Motion Concerning the “America”
MS (NA: PCC, No. 28, fol. 233). In JM’s hand. Docketed by Charles Thomson: “No. 13.—Report of Mr. Osgood Mr. Rutledge Mr. Madison appointed to confer with the Agent of marine Passed Sept 3. 1782.”
While entering Boston Harbor on 10 August against a strong head wind and under the guidance of a local pilot, the “Magnifique” struck a submerged rock, partially capsized, and was wrecked beyond recovery. Hearing of the disaster, Robert Morris asked Congress on 3 September to appoint a committee to confer with him. In his dual role of agent of marine and superintendent of finance, he viewed the loss of the “Magnifique” as an opportunity to solve the problem of the “America,” to use her as a tangible expression of the gratitude of the United States to France, to atone for a misfortune which in considerable measure had been caused by a rash pilot, and to prepare the way for asking King Louis XVI to lend more money to the United States. Although the keel of the “America” had been laid at Portsmouth, N.H., in 1777 and John Paul Jones had been chosen by Congress on 26 June 1781 to be her commander, she was still not finished over a year later. Lacking funds “to fit, equip, and man” her, Morris was gratified to find that the committee appointed to confer with him agreed “unanimously” with his proposal (Samuel Eliot Morison, John Paul Jones: A Sailor’s Biography [Boston, 1959], pp. 315, 318–26; William E. O’Donnell, Chevalier de La Luzerne, p. 192, n. 37; Wharton, Revolutionary Diplomatic Correspondence description begins Francis Wharton, ed., The Revolutionary Diplomatic Correspondence of the United States (6 vols.; Washington, 1889). description ends , V, 678 and n.; JCC description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds., Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789 (34 vols.; Washington, 1904–37). description ends , XX, 698; JM to Randolph, 10 September 1782).
[3 September 1782]
Whereas1 the Magnifique a 74 gun ship belonging to the Fleet of his M. C. M.2 commanded by the Marquis de Vaudreul,3 has been lately lost by accident in the Harbour of Boston: & Congress are desirous of testifying on this occasion to his Majesty, the sense they entertain of his generous exertions in behalf of the U. States
Resolved That the Agent of Marine be instructed to present the America a 74 gun ship in the name of the U. States to the Chevr. de la Luzerne for the service of his M. C. M.4
1. Samuel Osgood introduced the motion and Hugh Williamson seconded it (JCC description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds., Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789 (34 vols.; Washington, 1904–37). description ends , XXIII, 543).
2. Most Christian Majesty Louis XVI.
4. Congress inserted “and he is hereby” between “be” and “instructed.” This recommendation was adopted by Congress, with only Theodorick Bland and Noble Wymberley Jones dissenting (JM to Randolph, 10 September 1782). The “America” was launched and presented to the French on 5 November 1782. Although large in size and formidable in armament, she had been built mainly of green timber and was difficult to maneuver. In 1786 the French Ministry of Marine “condemned her to be broken up” (Samuel E. Morison, John Paul Jones, pp. 327–30).