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representations, and to urge such negotiations, as will be most likely to satisfy the said Court of the friendly disposition of the United States, and to induce it to make such concessions relative to the Southern limit of the said States, and their right to navigate the river Mississippi, and to enter into such commercial stipulations with them, as may most effectually guard against a rupture of the subsisting harmony, and promote the mutual interest of the two nations; and that the Secretary of Foreign Affairs prepare and report the instructions proper to be given to the said Minister, with a proper commission and letters of credence; and that he also report the communications and explanations which it may be advisable to make to Mr. Guardoqui relative to this change in the mode of conducting the negotiation with his Court."
Mr. KING said that he did not know that he should be opposed to the proposition, as it seemed to be a plausible expedient, and as something seemed necessary to be done; but that he thought it proper that Congress should, before they agreed to it, give the Secretary for Foreign Affairs an opportunity of stating his opinions on it, and accordingly moved that it should be referred to him.
Mr. CLARK and Mr. VARNUM Opposed the reference, it being improper for Congress to submit a principle, for deciding which no further information was wanted, to the opinion of their minister. The reference being, however, at length acceded to by the other friends of the proposition, on the principle of accommodation, it had a vote of seven States.13
THURSDAY, APRIL 19TH.
The instructions of Virginia against relinquishing the Mississippi were laid before Congress by the Delegates of that State, with a motion that they should be referred to the Department of Foreign Affairs, by way of information.
The reference was opposed by Mr. KING and Mr. BENSON, as unnecessary for that purpose, the instructions having been printed in the newspapers.
In answer to this, it was observed, that the memorial accompanying the instructions had never been printed; that if it had, no just objection could be thence drawn against an official communication; that if Congress would submit a measure, as they had done yesterday, to the opinion of their Minister, they ought at least to supply him with every fact, in the most authentic manner, which could assist his judgment; and that they had actually referred to the same Minister communications relative to the Western views, less interesting and authentic, and which he had made the basis of a Report to Con
The motion was lost, Massachusetts and New York being against it, and Connecticut divided. Mr. MITCHELL, from the latter State, was displeased at the negatives, as indicating a want of candor and moderation on the subject."
MONDAY, APRIL 23rd.
Mr. Jay's report, stating objections against the motion of Mr. MADISON for sending Mr. Jefferson to Madrid, was taken into consideration.
Mr. MADISON observed, that Mr. Jay had not taken up the proposition in the point of view in which it had been penned; and explained what that was, to wit, that it was expedient to retract the step taken for ceding the Mississippi, and to do it in a manner as respectful and conciliating as possible to Spain, and which, at the same time, would procrastinate the dilemma stated by Mr. Jay. He said he was not attached to the expedient he had brought forward, and was open to any other that might be less exceptionable.
Mr. GORHAM avowed his opinion that the shutting the Mississippi would be advantageous to the Atlantic States, and wished to see it shut.
Mr. MADISON animadverted on the illiberality of his doctrine, and contrasted it with the principles of the Revolution, and the language of American patriots.
Nothing was done in the case.
WEDNESDAY, APRIL 25TH.
Mr. MADISON, Observing to Congress that he found a settled disinclination in some of the Delegations to concur in any conciliatory expedient for defending the Mississippi against the operation of the vote of seven States, and that it was hence become necessary VOL. I.-39
to attack directly the validity of that measure, to the end that the adversaries to it, and particularly the instructed Delegations, might at least discharge their duty in the case, made the following motion:
Whereas it appears by the Report of the Secretary for the Department of Foreign Affairs, made on the 11th instant, that in consequence of a vote entered into by seven States on the 29th day of August last, he has proceeded to adjust with Mr. Guardoqui an article for suspending the right of the United States to the common use of the river Mississippi below their southern boundary: And whereas it is considered that the said vote of seven States, having passed in a case in which the assent of nine States is required by the Articles of Confederation, is not valid for the purpose intended by it; and that any further negotiations in pursuance of the same may eventually expose the United States to great embarrassments with Spain, as well as excite great discontents and difficulties among themselves: Resolved, therefore, that the Secretary for the said Department be informed that it is the opinion of Congress, that the said vote of seven States ought not to be regarded as authorizing any suspension of the use of the river Mississippi by the United States, and that any expectations thereof, which may have been conceived on the part of Spain, ought to be repressed.
Mr. KING reminded Congress that this motion was barred by the rule that no question should be revived, which had been set aside by the previous question, unless the same States, or an equal number, be present, as were present at the time of such previous question. This rule had been entered into in
consequence of a similar motion made shortly after the vote of seven States had passed. Mr. KING contended, that this rule was a prudent one, and recommended by the practice of all deliberative assemblies, who never suffered questions once agitated and decided, to be repeated at the pleasure of the unsuccessful party.
Mr. MADISON admitted that the rule, if insisted on, was a bar to his motion; but that he had not expected that it would be called up, being so evidently improper in itself, and the offspring of the intemperance which characterized the epoch of its birth. As it was called up, however, it was become necessary that a preliminary motion for its repeal should be made, and which he accordingly made. His objections against the rule were—
First, that it was an attempt in one Congress to bind their successors, which was not only impracticable in itself, but highly unreasonable in the very instance which gave birth to the rule. Twelve States were on the floor at the time; seven were for the previous question, five against it. The casting number, therefore, was but two. Was it not unreasonable that eleven States, unanimously of a contrary opinion, should be controlled by this small majority when twelve were present; and yet such would be the operation of the rule, if eleven States only should at any time happen to be present, although they should be unanimous in the case.
Secondly, the operation of the vote in another respect was still more reprehensible. In the former case the eleven States, or even seven, could extricate themselves by a repeal of the rule. In case a