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.
This day was spent on discussing the Proclamation which passed.1 Mr. Wilson proposed an abreviation of it which was disagreed to.2 The difficultys attending it were that 1st. the Agreemt of our Ministers with Fitzherbert that the Epochs with Spain as well as France sd. be applied to U S. to be computed from the ratifications which happened at different times, the former on the 3d. the latter the 9th. of Feby. 2d. the circumstance of the Epochs having passed at wch the Cessation of hostilities was to be enjoined.3 The impatience of Congs. did not admit of proper attention to these & some other points of the Proclamation; particularly the authoritative stile of enjoining an observance on the U.S. the Govrs. &c. It was agst. these absurdities & improprities that the solitary no of Mr. Mercer was pointed. See the Journal.4
1. That is, the proclamation, drafted by Robert R. Livingston, declaring the “cessation of arms, as well by sea as by land, agreed upon between the United States of America and his Britannic Majesty; and enjoining the observance thereof” (NA: PCC, No. 79, III, 153–57; JCC description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds., Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789 (34 vols.; Washington, 1904–37). description ends , XXIV, 238–40; JM Notes, 10 Apr. 1783).
2. The draft of James Wilson’s substitute proposal, slightly amended by Alexander Hamilton, is in NA: PCC, No. 25, II, 196. See also JCC description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds., Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789 (34 vols.; Washington, 1904–37). description ends , XXIV, 242, n. 1.
3. The “difficultys” concerning the date when hostilities, especially at sea, between Great Britain and the United States should cease arose from the following circumstances: (1) Although no specific date was mentioned in the preliminary peace treaty of 30 November 1782, Articles VI and VII could be interpreted to mean “all hostilities both by sea and land” should end “at the time of the Ratification of the Treaty in America” (Hunter Miller, ed., Treaties and Other International Acts, II, 99). See also JM Notes, 14 Apr. 1783, and n. 3. Congress had received an official copy of that treaty on 12 March but delayed ratifying it until 15 April, thus conforming with the pledge given in Articles I and VIII of the Treaty of Alliance between the United States and France (Hunter Miller, ed., Treaties II, 36, 38; JM Notes, 12–15 Mar., and nn. 1, 2; 10 Apr., and n. 2; 15 Apr. 1783; JCC description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds., Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789 (34 vols.; Washington, 1904–37). description ends , XXIV, 242–51).
(2) Although on behalf of the United States, Franklin and Adams on 20 January 1783 had subscribed to Articles XXII and XXIII of the preliminary peace treaty signed on that day between Great Britain and France and the similar articles, X and XI, of the treaty concluded also on that day between Great Britain and Spain, they apparently had not realized that those articles, which stipulated the dates when captures of ships and cargoes by the belligerents in various areas of the Atlantic Ocean would become unlawful, were both indefinite and, because of the time-distance involved, impracticable insofar as Great Britain and the United States were concerned (Wharton, Revol. Dipl. Corr description begins Francis Wharton, ed., The Revolutionary Diplomatic Correspondence of the United States (6 vols.; Washington, 1889). description ends ., VI, 223–24). Of prime importance to the United States, because of the span in degrees of latitude of her ocean coastline, was the provision in each of those treaties that, beginning one month after its ratification, captures “from the Channel and North Seas, as far as the Canary Islands, inclusively, whether in the Ocean or in the Mediterranean,” would become invalid. As JM noted, the two ratifications had occurred on different dates and the month’s extension beyond them had lapsed, at the latest, on 9 March. Exactly one month after that deadline, “authentic” texts of those treaties, translated into English, had finally been laid before Congress and published in the newspapers of Philadelphia (Delegates to Harrison, 25 Mar., n. 4; Pa. Packet, supplement, 9 Apr.; JM Notes, 10 Apr., and n. 2; JM to Randolph, 10 Apr. 1783).
(3) King George III’s proclamation of 14 February, of which a copy had reached Congress on 9 April from General Sir Guy Carleton, stated that one month after 3 February, which was the date of the exchange of ratifications of the preliminary peace treaty between Great Britain and France, hostilities in the North American waters of the Atlantic Ocean would end with the United States as well as with France (Wharton, Revol. Dipl. Corr description begins Francis Wharton, ed., The Revolutionary Diplomatic Correspondence of the United States (6 vols.; Washington, 1889). description ends ., VI, 251–52; JM Notes, 10 Apr. 1783). Obviously, being a terminal date over five weeks in the past on 11 April, the proclamation only compounded rather than resolved the “difficultys.” Of more practical help, except to lawyers who needed a precise and official date for the termination of hostilities, and to American merchants and shipowners who had lost property at sea to the enemy after 3 March, was the assurance from Carleton and Admiral Robert Digby that they were recalling “the British cruisers now on our coasts.” As early as 24 March Congress had been told that the French were similarly informing their men-of-war in American waters (JM Notes, 31 Mar., and nn. 2, 4–6; JM to Randolph, 8 Apr., and n. 4; Delegates to Harrison, 10 Apr.; Pa. Packet, 10 Apr. 1783).
4. Bearing in mind the difference in ratification dates of the Anglo-French and Anglo-Spanish preliminary treaties of peace and the similarly obsolescent date proclaimed by King George III for the ending of the Anglo-American war at sea, “absurdities” accurately characterizes portions of Livingston’s draft, and especially the terminal “whereas” clause in his second paragraph, reading, “and whereas it is our will and pleasure, that the cessation of hostilities between the United States of America and his Britannic Majesty, should be conformable to the epochs fixed between their Most Christian and Britannic Majesties.”
John Francis Mercer and other zealous republicans undoubtedly objected to the regal tone of the proposed proclamation. In the second of six paragraphs Congress was made to say, “it is our will and pleasure”; in the third, “we hereby strictly charge and command all our … subjects”; and in the fourth, “we do further strictly charge and require all the governors and others, the executive powers of these United States respectively, to cause this our proclamation to be made public.” Although the delegates restrained their “impatience” long enough to soften the haughty phraseology by deleting “strictly charge and” insofar as it related to state executives, and to make a few other alterations in the draft, they felt impelled to adopt and issue the proclamation with a minimum of delay. See JCC description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds., Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789 (34 vols.; Washington, 1904–37). description ends , XXIV, 238–41; Pa. Journal, 12 Apr.; Randolph to JM, 26 Apr. 1783. JM underlined the two words italicized in the present copy.