Papers of John Adams, volume 15

To Robert R. Livingston, 23 June 1783 Adams, John Livingston, Robert R.
To Robert R. Livingston
Sir, Paris. 23d. June. 1783.1

Your favor of April. 14th. No: 16, acknowledged the receipt of mine of the 21st. & 22d. January,2 but took no notice of any letters which 47went by Capn: Barney: Neither Dr: Franklin, Mr: Jay, nor myself, have any answer to the Dispatches, which went by that Express, altho’ yours to me, No: 16, gave cause to expect Letters to us all, with Instructions concerning the Definitive Treaty—3 This profound silence of Congress, & the total Darkness, in which we are left, concerning their Sentiments, is very distressing to us, and very dangerous & injurious to the Public.—

I see no prospect of agreeing upon any regulation of Commerce here. The present Ministry are afraid of every Knot of Merchants: A Clamor of an interested party, more than an evil to their Country, is their dread. A few West-India Merchants, in opposition to the Sense & Interest of the West-India Planters, are endeavoring to excite an opposition to our carrying the produce of the West-India Islands, from those Islands, to Europe even to Great-Britain. There are also secret Schemes to exclude us, if they can, from the Trade of Ireland—to possess themselves of the carrying Trade of the United-States, by prohibiting any American Vessell to bring to Great-Britain any Commodity, but those of the State to which it belongs: Thus a Philadelphia Vessell can carry no Tobacco, Rice or Indigo, nor a Carolina Vessell, Wheat or Flour, nor a Boston Vessell either, unless grown in its own State. In this way a superficial party4 think they can possess themselves of the Carriage of almost all the productions of the United-States; annihilate our Navigation & nurseries of Seamen, and keep all to themselves more effectually than ever. They talk too of discouraging the people of the United-States, and encouraging those of Canada & Nova-Scotia, in such a manner as to encrease the population of those two Provinces, even by migrations from the United-States—

These are Dreams, to be sure; but the Dreamers are so many as to intimidate the present Ministry who dare venture upon nothing, which will make a Clamour—

I have lately heard that the Merchants in America are waiting to hear of the Regulations of Trade made here.— They will wait, I don’t know how long. There is no present prospect of our agreing, at all, upon any regulation of Trade—

I have the honor to be, Sir, / Your humle: servt:

John Adams.5

RC in Charles Storer’s hand (PCC, No. 84, IV, f. 415–418); addressed: “His Excellency. / Robert. R. Livingston Esqr: / Secretary of State. / Philadelphia.”; internal address: “R. R. Livingston Esqr:”; notation: “2d.LbC (Adams Papers); APM Reel 108.

48 1.

In the Letterbook is the notation “Delivered to Mr. Mazzei same day—” It is unlikely that the copy entrusted to Philip Mazzei (PCC, No. 84, IV, f. 411–414) was the first to be received by Congress, and thus it is not the copy printed here. This is because Mazzei wrote to JA on 4 Aug. from Bordeaux (Adams Papers) offering to carry additional letters, but Congress on 12 Sept. received this letter and eighteen others written by JA between 14 April and 18 July (PCC, No. 185, III, f. 78–79).


Livingston’s letter of 14 April actually acknowledged JA’s letters of 22 and 23 Jan., which had reached Congress on 10 April (vol. 14:201–205, 407–410; PCC, No. 185, III, f. 61). That letter was also the last that JA received from Livingston as secretary for foreign affairs.


JA was disturbed because Livingston mentioned Congress’ ratification of the Anglo-American preliminary peace treaty carried by Capt. Joshua Barney but not the numerous letters from the commissioners as a group and as individuals, including accounts of the negotiations, also entrusted to Barney. In fact, Livingston wrote to the commissioners on 25 March and 21 April, relating in the former letter his own and Congress’ reservations about the treaty and their negotiation of it and enclosing with the latter the ratified preliminary treaty (vol. 14:361–364, 435–438). The commissioners did not receive the two letters and the ratified treaty until 2 July (to Livingston, 3 July, and note 8, below). They did not notify David Hartley of the ratification’s arrival until their letter of 17 July and did not respond to Livingston’s comments regarding the treaty until 18 July, both below.


In the Letterbook JA wrote and then canceled “Silly Party.”


In JA’s hand.

To Robert R. Livingston, 23 June 1783 Adams, John Livingston, Robert R.
To Robert R. Livingston
Sir Paris June 23. 1783.

The British Ministry, and Nation are in a very unsettled State. They find themselves in a new Situation and have not digested any Plan. Ireland is in a new Situation. She is independent of Parliament. And the English know not how to manage her.— To what an Extent She will claim a Right of trading with the United States is unknown.1 Canada too and Nova Scotia are in a new Situation. the former they Say must have a new Government. But what Form to give them and indeed what Kind of Government they are capable of, or would be agreeable to them is uncertain. nothing is digested. There is a Party, composed probably, of Refugees, Friends of the old hostile System, and fomented by Emissaries of Several foreign Nations who do not wish a cordial Reconciliation and sincere Friendship between Great Britain and the United States, who clamour for the Conservation of the Navigation Act, and the Carrying Trade. if these Should Succeed So far as to excite Parliament or Ministry, to adopt a contracted Principle: to exclude Us from the West India Trade and from trading with Canada & Nova scotia, and from carrying freely in Vessells belonging to any one of the thirteen States, the Productions of any other to Great Britain, the consequences may perplex Us for a Time may bind Us closer to France Spain, Holland, 49Germany Italy, and the Northern Nations, and thus be fatal to Great Britain without being finally very hurtfull to Us.

The Nations of Europe who have Islands in the West Indies, have at this Moment a delicate Part to take. Upon their present Decisions great Things will depend.— The Commerce of the West India Islands, is a Part of the American System of Commerce. They can neither do without Us nor We without them. The Creator has placed Us upon the Globe in Such a situation, that We have Occasion for Each other, We have the means of Assisting each other, and Politicians and Artificial Contrivances cannot Seperate Us. Wise statesmen, like able Artists of every Kind Study Nature, and their Works are perfect in Proportion as they conform to her Laws.— Obstinate Attempts to prevent the Islands and the Continent, by Force or Policy from deriving from each other, those Blessings which Nature has enabled them to afford, will only put both upon thinking of the means of coming together. And an injudicious Regulation at this Time may lay a Foundation, for intimate Combinations between the Islands and the Continent, which otherwise would not be wished for or thought of by either.

If the French Dutch and Danes have common sense, they will profit of any Blunder Great Britain may commit, upon this Occasion.

The Ideas of the British Cabinet and Merchants at present are So confused, upon all these subjects, that We can get them to agree to nothing.— I still think, that the best Policy of the United states is, to Send a Minister to London, to negotiate a Treaty of Commerce, instructed to conclude nothing, not the Smallest Article until he has sent it to Congress and recd their approbation.— in the Mean time Congress may admit any British or Irish ships that have arrived, or may arrive, to trade as they please.

For my own Part I confess, I would not advise Congress to bind themselves to any Thing, that is not reasonable and just.— If We should agree to revive the Trade upon the old Footing it is the Utmost that can with a colour of Justice or Modesty be requested of Us. This is not equal, but might be born. rather than go farther, and deny ourselves the Freight from the West Indies to Europe, at least to G. Britain, especially rather than give away our own carrying Trade by Agreeing that the ships of one State should not carry to G: Britain the Produce of another I would be for entering into still closer Connections with France Spain and Holland, and purchase 50of them at the Expense of Great Britain, w[hat She has] not Wisdom enough to allow Us for her own go[od.]

[With great Esteem, I have the honor to be, / Sir, / your most obedient & / most humble Servant.

John Adams.]2

RC (PCC, Misc. Papers, Reel 1); endorsed: “John Adams / June 23: 1783.” Dupl in John Thaxter’s hand (PCC, No. 84, IV, f. 420–422). LbC (Adams Papers); APM Reel 108. Text lost due to a torn manuscript has been supplied from the Dupl.


JA refers to Parliament’s 1782 repeal of the Declaratory Act of 1720, thereby granting legislative independence to Ireland (vol. 13:141). In the debate over the American Intercourse Bill on 7 March, William Eden, the most prominent speaker in opposition, noted Ireland’s changed status and also that the Irish Parliament had adopted the Navigation Act, but only so long as it remained in force in England. Since the American Intercourse Bill effectively repealed the Navigation Act so far as the United States was concerned, Ireland also would cease to come under its provisions. This would fundamentally change the Anglo-Irish commercial relationship to the detriment of the trade, economy, and empire of Great Britain ( Parliamentary Hist. , 23:602–604). Lord Sheffield reiterated this argument in his influential Observations on the Commerce of the American States with Europe and the West Indies, London, 1783, p. 47–48.


In JA’s hand in the duplicate.