Notes on Debates
MS (LC: Madison Papers). See Notes on Debates, 4 November 1782, ed. n.
A considerable time previous to this date a letter had been recd. by Congress from Mr. H. Laurens informing them1 of his discharge from captivity, and of his having authorised in the British Ministry, an expectation that Earl Cornwallis sd. in return be absolved from his parole.2 Shortly after a letter from Docr. Franklin informed Congress that at the pressing instance of Mr. L. and in consideration of the offer of Genl Burgoyne for Mr. L. by Congress, as well as the apparent reasonableness of the thing, he had executed an instrument setting Cornwallis at liberty from his parole, untill3 the pleasure of Congress should be known.4 These papers had been committed to Mr. Rutlidge. Mr. Mongomery & Mr. Madison who reported in favor of the ratification of the measure, against the opinion however of Mr. Rutlidge the first member of the Committee.5 The Report after some discussion had been recommitted & had lain in their hands, untill being called for,6 it was thought proper by the Committee to obtain the sense of Congress on the main question whether the act sd. be ratified or annulled; in order that a report might be made correspondent thereto. With this view a motion was this day made by Mr Madison7 2ded. by Mr. Osgood that the Committee be instructed to report a proper act for a ratification of the measure.8 In support of this motion it was alledged, that whenever a public minister entered into engagements without authority from his Sovereign,9 the alternative which10 presented itself was either to recall the Minister, or to support his11 proceedings, or perhaps both; that Congress had by their Resolution of day of refused to accept the resignation of Mr. Laurens12 and had insisted on his executing the office of a Minister Plenipo: and that on the day of they had rejected a motion for suspending the said Resolution;13 that they had no option therefore but to fulfil the engagement entered into on the part of that Minister[;] that it would be in the highest degree preposterous to retain him in so dignified and confidential a service, and at the same time stigmatize him by a disavowal of his conduct and thereby14 disqualify him for a proper execution of the service;15 that it was improper to send him into negociations with the Enemy under an impression of supposed obligations; that this reasoning was16 in a great degree applicable to the part which Docr. Franklin had taken in the measure; that17 finally the Marquis de la Fayette, who in consequence of the liberation of Cornwallis had undertaken an exchange of several officers of his family,18 would also participate in the mortification; that it was overrating far the importance of Cornwallis, to sacrifice all these considerations to the policy or gratification of prolonging his captivity.
On the opposite side it was said that the British Govt. having treated Mr. L. as a Traytor not as a Prisoner of war, having refused to exchange him for Genl Burgoyne, and having declared by the British Genl at N. York that he had been freely discharged,19 neither Mr. L. nor Congress could be bound either in honor or justice to render an equivalent; and that policy absolutely required that so barbarous an instrumt. of war, and so odious an object to the people of the U. S. should be kept as long as possible in the chains of captivity;20 that as the latest advices rendered it probable that Mr. L. was on his return to America,21 the commission for peace would not be affected by any mark of disapprobation which might fall on his conduct; that no injury could accrue to Docr. Franklin, because he had guarded his act by an express reservation for the confirmation or disallowance of Congress; that the case was the same with the Marquis de la Fayette: that the declaration agst. partial exchanges untill a Cartel on national principles sd. be established wd. not admit even an exchange antecedt. thereto.22
These considerations were no doubt with some the sole motives to their respective votes. There were others however who at least blended with them, on one side, a personal attachment to Mr. L. and on the other, a dislike to his character, and a jealousy excited by his supposed predilection for G. B., by his intimacy with some of the new Ministry, by his frequent passing to & from G. B. by the eulogiums pronounced on him by Mr. Burke in the House of Commons, and by his memorial whilst in the Tower to the Parliamt.23 The last consideration was the cheif ground on which the motion had been made for suspending the resolution which requested his continuance in the Commission for peace.24
In this stage of the business a motion was made by Mr. Duane 2ded. by Mr. Rutlidge to postpone the consideration of it; which being lost, a motion was made by Mr. Williamson to substitute a Resolution25 declaring that as the B. Govt. had treated Mr. L. with so unwarrantable a rigor & even as a Traitor, and Cornwallis had rendered himself so execrable by his barbarities, Congress could not ratify his exchange. An adjournment was called in order to prevent a vote with so thin & divided a house.26
1. JM interlineated this word above a deleted “Congress.”
2. JM refers to Henry Laurens’ letter of 30–31 May, read in Congress on 11 September. See Comments and Motion in re Laurens, 19 September 1782, n. 1.
3. JM deleted the word “Congress” after “untill.”
4. Franklin’s dispatch of 29 June, telling of his conditional release of Cornwallis from his parole, was received by Congress on 17 September 1782. See Comments and Motion in re Laurens, 19 September 1782, n. 1. For the willingness of Congress in 1781 to exchange General John Burgoyne for Laurens, see ibid., n. 1; JM to Randolph, 9 August 1782, n. 5.
5. See Motion on the Exchange of Cornwallis, 22 November 1782, n. 1. JM interlineated “——dison” above “Mr. Ma——,” and “Mr. Rutlidge” above “of the first.”
6. The unnamed persons who had “called for” the recommitted report were undoubtedly those opposed to the exchange of Cornwallis, for while the report remained unacted upon, the step taken by Franklin was in effect approved, and Cornwallis was freely participating in parliamentary activities (Wharton, Revolutionary Diplomatic Correspondence description begins Francis Wharton, ed., The Revolutionary Diplomatic Correspondence of the United States (6 vols.; Washington, 1889). description ends , V, 533–34; Brant, Madison description begins Irving Brant, James Madison (6 vols.; Indianapolis and New York, 1941–61). description ends , II, 187–88).
7. JM interlineated “this day” and, probably long after he first wrote his notes, added “adison” after “Mr. M.”
9. The “public minister” was Laurens; the “Sovereign,” Congress. See Comments and Motion in re Laurens, 19 September 1782, n. 1.
10. The words “the alternative which” are interlineated above three or four others too heavily canceled to be legible.
11. JM wrote the word “his” after a deleted “him in.”
12. Probably long after JM originally wrote his notes, he added “aurens” to “L.” The date of the “Resolution” was 17 September 1782 (JCC description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds., Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789 (34 vols.; Washington, 1904–37). description ends , XXIII, 584–85).
13. The date to be inserted is 20 September 1782 (JCC description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds., Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789 (34 vols.; Washington, 1904–37). description ends , XXIII, 593). See also Comments on Motion in re Laurens, 20 September 1782, and n. 18.
14. JM interlineated “stigmatize” above a deleted “degrade” and also interlineated “thereby.”
15. After writing “his commission,” JM altered “his” to “the,” deleted “commission,” and above it interlineated “services.”
16. JM interlineated all of the passage between “service” and this word. Immediately following “service,” although he at first wrote and then deleted “that this reasoning,” JM closed the interlineation by rewriting the same three words.
17. JM canceled “and also” at the beginning of this clause by writing “that” over those words.
18. In his journal for 12 June, Franklin noted that, following his conditional release of Cornwallis from parole, he had been informed by one of Cornwallis’ former staff officers of the “custom among military people” of simultaneously liberating the aides-de-camp of a general from their paroles. Lacking authority from Congress, Franklin declined to conform but agreed to endorse a release signed by Lafayette (Wharton, Revolutionary Diplomatic Correspondence description begins Francis Wharton, ed., The Revolutionary Diplomatic Correspondence of the United States (6 vols.; Washington, 1889). description ends , V, 578). The aides-de-camp were Major (later General) Alexander Ross (1742–1827); Lieutenant Colonel (later Lieutenant General) George Waldegrave (1751–1789), Viscount Chewton; and Lieutenant Colonel Henry Haldane (1750–1825), subsequently Cornwallis’ private secretary and quartermaster general of the forces in India (G[eorge] E[dward] C[okayne] et al., comps., The Complete Peerage of England, Scotland, Ireland, Great Britain and the United Kingdom Extant, Extinct, or Dormant [new ed.; 13 vols. in 14; London, 1910–59], XII, Part 2, p. 311; Benjamin Franklin Stevens, comp. and ed., The Campaign in Virginia, 1781: An Exact Reprint of Six Rare Pamphlets on the Clinton-Cornwallis Controversy … [2 vols.; London, 1888], II, 412, 435, 454–55).
After being informed by Lafayette of his “Conditional Exchange” of the three aides-de-camp, Washington wrote to the secretary at war on 30 September 1782, urging that “a Respect due to the Character of the Marquis,” as well as political considerations, argued on behalf of an approval by Congress of what Lafayette had done if Franklin’s release of Cornwallis from parole should be ratified (Fitzpatrick, Writings of Washington description begins John C. Fitzpatrick, ed., The Writings of George Washington, from the Original Sources, 1745–1799 (39 vols.; Washington, 1931–44). description ends , XXV, 221–22). Notwithstanding this request, Congress on 16 October 1782 postponed acting upon the recommendation of a committee that Washington “be instructed to confirm the late exchanges of Lord Cornwallis’s family” upon “receiving an adequate compensation therefor by the liberation of our officers of equal rank” (JCC description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds., Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789 (34 vols.; Washington, 1904–37). description ends , XXIII, 661).
19. See 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 , II, 236–37; III, 232–33; 233, n. 1; 322–23; IV, 416, n. 6; JM to Randolph, 9 August, n. 5; 3 September, n. 8; Comments and Motion in re Laurens, 19 September 1782, n. 1.
20. The invidious adjectives allegedly characterized Cornwallis. See ibid., n. 1; Report on Cornwallis-Laurens Exchange, 25 September 1782.
22. The “declaration” by Congress to which JM referred had been made on 16 October 1782 (JCC description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds., Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789 (34 vols.; Washington, 1904–37). description ends , XXIII, 661). JM placed a caret after “Fayette” and interlineated the rest of the words in the paragraph.
23. See JM to Randolph, 13 August, nn. 4, 5; Comments and Motion in re Laurens, 19 September, and nn. 4, 5, 8; Comments on Motion in re Laurens, 20 September 1782, and n. 18.
24. See nn. 13 and 23, above.
25. The words “a Resolution” were substituted for a deleted passage which may have been “a new instruction to the Committee to report.”
26. Neither the Duane nor the Williamson motion is mentioned in the proceedings briefly recorded in the journal for 22 November (JCC description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds., Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789 (34 vols.; Washington, 1904–37). description ends , XXIII, 749–50). The docket on the manuscript of the Williamson motion (NA: PCC, No. 19, III, 457) leaves the erroneous impression that the motion was first introduced on 25 rather than 22 November 1782. On 25 November, during further debate on JM’s motion, Williamson “renewed” his motion. See Notes on Debates, 25 November 1782.