Notes on Debates
MS (LC: Madison Papers). See Notes on Debates, 4 November 1782, ed. n.
An ordinance extending the privilege of Franking letters to the Heads of all the Departments was reported & taken up.1 Various ideas were thrown out on the subject at large; some contending for the extension proposed, some for a partial adoption of it. some for a total abolition of the privilege as well in members of Congress2 as in others; some for a limitation of the privilege to a definite number or weight of letters. Those who contended for a total abolition, represented the privilege as productive of abuses, of reducing the profits so low as to prevent the extension of the establishment throughout the U.S. and as throwing the whole burden of the establishment on the mercantile3 intercourse. On the other side it was contended that in case of an abolition4 the Delegates, or their Constituents, would be taxed just in proportion to their distance from the seat of Congress; which was neither just nor politic, considering the many other disadvantages which were inseparable from that distance; that as the correspondence of the Delegates was the principal channel through which a general knowledge of public affairs, was diffused, any5 abridgment of it would so far confine this advantage to the States within the neighbourhood of Congress: & that as the correspondence at present however voluminous did not exclude from the mail any private letters which wd. be subject to postage, and if postage was extended to the letters now franked the no. & size of them6 would be essentially reduced, the revenue was not affected in the manner represented. The Ordinance was disagreed to & the subject recommitted wth. an instruction to the Committee7 giving them ample latitude for such Report as they should think fit.8
A Boston Newspaper containing under the Providence Head an extract of a letter purporting to be written by a gentleman in Philada. and misrepresenting the state of our loans, as well as betraying the secret9 proposal of the Sweedish Court to enter into a Treaty with the U.S.; with the view of disproving to the people of R. Island10 the necessity of the Impost of 5 PCt.; had been handed about for several days. From the style and11 other circumstances, it carried strongly the appearance of being written by a Member of Congress.12 The unanimous suspicions were fixed on Mr. Howel.13 The mischevous tendency of such publications & the necessity of the interposition of Congress14 were also general subjects of conversation. It was imagined too that a detection of the person suspected would destroy in his state that influence which he exerted in misleading its counsels with respect to the Impost.15 These circumstances led Mr. Williamson16 to move the proposition on this subject. insert it See Journal It was opposed by no one.17 Mr. Clarke supposing it to be levelled in part at him, rose & informed Congress, that not considering the article relative to Sweeden as secret in its nature, and considering himself at liberty to make any communications to his Constituents, he had disclosed it to the Assembly of N. Jersey.18 He was told that the motion was not aimed at him, but the doctrine advanced by him was utterly inadmissible. Mr. Rutlidge observed19 that after this frankness on the part of Mr. Clarke20 as well as from the respect due from every member to Congress & to himself, it might be concluded that if no member present should own the letter in question, no member present was the author of it. Mr. Howell21 was visibly perturbated, but remained silent.
The Conference with the Committee of the Legislature of Penna. with subsequent information had rendered it very evident that unless some effectual measures were taken against separate appropriations & in favor of the public Creditors, the Legislature of that State, at its next meeting, would resume the plan which they had suspended.22 Mr Rutlidge in pursuance of this conviction moved that the Superintendt of Finance23 be instructed to represent to the several States the mischeifs which such appropriations would produce. It was observed with respect to this motion that however proper it might be as one expedient, it was of itself inadequate; that nothing but a permanent fund for discharging the debts of the public would divert the States from making provision24 for their own Citizens; that a renewal of the call on R. Island for the impost ought to accompany the motion;25 that such a combination of these plans would mutually give efficacy to them, since R. Island would be solicitous to prevent separate appropriations26 & the other States would be soothed with the hope of the Impost. These observations gave rise to the Motion of Mr. Hamilton, which stands on the Journal. enter it27 Agst. Mr. Rutlidge’s part of the motion no objection was made. But The sending a deputation to Rhode Island was a subject of considerable debate, in which the necessity of the impost, in order to prevent separate appropriations by the States, to do equal justice to the public creditors, to maintain our national character & credit abroad, to obtain the loans essential for supplying the deficiencies of revenue, to prevent the encouragement which a failure of the scheme would give the Enemy to persevere in the war, was, fully28 set forth. The objections, except those wch. came agst. the scheme itself from the Delegates of R. Island, were drawn from the unseasonableness of the proposition. Congress ought it was said to wait for an official answer to their demand of an explicit answer from R.I. before they could with propriety repeat their exhortations.29 To which it was replied that altho’ this objection might have some weight, yet the urgency of our situation, and the chance of giving a favorable turn to the negociations on foot for peace,30 rendered it of little comparitive signification. The objections were finally retracted, and both the propositions agreed to.31 The Deputation elected were Mr. Osgood,32 Mr. Mifflin & Mr. Nash taken from different parts of the U.S. & each from States which had fully adopted the Impost,33 and would be represented in Congress wthout them; except Mr. Osgood whose State, he being alone, was not represented without him.34
1. JM interlineated the words between “letters” and “was.” His record would have been clearer in meaning if he had added “of the army” after “Departments.” On 21 November, upon receiving from Secretary at War Benjamin Lincoln a letter addressed to him on 5 November by Edward Hand, adjutant general of the army of the United States, emphasizing how greatly the business of his office would be expedited if his correspondence could be franked, Congress referred the matter to a committee comprising David Ramsay, chairman, Abner Nash, and Richard Peters (NA: PCC, No. 149, II, 147, 149; 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, n. 1).
The committee’s report, submitted on 27 November, was in the form of a proposed ordinance supplementing and amending the ordinances of 18 and 28 October for regulating the post office (JCC description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds., Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789 (34 vols.; Washington, 1904–37). description ends , XXIII, 669–78, 688–89). The committee recommended that the franking privilege be extended not only to letters on public business to and from the adjutant general but also to seven other “Departments” of the continental army and to “the like Departments in any Separate Army of these United States” (JCC description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds., Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789 (34 vols.; Washington, 1904–37). description ends , XXIII, 754–55). This report had been debated and recommitted, probably with alterations, on 2 December. The present discussion was upon the committee’s revised recommendation, which had been submitted two days later (JCC description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds., Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789 (34 vols.; Washington, 1904–37). description ends , XXIII, 757, 764, 770).
3. Judging from the handwriting, this word was substituted by JM for a deleted “commercial” considerably after he originally wrote his notes.
4. JM interlineated “in case of” and canceled “would” immediately after “abolition.”
5. Between the comma and “any,” JM deleted “any interfe.”
6. Immediately after “of,” JM at first wrote “the latter.” He then deleted “latter” and converted “the” into “them.”
7. Immediately after “wth,” JM wrote “an” over “the.” He at first followed “Committee” with “which exten”[ded?] but then canceled the expression.
8. On 24 December 1782, after amending the new report of the committee, Congress adopted an ordinance providing that letters on public business written by or to six specified departments of the army, including that of the adjutant general, and by or to “the like departments in any separate army” could be franked (JCC description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds., Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789 (34 vols.; Washington, 1904–37). description ends , XXIII, 820–21, 823, 830).
9. Between “loans” and “as,” JM canceled “with the view of.” He interlineated the second “as” and “secret.”
10. JM interlineated “to the people of R. Island.”
11. Immediately following “and,” JM heavily canceled a word which may have been “diction.”
12. See Instructions in re Treaty with Sweden, 28 September, and ed. n., and nn. 2, 3; JM to Randolph, 8 October, and n. 11; 19 November 1782, and nn. 9, 11. The Providence Gazette of 2 November published an “Extract of a Letter from a Gentleman in Philadelphia to his Friend in this Town, dated October 16.” Its theme was that “Our foreign Affairs are in a good Train,” whether viewed from the standpoint of the bright prospects of an early peace, the increasing friendliness of European powers and their willingness to expand their trade with the United States and lend Congress even more money than it needed to borrow, or of the solicitation by “Another Northern Power” (obviously Sweden, although unnamed) to enter into commercial relations with America. The writer, who clearly was a member of Congress or someone to whom its confidential information was accessible, viewed the near future optimistically in order to justify his two conclusions, namely: (1) America’s “only Danger” of a financial nature was “that of contracting too large a Debt”; and (2) the impost was unnecessary and, if authorized, would provide Congress a “permanent revenue” wherewith to mortgage “Posterity.”
Although this “Extract,” as copied in the Boston Gazette of 10 November, was evidently known in Philadelphia by late in that month, the newspapers of the city seem not to have included it in their columns. On the other hand the Pennsylvania Journal of 16 November reprinted “A Vindication of the State of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations for not having granted the Five per cent. Duties, recommended by Congress, February 3, 1781,” which had appeared in the Providence Gazette of 26 October and 9 November 1782. By especially stressing the dire threat to the people’s liberties if Congress were endowed with a permanent revenue, the “Vindication” led at least some of its readers to attribute it to the writer of the “Extract of a Letter,” mentioned above. Before JM recorded his notes for 6 December, “A Friend to Rhode Island and the Union” (Thomas Paine) had published two long replies to “A Vindication,” charging its author with imprudence, egregious errors, and a lack of concern about the welfare of the Confederation (Pennsylvania Journal, 23 November, and 4 December; Pennsylvania Gazette, 27 November, and 4 December; Pennsylvania Packet, 5 December 1782; William R. Staples, Rhode Island in the Continental Congress, p. 428).
13. David Howell (1747–1824), a delegate in Congress from Rhode Island, 1782–1785. As President of the United States, JM asked the Senate on 13 November 1812 to approve his nomination of Howell to be “Judge of the District Court of Rhode Island.” Howell was appointed and held the office until his death (Journal of the Executive Proceedings of the Senate of the United States of America, II [Washington, 1828], 303). See also Brant, Madison description begins Irving Brant, James Madison (6 vols.; Indianapolis and New York, 1941–61). description ends , II, 214.
14. From “&” through “Congress” was interlineated by JM.
15. An extract of a letter from “a Gentleman at the Southward to his Friend in this Town,” published in the Providence Gazette of 26 October 1782, may not have been written by Howell, but the following sentence from that letter excellently summed up the connection he stressed between the impost and the western-land issues: “Will you” ratify the impost and thereby “give up all your Advantages to be derived from your maritime Situation, while other States for whose Benefit you do it, will not admit you to participate in the back Lands, but continue their exclusive Claims thereto?—You will not.” For samples of Howell’s letters about these subjects written in the autumn of 1782, see Burnett, Letters description begins Edmund C. Burnett, ed., Letters of Members of the Continental Congress (8 vols.; Washington, 1921–36). description ends , IV, 502–7, 510–12, 513.
16. JM originally wrote “W——amson.” Many years later he inserted the missing letters over the dash.
17. In handwriting characteristic of his old age, JM placed a caret after “subject” and interlineated “insert it See Journals.” Hugh Williamson’s motion, seconded by Daniel Carroll, requested Congress to appoint a committee to inquire about “some publications” relating to foreign affairs and to recommend “what steps” should “be taken thereon.” JM was named to the committee, along with the two delegates just mentioned (JCC description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds., Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789 (34 vols.; Washington, 1904–37). description ends , XXIII, 769–79). See Notes on Debates, 12 December 1782.
18. See n. 12, above. Immediately following “himself,” JM deleted “licensed.” The letter of Abraham Clark, if any, disclosing the negotiations with Sweden, is missing. He may have communicated the information orally to his “Constituents.” For the dilemma of Congress in regard to its rules of secrecy, see Notes on Debates, 18 December 1782, n. 10.
19. JM at first wrote only “R——e.” Later he filled in the missing letters, but evidently deciding in his old age that their merger with the dashes had left the name indistinct, he interlineated “Rutlidge.” JM had interlineated “observed” in his original draft of the notes.
20. Here, too, JM’s earliest draft showed only “C——e.”
23. Robert Morris. Sometime after writing his notes, JM changed “R——e” to “Rutlidge.”
24. JM originally wrote “from providing.” He then interlineated “making” and, without deleting “providing,” changed it into “provision.”
26. The predicted “solicitous” response of Rhode Island was based more on hope than fact. In connection with the apportionment of a financial requisition by Congress among the states, Rhode Island submitted “authentic documents” on 7 April 1783 showing that her white population numbered 50,400. Thus her state debt of approximately $500,000 was about $10.00 per capita. For this reason a policy of “separate appropriations” would be to her financial advantage (JCC description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds., Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789 (34 vols.; Washington, 1904–37). description ends , XXIV, 231; Merrill Jensen, The New Nation, p. 303).
27. Probably late in his life, when JM was preparing these notes for publication, he canceled “which stands on the Journal” lightly with ink, placed a caret between “Journal” and the period, and interlineated “enter it” as a direction to his clerk.
Although Hamilton introduced two motions, the first, except for the concluding clause, was penned by John Rutledge. This motion recommended that Congress direct Robert Morris to point out to every state legislature the “indispensable necessity” of paying Congress the long overdue quotas, and the “inconveniences, embarrassments and injuries to the public service” that would arise were a state to use “any part” of its quota to pay its citizens what they were owed by Congress.
“The Motion of Mr. Hamilton,” the second he introduced, is entirely in his hand. It read: “That a deputation be sent from Congress to the State of Rhode Island to inform that state of the prospects which Congress have of loans and other supplies for the ensuing year and of urging the absolute necessity of a compliance with the resolution of Congress of the 3d day of February, 1781, respecting the duty on imports and prizes, as a measure essential to the safety and reputation of these states.”
In the ensuing debate “from Congress” was deleted, probably as being superfluous. It was then successfully moved, almost certainly by JM, for the interlineated amendment in the manuscript motion is in his hand, that “to inform that state of the prospects which Congress have of loans and other supplies” be deleted and in its place be substituted “for the purpose of making a full and just representation of the public affairs of the United States” (NA: PCC, No. 36, I, 483, 485; JCC description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds., Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789 (34 vols.; Washington, 1904–37). description ends , XXIII, 771). By widening the area of topics which the deputation to the Rhode Island legislature might present, JM probably hoped to remove the issue from the narrower base on which the “Gentleman in Philadelphia” had grounded his arguments. See n. 12, above.
28. Interlineated by JM above a deleted “at length.”
29. Congress received on 12 December an official notification from William Bradford, speaker “of the lower house of assembly of the State of Rhode Island,” that a resolution to reject the impost amendment had been adopted unanimously (JCC description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds., Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789 (34 vols.; Washington, 1904–37). description ends , XXIII, 788).
30. JM interlineated “for peace.”
31. Congress adopted Rutledge’s portion of the motion (n. 27, above) by a unanimous vote, and the Hamilton-Madison portion by a vote of 7 states, with Rhode Island alone in dissent (JCC description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds., Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789 (34 vols.; Washington, 1904–37). description ends , XXIII, 771–72).
32. Following this comma, JM heavily deleted three words of which the first two were “recommended by.”
33. The three delegates were from Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, and North Carolina, respectively.
34. Even with Thomas Mifflin and Abner Nash absent, Pennsylvania and North Carolina, respectively, could vote effectively, because two delegates from each state would still be attending Congress. Following the departure of Jonathan Jackson late in October (Burnett, Letters description begins Edmund C. Burnett, ed., Letters of Members of the Continental Congress (8 vols.; Washington, 1921–36). description ends , VI, 525; JCC description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds., Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789 (34 vols.; Washington, 1904–37). description ends , XXIII, 668, 690), Samuel Osgood alone had represented Massachusetts. Therefore his membership in the “Deputation” would not reduce the number of states which could cast effective votes in Congress. For more on the mission to Rhode Island, see JM to Randolph, 17 December 1782.