Notes on Debates
MS (LC: Madison Papers). See Notes on Debates, 4 November 1782, ed. n.
The report of the Committee on the letter from the Lt. Govr. of R. Island (see Novr. 25)2 was made & taken into consideration.
It was moved by Mr. McKean to insert in the first clause on the Journal, after directing the apprehension by Genl Washington “in order that the sd persons may be brought to trial.”3 The reason urged for the motion was that it might appear that the4 interposition was not meant to supercede civil process farther than the necessity of the case required. Agst. the motion it urged that it would lead to discussions extremely perplexing & dilatory, & that it would be more proper after the apprehension sd. have taken place. The motion was lost[;] 6 States only being for it.5
With respect to the main question it was agreed on all sides that it was indispensable to the safety of the U. S. that a traiterous intercourse between the inhabitants of Vermont & the Enemy should be suppressed. There were however two modes proposed for the purpose viz6 the direct & immediate interposition of the military force according to the Report, and 2dly. a reference in the first instance to the acting Authority in Vermont,7 to be followed in case of refusal or neglect of Justice on the offenders, by an exertion of compulsive measures against the whole body.
In favor of the 1st. mode it was sd. that it would be the only effectual one & the only one consistent with the part Congress had observed with regard to Vermont; Since a reference to the Authority of Vermont which had itself been suspected & accused would8 certainly be followed at the best by a mere9 mock trial; and would more over be a stronger recognition of its independence10 than Congress had made or meant to make.
In favor of the 2d. mode it was alledged that the body of the people in Vermont were well attached to the Revolution, that a sudden march of military force into the Country might alarm them, that if their Rulers abetted the Traitors, it wd. disgrace them in the eyes of their own people, and that Congress would be justified in that event to “split Vermont up among the other States”11 This expression as well as the arguments on this side in general came from Mr. Howell of R. I. whose object was to render the proceedings of Congress as favorable as possible to the Independence of Vermont.12
In order to compromise the matter Mr. Arnold moved that the Commander in cheif sd. be directed to make a previous communication of his intentions & the evidence on which they were founded to the persons exercising authority in within13 the district in question.
The Delegates from N. Y.16 said they would agree that after the apprehension should have been effected, the Commander might give notice thereof to the Persons exercising authority in Vermont.
It was finally compromised as it stands on the Journal.17
In the course of the Debate Mr. Clark informed Congress that the Delegates of N. Jersey could not vote for any act which might oppose forces to the authority of18 Vermont, the Legislature of that State, having so construed the Resolutions of the 7 & 20th. of Aug: as to be incompatible therewith & accordingly instructed their Delegates.19
The communication directed to the States on this occasion thro’ the Commander in Cheif was objected to by several members as an improper innovation. The object of it was to prevent the risk of discovery, if sent before the plans which might be taken by Genl Washington were sufficiently advanced, of which he was the proper Judge.20
1. After writing “17,” JM may have noted that at the beginning of his earlier entries, except the first of them, he had not followed the month and the day with the year.
3. Ibid., and n. 4. JM originally wrote only “Genl W.” Judging from the handwriting, he interlineated “Washington” many years later but forgot to delete “W.” The printed journal of Congress (JCC description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds., Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789 (34 vols.; Washington, 1904–37). description ends , XXIII, 756) records the report of the committee on Washington’s dispatch of 19 November but does not mention Thomas McKean’s motion. Its substance, however, was incorporated in the second resolution, adopted on 3 December 1782. See n. 20, below.
4. Between “that” and “the,” JM wrote and deleted “Congress.”
5. The tallied vote was not entered in the journal.
6. Between “viz” and “the,” JM wrote and deleted “that if the Report.”
7. That is, the extralegal “government,” of which Thomas Chittenden was the governor. 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 , IV, 420, n. 17; 421, n. 20.
8. JM interlineated the passage between “of Vermont” and “would.”
9. JM wrote “at the best by a mere” above about five words too heavily deleted to be legible.
10. Following “independence,” JM interlineated the rest of the sentence, except the last word, above a passage which seems to have been “than the Congress meant to grant, at that time & has.”
11. Presumably among New Hampshire, New York, and Massachusetts, each of which claimed at least a part of the area.
12. In JM’s view, David Howell was opposed to coercing Vermont either then or later, although he professed his willingness, as a last resort, to have the area “split” up. See Notes on Debates, 14 November 1782, and n. 4.
13. On one page JM’s final word was “in,” and on the next page his first word was “within.” Howell’s Rhode Island colleague, Jonathan Arnold, believed that, although Congress need not directly recognize the “authority” in Vermont, Washington might give it advance warning of his intention to send troops there.
14. Judging from the handwriting and ink, JM interlineated “by Mr. Madison” when he first wrote the notes.
15. Immediately before “suspected persons” JM deleted “offend.”
16. Ezra L’Hommedieu and Alexander Hamilton.
17. The resolution “empowered and directed” Washington to proceed at once to arrest Luke Knoulton, Samuel Wells, and all of their associates suspected of having “a dangerous correspondence and intercourse with the enemy” and closed by authorizing Washington, “at such time as he shall think proper,” to inform the “persons exercising authority” in Vermont of the action of Congress “and the information on which it is grounded” (JCC description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds., Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789 (34 vols.; Washington, 1904–37). description ends , XXIII, 756).
Colonel Samuel Wells (1730–1786), a native of Deerfield, Mass., had settled in Brattleboro in 1762. Four years later he was appointed by New York a judge of the Inferior Court of Common Pleas, and he served, 1773–1775, in the General Assembly of that state. Always a Loyalist, he was accused in 1782 of corresponding with the enemy and fled to escape arrest. He died in exile heavily in debt. The British recognized the value of his services by granting each of his eleven surviving children twelve hundred acres of land in Canada (Mary R[ogers] Cabot, comp., Annals of Brattleboro, 1681–1895 [2 vols.; Brattleboro, Vt., 1921–22], I, 34, 36, 130–34).
18. Abraham Clark of New Jersey. Instead of “authority of,” JM at first wrote and then deleted “Independence.”
19. For the resolutions of 2 and 20 August 1781, the subsequent actions by Congress on the issue, and JM’s views of it, see JCC description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds., Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789 (34 vols.; Washington, 1904–37). description ends , XXI, 837–39, 886–88; 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 , III, 224; 225, n. 11; 226, n. 13; 234–35; 309, n. 4; IV, 38–39; 39, n. 5; 40, n. 6; 56, n. 4; 130; 131, n. 2; 132–35, and nn.; 164, and n. 3; 181. Although these resolutions did not explicitly state that force would be used if the government of Vermont refused to confine its jurisdiction within the boundary stipulated by Congress, they so implied. See Notes on Debates, 3 December; Motion in re Coercing Vermont, 5 December 1782, and n. 2.
Whether the New Jersey delegates had supported or opposed the resolution of 7 August is unknown, because the tallied vote is not included in the printed journal. They voted in favor of the resolution of 20 August (JCC description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds., Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789 (34 vols.; Washington, 1904–37). description ends , XXI, 888). On 25 August 1781 and again on 23 October 1782, Elias Boudinot, a delegate from New Jersey, asked Governor William Livingston to request the state legislature to instruct its delegates on the Vermont issue (Burnett, Letters description begins Edmund C. Burnett, ed., Letters of Members of the Continental Congress (8 vols.; Washington, 1921–36). description ends , VI, 197–98, 522–25). On 1 November 1782 the New Jersey General Assembly, after expressing its belief that Vermont had complied with the requirements stated in the resolutions of 7 and 20 August 1781, and that Congress had no present “Disposition” to compel Vermonters to render allegiance to any of the thirteen states, declared its unqualified opposition to using continental troops to precipitate a civil war, thus “imbruing our hands in the Blood of our Fellow Citizens.” Although this declaration was an instruction to the New Jersey delegates, they were not explicitly required to present the document to Congress, and apparently they did not do so (Journal of the Proceeding of the Legislative-Council of the State of New Jersey, In General Assembly convened at Trenton, on Tuesday the twenty-second Day of October, in the Year of our Lord, One Thousand Seven Hundred and Eighty-Two [Trenton, N.J., 1783], pp. 11–12).
20. Probably many years after writing this sentence, JM interlineated “Washington” but neglected to delete his original “W.” Further consideration of the second resolution (n. 3, above) was postponed until 3 December (JCC description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds., Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789 (34 vols.; Washington, 1904–37). description ends , XXIII, 756, n. 1; Notes on Debates, 3 December 1782). Although so much of the motion was passed as directed the furnishing of the executives of New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Connecticut, and New York with copies of Christopher Osgood’s testimony and with the request that the executive of the state in which he “may reside” cause his appearance at “any trial to be had of the persons mentioned,” the proviso that the communications should be made “by the Commander in Chief at such time as he shall think proper” was struck out (JCC description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds., Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789 (34 vols.; Washington, 1904–37). description ends , XXIII, 760–61). The effect was to leave this phase of the matter in the hands of Congress.