, 1904–37). description ends , XXII, 340–41).