James Madison Papers

Notes on Debates, 21 June 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 (7 vols. to date; Chicago, 1962——). description ends , V, 231–34.

Editorial Note

These notes, comprising the final entry made by JM of the deliberations of Congress until he resumed his records in 1787, are dated only 21 June, though they summarize occurrences relating to the mutiny as late as 26 June. After its sessions on 21 June, Congress was adjourned until it reconvened at Princeton, N.J., on 30 June 1783. At least the last three paragraphs of the present notes, which closely resemble the wording of JM’s letter to Randolph on 30 June, were written after the Virginia delegates’ dispatch of 24 June to Governor Harrison (qq.v.).

The mutinous soldiers presented themselves, drawn up in the Street before the State House where Congress had first assembled.1 The Executive Council of the State sitting under the same roof, was called on for the proper interposition. President Dickinson came in, and explained the difficulty under actual circumstances, of bringing out the militia of the place for the suppression of the mutiny. He thought that without some outrages on persons or property the temper of the militia could not be relied on. Genl. St. Clair then in Philada. was sent for; and desired to use his interposition, in order to prevail on the troops to return to the Barracks. His report gave no encouragement. In this posture of things It was proposed by Mr. Izard that Congs. shd. adjourn. It was proposed by Mr. Hamilton that Genl. St. Clair in concert with the Executive Council of State should take order for terminating the mutiny. Mr. Reed moved that the Genl. shd. endeavor to withdraw the troops by assuring them of the disposition of Congs. to do them justice. It was finally agreed that Congs. shd. remain till the usual hour of adjournment, but without taking any step in relation to the alledged grievances of the Soldiers, or any other business whatever. In the mean time the Soldiers remained in their position, without offering any violence, individuals only occasionally uttering offensive words and wantonly pointing their muskets to the Windows of the Hall of Congress.2 No danger from premeditated violence was apprehended, But it was observed that spirituous drink from the tipling houses adjoining began to be liberally served out to the Soldiers, & might lead to hasty excesses.3 None were committed however, and about 3 oC. the usual hour, Congs. adjourned; the Soldiers, tho’ in some instances offering a mock obstruction, permitting the members to pass thro’ their ranks. They soon after retired themselves to the Barracks.4

In the Evening Congress re-assembled and passed the Resolutions on the Journal, authorizing a Committee to confer anew with the Executive of the State and in case no satisfactory grounds shd. appear for expecting prompt & adequate exertions for suppressing the mutiny & supporting the public authority, authorizing the President with the advice of the Committee, to summon the members to meet at Trenton or Princeton in New Jersey.5

The Conference with the Executive produced nothing but a repetition of doubts concerning the disposition of the militia to act, unless some actual outrage were offered to persons or property. It was even doubted whether a repetition of the insult to Congress would be a sufficient provocation.6

During the deliberations of the Executive, and the suspense of the Committee, Reports from the Barracks were in constant vibration. At one moment the Mutineers were penitent & preparing submissions: The next they were meditating more violent measures. Sometimes the Bank was their object; then the seizure of the members of Congress with whom they imagined an indemnity for their offence might be stipulated. On Tuesday about 2 OClock the efforts of the State authority being despaired of, & the Reports from the Barracks being unfavorable, the Committee advised the President to summon Congress to meet at Princeton which he did verbally as to the members present, leaving behind him a general Proclamation for the Press.7

After the departure of Congs. the Mutineers submitted, and most of them accepted furloughs under the Resolution of Congress, on that subject. At the time of submission they betrayed their leaders. the chief of whom proved to be a Mr. Carberry a deranged officer, and a Mr. Sullivan a lieutenant of Horse; both of whom made their escape. Some of the most active of the Sergeants also ran off.8

1JM Notes, 19 June, and nn. 6, 7; 20 June 1783, and n. 1. The mutinous soldiers from Lancaster, having marched into Philadelphia “in a very orderly manner” on the morning of 20 June, took possession of the arsenal and “powder House” in the city and were joined by many of the soldiers quartered in the barracks. There, the next day, on the pretense that they had been “deserted” by their officers, they chose a committee primarily composed of sergeants to convey an unsigned petition to the Pennsylvania Supreme Executive Council in session at the State House. Although Congress on Friday, 20 June, had decided not to reconvene until the following Monday, President Boudinot succeeded in assembling in the same building delegates from six states by 1:00 P.M. on Saturday. Even before that hour the State House was surrounded by armed and mutinous soldiers to a number varying in the several primary sources from 280 to about 500 (Burnett, Letters description begins Edmund C. Burnett, ed., Letters of Members of the Continental Congress (8 vols.; Washington, 1921–36). description ends , VII, 193, 195, 197, 199).

2Before President John Dickinson of Pennsylvania came to the “Hall of Congress,” he and the Executive Council had been faced with the “petition” threatening them with armed force if they did not within “twenty minutes” empower the mutineers to elect their own commissioned officers with authority to redress the grievances. While the president and Council were deliberating, they were presented with Congress’ request, borne by General Arthur St. Clair, that the Pennsylvania executive adopt measures “to draw the soldiers off to their barracks.” Reflecting either their trust that a conciliatory course would be sufficient or their fear that the militia in the city would not oppose the mutineers, the president and Executive Council rejected the ultimatum, directed Dickinson to convey it to Congress, and agreed to a mildly worded resolution promising to receive a statement of the soldiers’ claims, “if decently expressed and constitutionally presented” (Colonial Records of Pa., XIII, 605). “Mr. Reed” was Jacob Read, a delegate from South Carolina.

3The State House was in the Middle Ward of Philadelphia. The nearest of the “tipling houses” was the State House Inn, directly across Chestnut Street. The business enterprises of the ward in 1783 included at least eighteen inns, numerous shops of “grocers,” who usually sold liquor, and a few breweries and “beer houses” (Pa. Archives description begins Samuel Hazard et al., eds., Pennsylvania Archives (9 ser.; 138 vols.; Philadelphia and Harrisburg, 1852–1949). description ends , 3d ser., XVI, 789–808; Penn Mutual Life Insurance Company, The Independence Square Neighborhood [Philadelphia, 1926], p. 17).

4Elias Boudinot’s correspondence makes clear that the mutineers, who had kept the members of Congress “Prisoners in a manner near 3 hours,” marched back to their barracks at “half past 3 O’clock” in the afternoon. At four o’clock he wrote a letter, to be sped to Washington by a mounted courier, briefly describing the course of the mutiny until that hour, expressing fear that “the worst is not yet come” and stating that the members of Congress who had convened that afternoon, although lacking one member of being numerous enough to comprise a quorum, “unanimously directed” him to request that Washington initiate “a movement of some of your best troops, on whom you can depend, under these circumstances, toward this City.” Boudinot also suggested to Washington that if he could induce the paymaster general “to close the Accounts of the Soldiery with more expedition,” the dangerous situation would be greatly eased (Burnett, Letters description begins Edmund C. Burnett, ed., Letters of Members of the Continental Congress (8 vols.; Washington, 1921–36). description ends , VII, 193–94, 195). Upon receiving this letter at 3:00 P.M. on 24 June, Washington took immediate steps to hasten about 1,500 troops, commanded by Major General Robert Howe, to Philadelphia by way of Princeton and Trenton (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 , XXVII, 32–37; JM to Randolph, 30 June 1783, n. 6).

5JCC description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds., Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789 (34 vols.; Washington, 1904–37). description ends , XXIV, 410. The committee was still the one with Hamilton as chairman. He drafted the resolutions. In the third, which is not embraced in JM’s summary, Congress issued a pro forma direction to Benjamin Lincoln, secretary at war, who was then two days’ journey from Philadelphia on his way to Richmond, to acquaint Washington with “the state and disposition” of the mutinous troops so that he “may take immediate measures to dispatch to this city, such force as he may judge expedient.” This directive, of course, had been mostly anticipated by Boudinot in his four o’clock letter to Washington. Writing again to him at eleven o’clock that evening after Congress adjourned, Boudinot enclosed a copy of the resolutions, mentioned that they were “secret till we see what the issue of the conference with the Supreme Executive Council will produce,” and emphasized that “it has become absolutely necessary that this wound to the dignity of the Fœderal Government should not go unpunished” (Burnett, Letters description begins Edmund C. Burnett, ed., Letters of Members of the Continental Congress (8 vols.; Washington, 1921–36). description ends , VII, 194).

6On Sunday, 22 June, at a meeting of the Executive Council in President Dickinson’s home, Hamilton and Ellsworth presented a copy of the resolutions of Congress adopted the night before and explained that by “effectual measures” for “supporting the publick authority” Congress meant the use of militia to “reduce the soldiers to obedience,” provided that the “temper of the city,” secretly ascertained, should sustain the use of force. Although the Council agreed to canvass the feeling “with all possible secrecy and dispatch,” its members pointed out that no “ammunition was to be procured.” Hamilton retorted that “any quantity of musquet and cannon cartridge might be commanded in fifteen minutes” (Colonial Records of Pa., XIII, 606–7).

On 23 June, when Hamilton again appeared before the Executive Council, he was informed that the militia should not be called out, for its field officers and leading citizens of the city relied upon the willingness “of the soldiery” to be “pacific” if they were granted what was “just and reasonable.” The next morning the Executive Council reiterated this conclusion (ibid., XIII, 609–10). In a letter of 29 June 1783 to Governor George Clinton of New York, Hamilton characterized the conduct of the executive of Pennsylvania as “to the last degree weak & disgusting” (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, 402–7, 408; Hamilton to JM, 6 July 1783, and nn. 3, 5).

7President Boudinot’s decision on the afternoon of 24 June to put into effect the resolution of Congress, passed three days earlier, reflected not only the accumulating evidence of the determination of the Pennsylvania Supreme Executive Council to refrain from employing force, but also the rumor current that afternoon of an imminent attack by the mutineers upon the Bank of North America. At the same time this rumor finally induced the Executive Council to take immediate steps for calling out the militia (Colonial Records of Pa., XIII, 611).

In his proclamation, President Boudinot summoned the members of Congress to convene at Princeton on 26 June 1783 (Burnett, Letters description begins Edmund C. Burnett, ed., Letters of Members of the Continental Congress (8 vols.; Washington, 1921–36). description ends , VII, 195–96, 199–200). The Pennsylvania Packet, which together with the other newspapers of Philadelphia had omitted all mention of the mutiny, printed a copy of the proclamation, misdated 25 June, in its issue of 26 June. Boudinot in a letter of 23 June 1783 had expressed confidentially his gratification to his brother Elisha that Congress would almost certainly “adjourn to Princeton” in their own state. “I wish Jersey,” the president continued, “to show her readiness on this occasion as it may fix Congress as to their permanent residence” (Burnett, Letters description begins Edmund C. Burnett, ed., Letters of Members of the Continental Congress (8 vols.; Washington, 1921–36). description ends , VII, 195). The College of New Jersey (Princeton College), of which he was a trustee, quickly offered the use of its buildings to Congress.

8Although not recognized at once, the subsidence of the mutiny began almost simultaneously with Boudinot’s issuance of his proclamation. That morning, in compliance with the request of the Executive Council three days before, many of the soldiers at the barracks made known that they had elected a committee of officers to present their claims. They also abandoned their plan, if it existed, to attack the bank. On 25 June, after failing to induce the Council to accept a statement of their grievances, signed on their behalf by Sergeant James Bennett, and probably realizing that they could not resist the militia and the troops summoned from Washington’s army, the mutineers empowered a committee of officers to submit to the Council a petition praying for pardon. At the same time “6 of the leading Serjeants” came to President Dickinson and “put the blame” for the uprising upon Henry Carberry (d. 1822), a supernumerary captain of the Third Pennsylvania Regiment, and John Sullivan, a lieutenant of Colonel Stephen Moylan’s dragoons. On the evening of 25 June President Dickinson wrote to President Boudinot, “I am informed by Officers in whom I am persuaded I may confide, that the Mutiny is supprest, except among some of the Lancaster Soldiers.” By noon of the following day these too, had made their submission and by nightfall were on the road back to Lancaster (Colonial Records of Pa., XIII, 610–13; Pa. Archives description begins Samuel Hazard et al., eds., Pennsylvania Archives (9 ser.; 138 vols.; Philadelphia and Harrisburg, 1852–1949). description ends , 1st ser., X, 60–62; Diplomatic Correspondence of the United States, I, 22–25, 35–36). For the course of the mutiny as described on 18 August 1783 to the Pennsylvania General Assembly by President Dickinson and the Supreme Executive Council, see Colonial Records of Pa., XIII, 654–66.

Carberry and Sullivan succeeded in boarding a British ship at Chester, Pa., and reaching England. In the spring of 1784 Carberry returned to his native state of Maryland and, arrested in Baltimore, was jailed in Annapolis. Pleading guilty and throwing himself upon the mercy of the court, he apparently escaped without penalty. In 1791 he served as a captain under General Arthur St. Clair in the Northwest Territory; in 1792–1794 was a captain of United States infantry; and in 1813–1815 was colonel commanding the 36th United States Regiment of Infantry (Varnum L. Collins, Continental Congress at Princeton, p. 12, n. 1; Burnett, Letters description begins Edmund C. Burnett, ed., Letters of Members of the Continental Congress (8 vols.; Washington, 1921–36). description ends , VII, 499, 507, 531, 599–600; VIII, 2–4, 397, 531, 852–53).

Soon after the mutiny, a number of noncommissioned officers and privates who had been prominent participants, were tried by a military court at Lancaster. Two were sentenced to death and the others to varying degrees of corporal punishment. They, as well as several officers who had been less directly implicated, received congressional pardons in September 1783. By the summer of 1785 Lieutenant Sullivan had returned to Philadelphia but was not arrested. His attempt to procure back pay was frustrated when on 27 June 1786 his military records were closed with the notation that he had quit the continental service “without leave.” Two years later he seems to have shared in an abortive movement to drive the Spanish from the lower Mississippi River valley (Pa. Archives description begins Samuel Hazard et al., eds., Pennsylvania Archives (9 ser.; 138 vols.; Philadelphia and Harrisburg, 1852–1949). description ends , 1st ser., X, 63, 67. 69, 72, 74, 290–93, 320, 323–25, 575–80; Diplomatic Correspondence of the United States, I, 37–38; Burnett, Letters description begins Edmund C. Burnett, ed., Letters of Members of the Continental Congress (8 vols.; Washington, 1921–36). description ends , VII, 208, n. 3, 227, and n. 2. 293, and n. 4. 297, 499, 517, 531, 599; VIII, 2–4, 397, 643, n. 5, 852; Delegates to Harrison, 5 July, and n. 4; JM to Jefferson, 20 Sept. 1783; Varnum L. Collins, Continental Congress at Princeton, p. 13, n. 1).

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