The most important issue today is the passing of a Declaration and Resolves concerning trade. Richard Smith informs us that there was a four hour debate and the issue was over a proposed amendment that would blame the King alone for the miseries of the United Colonies. John Adams laments the fact that The Journal does not reflect this vital exchange and that America is still not able to make the final break with Great Britain.
Journals of the Continental Congress [Edited]
A letter from James Young was presented, read and his request was granted.
A letter from Lord Stirling, of the 18th, enclosing a letter from William De Hart, and a letter from the captains and subalterns of the first New Jersey batallions:2
A Memorial from Thomas Scott, of Hunterdon, desiring that he be appointed a captain of a company of rangers: and, a letter from S. Badlam, of March 16th were laid before Congress, and read.
Resolved, That the foregoing letters be referred to the Committee on Qualifications. The Committee recommended appointments in “the Army of the United Colonies” and in colonial battalions.
Congress approved The Committee of Claims reports concerning the distribution of funds for the war effort especially on the Canadian front.
The Congress resumed the consideration of the declaration, or preamble, which was agreed to as follows:
Declaration or Preamble
Whereas the petitions of the United Colonies to the King, for the redress of great and manifest grievances, have not only been rejected, but treated with scorn and contempt, and the opposition to designs evidently formed to reduce them to a state of servile subjection, and their necessary defense against hostile forces actually employed to subdue them, declared rebellion;
And whereas an unjust war hath been commenced against them, which the commanders of the British fleets and armies have prosecuted, and still continue to prosecute, with their utmost vigor, and in a cruel manner; wasting, spoiling, and destroying the country, burning houses and defenseless towns, and exposing the helpless inhabitants to every misery, from the inclemency of the winter; and not only urging savages to invade the country, but instigating negroes to murder their masters;
And whereas the parliament of Great Britain hath lately passed an Act, affirming these colonies to be in open rebellion, forbidding all trade and commerce with the inhabitants thereof, until they shall accept pardons, and submit to despotic rule, declaring their property, wherever found upon the water, liable to seizure and confiscation; and enacting, that what had been done there by virtue of the royal authority, were just and lawful acts, and shall be so deemed; from all which it is manifest, that the iniquitous scheme, concerted to deprive them of the liberty they have a right to by the laws of nature and the English constitution, will be pertinaciously pursued. It being therefore necessary to provide for their defense and security, and justifiable to make reprisals upon their enemies, and otherwise to annoy them, according to the laws and usages of Nations, the Congress, trusting that such of their friends in Great Britain (of whom it is confessed there are many entitled to applause and gratitude for their patriotism and benevolence, and in whose favor a discrimination of property cannot be made) as shall suffer by captures, will impute it. to the authors of our common calamities,
Resolved, That the inhabitants of these colonies be permitted to fit out armed vessels to cruise on the enemies of these United Colonies.
Great Britain, taken on the high seas, or between high and low water mark, by any armed vessel, fitted out by any private person or persons, and to whom commissions shall be granted, and being libeled and prosecuted in any court erected for the trial of maritime affairs, in any of these colonies, shall be deemed and adjudged to be lawful prize; and after deducting and paying the wages of the seamen and mariners on board of such captures, as are merchant ships and vessels, shall be entitled to, according to the terms of their contracts, until the time of the adjudication, shall be condemned to and for the use of the owner or owners, and the officers, marines, and mariners of such armed vessel, according to such rules and proportions as they shall agree on: Provided always, that this resolution shall not extend to any vessel bringing settlers arms, ammunition or warlike stores to and for the use of these colonies, or any of the inhabitants thereof, who are friends to the American cause, or to such war-like stores, or to the effects of such settlers.
Resolved, That all ships or vessels, with their tackle, apparel, and furniture, goods, wares, and merchandizes, belonging to any inhabitant of Great Britain as aforesaid, which shall be taken by any of the vessels of war of these United Colonies, shall be deemed forfeited; one third, after deducting and paying the wages of seamen and mariners as aforesaid, to the officers and men on board, and two thirds to the use of the United Colonies.
Resolved, That all ships or vessels, with their tackle, apparel, and furniture, goods, wares, and merchandises, belonging to any inhabitants of Great Britain as aforesaid, which shall be taken by any vessel of war fitted out by and at the expence of any of the United Colonies, shall be deemed forfeited, and divided, after deducting and paying the wages of seamen and mariners, as aforesaid, in such manner and proportions as the assembly or convention of such colony shall direct.
Resolved, That all vessels, with their tackle, apparel, and furniture, and cargoes, belonging to the inhabitants of Great Britain, as aforesaid, and all vessels which may be employed in carrying supplies to the ministerial armies, which shall happen to be taken near the shores of any of these colonies, by the people of the country, or detachments from the army, shall be deemed lawful prize; and the court of admiralty within the said colony is required, on condemnation thereof, to adjudge that all charges and expenses which may attend the capture and trial, be first paid out of the monies arising from the sales of the prize, and the remainder equally divided among all those, who shall have been actually engaged and employed in taking the said prize. Provided, that where any detachments of the army shall have been employed as aforesaid, their part of the prize money shall be distributed among them in proportion to the pay of the officers and soldiers so employed.
[The resolution was published in the Pennsylvania Gazette, March 27, 1776.]
Resolved, That a committee of 5–Benjamin Harrison, John Adams, Joseph Hewes, Robert Morris, and William Whipple–be appointed to consider the fortifying of one or more ports on the American coast, in the strongest manner, for the protection of our cruisers, and the reception of their prizes; that they take the opinion of the best engineers on the manner and expense, and report thereon to the Congress.
Resolved, That the commissioners appointed to go to Canada, or any two of them, be empowered, if they think it necessary for the service of the United Colonies, to raise a number of independent companies, not exceeding six, and to appoint the officers; that they also be empowered to fill up all vacancies that may happen in the Army of the United Colonies in Canada, while they are there.
Resolved, That this Congress will, on Monday next, resolve itself in a committee of the whole, to take into consideration the trade of the United Colonies; and that sundry motions offered by the members from Massachusetts, Maryland, and Virginia, be referred to said committee.
Adjourned to 10 o’Clock on Monday.
Richard Smith’s Diary
Wythe reported the Preamble about Privateering; he and Lee moved an Amendment. wherein the King was made the Author of our Miseries instead of the Ministry, [this]was opposed on Supposition that this was effectually severing the King from Us forever and ably debated for 4 Hours when Maryland interposed its Veto and put it off till Tomorrow. Chief Speakers for the Amendment: Lee, Chase, Serjeant, Harrison, against it Jay, Wilson, Johnson.
John Adams to Horatio Gates
We rejoice here at the Prospect there is of your driving the Enemy from Boston. If you should Succeed in this I hope effectual Measures will be taken to fortify the Harbor, that the Navy may never enter it again…. I hope my Countrymen will hesitate at no Expense to attain this End, if in order to accomplish it, they should be obliged to remove the rocky Mountains of my Town of Braintree into the Harbor….
I agree with you, that in Politicks the Middle Way is none at all. If we finally fail in this great and glorious Contest, it will be by bewildering ourselves in groping after this middle way. We have hitherto conducted half a War, acted upon the Line of Defense &c &c. But you will See by tomorrows Paper, that for the future We are likely to wage three Quarters of a War. The Continental ships of War, and Provincial ships of War, and Letters of Mark and Privateers are permitted to cruise upon British Property, wherever found on the Ocean. This is not Independency you know, nothing like it…
I know not whether you have seen the Act of Parliament called the restraining Act, or prohibitory Act, or piratical Act, or plundering Act, or Act of Independency, for by all these Titles is it called. I think the most apposite is the Act of Independency, for King, Lords and Commons have united in Sundering this Country and that I think forever. It is a compleat Dismemberment of the British Empire. It throws thirteen Colonies out of the Royal Protection, levels all Distinctions and makes us independent in Spight of all our supplications and Entreaties.
It may be fortunate that the Act of Independency should come from the British Parliament, rather than the American Congress: But it is very odd that Americans should hesitate at accepting Such a Gift from them. However, my dear Friend Gates, all our Misfortunes arise from a Single Source, the Reluctance of the Southern Colonies to Republican Government. The success of this War depends upon a Skillful Steerage of the political vessel. The Difficulty lies in forming Constitutions for particular Colonies, and a Continental Constitution for the whole. Each Colony should establish its own Government, and then a League should be formed, between them all. This can be done only on popular Principles and Maxims which are so abhorrent to the Inclinations of the Barons of the South, and the Proprietary Interests in the Middle Colonies, as well as to that avarice of Land, which has made upon this Continent so many Votaries to Mammon that I Sometimes dread the Consequences.
John Adams’s Diary
Here is an Instance, in addition to many others, of an extraordinary Liberty taken by the Secretary, I suppose at the Instigation of the Party against Independence, to suppress, by omitting on the Journals the many Motions that were made disagreeable to that set. These motions ought to have been inserted verbatim on the Journals, with the names of those who made them.
Edited with commentary by Gordon Lloyd.