Report on Breach of Secrecy in re Foreign Affairs
MS (NA: PCC, No. 36, I, 477). In JM’s hand. Docketed, “Dec 31, 1782 Called for by Mr. Howell Postponed”
[12 December 1782]
The Committee further report1 that the clause in the said publication which manifestly refers to the late advances made by the Court of Sweeden towards a Treaty with the U.S.2 affords a strong presumption that the obligation of secrecy on that subject has been3 violated by some member4 of Congress5 or by some person belonging to one of the offices to which the letter from the Minister Plenipo: at the Ct. of Versailles was entrusted6 that as soon as the author of the said letter shall have been investigated it will be proper for Congress to7 resume the consideration of this part of the subject; but that Congress can not take notice of it on the present occasion8 without authentically disclosing a fact9 which they wish to conceal10
1. Except for this paragraph, the report of the committee appointed on 6 December to “consider how far the honor of Congress and the finances of the United States may be affected by certain late publications on the subject of foreign loans, &c.” was written by Hugh Williamson, the committee’s chairman (Notes on Debates, 6 December 1782, and n. 17; NA: PCC, No. 25, II, 141–42; JCC description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds., Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789 (34 vols.; Washington, 1904–37). description ends , XXIII, 791–92). In the paragraphs preceding JM’s, the committee stated that the anonymous letter which had appeared in the Providence Gazette and was reprinted in the Boston Gazette of 10 November obviously had been written “by a Member of Congress or by some Person Officially entrusted with their Papers,” and that the author not only had divulged confidential information contained in dispatches from American ministers overseas, but had distorted it so as to leave the erroneous impression that European courts and bankers were willing to lend as much money as Congress needed. In view of these facts, the committee advised “that the Secy. for foreign Affairs be instructed to write to the Executive of Massachusetts & Rh Island requesting them to inquire through what Channel the above Communication was made or who is the supposed Author of the Extract referd to and to report accordingly” (NA: PCC, No. 25, II, 142).
2. JM interlineated “manifestly.” Whether this change and all except one (see n. 6) of the other changes, noted below, were made by JM before the committee reported to Congress, or represent amendments adopted during the debates, is unknown. See Instructions in re Treaty with Sweden, 28 September, and ed. n.; Notes on Debates, 6 December 1782, and n. 12.
3. Following “presumption,” JM at first wrote, “that the injunction of secrecy by Congress on that subject has either been.”
4. Between “some” and “members,” JM originally wrote and canceled “one of,” and then wrote and canceled “by its own.”
6. JM interlineated the passage from “by” through “entrusted” as a substitute for a deleted “that there has been some indiscretion or perfidy in that the information recd from the Minister Plenipo: at the Ct. of Versailles has transpired from the offices to which it was entrusted.” JM probably amended this clause before offering his paragraph to Congress, lest “indiscretion” or “perfidy” appear to involve someone in Franklin’s office.
7. Immediately following “to,” JM deleted “examine.”
8. The passage from the semicolon through “occasion” originally read, “but that in the meantime Congress can not take notice thereof by any public Act.”
9. JM interlineated “disclosing.”
10. Except for this paragraph, Congress on 12 December adopted the committee’s report after deleting the recommendation that the Executive “of Massachusetts” be asked to help in ascertaining the author of the anonymous letter and how it reached the Boston Gazette (n. 1, above; JCC description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds., Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789 (34 vols.; Washington, 1904–37). description ends , XXIII, 791–93; Notes on Debates, 12 December 1782). On the same day, in accord with JM’s recommendation, Congress postponed acting upon his paragraph of the report. By 23 December Congress concluded that its earlier rules binding the members to secrecy were no longer legally in effect. Possibly for this reason, although David Howell eight days later tried to have JM’s paragraph debated, it apparently was never revived. See Notes on Debates, 18 December 1782, n. 10.