Diary of John Adams, volume 2

[Memorandum of Measures to Be Pursued in Congress, February? 1776.] <a xmlns="http://www.tei-c.org/ns/1.0" href="#DJA02d276n1" class="note" id="DJA02d276n1a">1</a> JA


[Memorandum of Measures to Be Pursued in Congress, February? 1776.] Adams, John
Memorandum of Measures to Be Pursued in Congress, February? 1776. 1


The Confederation to be taken up in Paragraphs.2

An Alliance to be formed with France and Spain.3

Embassadors to be sent to both Courts.

Government to be assumed in every Colony.4

Coin and Currencies to be regulated.5

Forces to be raised and maintained in Canada and New York. St. Lawrence and Hudsons Rivers to be secured.

Hemp to be encouraged and the Manufacture of Duck.6

Powder Mills to be built in every Colony, and fresh Efforts to make Salt Petre.7

An Address to the Inhabitants of the Colonies.8

The Committee for Lead and Salt to be fill'd up, and Sulphur added to their Commission.

Money to be sent to the Paymaster, to pay our Debts, and fullfill our Engagements.

Taxes to be laid, and levied, Funds established. New Notes to be given on Interest, for Bills borrowed.

Treaties of Commerce with F. S. H. D. &c.9

Declaration of Independency, Declaration of War with the Nation, Cruising on the british Trade, their East India Ships and Sugar Ships.10

Prevent the Exportation of Silver and Gold.


Regrettably it is impossible to date this important memorandum with certainty. In the MS (D/JA/25) it appears on two facing pages between the entries of 26 and 28 Jan. 1776, which, disregarding other considerations, should indicate that it was written during JA's return journey to Philadelphia. This may be the case, but for reasons pointed out elsewhere the editors have learned to distrust the physical position of undated entries in the Diary as clues to their dates of composition. JA's list displays such familiarity with issues current in Congress that it is extremely doubtful that he could have prepared it on his way back to Philadelphia. It is far more likely that he drew it up after he had resumed his seat on 9 Feb. and had tested the temper of his fellow delegates and, through them, the temper of the country, especially those sections of it beyond New England — which he now felt certain, to use Jefferson's phrase, was ready to fall “from the parent stem” ( Papers, ed. Boyd, 1:313). What he found was that, except for Virginia, most of the other colonies were not matured to that point of ripeness, and his task was, in conjunction with others of his mind in Congress, to bring them to that point. As the notes below indicate, many of the measures listed can be identified as resolutions introduced in Congress by JA and other leaders of the independence party during the weeks 232immediately following his return; others were not put forward until late spring or early summer, or at least did not get beyond the talking stage and so are not recorded in the Journal.

The most plausible supposition is that JA compiled his list of agenda, which has the appearance of being composed at one sitting, after conferring with Samuel Adams, Richard Henry Lee, and others with advanced views and agreeing with them on what measures should be pressed, soon after taking his seat, very probably between 10 and 15 Feb. and certainly before 23 Feb. (see note 7, below). If this is a sound conjecture, this paper may be regarded as minutes of a caucus among members who favored American independence.


On 21 July 1775 Franklin had laid before Congress a draft plan of “Articles of Confederation and Perpetual Union,” but the subject was so touchy that no record of it was made in the official Journal. Copies of Franklin's plan circulated in the colonies and even reached print, but without noticeable effect (Burnett, Continental Congress , p. 91–92; Jefferson, Papers, ed. Boyd, 1:179–180). On 23 Dec. 1775 Jefferson, as chairman of a committee to ascertain the unfinished business before Congress, entered the “Report of the Proposed Articles of Confederation (adjourned from August last)” as the first item, but it was struck from his list, probably by the committee before reporting ( JCC , 3:454–456; Jefferson, Papers, ed. Boyd, 1:274–275). According to Richard Smith's Diary there were “considerable Arguments” on the floor of Congress, 16 Jan. 1776, “on the Point Whether a Day shall be fixed for considering the Instrument of Confederation formerly brought in by a Comee. it was carried in the Negative [and so not recorded in the Journal]. Dr. Franklin exerted Himself in Favor of the Confederation as did Hooper, Dickinson and other[s] agt. it” (Burnett, ed., Letters of Members , 1:313; and see Samuel Adams to JA, 15–16 Jan. 1776, Adams Papers; same, p. 311–312). The Journal of Congress is silent on this subject until 7 June, when the Virginia Resolutions “respecting independency” were brought in, one of which proposed “That a plan of confederation be prepared and transmitted to the respective Colonies for their consideration and approbation,” and after debate extending over several days a committee was appointed “to prepare and digest the form of a confederation to be entered into between these colonies” ( JCC , 5:425, 431, 433). For later developments see entries of 25 July and following, below.


A proposal approaching this was made by George Wythe on 16 Feb. 1776; see JA's Notes of Debates of that date, preceding, and note 4 there.


JA's main objective (and accomplishment) in the spring of 1776. See his Notes of Debates, 13–15 May, below, and notes there.


On 19 April 1776 a committee, of which JA was a member, was appointed by Congress “to examine and ascertain the value of the several species of gold and silver coins, current in these colonies, and the proportions they ought to bear to Spanish milled dollars” ( JCC , 4:294). Its report, largely the work of George Wythe, was brought in on 22 May and tabled (same, p. 381–383). For its later history see Jefferson, Papers, ed. Boyd, 1:511–518).


This proposal was introduced by JA and adopted by Congress in an enlarged form in March; see JA's Draft Resolutions for Encouraging Agriculture and Manufactures, Feb.–March, below.


These proposals, together with the next but one in the present list of agenda, emerged in a series of four important resolutions, adopted by Congress on 23 Feb., to promote the production of military supplies, and ordered to be published ( JCC , 4:170–171). Richard Smith in his Diary noted that “these were presented by John Adams” (Burnett, ed., Letters of Members , 1:361). They were printed in the Pennsylvania Gazette of 28 Feb. 1776.


A committee of five members had been appointed on 24 Jan. to draft such an address ( JCC , 4:87). All of its members were conservatives (Dickinson, Wilson, Hooper, Duane, and Alexander), and the draft they submitted on 13 Feb., largely the work of Wilson, was a conservative paper that disavowed independence as an American aim (same, p. 134–146; C. Page Smith, James Wilson, Founding Father, 1742–1798, Cha-233pel Hill, 1956, p. 74–76). This address was in fact part of a campaign by conservative leaders, begun two weeks earlier, to smoke out those in Congress who were secretly working for independence; see Burnett, ed., Letters of Members , 1:304, 311, 326, 334, 348. Proceeding on the assumption that the present notes were the product of a caucus of delegates determined on strong measures, this item could appear among their agenda only because they wished either to alter the proposed address drastically or to suppress it entirely. When it was presented on 13 Feb., they succeeded in tabling it, and it was never resurrected. But while these facts are all consonant with the date of mid-February suggested for JA's memorandum, they do not help to date it any more precisely.


France, Spain, Holland, Denmark.


On 23 March Congress after some days of debate passed a series of resolutions authorizing “the inhabitants of these colonies ... to fit out armed vessels to cruize on the enemies of these United Colonies” and establishing regulations concerning prizes taken by such privateers ( JCC , 4:229–233). The committee that reported a draft of these resolutions (in the form of a “Declaration”) consisted of Wythe, Jay, and Wilson, but their report was amended in Congress, and JA with little doubt contributed to its final form as published (except for a secret paragraph) in the Pennsylvania Gazette, 27 March; see his Autobiography under 19, 22, 23 March 1776. On the day of its adoption JA told a friend that it amounted to at least “three Quarters of a war” against Great Britain (to Horatio Gates, NHi; Burnett, ed., Letters of Members , 1:405–406).