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Docno: ADMS-06-11-02-0276

Commissions and Instructions for Mediation and Peace

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15 June 1781

I. Joint Commission to Accept the Mediation of Russia and Austria, 15 June 1781
II. Joint Commission to Negotiate a Peace Treaty, 15 June 1781
III. Instructions to the Joint Commission to Negotiate a Peace Treaty, 15 June 1781

Docno: ADMS-06-11-02-0276-0001

Editorial Note

Congress adopted three documents 15 June that represented a major victory for French diplomacy and demonstrated the Chevalier de La Luzerne's domination of Congress. In 1779 it had taken Congress several months to devise its peace ultimata and appoint a minister plenipotentiary to carry them out. In 1781 a congressional committee met with La Luzerne on 28 May and within eighteen days Congress voted to accept the Austro-Russian mediation, expand the number of peace negotiators in order to limit John Adams' influence, and entrust France with the ultimate power over the terms of the definitive peace treaty. For detailed accounts of the circumstances leading to Congress' reconsideration of its peace objectives and the process by which it was accomplished, see Stinchcombe, Amer. Rev. and the French Alliance, p. 153–169, and Morris, Peacemakers, p. 210–217.
The proposed mediation of the conflict by Austria and Russia offered the Comte de Vergennes the opportunity to bend Congress' will to the dictates of French foreign policy. If Congress bowed to French demands and accepted the mediation new commissions and instructions for its peace negotiator would be required. In the process either John Adams' powers could be severely curtailed or he could be replaced by someone more amenable to French policy. It is ironic, therefore, that the joint commission to accept the mediation (No. I, below), was the least consequential of the three documents printed here. On the very day that Congress formally approved it, Britain refused the mediation. Moreover, by the time Adams received the new commission in October, he had rejected the mediation, with French concurrence, owing to the uncertain status of the United States at the negotiations. For the origins of the Austro-Russian mediation, see Francis Dana's letter of 25 February, note 3, and John Adams' second letter of 16 May to the president of Congress, and note 1, both above; for Adams' rejection of American participation in the mediation, see his correspondence with Vergennes in July, below.
When La Luzerne met with the committee on 28 May, he disclosed { 369 } portions of a letter from Vergennes dated 9 March. The committee reported that the foreign minister criticized John Adams' efforts to execute his powers as minister plenipotentiary to negotiate an Anglo-American peace. Vergennes believed it “necessary that Congress should draw a line of conduct to that minister of which he might not be allowed to lose sight.” Adams should be allowed “to take no step without the approbation of his Majesty” and, in the execution of his instructions, should be ordered “to receive his directions from the Count de Vergennes” or whomever the principal French negotiator might be. Such instructions were necessary if negotiations were to take place under the mediation of Austria and Russia, for it was imperative that the French and American negotiators present a united front, leaving no hint of conflict for the common enemy to exploit. In any event, Congress needed to act quickly, for although the proffered mediation was “dilatory,” it would not remain so forever. The conference closed with La Luzerne's exhortation to prosecute the war with the utmost vigor in order to avoid a peace based on the territory then occupied by the belligerents or uti posseditis (JCC, 20:562–569).
The Congress acted with dispatch. On 1 June it sent a circular letter to the states that informed them of the Austro-Russian mediation but warned that a peace founded on uti posseditis was a distinct possibility if the war effort was not pressed with determination. On 8 June, after much debate, Congress agreed to a preliminary form of the instructions in which it accepted the mediation, set down its position regarding boundaries, and required the American negotiator to be guided by French advice. On the 9th, a Saturday, it approved an instruction authorizing a truce if such was necessary, but it rejected a proposal to expand the number of negotiators. On the 11th, after fresh consultations with La Luzerne, Congress amended the instructions to restrict further the latitude of the American negotiator and resolved to expand the number of negotiators, electing John Jay on the 13th and Benjamin Franklin, Henry Laurens, and Thomas Jefferson on the 14th (same, 20:585–587, 601, 605–607, 608–610, 611–619, 625–628, 638, 648). For the specific changes made in the course of Congress' deliberations, see the notes to the instructions (No. III), below.
In just over two weeks La Luzerne persuaded Congress to retreat from the peace ultimata it had so laboriously forged in 1779. La Luzerne achieved his victory in part through his skills as a diplomat, but he was dealing with a far different Congress from that which acted in 1779. Six years of war, coupled with Charleston's fall, Cornwallis' southern campaign, British incursions in Virginia, the Franco-American army's inability to act against New York, and the collapse of American finances, all in the previous twelve months, had produced a war-weariness that made Congress amenable to peace on almost any terms. Indeed, by its votes in June 1781, Congress proved willing to eliminate “itself from any prominent role in foreign affairs for the remainder of the Revolution” (Stinchcombe, Amer. Rev. and the French Alliance, p. 169). It would be much more difficult, however, for France to enforce the terms of La Luzerne's victory on John Adams, John { 370 } Jay, and Benjamin Franklin in 1782 when, in the wake of Yorktown and the Battle of the Saints, the British presented them with peace proposals far more favorable than anyone could have expected.
The president of Congress wrote to John Adams on 20 June, below, to inform him of its action and enclosed a set of commissions and instructions. The packet of 20 June went by the same vessel that carried dispatches to Benjamin Franklin and reached Passy on 15 August. Franklin immediately forwarded the packet under a covering letter of 16 August and Adams acknowledged its receipt on the 25th (both below). The president of Congress sent another set of the commissions and instructions under a cover letter of 5 July (Adams Papers), but it is not known when John Adams received it. There are no notations on any of the enclosures to indicate which were sent with each covering letter. The copy of the instructions (No. III, below) printed in this volume is that which John Adams partially deciphered and is now with the covering letter of 5 July in the Adams Papers.

Docno: ADMS-06-11-02-0276-0002

Author: President of Congress
Author: Huntington, Samuel
Recipient: Adams, John
Recipient: Franklin, Benjamin
Recipient: Jefferson, Thomas
Recipient: Jay, John
Recipient: Laurens, Henry
Date: 1781-06-15

I. Joint Commission to Accept the Mediation of Russia and Austria

The united States of America, To all to whom these Presents shall come send Greeting.
Whereas his most Christian Majesty our great and beloved Friend and Ally hath informed us by his Minister Plenipotentiary whom he hath appointed to reside near us, that their Imperial Majesties the Empress of Russia and the Emperor of Germany2 actuated by Sentiments of Humanity and a desire to put a Stop to the Calamities of War, have offered their Mediation to the belligerent Powers in Order to promote Peace.
Now know ye, that We desirous as far as depends upon us to put a Stop to the Effusion of Blood and convince all the Powers of Europe that we wish for nothing more ardently than to terminate the War by a safe and honorable Peace, relying on the Justice of our cause, and persuaded of the Wisdom and Equity of their Imperial Majesties who have so generously interposed their good Offices for promoting so salutary a Measure, have constituted and appointed, And, by these Presents, do constitute and appoint, our trusty and well beloved the Honorable John Adams late a Delegate in Congress from the State of Massachusetts, the honorable Benjamin Franklin our Minister at the Court of France, the honorable John Jay late President of Congress and now our Minister at the Court of Madrid, the honorable Henry Laurens formerly President of Congress and commissioned { 371 } and sent as our Agent to the United Provinces of the Netherlands, and the honorable Thomas Jefferson Governor of the Commonwealth of Virginia, our Ministers Plenipotentiary, Giving and granting to them, or such of them as shall assemble, or in Case of death, Absence, Indisposition or other Impediment of the others, to any one of them, full Power and Authority in our Name and on our behalf, in Concurrence with his most Christian Majesty to accept in due form the Mediation of their Imperial Majesties the Empress of Russia and the Emperor of Germany.
In Testimony whereof we have caused these Presents to be signed by our President and Sealed with his Seal.
Done at Philadelphia this fifteenth day of June in the Year of our Lord One Thousand Seven hundred and eighty one, and in the fifth Year of our Independence, By the United States in Congress assembled.
[signed] Sam Huntington President
[signed] Attest Chas Thomson secy.
RC (Adams Papers); endorsed: “Commission 15 June 1781, to J. Adams B. Franklin J. Jay H. Laurens T. Jefferson.” This commission was enclosed with the president of Congress' letter of 20 June, below, and is filmed under that date (Adams Papers, Microfilms, Reel No. 354).
1. Although approved on 15 June, the JCC does not contain the final text of the joint commission. For a draft of the commission, see the note inserted by the editors at the reference to its passage (JCC, 20:655).
2. This copy of the commission is for Russia because it refers first to the “Empress of Russia.” A second copy of the commission in the Adams Papers, also inclosed with the president of Congress' letter of 20 June, was intended for Austria because it refers to “their Imperial Majesties the Emperor of Germany and the Empress of Russia.”

Docno: ADMS-06-11-02-0276-0003

Author: President of Congress
Author: Huntington, Samuel
Recipient: Adams, John
Recipient: Franklin, Benjamin
Recipient: Jefferson, Thomas
Recipient: Jay, John
Recipient: Laurens, Henry
Date: 1781-06-15

II. Joint Commission to Negotiate a Peace Treaty

The United States of America in Congress Assembled. To all to whom these presents shall come send Greeting.
Whereas these United States from a sincere desire of putting an end to the hostilities between his most Christian Majesty and these United States on the one part, and his Britannic Majesty on the other, and of terminating the same by a peace founded on such solid and equitable principles as reasonably to promise a permanency of the blessings of tranquility did heretofore appoint the honble. John Adams late a Commissioner of the United States of America at the court of Versailles, late Delegate in Congress from the State of { 372 } | view { 373 } Massachusetts, and Cheif Justice of the said State, their Minister plenipotentiary with full powers general and special to act in that quality to confer, treat, agree and conclude with the Ambassadors or plenipotentiaries of his most Christian Majesty and of his Britannic Majesty and those of any other Princes or States whom it might concern, relating to the re-establishment of peace and friendship;1 And Whereas the flames of war have since that time been extended and other Nations and States are involved therein: Now know Ye, that we still continuing earnestly desirous as far as depends upon us to put a stop to the effusion of blood, and to convince the powers of Europe that we wish for nothing more ardently than to terminate the war by a safe and honorable peace, have thought proper to renew the powers formerly given to the said John Adams and to join four other persons in commission with him, and having full confidence in the integrity, prudence and ability of the honorable Benjamin Franklin our Minister Plenipotentiary at the Court of Versailles, and the honble. John Jay late President of Congress and Cheif Justice of the State of New York and our Minister Plenipotentiary at the Court of Madrid, and the honble. Henry Laurens formerly President of Congress and commissionated and sent as our Agent to the United Provinces of the low Countries, and the honble. Thomas Jefferson Governor of the Commonwealth of Virginia, have nominated constituted and appointed and by these presents do nominate constitute and appoint the said Benjamin Franklin, John Jay, Henry Laurens, and Thomas Jefferson in addition to the said John Adams, giving and granting to them the said John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, John Jay, Henry Laurens and Thomas Jefferson or the Majority of them or of such of them as may Assemble or in case of the death, absence, indisposition or other impediment of the others, to any one of them full power and Authority general and special conjunctly and seperately, and general and special command to repair to such place as may be fixed upon for opening negotiations for peace, and there for us, and in our name to confer, treat, agree and conclude with the Ambassadors, commissioners and Plenipotentiaries of the Princes and States, whom it may concern, vested with equal Powers relating to the establishment of Peace, and whatsoever shall be agreed and concluded, for us and in our name to sign and thereupon make a treaty or treaties, and to transact every thing that may be necessary for compleating securing and strengthening the great work of Pacification in as ample form and with the same effect as if we were personally present and acted therein, hereby promising in good faith { 374 } that we will accept, ratify, fulfil and execute whatever shall be agreed concluded and signed by our said Ministers Plenipotentiary or a Majority of them or of such of them as may assemble or in case of the death, absence indisposition or other impediment of the others by any one of them, and that we will never act, nor suffer any person to act contrary to the same in whole or in any part. In Witness whereof we have caused these Presents to be signed by our President and sealed with his seal.
Done at Philadelphia the fifteenth day of June in the year of our Lord one thousand seven hundred and Eighty one and in the fifth Year of our Independence by the United States in Congress Assembled.
[signed] Sam. Huntington President
[signed] Witnessed this day by Attest Chas. Thomson secy.
RC (Adams Papers); endorsed: “Commission 15 June 1781 to J. Adams B. Franklin J. Jay H. Laurens T. Jefferson.” This commission was enclosed with the president of Congress' letter of 20 June, below, and is filmed under that date (Adams Papers, Microfilms, Reel No. 354).
1. Compare this commission with that of 29 Sept. 1779, which appointed JA the sole minister to negotiate an Anglo-American peace (JA, Diary and Autobiography, 4:178–179). To this point the two documents are virtually the same.

Docno: ADMS-06-11-02-0276-0004

Author: President of Congress
Author: Huntington, Samuel
Recipient: Adams, John
Recipient: Franklin, Benjamin
Recipient: Jefferson, Thomas
Recipient: Jay, John
Recipient: Laurens, Henry
Date: 1781-06-15

III. Instructions to the Joint Commission to Negotiate a Peace Treaty

Instructions to the Honble. John Adams Benjamin Franklin John Jay Henry Laurens and Thomas Jefferson ministers plenipotentiary in behalf of the United States to negotiate a Treaty of Peace1
Gentlemen
You are hereby authorized and instructed to concur in behalf of these United States with his most Christian Majesty in accepting the Mediation proposed by the Empress of Russia and the Emperor of Germany.2
You are to acceed to no Treaty of Peace which shall not be such as may 1st. effectually secure the Independence and Sovereignty of the thirteen United3 States4 according to the ||form & effect of the treaties subsisting between|| the said States ||& his most Christian Majesty|| and in which the ||said treaties shall not be5 ft in their|| full Force and Validity.
{ 375 } | view { 376 }
As to ||disputed boundaries and||6 other particulars we refer you to the Instructions given to Mr. John Adams dated 14 August 1779 and 18 October 17807 from which you will easily8 the Desires and Expectations of Congress ||but we think it unsafe at this disdistance to tye you up by|| absolute and preremptory directions ||upon any other subject than the two|| essential Articles ||abovementioned||.9 You are therefore ||at liberty|| to secure the Interest of the United States ||in such manner as circumstances may direct and as the state of the belligerent and disposition of the mediating powers may require||. For this purpose you are to make the most ||candid & confidential communications to thc ministers of||10 our generous Ally the King of France ||to undertake nothing in|| the Negotiations for Peace ||or truce without their knowledge & concurrence & ultimately|| to govern yourselves by ||their advice & opinion|| endeavouring in your whole Conduct11 to make ||them sensible how much we rely upon his majestys influence for effectual support in|| every Thing that may be necessary to the ||present security or|| future Prosperity of the United States of America.
If a Difficulty should arise in the Course of the Negotiations for Peace from the ||backwardness of Britain to make a formal acknowledgment of our independence|| you are ||at liberty to agree to a trucc or|| to make such ||other concessions as may|| not affect the ||substance of what|| we contend for; and provided Great Britain be not ||left in possession of any part of|| the thirteen12 States.13
[signed] Saml. Huntington President
[signed] Witnessed this day by Chas Thomson secy.
RC in James Lovell's hand (Adams Papers); endorsed: “Instructions to J. Adams B Franklin J. Jay H. Laurens T. Jefferson”; notation: “Mr. J.A.”; enclosed with the president of Congress' letter of 5 July and filmed under that date (Adams Papers, Microfilms, Reel No. 355). JA apparently deciphered only parts of the enciphered text, interlining the letters above Lovell's numbers. These passages are indicated in the notes. Significant differences between the RC and the instructions as adopted by Congress are indicated in the notes.
1. Compare these instructions with those JA had previously received of 16 Oct. 1779 and 18 Oct. 1780 (JA, Diary and Autobiography, 4:181–183; vol. 10:278–280). See also notes 2, 9, and 14, below.
2. This instruction survived intact from introduction to adoption, but had no effect because when it reached Europe the Austro-Russian mediation was no longer an option. Its presence, however, indicated a decisive change in the way in which the U.S. would participate in peace negotiations. Unlike JA's instructions of 16 Oct. 1779, the new directions from Congress did not establish as a precondition to negotiations that Great Britain treat with the U.S. as a free and independent country. It was JA's uncertainty about the status of the U.S. at any negotiations conducted under the aegis of Austria and Russia that led him to reject the mediation when he met with the Comte de Vergennes in July, for which see his correspondence with Vergennes, below.
{ 377 }
3. This word does not appear in the instructions as adopted by Congress (JCC, 20:651).
4. The text in this paragraph to this point represents the only instance in which the instructions were strengthened in the course of the congressional debates. Initially it was joined to the first instruction and read “but to accede to any treaty of peace which may be the result thereof [the Austro-Russian mediation] in which the independence and sovereignty of the thirteen United States is effectually assured to them” (same, 20:605–606).
5. JA deciphered all of the enciphered passages in this paragraph to this point. He probably stopped because James Lovell left out the next two cipher numbers. As adopted by Congress the next word should read “left.”
6. This the only passage that JA deciphered in this paragraph. This is significant because this paragraph is the most important in the instructions, containing as it does the injunction to the peace commissioners that they fully inform the French ministers of the progress of the negotiations and govern themselves by the “advice & opinion” they received therefrom. It may explain why JA did not comment on that aspect of the instructions until after he reached Paris in 1782 to join the negotiations, and it substantiates his assertion in his journal that he had never seen that instruction until he arrived at Paris (Diary and Autobiography, 3:38).
7. JA's instructions of 1779 were adopted on 14 Aug., but dated 16 Oct. (JCC, 14:956–960; JA, Diary and Autobiography, 4:181). Congress issued additional instructions on 18 Oct. 1780, see vol. 10:278–280.
8. At this point Lovell omitted the word “perceive” (JCC, 20:651).
9. This paragraph, to this point, is significant for two reasons. It represents an effort by Congress to avoid revisiting the question of national boundaries, a contentious issue for both interstate and Franco-American relations. On 7 and 8 June proposals to reopen the matter were rejected and the text of the instructions remained virtually the same throughout the debates; the only significant addition was the specific reference to JA's former instructions (JCC, 20:608–609, 611–613).
Of even more importance, particularly for JA, was the statement that set down independence and the sanctity of the Franco-American treaties as the only ultimata for an Anglo-American peace treaty. This was a striking departure from JA's original instructions, which declared the northern boundary of the U.S. on the Great Lakes and the western boundary on the Mississippi River to be sine qua non for any treaty. This alteration was a severe blow to southern states, particularly Virginia, that claimed land bordering the Mississippi, and it created a sectional conflict because the preservation of U.S. fishing rights on the banks of Newfoundland remained the sine qua non for the Anglo-American commercial treaty for which JA also had received a commission in 1779 (JA, Diary and Autobiography, 4:183–184).
10. As adopted by Congress, the passage reads “candid and confidential communications upon all subjects to the ministers of” (JCC, 20:651).
11. The passage beginning with the word “ultimately” and continuing to this point was inserted on 11 June, following a conference with the Chevalier de La Luzerne (same, 20:625– 627). For a detailed description of that meeting and its results see the Editorial Note, above.
12. At this point Lovell omitted the word “United” (JCC, 20:652).
13. JA deciphered all of the enciphered passages in this paragraph.
JA's original instructions provided for the suspension of hostilities during negotiations on the condition that all British forces be withdrawn from the territory of the United States (JA, Diary and Autobiography, 4:183). In 1780 Congress responded to JA's request for guidance by modifying its position and authorizing a long truce if such would constitute Britain's “virtual relinquishment of the object of the war” (vol. 9:80–83; 10:278–280). This paragraph is a further modification that sets even looser parameters for a truce than the instructions of 1780.
Cite web page as: Founding Families: Digital Editions of the Papers of the Winthrops and the Adamses, ed.C. James Taylor. Boston: Massachusetts Historical Society, 2014.
http://www.masshist.org/apde2/