James Madison Papers

Notes on Debates, 17 March 1783

Notes on Debates

MS (LC: Madison Papers). For a description of the manuscript of Notes on Debates, see Papers of Madison description begins William T. Hutchinson, William M. E. Rachal, et al., eds., The Papers of James Madison (6 vols. to date; Chicago, 1962——). description ends , V, 231–34.

A letter was rcd. from Genl Washington inclosing two anonymous & inflammatory exhortations to the army to assemble for the purpose of seeking by other means, that justice which their country shewed no disposition to afford them. The steps taken by the Genl. to avert the gathering storm & his professions of inflexible adherence to his duty to Congress & to his country, excited the most affectionate sentiments towards him.1 By private letters from the army & other circumstances there appeared good ground for suspecting that the Civil Creditors were intriguing in order to inflame the army into such desperation as wd. produce a general provision for the public debts.2 These papers were committed to Mr. Gilman Mr. Dyer, Mr. Clark, Mr. Rutlidge & Mr. Mercer. The appt. of These gentlemen was brought about by a few members who wished to saddle with this embarrassment the men who had opposed the measures necessary for satisfying the army viz, the half pay & permanent funds, agst. one or other of which the individuals in question had voted.3

This alarming intelligence from the army added to the critical situation to wch our affairs in Europe were reduced by the variance of our ministers with our ally,4 and to the difficulty of establishing the means of fulfilling the Engagemts. & securing the harmony of the U. S. & to the confusions apprehended from the approaching resignation of the Superintt. of Finance,5 gave peculiar awe & solemnity to the present moment, & oppressed the minds of Congs. with an anxiety & distress which had been scarcely felt in any period of the revolution.

1The official journal of Congress for 17 March omitted mention of the dispatch of 12 March from Washington enclosing an anonymous call for a meeting of general and field officers, the two anonymous “exhortations” to the army, and a copy of his general orders of 11 March 1783. These orders expressed his “disapprobation” of the circular proposing a meeting of the officers on that day “to obtain that redress of Grievances, which they seem to have solicited in vain.” In his orders Washington countered this proposal by requesting that the general and field officers, a representative of the staff, and of each company assemble on 15 March “to hear the report of the Committee of the Army to Congress” and to “devise what further measures ought to be adopted as most rational and best calculated to attain” a fulfillment by Congress of its pledges to the officers and troops. In his dispatch, after expressing hope that Congress would approve of the measures he had “taken to dissipate a Storm, which had gathered so suddenly and unexpectedly,” Washington reaffirmed his continuing great “zeal in their Service” and for “the wellfare of my Country under the most lively Expectation, that Congress have the best Intentions of doing ample Justice to the Army, as soon as Circumstances will possibly admit” (NA: PCC, No. 152, XI, 105–10, 117; Fitzpatrick, Writings of Washington description begins John C. Fitzpatrick, ed., The Writings of George Washington, from the Original Sources, 1745–1799 (39 vols.; Washington, 1931–44). description ends , XXVI, 208–9, 211–12; JM to Randolph, 18 Mar. 1783).

Major John Armstrong, Jr. (JM Notes, 20 Feb. 1783, n. 19), later identified as the writer of the two “exhortations,” devoted the first of them to reminding his readers of their manifold hardships during the “seven long Years” wherein they had won independence and peace for their country; to emphasizing that a continuance of their trust in the ultimate justice of a Congress, which “tramples upon your rights, derides your Cries—& insults your distresses” would be “Cowardice”; and to urging immediate resort to a “last Remonstrance” couched in the terms of an ultimatum rather than in the “Milk & Water Stile” of their former petitions. Although by warning against “more moderation and longer forbearance,” Armstrong clearly was calling upon his brother officers to reject the counsel of Washington, he closed his “inflammatory” appeal by advising that, if redress was not speedily provided by Congress, “you” should invite “your Illustrious Leader” to guide you “to some unsettled Country, Smile in your turn, and ‘mock when their fear cometh’ on.”

In his second anonymous “exhortation,” Armstrong pretended that Washington, even though his general orders had postponed the meeting for four days, substantially endorsed his own proposal. Let that gathering, continued Armstrong, act with the “Energy” he had urged and also with the assurance that, if his advice should prove to be wrong, “I thus publicly pledge my Honor as a soldier, and veracity as a Man, that I will then assume a visible existence, and give my name to the Army, with as little reserve, as I now give my Opinions” (NA: PCC, No. 152, XI, 111–16, 118–23).

2On 12 March, in letters of a similar tenor written to Alexander Hamilton and Joseph Jones, Washington remarked that at his headquarters, “it is generally believ’d the Scheme was not only planned, but also digested and matured in Philadelphia,” by civilian creditors and “some Members of Congress.” They planned to act in concert with the army, which should not disband until it had been paid, and thus “compel the Public, particularly the delinquent States, to do justice.” Washington warned Hamilton and Jones of “the ineffable horrors which may be occasioned” if Congress should not soon redress the legitimate grievances of the officers and troops (Fitzpatrick, Writings of Washington description begins John C. Fitzpatrick, ed., The Writings of George Washington, from the Original Sources, 1745–1799 (39 vols.; Washington, 1931–44). description ends , XXVI, 213–18). In his reply of 17 March, Hamilton identified himself as one of those “members of Congress” to whom Washington had referred, but not as an advocate of “any combination of Force,” for “it would only be productive of the horrors of a civil war, might end in the ruin of the Country & would certainly end in the ruin of the army” (Syrett and Cooke, Papers of Hamilton description begins Harold C. Syrett and Jacob E. Cooke, eds., The Papers of Alexander Hamilton (15 vols. to date; New York, 1961——). description ends , III, 292–93). See also JM Notes, 19 Feb., and nn. 11, 12, 19; 20 Feb., and nn. 18–20; 4–5 Mar. 1783, and n. 5.

3JM Notes, 13 Jan., and n. 18; 25 Jan.; 28 Jan.; 29 Jan.; 30 Jan.; 4 Feb., and nn. 10, 13; 11 Feb., and n. 3; 12 Feb., and n. 12; 17 Feb., and n. 1; 18 Feb.; 19 Feb.; 20 Feb.; 21 Feb.; 25 Feb., and nn. 1, 2; 27 Feb., and n. 2; 28 Feb.; 10 Mar., and n. 2; 11 Mar.; JM to Randolph, 18 Feb., and n. 3; 25 Feb.; 4 Mar. 1783.

4JM Notes, 12–15 Mar. 1783, and nn. 1–4, 6–8.

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