The Continental Congress' Earnest Recommendations Regarding Loyalist Property, 14 January 1784 142
Adopted at the same time that the definitive peace treaty was ratified and proclaimed in force, this resolution brought the United States into compliance with Article 5 of the definitive peace treaty (Journals of the Continental Congress, Washington
, 1928, vol. 26, p. 23–31; Miller, ed., Treaties
, 2:154). That article sought to resolve what was easily the most divisive issue during the negotiations, the fate of the loyalists and their confiscated property. The Shelburne Ministry was under intense pressure to require restitution in any Anglo-American peace settlement. The American negotiators opposed such a provision as contrary to their instructions, but more important because Congress had no power to coerce the states and thus to require restitution would both block ratification and be meaningless. To settle the issue the negotiators agreed to a compromise that was an exercise in Anglo-American cynicism, for in agreeing to recommend rather than require restitution, both sides knew that there was little likelihood of the loyalists receiving satisfaction.
Although the article's effect depended wholly on the states' willingness to observe its provisions, that did not prevent controversy. Referring to the article's appearance in the preliminary treaty, Abigail Adams wrote to her husband on 28 April 1783 that “it would be at the risk of their lives” for loyalists to return to seek the restitution, and on 7 May she added that he could hardly imagine “the spirit which arises here against the return of the Refugees” (both below). John Adams thought that it would have been better if no articles regarding the loyalists had been included, but he refused requests to interpret their meaning and hoped that their spirit would be
observed (to Cotton Tufts, 10 September 1783
, below). Adams' ambivalence concerning the loyalist compromise resulted from his fear that Britain would use the states' refusal to comply with the spirit of the article to justify its own violation of the treaty, a fear that was realized, particularly in Britain's refusal to evacuate forts in the Northwest (to Cotton Tufts, 24 April 1785
, vol. 6).
This broadside, docketed on the reverse “Recommendation of Congress Respecting Restoring Lands” and “Jany. 14. 1784,” was one of the copies of the resolution ordered by Congress to be sent to the states (
Courtesy of the Massachusetts Historical Society.