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Browsing: Adams Family Correspondence, Volume 5

This note contained in document ADMS-04-05-02-0157
9. Robert Morris' letter to Gov. Hancock, dated 20 Sept., enclosed extracts from two of JA's letters to Morris, dated 10 and 11 July, in which he stressed the importance of the several states adopting a plan to pay the interest on the national debt. In his second letter JA wrote at length on the public honor requiring the payment of the debt: “The thirteen States, in relation to the discharge of the debts of Congress, must consider themselves as one body, animated by one soul. The stability of our confederation at home, our reputation abroad, our power of defence, the confidence and affection of the people of one State towards those of another, all depend upon it. . . .
“The commerce of the world is now open to us, and our exports and imports are of so large amount, and our connexions will be so large and extensive that the least Stain upon our character in this respect will lose us in a very short time advantages of greater pecuniary value, than all our debt amounts to” (Wharton, ed., Dipl. Corr. Amer. Rev., 6:531–532, 536–537).
This kind of persuasion was needed in the House, which on 8 Oct. voted down by 97 to 26 a motion to concur with the Senate in approving the 5 percent federal impost. The position of the House was that the impost should be used to pay the state's proportion of the national debt, that its collection should be regulated by the state legislature, and that no part of its receipts should be used to provide half-pay for Continental Army officers.
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The next day Gov. Hancock addressed a joint meeting of the legislature, in which he referred to JA's extracted letters. Much of his address, which was printed in the Boston newspapers, dwelt upon the knowledge and accomplishments of JA, whose recommendations he urged the legislators to weigh carefully: “I need not remind you, Gentlemen, of the political knowledge of that minister; of the confidence he has acquired from the United States; of the part he bore in framing the constitution of this commonwealth, and the confederation of the states, the intent and spirit of which he well understood; nor need I mention the advantage afforded him by his important public employments in Europe for taking an extended view of the subject on which he writes, for examining it nicely, and feeling its whole force” (Continental Journal, 16 October).
Following Hancock's address the House proposed a conference with the Senate to exchange views, and in the next ten days opposition to the impost as voted by the Senate steadily eroded. When it was revealed that only 37 members had instructions from their constituents to oppose half-pay, the House approved the Senate measure by 70 to 65. On 17 Oct., a motion to bar the use of the impost for half-pay failed by 74 to 64, but the final text of the act stipulated that sums raised could be applied only to discharge the interest or principal of debts incurred in fighting the war. The measure finally passed on 20 Oct., with 108 members present, 57 yeas (Records of the States, Microfilm, Mass. A.1b, Reel No. 11, Unit 1, p. 224–225, 231–233, 234, 236, 238, 252–254, 258–261, 267; Mass., Acts and Laws, 1782–1783, p. 541–543).
Cite web page as: Founding Families: Digital Editions of the Papers of the Winthrops and the Adamses, ed.C. James Taylor. Boston: Massachusetts Historical Society, 2014.