James Madison Papers

Motion To Inform Foreign Ministers in Philadelphia, [21 November] 1782

Motion To Inform Foreign Ministers in Philadelphia

MS (NA: PCC, No. 36, I, 435–36). In JM’s hand. George Bond, deputy secretary of Congress, wrote below JM’s text, “Mr. Williamson Mr. Maddison Mr [Richard] Peters [Pa.].” The docket, also in Bond’s hand, reads: “Motion of Mr. Madison Novr 21. 1782 Referred to Mr Williamson Mr. Madison Mr Peters Acted on Novr. 25h. 1782.” See n. 10.

Editorial Note

All of the many and sometimes baffling corrections in this manuscript, as pointed out in nn. 3 to 10, below, are in JM’s hand. The manuscript embodies at least two versions of the motion and perhaps even more. The problems of isolating each version and determining when and under what circumstance each change was made cannot be wholly solved.

The text reproduced here appears to be a revised first draft which JM prepared before he offered the motion in Congress on 21 November. The wording of the motion as he quoted it in his Notes on Debates for that day (q.v.) differs in detail from the text of the present manuscript. These differences may represent alterations made by JM before he introduced the motion, amendments accepted or proposed during the debate, if any, preceding the referral of the motion to the Williamson committee (see headnote), variations intentionally or unintentionally made by JM when recording the motion in his Notes on Debates of 21 November, changes originating within the Williamson committee before submitting a revised proposal on 22 November or modifications by Congress between that date and 25 November, when the resolution was adopted. The emendations were certainly not all made on only one of these occasions. For the text of the committee’s proposal of 22 November and the resolution of Congress three days later, see n. 10.

Disregarding the problem of determining what was the exact phraseology of the variant texts of the motion during its several stages between origin and passage, the contents clearly underwent one important change. According to his Notes on Debates of 21 November, JM proposed to empower the secretary for foreign affairs to be the judge of what he should reveal to “the Ministers of For: Powers who may be resident near Congress,” provided only that he let Congress know later what information he had divulged. This proviso is not in the final text of the resolution, which forbade the secretary for foreign affairs, except with the prior permission of Congress, to divulge to “the Ministers” anything that Congress had “specially” required “to be kept secret.”

[21 November 1782]

That the Secty. of Foreign Affairs1 be authorized to communicate to the Ministers of For: Powers who may be resident near Congress2 all such3 articles of Intelligence4 that have been received by Congress; which he may apprehend deserve their5 Attention,6 and that he have like authority with respect to all7 Resolutions passed by Congress;8 [reporting nevertheless to Congress in all such cases the9 communications which he shall have made.10

1Robert R. Livingston. In his Notes on Debates for 21 November (q.v.), JM summarized the arguments advanced in opposition to his motion and explained why he had made the proposal.

2On the date of the motion these “Ministers” were only the Chevalier de La Luzerne of France, unless Francisco Rendón, representing the court of Madrid unofficially at Philadelphia, is included. Although the Netherlands had recognized the independence of the United States in April 1782 (Papers of Madison description begins William T. Hutchinson, William M. E. Rachal, et al., eds., The Papers of James Madison (5 vols. to date; Chicago, 1962——). description ends , IV, 422, n. 30), a minister plenipotentiary from that country did not arrive in the United States until October of the following year (JCC description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds., Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789 (34 vols.; Washington, 1904–37). description ends , XXV, 748–49).

3JM enclosed this word in a quadrilateral, perhaps as a reminder that, in view of the qualifying clause after “Intelligence,” the word should be deleted.

4Following this word, JM originally wrote, “recd by Congress as the said Secy. may judge fit.” He enclosed “recd” in an ink quadrilateral, deleted the next two words, and let the rest of the passage stand. He probably should have canceled all of the passage, because it clearly does not fit in the text of the motion as he revised it between the words “Intelligence” and “Attention.”

5Immediately following this word, JM deleted “Intelligence.”

6Following this comma, which comes near the end of a line of text, JM added to that line “and which” and completed the clause by writing in the opposite, or left, margin of the page, “are not expressly ordered by Congress to be kept silent.” The editors assume that this whole clause, which is not a part of the motion as recorded by JM in his Notes on Debates, 21 November (q.v.), was inserted after he introduced the motion—possibly during debate but more likely during discussion of the motion in committee. At the bottom of the page JM wrote and deleted “not ordered by Congress to be kept private.”

7This word, which is immediately followed by a canceled “and,” appears to have been converted from “acts” by writing over it. In his Notes on Debates for 21 November (q.v.), JM returned to “acts & Resolutions,” and the phrase “Acts and Resolutions” appears in the Williamson motion (n. 10, below).

8JM interlineated “by Congress” and also “to Congress” later in the sentence.

9Why JM underlined “such” and “the” is not clear. Above “the,” he wrote another “such” and later drew an ink line across the bottom of the letters, seemingly either to cancel or to underline the word. Possibly the intent of the underlining, when taken in connection with the “such” which precedes “articles of Intelligence” above (q.v., and n. 3), was to suggest to himself the need to improve the text of the motion stylistically by not using “such” where the word was redundant. In the present passage, moreover, “the” could be dispensed with if “such” were transposed so as to modify “communications.” On the other hand, in his Notes on Debates for 21 November (q.v.) appears a still different phrasing—“reporting nevertheless the communications which in all such cases he shall have made.”

10The entire passage following the bracket was either a part of the original motion of 21 November, or JM added the passage later that day. See Notes on Debates, 21 November 1782. JM’s motion, as revised by the Williamson committee, of which JM was a member (see headnote), was submitted to Congress on 22 November. The text probably read: “That the Secretary for Foreign Affairs be authorised to communicate to the Ministers of Foreign Powers who may reside near Congress all such Acts and Resolutions of Congress and all such Articles of Intelligence received by Congress as he may judge proper[,] those only excepted which Congress may specially require to be kept secret” (NA: PCC, No. 25, II, 139–40).

Prior to the adoption of the motion three days later, besides changing the opening words to read, “Resolved, That the Secretary for foreign affairs be, and he is hereby authorised,” there was added in President Boudinot’s hand at the end of the manuscript copy of the motion, “in which Cases he shall make previous Application to Congress” (ibid.; JCC description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds., Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789 (34 vols.; Washington, 1904–37). description ends , XXIII, 751–52). Although this addendum constitutes the main substantive difference between JM’s original motion and the resolution adopted by Congress (see last paragraph of ed. n., above), JM himself may have suggested the change either during the committee’s deliberations or in Congress on 22 or 25 November. Seemingly on one of these occasions he used the manuscript of his original motion to experiment with an alteration of the last five words of his motion in line with what appears in Boudinot’s hand in the manuscript of the committee’s proposed resolution. Although JM deleted his revisions so as to let the close of his motion remain in the form introduced in Congress, he tried out two variants of the phrase “which he shall have made,” namely, “as [or which] he shall desire to make” and “as [or which] he shall intend to make.” If the Boudinot addendum was not appended until 25 November, JM’s Notes on Debates for that day (q.v.), stating that the committee’s motion “passed without opposition,” needs qualification.

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