Joseph Jones to George Wythe, Thomas Jefferson, & Edmund Pendleton (draft), circ. 16? April 1781

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Joseph Jones writes to George Wythe, Thomas Jefferson, and Edmund Pendleton to tell them that if the Articles of Confederation has components that are not working then Congress needs to reconvene quickly while the states are still relatively in agreement. Jones says that it will be dangerous to delay and alterations because it allows more time for the new Union to be usurped like the colonies had done to Britain. He makes a point of saying that he does not want to increase the powers of Congress unnecessarily, but he believes that it would be in the best interest of the states to give up some of their powers to Congress. Joseph Jones brings up the point that, currently, the Articles of Confederation does not have a resolution that compels the states to follow the rules that Congress has laid out and suggests some options for what Congress can do.

Letter text

Maryland having subscribed the Articles of Confederation the alliance of the States is now compleat and in future Congress are to be governed by those Rules. If the Powers granted to the Representative Body of the States by these Articles are inadequate to the purposes of carrying on a vigorous War and of this all the States from experience are able to judge – would it not be wise while common danger presses us together and the States see and feel the necessity of enlarging the powers of Congress for the purposes of War, that the defects of the Articles in this respect be timely considered and remedied. Danger may spring from delay – good will result from a timely application of remedy. The present temper of the States is friendly to the establishment of a lasting Union. The moment shod be improved – if suffered to pass away it may never return; and after gloriously and successfully contending agt. The usurpations of Britain we may fall a prey to our own follies and disputes. I am aware of the danger of granting great powers and of the reluctance of the States to yield them and attribute the present disposition to give Congress more competent powers to a conviction from experience that it is for the common good to do so. In the course of business the defects of the Confederation will no doubt appear and Congress will point them out to the States and propose the necessary alterations for their concurrence. One, and of the first importance hath already become a question, that is, the Power of compeling the States to comply with the requisitions for men and money agreeably to their respective quotas. The States appear to have yielded to Congress the right of ascertaining the Sum necessary for the public expence & oblige themselves to furnish their proportions agreeably to the mode prescribed. They also yield the right of fixing the quotas of Men for the common defence wch. shall be binding but no mode is stated how a disobedient or delinquent State is to be compelled to furnish the one or the other and for want of this controuling power in Congress over the States when refractory war cannot be prosecuted with vigor and the safety of the whole endangered besides the hardship and injustice to those that comply and prolongation of the War by such delinquencies. If in surrendering the right of fixing the proportions the Power of compelling obedience is implied, how or by what mode ought the refractory to be punished – by shutting the Ports – by marching an armed Force into the State – by deprivation of Privileges or what other mode? These are nice and delicate questions but are necessarily involved in the inquiry and I mention them with freedom in hopes you will as freely give me your Sentiments upon them. I feel myself more particularly impelled to do this not only from you but a few others of my acquaintance of those abilities and Judgments I wish to avail myself upon this and similar occasions, because by a resolution of our Legislature of the 24th of Decr. 1779 the point of enforcing obedience to requisitions seems to have been agitated and censured. It would give me concern shod it be thought of me that I am desirous of enlarging the powers of Congress unnecessarily as I declare to God my only aim is the general good and wch. in time of War does appear to me to be involved in the exercise of this or some controuling Power adequate to drawing out in due proportion the abilities and resouces of the States without which power in Congress and a more punctual compliance on the part of the States than has been manifested for some time past the War cannot be prosecuted to advantage and while some States exposed to danger strain every never others removed from danger and at ease are remiss and negligent, whereas all should make the proper exertions and furnish their proportions whether immediately or remotely affected and wch. can alone give energy to military operations. Perhaps a Knowledge that this power was lodged in Congress might be the means to prevent its ever being exercised and the more readily induce obedience. Indeed if Congress was unquestionably poss[ess]ed of the Power nothing shod. induce the display of it but obstinate disobedience and the urgency of the general welfare.