Diary of John Adams, volume 2

[Notes of Debates in the Continental Congress on the Articles of Confederation]<a xmlns="http://www.tei-c.org/ns/1.0" href="#DJA02d287n1" class="note" id="DJA02d287n1a">1</a> July 25. 1776.<a xmlns="http://www.tei-c.org/ns/1.0" href="#DJA02d287n2" class="note" id="DJA02d287n2a">2</a> JA [Notes of Debates in the Continental Congress on the Articles of Confederation] July 25. 1776. Adams, John
Notes of Debates in the Continental Congress on the Articles of Confederation 1 July 25. 1776.2
Art. 14. of the Confederation.3

Terms in this Article, equivocal and indefinite.

Jefferson. The Limits of the Southern Colonies are fixed....4 Moves an Amendment, that all Purchases of Lands, not within the Boundaries of any Colony shall be made by Congress, of the Indians in a great Council.— Sherman seconds the Motion....5

Chase. The Intention of this Article is very obvious, and plain. The Article appears to me to be right, and the Amendment wrong. It is the Intention of some Gentlemen to limit the Boundaries of particular States. No colony has a Right to go to the South Sea. They never had—they cant have. It would not be safe to the rest. It would be destructive to her Sisters, and to herself.

Art. 16 i.e. 15....6

Jefferson. What are reasonable Limits? What Security have We that the Congress will not curtail the present Settlements of the States. I have no doubt, that the Colonies will limit themselves.

Wilson. Every Gentleman has heard much of Claims to the South 242Sea. They are extravagant. The Grants were made upon Mistakes. They were ignorant of the Geography. They thought the S. Sea within 100 Miles of the Atlantic Ocean. It was not conceived that they extended 3000 Miles. Ld. Cambden considers the Claims to the South Sea, as what never can be reduced to Practice. Pensilvania has no Right to interfere in those claims. But she has a Right to say, that she will not confederate unless those Claims are cut off. I wish the Colonies themselves would cutt off those Claims....

Art. 16.7

Chase moves for the Word deputies, instead of Delegates, because the Members of the Maryland Convention are called Delegates, and he would have a Distinction.—Answer. In other Colonies the Reverse is true. The Members of the House are called deputies.

Jefferson objects to the first of November.— Dr. Hall moves for May, for the time to meet.— Jefferson thinks that Congress will have a short Meeting in the Fall and another in the Spring.— Hayward thinks the Spring the best Time.— Wilson thinks the fall—and November better than October, because September is a busy Month, every where.

Dr. Hall. Septr. and Octr. the most sickly and mortal Months in the Year. The Season is forwarder in Georgia in April, than here in May.

Hopkinson moves that the Power of recalling Delegates be reserved to the State not to the Assembly, because that may be changed.

Art. 17.8

Each Colony shall have one Vote.


This being the first entry since May, we have nothing in JA's Diary or his notes of proceedings in Congress to indicate the part he played in the final struggle for political independence or the nature of his labors in Congress in the weeks that followed. Among his many assignments that summer, the most taxing was his service at the head of the Board of War and Ordnance, a standing committee appointed on 13 June ( JCC , 5:438), to which all routine military business was thereafter referred. In his Autobiography, under date of 15 June 1776, JA lists the duties of the Board, and he did not exaggerate in saying that “From this time, We find in Almost every days Journal References of various Business to the Board of War, or their Reports upon such Things as were referred to them.” The MS reports of the Board of War from the summer of 1776 to Oct. 1777 fill a volume in PCC, No. 147.


A summary account of efforts, July 1775—June 1776, to arrive at a plan of confederation has been given above in a note on JA's paper called Measures to be Pursued in Congress, Feb.? 1776. On 12 June a committee consisting of one member (not including JA) from each colony was appointed “to prepare and digest the form of a confederation to be entered into between these colonies”; exactly a month later this committee reported a draft composed by John Dickinson, which was read and ordered to be printed exclusively for the use of members ( JCC , 5:433. 546–556). On 22 July the printed draft was taken 243up in a committee of the whole, which debated the articles at intervals from then until 20 Aug., when a revised text or second draft was reported to Congress by the committee and a second confidential printing was ordered for later consideration (same, p. 600, 674–689). JA's Notes of Debates which follow record in a fragmentary way the discussions in committee of the whole from 25 July to 2 Aug., inclusive. They are paralleled and supplemented by similar notes taken by Jefferson on the debates in committee on two critical articles in Dickinson's plan during the three days 30 July—1 Aug. (Jefferson, Papers, ed. Boyd, 1:320–327).


Article XIV of the Dickinson draft dealt with the mode of purchasing land from the Indians ( JCC , 5:549).


The suspension points, both here and below in this series of notes on the debates concerning confederation, are in the MS.


For the full text of Jefferson's amendment, written on a slip affixed to the MS of the Dickinson draft, see Jefferson, Papers, ed. Boyd, 1:181–182. The whole of Article XIV was omitted in the revised text, or second draft, of 20 Aug. ( JCC , 5:679–680).


Article XV dealt with boundaries of colonies or states, but was dependent on a clause in Article XVIII granting Congress the power to fix these boundaries (same, p. 549). Debate on this subject was resumed in committee of the whole on 2 Aug., q.v., below.


Article XVI in the Dickinson draft dealt with the mode of choosing and recalling delegates, the times Congress would convene, &c. ( JCC , 5:549–550).


Article XVII in the Dickinson draft reads: “In determining Questions (in Congress) each Colony shall have one Vote” (same, p. 550). Jefferson's Notes of Proceedings do not indicate that this important article came up at all until 30 July. If it did come up on the 25th, it was quickly passed over, but see 30 July and 1 Aug., below.