James Madison Papers

Notes on Debates, 20 December 1782

Notes on Debates

MS (LC: Madison Papers). See Notes on Debates, 4 November 1782, ed. n. Immediately preceding the entry for 20 December, JM wrote, “Thursday Decr. 19th. see Journals.”

A motion was made by Mr. Hamilton1 for revising the requisitions of the preceding and present years, in order to reduce them more within the faculties of the States.2 In support of the motion it was urged that the exorbitancy of the demands produced a despair of fulfilling them which benumbed the efforts for that purpose. On the other side it was alledged that a relaxation of the demand would be followed by a relaxation of the efforts; that unless other resources were substituted either the States would be deluded by such a measure into false expectations; or in case the truth sd. be disclosed to prevent that effort, that the Enemy wd. be encouraged to Persevere in the war agst. us. The motion meeting with little patronage was withdrawn.

The Report of the Committee on the motion of Mr. Hamilton proposed that the Scy. of Congress should transmit to the Executive of Rhode Island3 the several acts of Congress with a state of foreign loans.4 The object of the Committee was that in case Rho: Island should abet or not resent the misconduct of their Representative,5 as wd. most likely be the event, Congress might commit themselves as little as possible in the mode of referring it to that State.6 When the Report came under consideration it was observed, that the Presidt. had always transmitted acts of Congress to the Executives of the States, and that such a change on the present occasion might afford a pretext if not excite a disposition in Rho: Island, not to vindicate the honor of Congress.7 The matter was compromised by substiting the Scy. of Fn Afrs who ex-officio corresponds with the Governors &c.8 within whose department the facts to be transmitted as to foreign9 loans lay. No motion or vote opposed the report as it passed.10

1Here and at the beginning of the second paragraph, JM originally wrote only “Mr. H.” At some time later he inserted slantwise the remainder of the surname.

2For “the requisitions” and the alleged inability of most of the thirteen states to pay their quotas, see JM to Randolph, 16–17 September, n. 13; 24 September, n. 15; 22 October; 29 October, n. 12; 19 November, and n. 11; Report on Payment of New Jersey Troops, 1 October, and ed. n.; JM to Pendleton, 22 October, and n. 10; Notes on Debates, 26 November, n. 3; 4 December, and nn. 23, 25, 29; 6 December, and n. 27; Virginia Delegates to Harrison, 10 December 1782. JM noted at the close of this paragraph that Hamilton withdrew the motion, which does not appear in the printed journal. See Harold C. Syrett and Jacob E. Cooke, eds., Papers of Hamilton, III, 229. For comments by JM about the financial crisis occasioned by the delinquency of the states, see his letter of 24 December 1782 to Randolph.

3Judging from the handwriting, JM many years later interlineated “to the Executive of Rhode Island.”

5David Howell.

6That is, by having Charles Thomson, the secretary of Congress, rather than President Elias Boudinot act as the transmitting agent. Who should forward to Governor William Greene a copy of “the acts of Congress” and “a state of foreign loans” appears to have been the only controversial question raised by the committee’s report. JM suggested this difference of opinion by the three phrases in this paragraph which he underlined.

7The “honor of Congress” was deemed to have been injured by Howell’s publication of confidential information and his allegation that Congress was successfully raising an unnecessary amount of loans from European courts and bankers. See Notes on Debates, 6 December 1782, and n. 12. Rhode Island might “vindicate the honor of Congress” by censuring Howell for his breach of secrecy or by recalling him as a delegate in Congress.

8JM at first wrote “officially” instead of “ex-officio.” Although the secretary for foreign affairs, as his work was defined by Congress on 10 January 1781, was not specifically directed to correspond with the “Governors &c,” an amended description of his duties, adopted on 22 February 1782, obliged him to assume that task (JCC description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds., Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789 (34 vols.; Washington, 1904–37). description ends , XIX, 43–44; XXII, 89; XXIII, 588–89).

9JM originally wrote “for.” Probably many years later he interlineated “eign” without canceling the period. Livingston’s delay until 4 January 1783 in complying with this directive may have been caused by the largely unsuccessful efforts of the Rhode Island delegates on 27 and 31 December 1782 and on 2 and 3 January 1783 to have Congress direct him to include with his communication to Governor Greene extracts from certain dispatches of Franklin, Adams, and Lafayette which, in the opinion of the Rhode Island delegates, supported the statements made by Howell in his published letter (JCC description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds., Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789 (34 vols.; Washington, 1904–37). description ends , XXIII, 832–33, 837; XXIV, 3, 32–36, 45–46, 46 n.).

In his letter to Greene, besides enclosing copies of the documents as directed by Congress (n. 6, above), Livingston stated that, since 1779, $5,000,000 had been sought from Spain and $150,000 received; Portugal had loaned nothing; the Netherlands had provided 10,000,000 livres after France had pledged that the money would be repaid; Dutch bankers had consented to loan 5,000,000 livres, but only a small portion of that sum had actually been advanced; and France had furnished 9,000,000 livres up to 1780, 14,000,000 livres in 1780 and 1781, partly in goods, and 12,000,000 livres in 1782. Of the 35,000,000 livres from France, about 8,000,000 had been a gift. Livingston added that the United States was necessarily trying to borrow still more money from the court of France. “I can only wish,” he concluded, “that the low state of our credit abroad may excite us to such internal exertions as must be its best support. Those only can borrow with dignity, who give unequivocal proofs of their design to repay their Debt with honour” (NA: PCC, No. 119, fols. 205–12).

10Report on Howell’s Protest, 20 December 1782, and n. 3; JCC description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds., Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789 (34 vols.; Washington, 1904–37). description ends , XXIII, 822.

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