Second Continental Congress: May 6, 1776
May 6, 1776
General Washington’s letter of March 24 concerning British Commissioners is the focus of attention. John Adams demonstrates the ability of members of Congress to submerge the vital question of independence or reconciliation in sundry concerns. And Richard Henry Lee’s letter to Samuel Purviance shows the danger of sending private correspondence to a public body.
Link to date-related documents.
Journals of the Continental Congress [Edited]
Resolved, That the Secret Committee be directed to give proper orders for landing, securing and bringing to Philadelphia the cargo imported by Captain Young.
A memorial of Captain Hermann Allen was referred to the Committee of Claims.
Congress resumed consideration of the report on General Washington’s letter of March 24, and Resolved
[Whereas] General Washington having requested directions concerning the conduct that should be observed towards commissioners, said to be coming from Great Britain to America,
Resolved, That General Washington be informed, that the Congress suppose, if commissioners are intended to be sent from Great Britain to treat of peace, that the practice usual in such cases will be observed, by making previous application for the necessary passports of safe conduct, and on such application being made, Congress will then direct the proper measures for the reception of such commissioners.
The committee appointed to bring in a resolution concerning the liability of residents who assist any of the enemies of these United Colonies in the captures of vessels or goods brought in their report which was read and Ordered, To lie on the table.
A letter of April 24, from General Lee, was laid before Congress and read.
The Congress then resolved itself into a committee of the whole. Benjamin Harrison reported that the committee have come to sundry resolutions, which he laid before Congress, and the report was agreed to:
Resolved, That ten millions of dollars be raised for the purpose of carrying on the war for the current year including money to be paid to the Indians for their goods and services. Resolved, That a committee of seven– James Duane, Robert Morris, Edward Rutledge, Elbridge Gerry, Roger Sherman, Richard Henry Lee, and Joseph Hewes– be appointed to devise ways and means for raising the ten millions of dollars.
Resolved, That the convention, or committee or council of safety of Virginia, be empowered to appoint surgeons to the battalions raised in said colony, for the service of the continent. Resolved, That John Taylor be appointed Judge Advocate to the continental troops in the colony of Virginia.
Adjourned to 10 o’Clock tomorrow.
John Adams Autobiography
It will be observed how long this trifling business had been depending, but it cannot be known from the Journal how much debate it had occasioned. It was one of those delusive contrivances, by which the party in opposition to us endeavored, by lulling the people with idle hopes of reconciliation into security, to turn their heads and thoughts from independence. They endeavored to insert in the resolution ideas of reconciliation; we carried our point for inserting peace. They wanted powers to be given to the General to receive the commissioners in ceremony; we ordered nothing to be done till we were solicited for passports. Upon the whole, we avoided the snare, and brought the controversy to a close, with some dignity. But it will never be known how much labor it cost us to accomplish it.
Then a committee of the whole, on the state of the colonies. Mr. Harrison reported sundry resolutions, which, as they stand on the Journal, will show the art and skill with which the General’s letters, Indian affairs, revenue matters, naval arrangements, and twenty other things, many of them very trivial, were mixed, in these committees of the whole, with the great subjects of government, independence, and commerce. Little things were designedly thrown in the way of great ones, and the time consumed upon trifles which ought to have been consecrated to higher interests. We could only harangue against the misapplication of time, and harangues consumed more time, so that we could only now and then snatch a transient glance at the promised land.
Richard Henry Lee to Samuel Purviance, Jr. [Maryland Committee of Safety]
I received yesterday your favor of the 2d instant, and in answer to that part of it desiring to know if Mr. Hancock gave a copy of your letter to any person I must say that I do not know whether or not, but I am inclined to think he has not. This business appears to me thus.
When Mr. Hancock received the dispatches from Baltimore, he proceeded to read the whole in Congress, and among others, a letter containing observations on the Council of Safety of Maryland, relative to the timidity of their Councils; which it appears he had not previously read in private, because, when he came to that part of it which mentioned its being written in confidence, he stopped, and observed it was private, and proposed it should be so considered; but as he had read so much of it, he went on but read no name at the bottom, & in the debate consequent upon it ’twas supposed to be anonymous, and it was conjecture alone that fixed you as the Author
We learn that more than 40,000 men would sail from Portsmouth & Grenoch about the 1st of April for N. America. They consist of Hessians, Hanoverians, Mechlenburghers, Scotch Hollanders, & Scotch Highlanders, with some British Regiments. Their destination not certain, but said to be N. York, New England, Canada, & 2 expeditions more South….
Edited with commentary by Gordon Lloyd.