Papers of John Adams, volume 15

To Robert R. Livingston, 3 July 1783 Adams, John Livingston, Robert R.
To Robert R. Livingston
Sir, Paris. 3d: July. 1783.1

On the last Ambassador’s day, wh: was last Tuesday,2 Dr: Franklin, Mr: Jay & myself, waited on Monsr: de Vergennes, who told us he tho’t he had agreed with the Duke of Manchester, but that his Grace had not yet recd. the positive approbation of his Court—3 The Comte advised us to make a visit, all together, to the Ambassadors of the two Imperial Courts. Accordingly yesterday morng: we went, first, to Mr: le Comte de Mercy-Argenteau, the Ambassador of the Emperor of Germany, & King of Hungary & Bohemia. His Excellency was not at home, so we left our Card. We went next to the Prince Bariatinski, Minister Plenipotentiary from the Empress of Russia: Our Servant asked if the Prince was at home, & recd. for answer that he was— We were shewn into the Prince’s Apartment, who recd. us very politely. While we were here Mr: Markoff came in. He also is a Min: Plenipo: adjoined to the Prince in the affair of the mediation. I told him we proposed to do ourselves the honor of calling on him. He answered, “comme vous etes un ancien Connoissance, Je sera bien aise de vous voir.”4 Whether this was a turn of politeness, or whether it was a political distinction, I know not. We shall soon know by his returning or not returning our Visit— The 77Prince asked where I lodged, & I told him. This indicates an intention to return the visit—

We went next to the Dutch Ambassador’s, Mr: l’Estevenon de Berkenrode: He was not at home, or not visible. Next, to the Baron de Blome, Envoy Extraordinary of the King of Denmark not at home. Next to Mr: Markoff’s. The Porter answered that he was at home. We alighted & were going to his Appartment, when we were told he was not come in. We left a Card & went to the other Dutch Ambassador’s, Mr: Brantzen, who was not at home. En passant we left a Card at the Swedish Minister’s & returned home,5 the heat being too excessive to pursue our visits any farther—

Thus we have made visits to all the Ministers, who are to be present at the Signature of the Definitive Treaty. Whether the Ministers of the Emperial Courts will be present, I know not. There are many appearances of a Coldness between France & Russia, and the Emperor seems to waver between two opinions, whether to join in the war that threatens, or not.6 Perhaps the Ministers of the Imperial Courts will write for Instructions, whether to return our visit or not.—

After I had begun this letter, Capn: Barney came in and delivered me your Duplicate of No: 12. Novr: 6th. 1782. Duplicate of No: 14.— Decemr: 19th: 1782. & Triplicate of No: 16. April. 14th. 1783. and the original of your letter of 18th. April. 1783. not numbered. This last contained my Accot:— But, as I have never recd. any of this money from Dr: Franklin or Mr: Grand, but have my Salary from Messrs: Willinks & Company at Amsterdam, I am extremely sorry you have had so much trouble with this affair— Altho’ in your latest letters you say nothing of my resignation, or the acceptance of it, I expect to receive it soon, & then I shall have an opportunity to settle the affair of my Salary, at Philadelphia—7

After reading your letters to me, I went out to Passy to see those addressed to us all. Dr: Franklin, Mr: Jay & myself, (Mr: Laurens being still in England,) read them all over together— We shall do all in our power to procure the advantages in the Definitive Treaty, to which we are instructed to attend.—8

The State of Parties is such in England that it is impossible to foresee, when there will be a Ministry who will dare to take any step at all. The Coalition between Ld. North & his Connections, and Mr: Fox & his, is a rope of sand. Mr: Fox, by pushing the vote in the House of Commons disapproving the Peace, and by joining so many of the old Ministers in the new Administration, has justly excited so 78many jealousies of his Sincerity, that no Confidence can be placed in him by us. I am extremely sorry that the most amiable men in the nation, Portland & the Cavendishes, should have involved themselves in the same reproach. In short, at present, Shelburne, Townsend, Pitt & the Administration of which they were Members, seem to have been the only one, who, for a moment, had just notions of their Country & ours. Whether these men, if now called to Power, would pursue their former ideas, I know not. The Bible teaches us not to put our Trust in Princes and, a fortiori, in Ministers of State.—9

The West India Commerce now gives us most anxiety. If the former British Ministry had stood, we might have secured it fm. England, and, in that case, France would have been obliged to admit us to their Islands, se defendendo.—

The first maxim of a Statesman, as well as that of a Statuary, or a Painter, should be to study nature—to cast his eyes round about his Country & see what advantages the Creation has given it. This was well attended to in the Boundary between the United-States & Canada, and in the Fisheries. The Commerce of the West-India Islands falls necessarily into the natural system of Commerce of the United-States. We are necessary to them, & they to us—and there will be a Commerce between us. If the Government forbid it, it will be carried on clandestinly— France can more easily connive at a Contraband Trade, than England: But we ought to wish to avoid the necessity of this, or at least the temptation—

I believe that neither France nor England will allow us to transport the Productions of their Islands to other parts of Europe. The utmost we may hope to obtain would be permission to import the productions of the french Islands into France, giving bond to land them in some port of that Kingdom, and the Productions of the English Islands into some port of Great-Britain, giving bonds to land them there. It must, however, be the care of the Minister, who may have to negotiate a Treaty of Commerce with Great-Britain, to obtain as ample Freedom in this Trade, as possible.—

While I was writing the above, my Servant announced the Imperial Ambassador, whom I rose to receive. He said he was happy that the Circumstances of the Times afforded him an opportunity of forming an acquaintance with me, which he hoped would be improved into a more intimate one. I said his Excellency did me great honor, & begged him to sit—which he did, & fell into a Conversation of an hour. We run over a variety of Subjects, particularly the 79Commerce which might take place, between the United-States and Germany, by the way of Trieste & Fyume, and the Austrian Netherlands, and the great disposition in Germany to migration to America. He says he knows the Country, round about Trieste, very well, havg: an estate there—that it is a very extensive & a very rich Country, which communicates with that maritime City, & that the navigation of the Adriatic Sea, tho’ long, is not dangerous. I asked him what we should do with the Barbary Powers. He said he thought all the Powers of the world ought to unite in the suppression of such a detestable race of Pirates. That the Emperor had lately made an insinuation to the Porte upon the Subject. I asked him if he thought France & England would agree to such a project—that I had heard that some Englishmen had said, “If there were no Algiers, England ought to build one”— He said he could not answer for England— It is unnecessary to repeat any more of the Conversation, which turned upon the sober, frugal & industrious Character of the Germans, the best Cultivaters in Europe, and the dishonorable Traffic, of some of the German Princes, in Men, a Subject which he introduced & enlarged on himself. I said nothing about it. Rising up to take leave he repeated several Compliments he had made when he first came in, and added, “Monsieur, Monsr: le Comte de Vergennes me fera l’honneur de diner chez moi un de ces jours et j’espere d’avoir celle de votre Compagnie. Nous y parlerons d’une affaire, sur laquelle Monsr: de Vergennes vous parlerez auparavant”—10

This shows there is something in agitation; but what it is I cannot conjecture: whether it is to induce us to make the Compliment to the two Imperial Courts to sign the Definitive Treaty, as Mediators: whether there is any project of an association for the liberty of navigation, or whether it is any other thing I cannot guess at present; but I will write you as soon as I know— Whatever it is we must treat it with respect; but we shall be very carefull how we engage our Country in measures of Consequence, without being clear of our Powers, & without the Instructions of Congress— I went out to Passy & found, from Mr: Jay, that he had made his visit there, in the course of the day; but had said nothing to Dr: Franklin or him about the dinner with the C. de Vergennes.

In the Course of the day I had visits from the Prince Bariatinsky & Monsr: de Markoff, the two Ministers of the Empress of Russia. The Porter told these Gentlemen’s Servants that I was at home, but they did not come up—they only sent up their Cards. While I was gone to Passy, Monsr: de Blome, Envoy Extraordinary from the King 80of Denmark, called & left his Card. Thus the point of Ettiquette seems to be settled, & we are to be treated in Character by all the Powers of Europe.—

I have the honor to be with great respect & Esteem, Sir, / Your most obedient, / humle: Servt:

John Adams.11

RC in Charles Storer’s hand (PCC, No. 84, IV, f. 436–441); internal address: “R. R. Livingston Esqr:LbC (Adams Papers); APM Reel 108.


In the Letterbook is the notation by John Thaxter: “July 4th. delivered to Mr. Barclay to forward to America.”


1 July.


The Comte de Vergennes means that he and the British ambassador, the Duke of Manchester, had agreed on the terms of the Anglo-French definitive treaty. He informed the Chevalier de La Luzerne, the French minister to the United States, that as of 21 July “France agrees perfectly with England, on every point respecting their Treaty” ( JCC , 25:588). For an additional indication of the Anglo-French agreement on the treaty, see note 10.


As you have been known for a long time, I will be delighted to see you. Ivan Sergeevich Bariatinskii and Arkady Markov reported on the commissioners’ 2 July visit in a 6 July letter to Catherine II and enclosed the formal note announcing the commissioners’ visit, presumably similar to those left at other embassies and legations ( U.S. and Russia , p. 198–199).


The Swedish ambassador was Gustav Philip, Graf von Creutz.


Since the 1774 Treaty of Kutschuk-Kainardjii there had been repeated rumors of a new war between Russia, allied with Austria, and the Ottoman Empire. The impetus for such reports was Russia’s annexation of the Crimea, but the expected Russo-Turkish war did not begin until Aug. 1787, with Austria joining the conflict in Feb. 1788 ( Cambridge Modern Hist. , 6:674–676). For additional information regarding the Eastern Question and the “Coldness between France & Russia,” see JA’s 2 Aug. letter to Livingston, and note 1, below.


For the letters delivered by Capt. Joshua Barney of the General Washington, see vol. 14:34–36, 138–140, 407–410. No letter from Livingston dated 18 April is in the Adams Papers. If such a letter existed it may have been a covering letter for the 18 April letter from Lewis R. Morris, one of Livingston’s secretaries, which enclosed JA’s accounts (same, p. 426–427). Alternatively it may be a reference to the Morris letter, the date line of which indicated that it was from the “Office for Foreign Affairs.” JA replied to the letter of 6 Nov. on 23 Jan. (same, p. 203–205), but no specific replies to the other letters have been found. For JA’s concern over the payment of his salary by Benjamin Franklin through Ferdinand Grand, see vol. 14:ix–x.


Capt. Barney delivered Livingston’s letters to the commissioners of 25 March, 21 April, 28 May, and 31 May (vol. 14:361–364, 435–438, 503–504, 512–514) to Passy the previous day (Laurens, Papers , 16:231–232). JA replied to the four letters, in whole or in part, on 7, 9, 10, and 11 July; but see also his letter to Robert Morris of 5 July, all below.

The most important of Livingston’s letters were those of 25 March and 21 April, the latter of which enclosed the ratified preliminary treaty. In both Livingston criticized the commissioners’ decision to violate their instructions and negotiate and sign the preliminary treaty without informing France. For the history of the commissioners’ 18 July reply to those letters, see the Editorial Note and the reply itself at 18 July, and note 2, which contains an omitted portion of John Jay’s draft, below.


Psalms, 146:3.


Sir, the Comte de Vergennes will do me the honor of dining at my house one day soon, and I hope to have the honor of your company. There we will discuss some business, about which Mr. de Vergennes will speak to you beforehand.

The Austrian ambassador, Florimond Claude Mercy d’Argenteau, is referring to the dinner meeting that occurred at his house on 9 Aug. and was attended by the representatives of the mediating powers, the British and Spanish ambassadors, and the Comte de Vergennes. There the diplomats agreed on the final details and the signing 81of the Anglo-French and Anglo-Spanish definitive peace treaties. That such a gathering was contemplated as early as 3 July indicates the progress that had been made in the negotiations between Britain, France, and Spain. That Mercy d’Argenteau would invite JA, and by implication his colleagues, and JA’s expectation that they would attend, indicate the Austrian’s assumption that the Anglo-American negotiations were equally far along. In the end the Americans did not attend, in part owing to their reluctance to participate in the Austro-Russian mediation, but also because they were awaiting a response from London to their final proposals for a definitive treaty. See JA’s 7 July letter to Livingston, and note 4, for his further comments on the invitation, and his first letter of 13 Aug. for an account of the meeting, both below.


In JA’s hand.

To Robert Morris, 5 July 1783 Adams, John Morris, Robert
To Robert Morris
Sir Paris July 5. 1783

Your two Favours of the 12 and 29 of May, were delivered me on the third of this Month by Captain Barney.1 Every Assistance, in my Power, shall be given to Mr Barclay, Mr Grand will write you, the Amount of all the Bills which have been paid in holland which were accepted by me.2 You may banish your fears of a double Payment of any one Bill.— I never accepted a Bill without taking down in writing a very particular description of it, nor without examining the Book to see whether it had been accepted before. I sent regularly in the Time of it Copies of these Acceptances to Dr Franklin, and I have now asked him to send them to me, that I may copy them & send them to you The Dr has promised to look up my Letters and let me have them. The Originals are at the Hague, with Multitudes of other Papers, which I want every day. Among the many disagreable Circumstances, attending my Duty in Europe, it is not the least that instead of being fixed to any one Station, I have been perpetually danced about from Post to Pillar, unable to have my Books and Papers with me unable to have about me, the Conveniences of an House Keeper, for Health, Pleasure or Business, but yet subjected in Many Articles to double Expences.

Mr Livingston has not informed me of any determination of Congress upon my Letter to you of 17 of November, which distresses me much on Mr Thaxters Account, who certainly merits more than he has received or can receive without the favour of Congress.3

I thank You Sir most affectionately for your kind Congratulation on the Peace. Our late Ennemies always Clamour against a Peace. But this one is better for them than they had Reason to expect after So mad a War. our Countrymen too, I Suppose are not quite Satisfyed. This Thing and that Thing Should have been otherwise—no doubt.— if any Man blames Us, I wish him no other Punishment 82than to have if that were possible, just Such another Peace to negotiate exactly in our Situation.— I cannot look back upon this Event without the most affecting Sentiments. When I consider the Number of Nations concerned, the Complications of Interests extending all over the Globe, the Characters of Actors, the Difficulties which attended every Step of the Progress, how every Thing laboured in England France, Spain & Holland untill a divided, that the Armament at Cadiz was upon the Point of Sailing which would have rendered another Campain inevitable,4 that another Campaign would have probably involved France in a Continental War as the Emperor wd in that Case have joined Russia against the Porte: that the British Ministry was then in So critical a Situation that its duration for a Week or a Day depended upon his making Peace. that if that Ministry had been changed it could have been Succeeded, only either by North & Company or by the Coalition: that it is certain that North & Co. nor the Coalition, would have made Peace upon any terms that either We or the other Powers would have agreed to. that all these difficulties were dissipated by one decided Step of the British and American Ministers, I feel too Stronly a gratitude to Heaven for having been conducted Safely through the Storm, to be very Solicitous whether We have the Approbation of Mortals or not. A Delay of one Day might and probably would have changed the Ministry in England in which Case all would have been lost.— if after We had agreed with Mr Oswald We had gone to Versailles to shew the Result to the Comte de Vergennes you would have been this moment at War and God Knows when or how you would have got out.— What would have been the Course? Mr De Vergennes would have Sprinkled Us with Compliments, the holy Water of a Court. He would have told Us “you have done, Gentlemen, very well for your Country.” You have gained a Great deal— I congratulate you upon it, but you must not Sign till We are ready. We must Sign all together here in this Room.— What would have been our Situation? We must have Signed against this Advice as Mr Laurens Says he would have done, and as I believe Mr Jay and I should have done, which would have been the most marked affront that could have been offered, or We must have waited for France & Spain, which would have changed the Ministry in England and lost the whole Peace, as certainly as there is a World in being. When a few frail Vessells are navigating among innumerable Mountains of Ice, driven by various Winds and drawn by Various Currents, and a narrow Crevice appears to one by which all may escape, if that one improves the 83Moment and sets the Example, it will not do to stand upon Ceremonies and ask which shall go first, or that all may go together.5

I hope you will excuse this little Excursion and believe me to be, with great Respect and Esteem, sir your most obedient / and most humble sert

LbC (Adams Papers); internal address: “Mr Morris”; notation in John Thaxter’s hand: “July 11th. delivered Capt / Barney.”; APM Reel 108.


For Morris’ letter of 12 May, see vol. 14:476–477; and for the account of bills drawn on JA and Henry Laurens at Amsterdam enclosed with it, see Morris, Papers , 8:26–27. For Morris’ letter of 29 May, see same, p. 129–130. The letter of the 12th was similar to letters of the same date to Benjamin Franklin and John Jay, all three of which were enclosed with Morris’ 12 May letter to Thomas Barclay, the American consul to France charged with settling accounts in Europe (same, p. 27–30, 32–33). For JA’s efforts to provide Barclay with an accounting, particularly of his acceptance of bills of exchange, see his letters to Barclay of 9 July and 23 Aug, both below, and Barclay’s letter to Morris of 23 Oct., Morris, Papers , 8:660–662.


No letter from Ferdinand Grand to Morris enumerating the bills accepted and paid by JA in the Netherlands has been found, but see his letter to Morris of 20 July, same, p. 315–319.


JA’s 17 Nov. 1782 letter to Morris was a plea to Congress to provide a more adequate salary for John Thaxter. Although Morris submitted JA’s letter to Congress upon its arrival in March 1783, no action was taken regarding Thaxter’s salary until 1786 (vol. 14:65–66).


Following the failure of Franco-Spanish operations against Gibraltar in Sept. 1782, the two nations assembled a fleet at Cadiz, commanded by the Comte d’Estaing, for a planned attack on Jamaica. But the fleet never sailed, largely owing to delays in preparations and progress in the negotiations between Britain, France, and Spain (Dull, French Navy and Amer. Independence , p. 307–308, 317–319, 333). For a similar comment by JA regarding the effect of the preliminary Anglo-American peace on the sailing of the fleet, see vol. 14:329.


JA is writing to Robert Morris, but his comments on the peace negotiations echo John Jay’s justification of the commissioners’ violation of their instructions by negotiating and then signing the preliminary peace treaty without informing France. Jay’s justification was contained in a portion of his original draft of the commissioners’ 18 July 1783 letter to Robert R. Livingston that was later omitted. Compare, in particular, Jay’s observation there regarding the consequences of informing the Comte de Vergennes of the planned signing of the treaty and JA’s in this letter. JA’s comments are also notable because they likely mean that the decision to remove that portion of the draft letter to Livingston was made, or at least contemplated, on or about 5 July. For a history of the commissioners’ 18 July letter to Livingston, see the Editorial Note and the letter itself at 18 July, and note 2, which contains the omitted portion of Jay’s draft, below.