James Madison Papers

Notes on Debates, [30 December] 1782

Notes on Debates

MS (LC: Madison Papers). See Notes on Debates, 4 November 1782, ed. n.

[30 December 1782]

From Teusday 24 Decr. the journals suffice untill Monday 30 Decr.1

A motion was made by Mr. Clarke seconded by Mr. Rutlidge to revise the instructions relative to negociations for peace, with a view to exempt the american Plenipotentiaries from the obligation to conform to the advice of France.2 This motion was the effect of impressions left by Mr. Jay’s letters & the intercepted one from Marbois.3 This evidence of separate views in our ally, and4 the inconsistency of that instruction with our national dignity, were urged in support of the motion.5 In opposing the motion many considerations were suggested, and the original expediency of submitting the commission for peace to the counsels of France discanted upon. The reasons assigned for this expediency were that at the juncture when that measure took place,6 the American affairs were in the most deplorable situation, the Southern States being over run & exhausted by the enemy, & the others more inclined to repose after their own fatigues than to exert their7 resources for the relief of those which were the seat of the war; that the old paper currency had failed, & wth. it public credit itself to such a degree that no new currency could be substituted; & that there was then no prospect of introducing specie for the purpose, our trade being in the most ruinous condition, & the intercourse with the Havanna in particular unopened.8 In the midst of these distresses, the mediation of the two Imperial Courts was announced. The general idea was that the two most respectable powers of Europe would not interpose without a serious desire of peace, and without the energy requisite to effect it. The hope of peace was therefore mingled with an apprehension that considerable concessions might be exacted from America by the Mediators, as a compensation for the essential one which Britain was to submit to.9 Congress on a trial found it impossible from the diversity of opinions & interests to define any other claims than those of independence & the alliance.10 A discretionary power therefore was to be delegated with regard to all other claims.11 Mr. Adams was the sole minister for peace, he was personally at variance wth. the French Ministry; his judgment had not the confidence of some, and his impartiality in case of an interference of claims espoused by different quarters of the U.S. the confidence of others;12 a motion to associate with him two colleagues, to wit, Mr. Franklin13 & Mr. Jay had been disagreed to by Congress; The former of these being interested as one of the Land Companies in territorial claims which had14 less chance of being made good in any other way, than by a repossession of the vacant country by the British Crown;15 the latter belonging to a State interested in such arrangements as would deprive the U.S. of the navigation of the Mississippi & turn the wartime trade thro’ N.Y.;16 and neither of them being connected with the So. States. The idea of having five Ministers taken from the whole union, was not suggested until the measure had been adopted,17 and communicated to the Chevr. de Luzerne to be forwarded to France, when it was too late to revoke it.18 It was supposed also that Mr. Laurens then in the tower wd not be out, & Mr. Jefferson wd. not go &.19 that the greater the no. of Ministers, the greater the danger of discords & indiscretions. It was20 added that as it was expected that nothing would be yielded by G.B. which was not extorted by the address of France in managing the Mediators,21 and as it was the intention of Congress that their minister22 should not oppose a peace recommended by them & approved by France,23 it was thought good policy to make the declaration to France, & by such a mark of confidence to render her friendship the more responsible for the issue. At the worst it could only be considered as a sacrifice of our pride to our interest.24

These considerations still justified the original measure in the view of the members who were present & voted for it.25 All the new members who had not participated in the impressions which dictated it and viewed the subject only under circumstances of an opposite nature disapproved it.26 In general however the latter joined with the former in opposing the motion of Mr Clarke arguing with them that supposing the instruction to be wrong, it was less dishonorable, than the instability tht wd. be denoted by rescinding it;27 that if G.B. was disposed to give us what we claimed, France could not prevent it; that if G.B. struggled agst. those claims our only chance of getting them was thro’ the aid of France; that to withdraw our confidence would lessen the chance & degree28 of this aid; that if we were in a prosperous or safe condition compared with that in which we adopted the expedient in question, this change had been effected by the friendly succours of our ally, & that to take advantage of it to loosen the tie,29 would not only bring on us the reproach of ingratitude but induce France to believe that she had no hold on our affections but only in our necessities; that in all possible situations we sd. be more in danger of being30 seduced by G.B. than of being sacrificed by France; the interests of the latter in the main necessarily coinciding with ours; those of the former being diametrically opposed to them. That as to the intercepted letter, there were many reasons which indicated that it came through the hands of the Enemy to Mr. Jay31 that it ought therefore to be regarded[,] even if genuine, as communicated for insidious purposes; but that the[re] was strong reason to suspect that it had been adulterated if not forged; and that on the worst supposition, it did not appear that the doctrines maintained or the measures recommended in it had been adopted by the French Ministry and consequently that they ought not to be held responsible for them.32

Upon these considerations it was proposed by Mr. Wolcott 2ded. by Mr. Hamilton that the motion of Mr. Clarke should be postponed, which took place without a vote.33 Mr. Madison moved that the letter from Docr. Franklin of the 14 Ocr. 1782 shd.34 be referred to a Committee with a view of bringing into consideration the preliminary article proposing that British subjects & American Citizens sd. reciprocally have in matters of commerce the privileges of natives of the other party;35 and of giving to the American Ministers the instruction which ensued on that subject.36 This motion succeeded and the Committee appointed consisted of Mr. Madison, Mr. Rutlidge, Mr. Clarke, Mr. Hamilton, & Mr. Osgood.37

The contract of Gel. Wayne was confirmed with great reluctance; being considered as improper with respect to its being made with individuals, as admitting of infinite abuses, as out of his military line, & as founded on a principle that a present commerce with G.B. was favorable to the U.S. a principle reprobated by Congress & all the States. Congress however supposed that these considerations ought to yield to the necessity of supporting the measures which a valuable officer from good motives had taken upon himself.38

1Above this sentence, JM wrote “No. IV” near the top of the page. For a probable explanation of the numeral, see Notes on Debates, 4 November 1782, ed. n. On 27 December, the only day between 24 and 30 December that Congress convened, the matters under consideration were apparently not of prime importance (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).

2Except in its last paragraph, JM’s record for this day concentrates upon a motion and debate unnoted in 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, 833–36). The instructions which Abraham Clark moved “to revise” had been adopted by Congress on 8 June 1781. They had directed the American peace commissioners to “undertake nothing in the negotiations for peace or truce” without the “knowledge and concurrence” of their French counterparts (JCC description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds., Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789 (34 vols.; Washington, 1904–37). description ends , XX, 617). Ever since the surrender of Cornwallis on 19 October 1781 and the virtual suspension of offensive operations by the British forces on the North American mainland, frequent efforts had been made by Arthur Lee, Clark, John Lowell, and other anti-Gallicans in Congress to release the American peace commissioners from this restraint upon their freedom of action. 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 , III, 154, nn. 3, 5; IV, 249, n. 9; 342, and n. 1; 435; 436–37; 438, n. 2; Comments on Instructions to Peace Commissioners, 2 August, and ed. n., and nn. 3, 4; JM to Randolph, 5–6 August; 20 August; 30 September, n. 8; Randolph to JM, 13 December 1782, and nn. 5, 9, 12.

3See Notes on Debates, 23 December, and n. 5; 24 December 1782, and nn. 2, 3.

4JM interlineated “and” above a canceled “with.”

5The advocates of the Clark-Rutledge motion evidently repeated the arguments they had advanced when the same issue was being discussed nearly five months earlier (Comments on Instructions to Peace Commissioners, 2 August 1782, n. 4).

6See n. 2, above. Between “that” and “juncture,” JM wrote “at the” over at least one word, thus making it illegible. Immediately following “at the,” he heavily canceled a passage which may have been “time of the.”

7After “their” JM originally wrote and deleted “relief.”

8For the general situation in the spring and summer of 1781, 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 , III, 17–161, passim; and esp. pp. 17–20; 35, n. 8; 36, n. 12; 52–55; 60–62; 70–72; 79; 108–11; 136–37; 143; 156–61; IV, 437.

9That is, acknowledging the independence of at least a large portion of the total area claimed by the United States. For the attempted mediation by the tsarina Catherine the Great of Russia and the Holy Roman Emperor Joseph II of Austria, see ibid., III, 130; 133, ed. n.; 146, n. 2; 147; 175, n. 19; 196; 197, n. 2; 205, n. 3; 265, n. 2.

10That is, the members of Congress had been able to agree on only two ultimatums: that the treaty of peace must include (1) a recognition by Great Britain of the independence and sovereignty of the United States, and (2) no provision violative of the treaties of alliance and amity and commerce between the United States and France. See ibid., III, 148, n. 2; 152, n. 10; 153, nn. 2, 3; 154, n. 1.

11These principally concerned boundaries, offshore fisheries, reparation for, or the return by, the British of slaves whom they had carried away, restoration or compensation by the states to Loyalists whose property had been confiscated, and the debts to British merchants owed by Americans. See ibid., IV, 4–13.

12See ibid., III, 149, n. 3; 154, n. 5; IV, 437; 438, n. 8.

13Between “associate” and “with,” JM deleted “two.” Evidently long after JM drafted his notes, he interlineated “Franklin” above “F.” without canceling the latter.

14JM interlineated “as one of the Land Companies” and canceled “might” between “which” and “had.”

15JM refers to Benjamin Franklin’s interest in the Indiana and Vandalia land companies. The Vandalia Company, especially in view of the many prominent Englishmen among its shareholders, depended for its ultimate success upon the failure of the United States to win independence from Great Britain. 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, 196, n. 2; III, 275, n. 8; 288, n. 5; 295, n. 7; 304, n. 1; Thomas P. Abernethy, Western Lands and the American Revolution, pp. 37, 44–57, passim, 111, 142–43, 146, 173, 211, 216, 238. On 6 June 1781 the delegates of Virginia, including JM, helped to defeat a motion in Congress to appoint Franklin as one of the peace commissioners (JCC description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds., Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789 (34 vols.; Washington, 1904–37). description ends , XX, 605–7). See also 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, 154, n. 1. On 14 June, the day after electing John Jay to join John Adams on the commission, Congress also chose Franklin, Henry Laurens, and Thomas Jefferson for this service (ibid., III, 154, n. 5; JCC description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds., Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789 (34 vols.; Washington, 1904–37). description ends , XX, 638, 648). For Jefferson’s declination, see n. 19, below.

16JM canceled “thus” between “&” and “turn” and interlineated “wartime.” John Jay (New York) on 27 September 1779 had been elected by Congress as a minister plenipotentiary “to negotiate a treaty of alliance and of amity and commerce” between the United States and Spain. Congress itself further instructed him on 15 February 1781 “to recede” from “the claim of the United States to the free navigation of the River Mississippi, and a free port or ports below the thirty-first degree of north latitude” if the desired treaty could not be effected otherwise (JCC description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds., Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789 (34 vols.; Washington, 1904–37). description ends , XV, 1113; XIX, 151–53; 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, 302–3; 303, nn. 4, 8; III, 101–4; 106, n. 15; IV, 5–6; 168–69; 169, nn. 3, 5; 190; 216, n. 6; Comments on Instructions to Peace Commissioners, 2 August, n. 3; JM to Randolph, 8 October, n. 14; 17 December 1782, n. 19). In Congress on 25 September 1779 the names of John Adams and John Jay had been put in nomination, each as “a proper person for negotiating a treaty of peace.” Two days later, just before Adams was selected for this service, Jay had been virtually eliminated as a nominee by being chosen for the mission to Spain (JCC description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds., Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789 (34 vols.; Washington, 1904–37). description ends , XV, 1107, 1113). See n. 15, above.

17See n. 15, above. By “the measure,” JM meant the instructions adopted by Congress on 8 June 1781 (n. 2, above).

18JM interlineated “to be” over a canceled “and.” La Luzerne had written to Vergennes on 13 June to tell him of the new instructions to the American peace commission (William E. O’Donnell, Chevalier de La Luzerne, p. 132, and n. 52).

19JM interlineated “was” and the passage from “Mr.” through this ampersand. For Henry Laurens’ capture at sea and confinement in the Tower of London, 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, 226, n. 5; IV, 282, n. 18. On 4 August 1781 Jefferson declined to be a peace commissioner. See Motion To Renew Jefferson’s Appointment, 12 November 1782, and n. 1.

20JM interlineated “It was.”

21See n. 9, above.

22John Adams. JM interlineated “as” above a deleted “that.”

23Immediately following “not,” JM canceled “deviate from the sentiments of France.” He interlineated “them” above a canceled “the latter,” and “France” above a canceled “the former.”

25JM interlineated “original.” He and his three colleagues from Virginia voted unanimously for “the original measure” (n. 2, above) when it was adopted on 8 June 1781 by Congress (JCC description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds., Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789 (34 vols.; Washington, 1904–37). description ends , XX, 614–15).

26JM interlineated “disapproved it.” The “opposite nature” of the “circumstances” was the greatly brightened outlook by December 1782 for success in the war as compared with the dismal situation eighteen months before. Of the delegates in Congress who had been present on 8 June 1781, only Oliver Ellsworth (Conn.), Daniel Carroll (Md.), Joseph Jones (Va.), and JM attended late in December 1782 (JCC description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds., Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789 (34 vols.; Washington, 1904–37). description ends , XX, 614–15; XXIII, 828).

27To this point in the sentence, JM interlineated “the motion of Mr. Clarke” and “tht.” He canceled “that” between “arguing” and “with,” “it wd” between “that” and “supposing,” and “wd be” between “it” and “was.”

28JM deleted “such” between “that” and “to,” and interlineated “& degree.”

29JM interlineated “we” between “which” and “adopted,” and canceled “withd” between “to” and “loosen.”

30JM interlineated “being.”

31JM originally wrote “J” and many years later added “ay.” In April 1830 Jared Sparks made notes of JM’s recollection of this debate (Virginia Magazine of History and Biography, LX [1952], 260–61). See also Comments on Motion in re Laurens, 20 September 1782, n. 18.

32For Barbé-Marbois’ “intercepted letter” to Vergennes, see Notes on Debates, 24 December 1782, and nn. 2, 3. Livingston, writing to Jay on 30 December, also observed that the advice of the French chargé d’affaires, even if the letter attributed to him was genuine, was not necessarily a reflection of the policy of Versailles (Wharton, Revolutionary Diplomatic Correspondence description begins Francis Wharton, ed., The Revolutionary Diplomatic Correspondence of the United States (6 vols.; Washington, 1889). description ends , VI, 175–76).

33JM interlineated the last clause. Oliver Wolcott (1726–1797) of Connecticut served as a delegate from his state in Congress from 1775 to 1778 and from 1780 to 1784.

34JM began this sentence with two words and followed “shd” with three or four more—all of which he canceled so heavily as to render them illegible. He interlineated “moved” above a deleted “added” and also interlineated “of the 14 Ocr. 1782.” Many years later he inserted the remaining letters of his surname after “M.” For Franklin’s dispatch, see Notes on Debates, 23 December 1782, and n. 3.

36JM interlineated “giving to” above a canceled “instructing” and deleted “to” between “Ministers” and “the.”

37Following “succeeded,” JM interlineated the rest of the sentence above a passage too heavily canceled to be legible. See Notes on Debates, 31 December 1782, and n. 2.

38In this sentence JM interlineated “as out of his military line” and “present.” On 9 August, after gaining the approval of Governor John Martin and the legislature of Georgia, General Anthony Wayne, commanding the continental troops in that state, concluded a formal agreement with the British merchants, whom he had allowed to remain in Savannah after its evacuation by the British garrison on 12 July. By this agreement, they were permitted to exchange their wares for products of Georgia origin. Wayne and Governor Martin guaranteed that the vessels used to export these products “to one of the nearest British Posts” would be immune from interference by any ship “belonging to the States of America or either of them” (NA: PCC, No. 155, II, 549–51). Although, unlike Washington or Nathanael Greene, Wayne was not the commanding general of an army of the United States, he cited as his justification the terms granted, with Washington’s endorsement, to the merchants-capitulant of Yorktown (ibid., No. 155, II, 541–42). See also JM to Randolph, 10 September 1782, and nn. 22, 23.

On 12 August Congress received official word of the evacuation of Savannah but neglected to thank Wayne for his share in compelling the enemy to leave Georgia. Evidently aggrieved by this silence, he enclosed to Greene on 5 October a copy of the above contract and asked him to forward it to Congress with his endorsement. Although four days later Greene complied with these two requests, the documents were not laid before Congress until 2 December (NA: PCC, No. 155, II, 537–40; No. 185, III, 48). On that day Congress referred the contract and Greene’s covering letter to a committee comprising Thomas FitzSimons, chairman, JM, and John Rutledge (ibid., No. 186, fol. 71). The report drafted by FitzSimons was submitted to Congress on 18 December 1782 and adopted twelve days later (ibid., No. 19, II, 493–95; JCC description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds., Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789 (34 vols.; Washington, 1904–37). description ends , XXIII, 835–36).

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