James Madison Papers

Report on Illicit Trade with the Enemy, [19 June] 1782

Report on Illicit Trade with the Enemy

MS (NA: PCC, No. 24, fols. 53–56). In JM’s hand. Docketed: “recommendation to the States. Report of Committee for suppressing the illicit Trade with the Enemy—Mr Madison Mr Lowell Mr Scot Mr Wharton Mr Witherspon June 19. 1782 Read. June 20. 1782 recomd. Passed June 21.”

[19 June 1782]

The Committee to whom was recomitted the Report concerning illicit trade with the Enemy,1 recommend the following act

Whereas the Enemy, having renounced the hope of accomplishing their designs agst. the U. States by force alone, are resorting to every expedient which may tend to corrupt the patriotism, of their citizens, or to weaken the foundation of the public credit;2 and in pursuance of this policy, are encouraging to the utmost, a clandestine traffic between the inhabitants3 of this Country, and those who reside within the garrisons and places therein now in their possession; And Whereas some of the said inhabitants, prompted either by a sordid attachment to gain, or by a secret conspiracy with the Enemies of their country, are wickedly engaged in carrying on this illicit traffic; whereby, a market is provided for British Merchandizes, the circulating specie is exported from the U. States, the payment of taxes rendered more difficult & burdensome to the people at large, and great discouragement occasoned to honest & lawful commerce,

Resolved that it be and hereby is recommended to the Legislatures of the several States, to adopt the most efficacious measures for suppressing all4 traffic and illicit intercourse between their respective Citizens & the Enemy

Resolved, that the Legislatures, or in case of their recess, the Executives of the several States, be earnestly requested to impress by every means in their power, on their respective Citizens at large, the baneful consequences5 apprehended by Congress from a continuance of this illicit & infamous traffic, and the necessity of their co-operating with the public measures,6 by such united, patriotic, and vigilant exertions, as will detect & bring to legal7 punishment those who shall have been in any manner concerned therein.8

Resolved9 that in case the Commander in chief shall be of opinion that any disposition can be made of the regular forces under his command, which will, without interfereing with military objects, aid in suppressing the pernicious traffic aforesaid, he be and hereby is authorized and directed to make such disposition, and to distribute the articles which may be captured from the Enemy, by the troops detached on such service, in such manner as he shall judge most conducive to the end proposed;10 provided always that this resolution shall not be so construed as to affect any rule touching captures or the division thereof, contained in an ordinance entitled, An Ordinance ascertaining what captures on water shall be lawful.11

3JM interlineated this word above a deleted “people.” For the alleged extent of this “clandestine traffic,” see Burnett, Letters description begins Edmund C. Burnett, ed., Letters of Members of the Continental Congress (8 vols.; Washington, 1921–36). description ends , VI, 374.

4Following this word, JM crossed out “illicit.”

5JM inserted a cross above the last letter of this word to call attention to the next folio (55), on which he wrote an alternative passage reading, “which in the opinion of Congress will result from.” Before rendering its report, the committee apparently decided that “apprehended by Congress” was preferable.

6The words “public measures” were a substitution by JM for a deleted “laws of this Country.”

7JM at first wrote “due” rather than “legal.”

8Before adjourning on 2 July 1782, the Virginia General Assembly enacted a statute “for seizure and condemnation of British goods found on land.” The final proviso of the law suspended its enforcement “until the rest of the United States shall have passed similar laws on this subject” (Hening, Statutes description begins William Waller Hening, ed., The Statutes at Large; Being a Collection of All the Laws of Virginia, from the First Session of the Legislature, in the Year 1619 (13 vols.; Richmond and Philadelphia, 1819–23). description ends , XI, 101–3). The ordinance of Congress was published in the Virginia Gazette description begins Virginia Gazette, or, the American Advertiser (Richmond, James Hayes, 1781–86). description ends of 13 July 1782.

9Although this entire paragraph is crossed out with heavy ink lines, it is not clear whether the committee or Congress made the excision.

10On fol. 56 JM also wrote the passage between “by” and “proposed,” except that he penned “this service” rather than “such service.”

11See Papers of Madison description begins William T. Hutchinson, William M. E. Rachal, et al., eds., The Papers of James Madison (4 vols. to date; Chicago, 1962——). description ends , III, 217–21, 236–43, and especially p. 236. As noted in the docket, Congress debated the report of the committee on 20 June and adopted it the next day (JCC description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds., Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789 (34 vols.; Washington, 1904–37). description ends , XXII, 340–42). Since the principal aim of this ordinance was to prevent trade with the enemy only by land, Congress on 3 July appointed John Morin Scott, Arthur Lee, and Abraham Clark as a committee to draft a bill prohibiting this “pernicious commerce” under the guise of “collusive captures on the water.” Congress accepted the recommendation of the committee on 17 July 1782 (NA: PCC, No. 59, III, 427–29; JCC description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds., Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789 (34 vols.; Washington, 1904–37). description ends , XXII, 383, 384, 392–93).

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