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Browsing: Diary of John Adams, Volume 3


Docno: ADMS-01-03-02-0016-0172

Author: Adams, John
Date: 1776-08-19

[Monday August 19. 1776.]

Monday August 19. 1776. Letters from General Washington referred to the Board of War.
A Letter of the 14th. from Commodore Hopkins was read; whereupon Resolved That Commodore Hopkins be directed to repair to Rhode Island, and take the Command of the Fleet formerly put under his Care.
Congress resumed the consideration of the Articles of War as revised by the Committee for that Purpose appointed, and after some time spent thereon, the farther Consideration thereof was postponed.
This Report was made by me and Mr. Jefferson, in Consequence of a Letter from General Washington, sent by Colonel Tudor, Judge Advocate General, representing the Insufficiency of the Articles of War and requesting a Revision of them. Mr. John Adams and Mr. Jefferson were appointed a Committee, to hear Tudor and revise the Articles... .1 It was a very difficult and unpopular Subject: and I observed to Jefferson, that Whatever Alteration We should report with the least Ennergy in it, or the least tendency to a necessary discipline of the Army, would be opposed with as much Vehemence as if it were the most perfect: We might as well therefore report a compleat System at once and let it meet its fate. Some thing perhaps might be gained. There was extant one System of Articles of War, which had carried two Empires to the head of Mankind, the Roman And the British: { 410 } for the British Articles of War were only a litteral Translation of the Roman: it would be in vain for Us to seek, in our own Inventions or the Records of Warlike nations for a more compleat System of military discipline: it was an Observation founded in undoubted facts that the Prosperity of Nations had been in proportion to the discipline of their forces by Sea and Land: I was therefore for reporting the British Articles of War, totidem Verbis. Jefferson in those days never failed to agree with me, in every Thing of a political nature, and he very cordially concurred in this. The British Articles of War were Accordingly reported and defended in Congress, by me Assisted by some others, and finally carried. They laid the foundation of a discipline, which in time brought our Troops to a Capacity of contending with British Veterans, and a rivalry with the best Troops of France.2
1. Suspension points in MS .
2. Though probably substantially correct, this account is inaccurate in details. On 14 June Congress assigned to the “Committee on Spies” ( JA , Jefferson, Rutledge, Wilson, and R. R. Livingston) the duty of revising “the rules and articles of war” ( JCC , 5:442). On 7 Aug. the committee brought in a report which was debated on 19 Aug. and again on 19 and 20 Sept.; on the last of these dates the revised Articles were adopted and recorded in the Journal (same, p. 636, 670, 787, 788–807). The MS of the revised Articles (in PCC, No. 27) is mainly in the hand of Timothy Pickering (who was not in Congress) and gives no clue to the actual authorship of this document by which JA set so much store. For contemporary printings see JCC , 6:1125–1126 (“Bibliographical Notes,” Nos. 127–130). See also JA 's comments in the entries dated 19, 20 Sept., below.

Docno: ADMS-01-03-02-0016-0173

Author: Adams, John
Date: 1776-08-20

[Tuesday August 20 1776.]

Tuesday August 20 1776. A Letter of the 18th. from General Washington, with sundry Papers inclosed, was laid before Congress and read.
Resolved that the same be referred to a Committee of five: the Members chosen, Mr. Jefferson, Mr. Franklin, Mr. Rutledge, Mr. J. Adams and Mr. Hooper.1
A Committee of the whole on the Articles of Confederation. Mr. Morton reported that the Committee had gone through the same, and agreed to sundry Articles which he was ordered to submit to Congress.
Ordered that Eighty Copies of the Articles of Confederation, as reported from the Committee of the whole, be printed under the same Injunctions as the former Articles, and delivered to the Members under the like Injunctions as formerly.
Thus We see the whole Record of this momentous Transaction. No { 411 } Motions recorded. No Yeas and Nays taken down. No Alterations proposed. No debates preserved. No Names mentioned. All in profound Secrecy. Nothing suffered to transpire: No Opportunity to consult Constituents. No room for Advice or Criticisms in Pamphlets, Papers or private Conversation. I was very uneasy under all this but could not avoid it. In the Course of this Confederation, a few others were as anxious as myself. Mr. Wilson of Pennsylvania, upon one Occasion moved that the debates should [be] public, the Doors opened, galleries erected, or an Adjournment made to some public Building where the People might be accommodated. Mr. John Adams seconded the Motion and supported it, with Zeal. But No: Neither Party were willing: some were afraid of divisions among the People: but more were afraid to let the People see the insignificant figures they made in that Assembly. Nothing indeed was less understood, abroad among the People, than the real Constitution of Congress and the Characters of those who conducted the Business of it. The Truth is, the Motions, Plans, debates, Amendments, which were every day brought forward in those Committees of the whole House, if committed to Writing, would be very voluminous: but they are lost forever. The Preservation of them indeed, might for any thing I recollect be of more Curiosity than Use.2
1. Washington's letter enclosed a recent exchange of correspondence with Thomas, Lord Drummond. Jefferson drafted a report for the committee, which was slightly amended by JA , and brought in, 22 Aug., in the expectation that Congress would publish it. Instead, it was tabled, though on 17 Sept. Congress ordered the Washington-Drummond correspondence published. See Washington, Writings, ed. Fitzpatrick, 5:451–452; JCC , 5:672, 696, 767; Jefferson, Papers, ed. Boyd, 1:501–502; Burnett, ed., Letters of Members , 2:60.
2. The publication of the Secret Journals of the Acts and Proceedings of Congress, Boston, 1820, 4 vols., under the supervision of JQA as secretary of state, in part obviated the criticisms voiced here. The first volume of that edition (p. 267 ff.) printed for the first time, from the MS Secret Journal of the Continental Congress, the texts of the Articles of Confederation successively proposed in July 1775 and in July and Aug. 1776. No motion by James Wilson proposing that “the debates should [be] public” has been traced. In his Abstract of Debates, 27 Feb. 1777, Thomas Burke of North Carolina reported that Samuel Chase made such a motion that day and that Burke himself seconded it, but Chase's motion as preserved in the Papers of the Continental Congress falls well short of this (Burnett, ed., Letters of Members , 2:285; JCC , 7:164, note).