5th President of the United States
in Congress Assembled
November 3, 1783 to June 3, 1784
By: Stanley L. Klos
Thomas Mifflin was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania on January 10, 1744 into a fourth generation of his family to live in the city of “Brotherly Love”. His father was a Quaker and served as a Philadelphia alderman. His father was also a trustee of the College of Philadelphia which is today the University of Pennsylvania. Mifflin attended Philadelphia’s grammar schools and graduated in 1760 from the College. Upon graduation, he apprenticed at an important counting house in Philadelphia. In the course of this business Mifflin traveled throughout Europe in 1764 and 1765. In 1766 he returned to the colonies early and opened a import and export business with a younger brother. In that same year he joined the American Philosophical Society, served as it Secretary for two years and remained a distinguished member until 1799.
Mifflin’s entrepreneurial pursuits were responsible for the formulation of his initial objections to Parliament’s taxation policy. In his first year as a Philadelphia Importer he found it necessary to publicly speak against Great Britain’s initial attempts to levy taxes on the colonies. In 1773 Merchant Mifflin met Merchant John Hancock and political activist Samuel Adams who convinced him that open resistance to Parliament was a businessman’s only judicious option to resist taxes “imposed upon the people against their will.” In 1774 Mifflin organized several Pennsylvania town meetings to support Boston’s resistance to the Coercive Acts. In these meetings Mifflin cautioned that although the acts only applied to Boston in reprisal to the “Tea Party”; a successful implementation would embolden Parliament to punish other cities that objected to seemingly perpetual wave of superfluous British taxation.
In 1771 Mifflin ran and won election as a Philadelphia’s warden. The following year he began the first of four uninterrupted terms in the Colonial State Legislature of Pennsylvania. His efforts in state government were rewarded in 1774 by being elected as a Pennsylvania Delegate to the 1st Continental Congress. His business and patriotic fervor was embraced as the leadership appointed him to serve on important committees. One Mifflin committee set-up a Continental Association to enforce the resolution passed by Congress which, created an embargo against English goods. His diligence as a delegate insured his re-election to the 2nd Continental Congress.
When the news came of the fight at Lexington Mifflin eloquently advocated resolute action in the Continental Congress and then attended many Pennsylvania town-meetings supporting colonial armed resistance. Both John Dickinson and Mifflin were instrumental in reviving the volunteer colonial defense force that resisted the French in the 1750’s and 60’s known as the Associators. Once these troops were enlisted, Mifflin was elected a Major becoming active in organizing and drilling the 3rd Philadelphia Battalion. He severed his religious ties with Quaker Society. This was an action that spoke volumes to his commitment to Colonial self-government and defense.
When the 2nd Continental Congress created the Colonial Army as a national armed force on June 14th, 1775, Mifflin resigned as delegate and as a Pennsylvania Militia Major to serve with the new Commander-in-Chief, George Washington. General Washington, who knew Mifflin as a fellow delegate, promoted him as his first aide-de-camp after the establishment of the command headquarters at Cambridge. While there, Colonel Mifflin successfully led a force against a British detachment placing the heavy artillery stripped from Fort Ticonderoga on Dorchester Heights. This was a strategic move that ended Britain’s occupation in Boston. Mifflin also managed the complex logistics of moving troops to meet a British thrust at New York City. In July 1775, he was promoted to quartermaster-general of the army; after the evacuation of Boston by the enemy. Mifflin was commissioned as brigadier-general on May 19th, 1776 and assigned to the command of a Pennsylvania troops when the army lay encamped before New York.
General Mifflin’s Pennsylvania brigade was described as the best disciplined of any in the Continental Army. His Continental Regiment covered the retreat of the American army from Brooklyn after General Howe in the dead of night outmaneuvered Washington. At dawn the continental troops were forced to fight British regulars in a superior position and fell back to the East River. Washington’s only hope was to assemble enough boats to quietly cross the river into Manhattan and as luck would have it the night brought a thick fog over the entire area. Through a military order gaffe General Mifflin received the word to retreat before all of the troops had embarked to Manhattan Island. At the ferry, upon learning of the error, Mifflin managed to regain the lines before the enemy discovered that the post was deserted and learned of the water retreat. Mifflin’s troops remained at their posts and were the last to leave Brooklyn in the hasty nighttime evacuation.
Washington’s rapid retreat across the East River meant that wagons containing most of the Continental Army’s powder, baggage and critical supplies fell into to the hands of the British. In the aftermath soldier moral was low and the Continental Congress held a committee hearing. After a three-day investigation the committee recommended that quartermaster Moylan, who was given the impossible task to protect the British controlled waterways resigned. In an effort to restore the morale of the soldiers, against his wishes, Mifflin was appointed this position by a special resolve of Congress. This new assignment as quarter-master-general bitterly disappointed Mifflin who was also unhappy with Nathanael Greene emerging as Washington’s principal adviser, a role which Mifflin coveted. George Washington did not object to Mifflin’s re-assignment and the disgruntled quarter-master assumed the mundane duties of protecting and delivering the supply necessary for the Continental Army.
The Journal of Congress reported:
“Resolved, That Brigadier General Mifflin be authorized and requested to resume the said office, and that his rank and pay, as brigadier, be still continued to him:1[Note 1: 1 “We have obtained Colonel Moylan’s resignation, and General Mifflin comes again into the office of Quartermaster General.” Elbridge Gerry to Horatio Gates, 27 September 1776.]
That a committee of three four be appointed to confer with Brigadier General Mifflin: The members chosen, Mr. Richard Henry Lee, Mr. Roger Sherman, Mr. John Adams, and Mr. Elbridge Gerry.”
In November 1776, General Mifflin was sent to Philadelphia to report to the Continental Congress the critical condition of the army. Washington was unable to hold onto Manhattan Island and loss Fort Washington that was garrisoned with a large contingent of soldiers, ammunition, weapons and supplies while he watched helplessly from the New Jersey Palisades. The Continental Army was outgunned and manned and was unable to make a stand in New Jersey to stop the advancing British march towards Philadelphia. Washington was out of supplies and money to pay the troops whose tours of duty were set to expire in 60 days in the early winter of 1776. It was a wise move by the Commander-in-Chief to send General Mifflin to rally Philadelphia, as Congress in fear of losing the Capital, was preparing to take flight to Baltimore. As Washington’s Continental Army was forced to cross the Delaware, the citizens of Philadelphia began to panic. Business was suspended, schools were closed and agitated Patriots and Tories gathered in the streets. As news of the Continental Army’s plight filtered in, roads leading from the city were crowded with refugees all fleeing the city.
In the Pennsylvania Statehouse Yard a town meeting was called and newly arrived General Thomas Mifflin addressed the crowd and much of Continental Congress. After listening to his appeals for unity and support, Congress formally appealed to the militia of Philadelphia and the nearest counties to join Washington’s beleaguered Army. Congress also sent word to all parts of the country for re-enforcements and supplies, and then ordered Mifflin to remain in Philadelphia for consultation and advice. Mifflin organized and trained three regiments of militia of the city and adjoining neighborhoods, sending a body of 1,500 men to Washington. The General also orchestrated the complex re-supply of the Washington’s ragged American forces once they reached safety on the Pennsylvania side of the Delaware River. These Mifflin measures were critical components needed by Washington to counterattack the “fatheaded” British Army on Christmas Day. After the successful win at Trenton, General Mifflin, accompanied by a Committee of the legislature, made the tour of the principal towns of Pennsylvania. Through his stirring oratory Mifflin recruited many men into the ranks of the Continental Army. Washington’s army reassembled once again in Pennsylvania and crossed the Delaware taking the brunt of the British regular forces head-on just outside of Trenton. That evening Mifflin came up with more desperately needed re-enforcements Washington’s troops, in nighttime advance, outmaneuvered the British attacking a weak flank in the college town of Princeton. This battle was won and the troops moved safely north into the hills of Northern New Jersey. In recognition of his services, Congress commissioned Mifflin as a major-general on February 19th, 1777 and made him a member of the Board of War.
On the Board of War, General Mifflin joined a growing number of delegates and generals who shared the dissatisfaction at the “Fabian policy” of General Washington. The war was going poorly by the summer of 1777 with Major General Arthur St. Clair’s loss of Fort Ticonderoga. Clearly, at the very least, Thomas Mifflin sympathized with the views of General Horatio Gates and General Thomas Conway who blamed Washington for the losses of the Continental Army. In the late fall of 1777 Horatio Gates, with the help and field leadership of Benedict Arnold, defeated General Burgoyne’s forces at Saratoga. Almost immediately Washington’s enemies embolden with the victory sought his replacement with the “Hero of Saratoga,” General Gates. Thomas Conway with Mifflin doing nothing to stop the political intrigue organized an effort in the Board of War to establish Gates as the new Commander-in-Chief. Mifflin vehemently declared, after Washington overcame the Conway Cabal that he had not participated in their efforts to remove General Washington as commander-in-chief. The Conway Cabal and responsibilities of his various offices so impaired General Mifflin’s health that he offered his resignation. Congress refused to accept it. However, General Mifflin was replaced by General Nathanael Greene in the quartermaster’s department in March, 1778, and in October of 1778 he and General Gates were discharged from their places on the Board of War.
More trouble followed from Mifflin’s “loosing side” affiliation. An investigation of his conduct was ordered by Congress resulting from charges that the distresses of the army at Valley Forge were due to the mismanagement of the quartermaster-general. When the decree was revoked, after he had himself demanded an examination, he resigned his commission. Congress refused to accept it, and placed in his hands $1,000,000 to settle outstanding claims. In January1780, Mifflin was appointed on a board to devise means for retrenching expenses. In this capacity he once again became a stalwart and strong advocate of General Washington during the darkest days of the revolution.
After the achievement of the Treaty of Paris he was elected as a delegate to the United States in Congress Assembled. Thomas Mifflin was so respected by his fellow delegates for his conduct during the 1780-81 campaigns that he was elected President of the United States in Congress Assembled, on November 3, 1783. His presidency lasted only six months, as Congress adjourned on June 3, 1784. On his presidential election the Journals of the United States in Congress Assembled reporting:
“Pursuant to the Articles of Confederation, the following delegates attended:
FROM THE STATE OF NEW HAMPSHIRE, Mr. A[biel] Foster, MASSACHUSETTS, Mr. E[lbridge] Gerry, who produced a certificate under the seal of the State, signed John Avery, Mr. S[amuel] Osgood, RHODE ISLAND AND PROVIDENCE PLANTATIONS, Mr. W[illiam] Ellery and Mr. D[avid] Howell, CONNECTICUT, Mr. S[amuel] Huntington and Mr. B[enjamin] Huntington, NEW YORK, Mr. James Duane, NEW JERSEY, Mr. E[lias] Boudinot, MARYLAND, Mr. D[aniel] Carroll,Mr. J[ames] McHenry, VIRGINIA.Mr. J[ohn] F[rancis], Mr. A[rthur] Lee, NORTH CAROLINA, Mr. [Benjamin] Hawkins, and Mr. [Hugh] Williamson, SOUTH CAROLINA, Mr. J[acob] Read, Mr. R[ichard] Beresford, Seven states being represented, they proceeded to the choice of a President; and, the ballots being taken, the honorable Thomas Mifflin was elected.”
Mifflin’s first mission, as the new President, was to insure that the Treaty of Paris was ratified under the six month time constraint set forth in the agreement. President Mifflin scheduled a ratifying convention at the Maryland State House in Annapolis in November 1783, but many of the delegates failed to arrive. By mid-December Mifflin’s attempt to assemble a ratifying quorum became desperate. On December 15th Congress even failed to achieve even the simple seven state quorum to read foreign dispatches. Once again, on December 17th Congress failed to convene the mandatory nine state quorum to conduct ratification despite the news of George Washington’s impending audience to resign as Commander-in-Chief. According to Ramsay:
“In every town and village, through which the General passed, he was met by public and private demonstrations of gratitude and joy. When he arrived at Annapolis, he informed Congress of his intention to ask leave to resign the commission he had the honor to hold in their service, and desired to know their pleasure in what manner it would be most proper to be done. They resolved that it should be in a public audience.”
George Washington’s attendance in Congress set the stage for one of the most remarkable events of United States history under Thomas Mifflin’s Presidency.
In November of 1783 the British finally evacuated New York and Congress made the momentous decision to place the Continental Army on “Peace Footing”. It was in Annapolis, where the US Government convened, that the last great act of the Revolutionary War occurred. George Washington was formally received by President Thomas Mifflin and Congress. Instead of declaring himself King or dictator as many men feared, Washington resigned his commission as Commander-in-Chief to the President of the United States.
What made this action especially remarkable was that George Washington, at his pinnacle of his power and popularity, surrendered the commission to President Thomas Mifflin, who by all accounts, conspired to replace Washington as Commander-in-Chief with Horatio Gates in 1777. What follows is The United States in Congress Assembled Journal account of George Washington’s December 23, 1783 resignation:
“According to order, his Excellency the Commander in Chief was admitted to a public audience, and being seated, and silence ordered, the President, after a pause, informed him, that the United States in Congress assembled, were prepared to receive his communications; Whereupon, he arose and addressed Congress as follows:
The great events on which my resignation depended, having at length taken place, I have now the honor of offering my sincere congratulations to Congress, and of presenting myself before them, to surrender into their hands the trust committed to me, and to claim the indulgence of retiring from the service of my country.
Happy in the confirmation of our independence and sovereignty, and pleased with the opportunity afforded the United States, of becoming a respectable nation, I resign with satisfaction the appointment I accepted with diffidence; a diffidence in my abilities to accomplish so arduous a task; which however was superseded by a confidence in the rectitude of our cause, the support of the supreme power of the Union, and the patronage of Heaven.
The successful termination of the war has verified the most sanguine expectations; and my gratitude for the interposition of Providence, and the assistance I have received from my countrymen, increases with every review of the momentous contest.
While I repeat my obligations to the army in general, I should do injustice to my own feelings not to acknowledge, in this place, the peculiar services and distinguished merits of the gentlemen who have been attached to my person during the war. It was impossible the choice of confidential officers to compose my family should have been more fortunate. Permit me, sir, to recommend in particular, those who have continued in the service to the present moment, as worthy of the favorable notice and patronage of Congress.
I consider it an indispensable duty to close this last act of my official life by commending the interests of our dearest country to the protection of Almighty God, and those who have the superintendence of them to his holy keeping. Having now finished the work assigned me, I retire from the great theatre of action, and bidding an affectionate farewell to this august body, under whose orders I have so long acted, I here offer my commission, and take my leave of all the employments of public life’”
George Washington then advanced and delivered to President Mifflin his commission, with a copy of his address, and resumed his place, whereupon President Thomas Mifflin returned him the following answer:
The United States in Congress assembled receive with emotions, too affecting for utterance, the solemn deposit resignation of the authorities under which you have led their troops with safety and triumph success through a long a perilous and a doubtful war. When called upon by your country to defend its invaded rights, you accepted the sacred charge, before they it had formed alliances, and whilst they were it was without funds or a government to support you. You have conducted the great military contest with wisdom and fortitude, through invariably regarding the fights of the civil government power through all disasters and changes. You have, by the love and confidence of your fellow-citizens, enabled them to display their martial genius, and transmit their fame to posterity. You have persevered, till these United States, aided by a magnanimous king and nation, have been enabled, under a just Providence, to close the war in freedom, safety and independence; on which happy event we sincerely join you in congratulations.
Having planted defended the standard of liberty in this new world: having taught an useful lesson a lesson useful to those who inflict and to those who feel oppression, you retire from the great theatre of action, loaded with the blessings of your fellow-citizens, but your fame the glory of your virtues will not terminate with your official life the glory of your many virtues will military command, it will continue to animate remotest posterity ages and this last act will not be among the least conspicuous We feel with you our obligations to the army in general; and will particularly charge ourselves with the interests of those confidential officers, who have attended your person to this interesting affecting moment.
We join you in commending the interests of our dearest country to the protection of Almighty God, beseeching him to dispose the hearts and minds of its citizens, to improve the opportunity afforded them, of becoming a happy and respectable nation. And for you we address to him our earnest prayers, that a life so beloved may be fostered with all his care; that your days may be happy, as they have been illustrious; and that he will finally give you that reward which this world cannot give.”
On the following day, December the 24th, President Mifflin once again appealed to States to send their required representatives. Not even the resignation of George Washington was enough incentive to attract a quorum of delegates for the ratification of the Treaty of Paris. In this Christmas Eve letter Mifflin makes a passionate plea to New Jersey and Connecticut:
“I had the honor to write to your Excellency on the 23rd November, informing you that the definitive Treaty was arrived, and that the last article of it declares that it should be ratified & exchanged within six months from its Signature.
Yesterday I again writ to your Excellency by order of Congress informing you that only Seven States were represented in Congress viz. Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland, Virginia & North Carolina, and that the ratification of the definitive Treaty & several other matters of the greatest consequence were delayed by want of a representation of Nine States.
My Letter of yesterday was forwarded by the post, but as Congress are strongly impressed with an apprehension that the time mentioned in the definitive Treaty will elapse, before a representation of nine States can be obtained, and as such a representation cannot take place unless New Jersey and Connecticut send on their delegates, they have instructed me to write to you by Express, and to urge in the strongest terms the importance of an immediate representation in Congress from the State of New-Jersey. Let me therefore entreat your Excellency to use your influence on this important point, that the consequences to be expected from the Want of an immediate representation of nine States may not be imputable to your State, which on every former Occasion has exerted itself with so much honor and reputation.
New Hampshire has but one Member attending, and there is no probability of a representation of that State in less than Six Weeks. New York has no delegates in Congress, nor can it be represented in many Weeks. South Carolina has one member attending; one of the delegates from that State is in ill health at Philadelphia; his attendance uncertain.
By letters from Georgia we find there is no probability of a representation from thence this Winter; from this view of our situation your Excellency will observe that the Ratification of the definitive Treaty in proper time, depends upon the immediate exertions of New Jersey & Connecticut.
I should be glad to know from your Excellency by the return of this Express, at what time we may expect a representation from your State.”
Later that day the President wrote Governor Livingston a personal letter:
“I have already addressed three several dispatches to your Excellency of the 23d of November & of the 23d & 24th of December stating to you the arrival of the Definitive Treaty and the necessity, by an Article thereof, of its ratification and Exchange at Paris by the 3d of March next: I have also stated in those dispatches the particular situation of Congress. Nine States being necessary to a Ratification & Seven only being present. Apprehending that these Letters may have miscarried & having Reason to believe that the Representation from South Carolina will be compleat in a day or two, I have dispatched Col. Harmar my private Secretary with this Letter to your Excellency, informing you that if the Delegation of New Jersey attends in Congress without further delay we may yet ratify the Treaty in time. A Representation of Nine States to ratify the Definitive Treaty before the Time limited for its Exchange expires must appear to your Excellency too important to be longer delayed.”
In early January, despite these two letters, nine states had still not formed the necessary ratification quorum in Annapolis to ratify the Definitive Treaty of Peace with Great Britain. President Mifflin, unable to act, turned to other matters requiring only a seven State quorum such as rejecting the proposal to nominate knights to the Polish Order of Divine Providence on January 5th and 3 days later resuming the debate on the Quaker petition for suppression of the slave trade. On January 10th the President once again failed to even convene a 7 state quorum to conduct the nation’s business. On that day the President focused on correspondence. Once again he wrote William Livingston but this time to address the latest problems with mail theft in New Jersey:
“I have the Honor to transmit to you an Act of Congress of the 6th Inst relative to the Robbery of the Mail at Princeton on the 30th October last; together with a Copy of a Letter from the Post Master General, a Copy of a Letter from Mr. Harrison Post Master at Princeton & a Copy of an Affidavit of Joseph Parker on that Subject.”
The enclosed resolve requested Governor Livingston “to order a strict enquiry” into this mail theft, and Congress’ original November 1 order to postmaster general Ebenezer Hazard to undertake such an investigation. Congress, to aid these NJ officials in the mail theft investigation, would later offer a reward of $300 for the arrest and conviction of “the perpetrator or perpetrators of the aforesaid robbery.”
By January 12th, only seven of the 13 states had sent their representatives. Time was running short operating under the weak Articles of Confederation; the Continental Congress lacked the power to enforce attendance at Annapolis. On January 13, the convention needed one more delegate. Finally, South Carolina Representative Richard Beresford, who was ill, traveled to Maryland. As soon as he arrived, the vote was taken, and on January 14, 1784, the Definitive Treaty of Peace was ratified by Congress and signed by Thomas Mifflin as President of the United States. King George III did not ratify the treaty for Britain until April 9, 1784 which officially ended the War. At the writing of this book the author is please to report the Treaty is currently displayed prominently in the National Archives Exhibit in Washington DC. Mifflin’s signature, as President, is strong on a printed document that is overall in fine condition.
Thomas Mifflin, to insure a timely delivery of the ratified treaty to Great Britain, immediately dispatched this letter to Josiah Harmar on the 14th:
“Congress having this day appointed you to carry the Ratification of the Definitive Treaty to our Ministers at Paris it is necessary that I should give you private Instructions how to proceed in the Business allotted to you.
You will with all possible Expedition go to Philadelphia. Upon your arrival there wait upon the Honble. Mr. Robert Morris & produce to him the Act of Congress of this date, herewith delivered to you, directing him to supply you with money to defray the necessary expenses of your appointment.Mr. Morris will inform you at what time the French Packet will sail from New-York and will give you, at your request, every assistance in his Power to facilitate your Journey.
By a Letter I have just received from the Minister of France it is probable you will meet him on your Road to Philadelphia. Enquire for His Excellency at every Stage, and be particularly careful that you do not suffer him to pass you before you have delivered my Letter to him and have requested his Commands to Europe, intreat him to give you a Letter of Recommendation to the Captain of the Pacquet Boat at New York, on which Subject I have written to him; If he should desire you to wait three or four Hours for his dispatches, you are to comply with his Excellency’s request.
The moment you are on shore in France endeavor to procure Horses or a Carriage for your Journey to Paris and be as expeditious as possible in that Journey. At Paris enquire for Mr. LeGrand, banker there and inform him that you have public dispatches for our Ministers & request him to inform you where you may find Mr. Adams, Mr. Franklin, Mr. Jay or Mr. Lawrens, follow his directions in this point and deliver your dispatches to the first of those Gentlemen you may meet. Take a Receipt for the dispatches when delivered specifying the several Papers delivered by you and the time of delivery.
This Service being performed you are at Liberty to return to America recollecting that the Act of Congress of this date provides only for your necessary Expences on the particular Business assigned by them to you.
You will deliver my Letter to the Marquis de la Fayette with my warmest Wishes for his Welfare. Should you go to London, deliver my Letter to Mr. Robert Barcley, who will be your friend in all things. God bless you my dear Harmar, I am Your Friend, Thomas Mifflin.”
President Mifflin also wrote the Superintendent of Finance, Robert Morris, a brief letter this day notifying him of Harmar’s mission and enclosing the congressional directive concerning his expenses. This being done, Congress, by a unanimous vote, resolved that a Proclamation be issued. The Proclamation ordered the strict and faithful observance of the treaty and issued an earnest recommendation to the several States in the very words of the 5th Article. Secretary Charles Thomson forward authenticated Copies of those Acts to the Executives of the several States. On January 21st the following proclamation was published and appeared in the Pennsylvania Gazette:
“PHILADELPHIA, January 21.
By the UNITED STATES in CONGRESS assembled.
WHEREAS Definitive Articles of peace and friendship, between the United States of America and his Britannic Majesty, were concluded and signed at Paris on the 3d day of September, 1783, by the Plenipotentiaries of the said United States and of His said Britannic Majesty, duly and respectively authorized for that purpose, which definitive articles are in the words following:
And we, the United States in Congress assembled, having seen and duly considered the definitive articles aforesaid, did, by a certain article, under the seal of the United States, bearing date this 14th day of January, 1784, approve, ratify and confirm the same, and every part and clause thereof, engaging and promising that we would sincerely and faithfully perform and observe the same, and never to suffer them to be violated by any one, or transgressed in any manner, as far as should be in our power.
And being sincerely disposed to carry the said articles into execution, truly, honestly and with good faith, according to the intent and meaning thereof, We have thought proper, by these presents, to notify the premises to all the good citizens of these States, hereby enjoining all bodies of magistracy, legislative, executive and judiciary, all persons bearing office, civil or military, of whatever rank, degree or powers, and all others, the good citizens of these states, of every vocation and condition, that, reverencing those stipulations entered into on their behalf, under the authority of that federal bond, by which their existence as an independent people is bound up together, and is known and acknowledged by the nations of the world, and with that good faith, which is every man’s surest guide, within their several offices, jurisdictions and vocations, they carry into effect the said definitive articles, and every clause and sentence thereof, strictly and completely.
Given under the seal of the United States. Witness his Excellency THOMAS MIFFLIN, our President, at Annapolis, this 14th day of January 1784, and of the sovereignty and independence of the United States of America, the eighth.”
On the 14th President Mifflin also wrote the Chevalier de La Luzerne:
“This day nine States being represented in Congress Viz. Massachusetts, Rhode-Island, Connecticut, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina and South Carolina, together with one Member from New Hampshire and one Member from New Jersey, The Treaty of Peace was ratified by the unanimous Vote of the Members. This being done Congress by an unanimous Vote, ordered a proclamation to be issued, enjoining the strict and faithful observance thereof and published an earnest recommendation to the several States in the very words of the fifth Article.
Congress have appointed Colonel Josiah Harmer my private Secretary to carry the ratification to our Ministers at Paris; and I have instructed him to pursue the rout marked by your Excellency’s Letter of the 10th Inst. and upon meeting you to wait for such commands as you may be pleased to honor him with. Let me entreat your Excellency to give Colonel Harmar a recommendatory letter to the Captain of the Packet Boat at New York that he may have upon his arrival in France the most expeditious means provided for his Journey to Paris.
I will employ a proper person to secure two or three comfortable rooms for you and if I can be so happy as to hear of your arrival at Baltimore, I will take care that a person shall be on the road near Annapolis to conduct you to the house which may be provided for you.”
Two days after the Proclamation was issued to the people Mifflin turned to the business of electing a Federal Chaplin, he writes to Daniel Jones:
“It is with the greatest Satisfaction I enclose to you an Act of Congress of the 22d Inst. by which you are unanimously elected their Chaplain. I need not inform you that it is the wish of your friends that you attend as soon as your private affairs will permit.”
The end of January had the President focus on a pressing border matter that threatened the peace of the treaty. After just sending Governor Hancock a brief letter on the 23rd stating “I have the honor to transmit to your Excellency an Authenticated copy of the ratification of the Definitive Treaty, together with the recommendation of Congress conformably to the said Treaty”
On the 31st Mifflin transmitted a copy of a letter from John Allan along with a resolution passed on the 29th by Congress to the Governor. Allan, a United States agent in the eastern department of Indian affairs, had claimed “Consternation” of Micmac, Passamaquody, Penobscot, and St. Johns Indians over recent encroachments into their territory from Nova Scotia. This was in breach of boundaries defined in the ratified Definitive Treaty of Peace. The governor was requested to make an examination of Allan’s concerns, and if British encroachments into the territory were found, to “send a representation thereof to the British governor of Nova Scotia.”
On February 1, 1784 the following financial report of the United States was submitted to Superintendent Robert Morris by the grand committee of Congress. This grand committee, which had been selected on January 23rd, had originally been assigned the Superintendent’s report of October 21, 1783, that instructed it draw up “a requisition on the States for the payment of Interest on the national debt.” After the committee’s initial meeting on January 24th Thomas Jefferson, who was elected chairman, moved “that it be an instruction to the Grand committee to prepare and report to Congress an estimate of current expenses from the 1st day of January 1784 to the 1st of Jan. 1785.” On January 30th the committee was also assigned a letter and note from the French Minister concerning the payment of interest to foreign holders of loan office certificates as well as other documents at later dates. Thomas Jefferson’s committed filed the following report:
“A grand Committee of Congress is now engaged in preparing estimates of the necessary federal expenses of the present year from the first to the last day of it, inclusive and of the articles of interest on the public debts foreign & domestic which call indispensably for intermediate provision while the impost proposed ultimately for their discharge shall be on it’s passage through the states; these estimates are to lead to a new requisition of money from the states, but the committee have hopes that this new requisition may be lessened if not altogether dispensed with provided a full compliance can be obtained with the former requisitions of Nov. 2, 1781, for 8 millions of dollars & of October 16, 1782, for 2 millions of dollars. They suppose that the requisition of 8 millions was greater than all the objects of it did in event require. They suppose further that some of these objects have been transferred to other funds. Of course there will be a surplus remaining after all the demands paid & payable out of this fund. In like manner the 2 millions having been part of 6 millions estimated on a war establishment and peace taking place immediately after, they expect a surplus may remain on this also after all payments made & to be made out of it. These surpluses which will be reached by no former appropriation & which are therefore fairly open to be newly appropriated they ask of you to estimate according to the best of your information that they may see how far an enforcement of them will go towards supplying the demands of the current year: but that they may know how to call on the several states to pay up their deficiencies, it will be necessary also for you to inform them what proportion of these requisitions had been paid up by each state to the 1st day of Jan. 1784.
Another object claimed the attention of the Committee. By a vote of Sep. 4, 1782, 1,200,000 Dollars were required from the states for the special purpose of paying interest, with a permission to them to pay first out of their quotas the interest on loan office certificates and other liquidated debts, loaned or contracted in their own states, so that the balance only was to be remitted to the Continental Treasury. Have any such balances been remitted, or have you any information how far the several states have proceeded to comply with this requisition by payment of interest within their own state?
A former committee had been appointed to revise the civil list and to adapt it to the change of circumstances which peace has induced.(5) They have gone through that work except so far as it relates to the department of Finance, by which I mean to include the establishments in the several offices of the Superintendt, Comptroller, Auditors, Register, Treasurer, & the Commissioners for settling the accounts in the several states, and the accts of the Staff departments. They hope from your letter in answer to one written you by Dr Williamson their chairman that you are turning your attention to this subject and that you will be so kind as to inform them whether any of the offices or officers in that department may be dispensed with under present circumstances so as to lessen it’s expenses without endangering more substantial loss, a true and laudable Economy being their object. I take the liberty of mentioning this subject to you only because the Grand Committee under whose instructions I write will of course be delayed in their estimates till the other committee shall have made a full report on the civil list. With you I know it is unnecessary to urge as early an answer as is practicable”
On February 10th, in response to Schuyler’s intelligence and warnings, Mifflin turned the delegates’ attention to Native American business. After a brief debate Congress resolved to authorize Schuyler to assure the Six Nations “of the protection of the United States, so long as they continue in the peaceable disposition which they now manifest,” and that a general treaty will be held with them “as soon as the season and other necessary circumstances will permit.” On February 20th Thomas Mifflin once again was forced to deal with sporadic delegate attendance by certain states. He wrote His Excellency the Governor of New Hampshire as well as the Governors of New York, New Jersey, Delaware, Maryland, North Carolina and Georgia the following letter:
“I think it a duty I owe to the office I am honoured with, as well as to the Union, to inform your Excellency, and thro’ you the State over which you preside; that the great business of the United States is at a stand, for want of a representation agreeable to the Articles of Confederation. The Journal transmitted by the Secretary to your Excellency, and which contains the proceedings of Congress, and an Account of the States and Members present from the first Monday of November last to this day, will convince your Excellency of the state of inactivity, to which the affairs of the United States are reduced, for want of a full representation. At this moment, there are many matters of the highest importance to the safety, honor, and happiness of the United States, which require immediate Attention. Among these I need only mention the establishing a general peace with the Indians, and settling the western territory, the arranging our foreign Affairs,and taking measures for securing our frontiers, preserving our stores and Magazines; making requisitions for the expenses of the current year and for satisfying the public Creditors.
I have only to add that by the sickness of some of the Members, attending at Annapolis, we have had seven States represented in Congress only three days since the sixth Inst.; as your Excellency will observe by the enclosed certificate of the Secretary,(1) and, that the Members present are dissatisfied with attending to no purpose, and are very impatient under their situation. I am with the greatest Respect and esteem, Your Excellency’s Most Obedient and humble Servant, Thomas Mifflin
Saturday February 7th, only five States attended.
Monday February 9th, only six.
Tuesday & Wednesday 10th, and 11th seven States attended.
Thursday February 12, only five States attended.
Friday February 13th, seven States attended,
Monday Feby 16th, only five.
Tuesday Feby. 17th, }
Wednesday Feby, 18th, }
Thursday Feby. 19th, } Only six States, attended.
Friday Feby. 20th, }
Saturday Feby. 21st, }
The States unrepresented, are New Hampshire, New York, New Jersey, Delaware, and Maryland, North Carolina and Georgia.
21 Feby. 1784.”
Mifflin also appended the following information to his letter to the President of Pennsylvania, who is not among the addressees noted in Mifflin’s letter book.
“States not represented: New Hampshire–One Delegate present. New York. New Jersey–One Delegate present. Delaware–One Delegate present. Maryland–One Delegate attending. One sick. North Carolina–One Delegate attendg. One sick. Georgia.”
To the Governor of New York, who was inquiring about direly needed garrisons, Mifflin wrote on the 26th:
“I am directed by Congress to inform your Excellency that “Nine States not having been represented but for a few days since the Adjournment of Congress to this place, the arrangement of Garrisons for the Western and Northern Posts has not been entered upon nor can it be considered till the States become more attentive to keeping up a full representation in Congress.
The States not represented are New Hampshire, New York, Delaware, Maryland and Georgia. I have the honor to be with the greatest respect and esteem Your Excellency’s Most Obedient and humble Servant, Thomas Mifflin”
On the 23rd a resolution was adopted upon the recommendation of the committee of qualifications to provide greater uniformity in the election of delegates and improve congressional attendance. It requested that the states appoint delegates to one year terms, running from November to November to coincide with the congressional year.
In March 1784, a congressional committee led by Thomas Jefferson proposed dividing up sprawling western territories into states, to be considered equal with the original 13.
Whereas the general Assembly of Virginia at their session, commencing on the 20 day of October, 1783, passed an act to authorize their delegates in Congress to convey to the United States in Congress assembled all the right of that Commonwealth, to the territory northwestward of the river Ohio: And whereas the delegates of the said Commonwealth, have presented to Congress the form of a deed proposed to be executed pursuant to the said Act, in the words following:
To all who shall see these presents, we Thomas Jefferson, Samuel Hardy, Arthur Lee and James Monroe, the underwritten delegates for the Commonwealth of Virginia, in the Congress of the United States of America, send greeting:
Known as the Ordinance of 1784, Jefferson’s committee not only proposed a ban on slavery in these new states, but everywhere in the U.S. after 1800. This proposal was narrowly defeated by the Southern Contingent of Congress, despite President Thomas Mifflin’s support. The chance of peacefully abolishing slavery nationally was lost with the invention of the cotton gin, which increased cotton production a thousand fold. It would not be until July 1787, under President Arthur St. Clair, that an ordinance would be passed to govern, free of slavery, the Northwest Territory, which later became the states of Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Michigan and Wisconsin.
On March the 17th Robert Morris had responded to Thomas Jefferson’s grand committee of January and issued a letter on the precarious health of the nation’s public credit. This report was referred to another committee that drafted this circular letter for the signature of the president of Congress which was issued to the states on April 1, 1784.
“The subject of this address claims the attention of your Excellency on the principle of the most urgent necessity. The State of our finances is such as to require the united efforts of Congress and of the several States for obtaining immediately a supply of money, to prevent the loss of public credit.
When the Army was furloughed, they had the promise of three months pay; and as there was not money in the Treasury, the superintendent of finance was under the necessity of issuing his notes to discharge this and other demands. The notes becoming due, part of them were redeemed with money supplied by the several states; but this being inadequate, the financier drew Bills on Holland for the deficiency. A considerable proportion of these drafts have been paid by loans obtained there, on the credit of the United States; but the letters from our Bankers to the superintendent of finance, inform that they had been under the necessity for the want of funds, to suffer so many of his Bills to be protested for non-acceptance, as with the damages on protest in case of non-payment will amount to the sum of 636,000 Dollars.
We expect the return of these bills under a protest for non payment, and should there not be money in the treasury of the United States to discharge them, your Excellency may easily conceive the deplorable consequences.
Under such circumstances, Congress think it their duty to communicate the matter confidentially to the Supreme Executive of each State; and to request in the most pressing terms, their influence and exertion to furnish with all possible dispatch, on requisitions unsatisfied, their respective quotas of the sum mentioned, according to the apportionment herewith transmitted.
I shall only add Sir, that Congress rely on your Wisdom, for accomplishing their views with as much dispatch as possible; and that the estimates and requisitions for the year, will be soon transmitted to your Excellency.
The Apportionment of the 636,000 Dollars is as follows:
New Hampshire 22,348
Rhode Island 13,703
New York 54,375
New Jersey 35,344
North Carolina 46,218
South Carolina 40,782
On April 3rd President Mifflin, with a quorum of 11 states, finally was able to notify General Philip Schuyler that:
“Congress having unanimously elected you a Commissioner for holding a Treaty with the Indians … I transmit with great Satisfaction to you a Commission under the Seal of the United States for that purpose; and it will give me much pleasure to receive a letter from you acknowledging your Acceptance of this Appointment.”
President Mifflin next addressed Chevalier de La Luzerne’s April 6th letter, notifying Congress of the King and Queen of France’s portraits arrival in Philadelphia, and a second April 9th letter, “requesting to know what measures had been taken by the United States, relative to the payments of the principal and interest of the loan[s]…furnished [and guaranteed] by his Most Christian Majesty.” The later letter had been read and referred to a committee consisting of Elbridge Gerry, Thomas Jefferson, and Jacob Read on April 10th. On April 16 Congress directed Mifflin to send La Luzerne the following explanation in response to the committee’s recommendation:
“I have the honor to inform your Excellency that Congress have a due Sense of the care you have taken for preserving the Portraits of his Most Christian Majesty and his Royal Consort, and that they are desirous they may continue in your possession, until proper places can be provided for them.
In answer to your Excellency’s letter of the 9th Inst. I am instructed to assure you that ‘as all the Legislatures have not yet passed on the recommendations of Congress of the 18th of April 1783 for establishing permanent funds, supplementary requisitions on the States will be adopted to provide for the interest of the loans aforesaid for the present year, and that the greatest care will be taken by subsequent measures for the punctual payment of the principle and interest as they may respectively become due according to the times of the several contracts.”
Chevalier de La Luzerne had also communicated on April 9th a letter from the Comte de Vergennes, which herald the good news of opening a trade port to the United States. Thomas Mifflin wrote each of the states on April 21st 1784:
“I have the honor to inform your Excellency that by intelligence communicated to Congress by the Minister of France, his Most Christian Majesty has determined that L’Orient shall be a free port, and although the Edict is not published, may be so considered by the Citizens of the United States–And that the Merchants of the United States likewise enjoy the liberty of frequenting the Ports of Marseilles and Dunkirk and participate as other Nations the franchises and privileges of these two places.”
In April inadequate State representation continued to plague congressional business. Often States were left without a voice when two-member delegations were divided on roll call votes. This left too few states, effectively represented, to enable Congress to reach decisions on important matters. So another resolution was passed on the 19th “… recommending a representation by three Members at least from each State.”
One of the results of the earlier monetary policy debate and Jefferson’s Ordinance of 1784 were the congressional broadsides issued by Congress containing resolutions of both April 27th and 28th, to which was appended the April 29th resolution on the cession of western claims described in Mifflin’s May 6th letter to the States:
“I have the honor to transmit to your Excellency an Act of Congress of the 27th of April being a requisition for the purpose of discharging the arrears of Interest due on the national Debt &c. Also an Act of Congress of the 29th of April recommending to the States claiming Western Territory immediate and liberal Cessions thereof.
April 29th, 1784 Resolution
Congress, by their resolution of September 6, 1780, having thought it advisable to press upon the states having claims to the western country, a liberal surrender of a portion of their territorial claims; by that of the 10th of October, in the same year, having fixed conditions to which the Union should be bound on receiving such cessions: and having again proposed the same subject to those states, in their address of April 18, 1783, wherein, stating the national debt, and its annual interest, the they recommended for the discharge of the interest the plan of an impost on commerce now under consideration with the states, with such subsidiary funds as they might judge most convenient, and for the discharge of the principal, and expressing some their reliance for its discharge, on the prospect of vacant territory, in aid of other resources, they, for that purpose, as well as to obviate disagreeable controversies and confusions, included in the same recommendations, a renewal of those of September 6, and of October the 10th, 1780; which several recommendations have not yet been fully complied with:
Resolved, That the same subject be again presented to the attention of the said states; that they be urged to consider that the war being now brought to a happy termination by the personal services of our soldiers, the supplies of property by our citizens, and loans of money from them as well as from foreigners; these several creditors have a right to call for precise designation of the funds expect that funds shall be provided on which they are to may rely for indemnification;
That Congress still consider vacant territory as a capital resource; that this too is the tune when our Confederacy, with all the territory included within its limits should assume its ultimate and permanent form; and that therefore the said states be earnestly pressed, by immediate and liberal cessions, to forward these necessary ends, and to remove those obstacles which disturb the harmony of the Union, which embarrass its councils and obstruct its operations.
That Congress still consider vacant territory as an important resource: and that therefore the said states be earnestly pressed, by immediate and liberal cessions, to forward these necessary ends, and to promote the harmony of the Union.”
By mid-May Thomas Mifflin’s hopes were to complete his term as President before the start of summer. Once again the States were under represented. Believing that it would be impossible for a letter to reach the more distant States in time for congressional final action and adjournment, the President wrote only his Excellency Nicholas Van Dyke of Delaware on May 11th, 1784:
“I have the Honor to inform your Excellency that there are Subjects of considerable importance which demand the immediate attendance of your Delegates in Congress, which must necessarily be postponed unless they come forward without Delay, Congress having determined to adjourn on the 3d day of June next.”
On May 15th President Mifflin directed Secretary of War, Henry Knox:
“to open a Correspondence with the Commander in Chief of his Britannic Majesty’s Forces in Canada in order to ascertain the precise time when each of the Posts within the Territories of the United States now occupied by British Troops shall be delivered up. You are also to endeavor to effect an exchange with the British Commanding Officer in Canada of the Cannon and Stores at the Posts to be evacuated, for Cannon and Stores to be delivered at West Point, New York or some other convenient place, and if this cannot be accomplished, that then you cause the compliment of Cannon and Stores requisite for those Posts to be in readiness to be transported in the most convenient and expeditious manner possible.”
General Knox responded suggesting that he order “a confidential field officer to repair to Canada, who will be able upon the spot to negotiate the affair much sooner than it could be done by Letters.” Congress immediately endorsed Knox’s request.
In May, while Benjamin Franklin’s efforts were underway for the United States and France to reach agreement on a consular convention in France a foreign relations crisis gripped Pennsylvania. Charles Julien chevalier de Longchamps assaulted the French Consul General in Philadelphia.
Chevalier de La Luzerne advised Thomas Mifflin of this attack on May 20th claiming it a breach of diplomatic privilege. The issued of Longchamps’ attack on Marbois that illuminated the rights of diplomatic officials and the obligation of the Federal government to protect and defend foreign dignitaries was a topic of heated debate in Congress. The United States in Congress Assembled did little more than offer a reward of $500 for Longchamps’ capture and urged the states to assist in his apprehension as their hands were tied by a weak Federal Constitution. The real issue of the Marbois-Longchamps affair shifted from foreign policy to states rights. The acts of Philadelphia and the government of Pennsylvania prevented the incident from escalating into a cause that would undermine federal-state relations. Pennsylvania, much to the pleasure of the Thomas Jefferson (the recently appointed U.S. Minister to France currently in Philadelphia), quickly apprehended Longchamps.