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Browsing: Diary of John Adams, Volume 3


This note contained in document ADMS-01-03-02-0016-0058
2. JA frequently complained in his Autobiography (as historians have later) of the meagerness of the record in the MS Journals of Congress, and consequently in the published Journals. But his charges that Secretary Thomson's omissions (or, as JA thought them, “suppressions”) sprang from his partiality for the anti-independence party in Congress cannot be substantiated: Thomson simply confined the Journal record to motions that “prevailed,” i.e. resolutions actually adopted. This practice (in force until 2 Aug. 1777; see below) excluded the names of movers and seconders of motions, the texts of all motions eventually negatived, all debates on and amendments (as such) to motions and reports, all enumeration of votes, and all business done in committees, including committees of the whole house—except committee reports or recommendations that were ultimately adopted, and then always in the form agreed on by Congress, which was of course by no means always the form reported. It hardly needs to be said that the Secretary's method bore precisely as hard on one faction in Congress as it did on another. But it should be pointed out that Thomson's docketings on the motions and committee reports that have been preserved are usually much more revealing than the bare entries of action recorded in the Journal, the latter being considered from the outset a record that would be made public.
From time to time members complained that the proceedings were too secret and that, for instance, they had no way of making their dissents on measures they disapproved known to their constituents; see especially Thomas Burke's Abstract of Debates, 27 Feb. 1777 (Burnett, ed., Letters of Members, 2:285), and Samuel Chase's motion of the same date, which, since it failed, was not entered in the Journal (JCC, 7:164). But Thomson's narrow interpretation of his duties as secretary persisted until 2 Aug. 1777, when Congress resolved “That all proceedings of Congress, and all questions agitated and determined by Congress, be entered on the journal, and that the yeas or nays of each member, if required by any State, be taken on every question as stated and determined by the house”(same, 8:599).
Thomson's engaging justification of his practice will be found in recollections attributed to him by an anonymous writer in 1827. It concludes: “what congress adopted, I committed to writing; with what they rejected, I had nothing farther to do; and even this method led to some squabbles with the members, who were desirous of having their speeches and resolutions, however put to rest by the majority, still preserved upon the minutes” (Amer. Quart. Rev., 1:31). Thomson's statement is printed in full in Burnett, ed., Letters of Members, 1:10, note.
See, further, entries below dated 23 March, 2, 6 April, 10 May, 7 June, 20 Aug., and 17 Sept. 1776, and notes thereunder.
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.
http://www.masshist.org/apde2/