Papers of John Adams, volume 14

From Robert R. Livingston, 19 December 1782 Livingston, Robert R. Adams, John
From Robert R. Livingston
No: 14: Sir Philadelphia, 19th December 1782

The enclosed Letter for Mr Dana you will open & peruse—it may possibly contain information that may be of use to you which it will be unnecessary to repeat here—1 I mentioned in my last Mr Jefferson's appointment, I have the pleasure of adding now that I have received an account from him of his acceptance of the place—2 He will be here in the course of ten or twelve days & sail with Count de Rochambeau, who proposes to return to France— The French Troops have embarked with the Marquis de Vaudreuil, & are to sail 139for the West Indies, unless they Should receive counter orders by a frigate which is now in the river— Her Letters are not yet come up, as She unfortunately run on shore at Dover it is yet uncertain whether She will be saved—3 The great political question which at present engages the attention of Congress, is the means of providing for the payment of the public debts, or at least establishing such funds for the regular discharge of the interest as may set their creditors at ease as to their capitals— It was imagined that a duty of five per cent upon all imports would afford a fund adequate to this— Congress accordingly recommended it to the several states to impose the duty They have all complied except Rhode Island, her refusal renders the other laws nugatory, as they contain clauses suspending their operation till the measure is generally adopted— Congress are about to send down a Committee to endeavour to prevail upon Rhode Island to comply with a measure that they deem so essential to public credit—4 It is extremely difficult in a Country So little used to taxes as ours is, to lay them directly—& almost impossible to impose them so equally as not to render them too oppressive on some members of the community, while others contribute little or nothing— This difficulty is encreased by the continual change of property in this Country, & by the small proportion the income bears to the value of lands.

By a short Letter just received from Mr Jay, it appears that England has at length Swallowed the bitter pill, & agreed to treat with the “thirteen United states of America”— I am still at a loss to account for this commission's being directed to Mr Oswald, while Mr Fitzherbert's continues in force, or is that revoked? I will not trouble myself with guesses as I must receive dispatches to day which will explain the mystery, if either Mr Franklin or Mr Jay have kept their words with me.5

I have the honor to be, sir / with great regard & esteem / Your most obedient / & most humble servant

RR Livingston

RC and enclosures (Adams Papers); internal address: “Honble. John Adams—”; endorsed by John Thaxter: “No. 14. / Secy. Livingston / 19. Decr. 1782.” For the enclosures, see note 1. Dupl (Adams Papers).


This is likely Livingston's letter of 17 Dec. in which he, because of the “difficulty of conveying letters” to Dana, provided a lengthy summary of events over the past year, but no copy has been found in the Adams Papers (Wharton, Dipl. Corr. Amer. Rev. , 6:144–149). However, filed with Livingston's 19 Dec. letter in the Adams Papers are four documents: (1) Livingston's letter of 29 May to Dana concerning the Asgill affair; (2) Congress’ 27 May resolution instructing Dana not to present his letters of credence until he had been recognized in his official capacity; (3) Congress’ 18 Nov. resolution appointing Thomas Barclay to settle accounts in Europe; and (4) Congress’ 3 Dec. 140resolution to accept Livingston's resignation but continue him in office until 19 Dec. when a new secretary was to be chosen (same, 5:446–447; JCC , 22:301; 23:728–730, 759). The first two documents were more likely enclosed with Livingston's letter to JA of 29 May (vol. 13:84–85). There is no indication of how or when the third and fourth documents were received.


Livingston's last was of 18 Nov., above. For Jefferson's mission, see note 2 to that letter.


The 26-gun French frigate Danaé, which sailed from Rochefort on 8 Nov., was saved after running aground during a snowstorm (Smith, Letters of Delegates , 19:494; Dull, French Navy and Amer. Independence , p. 356).


On 3 Feb. 1781, Congress adopted a 5 percent impost on goods imported into the United States. Support for the tax grew as the financial situation of the nation declined; by the end of 1782 all states but Rhode Island had approved the levy, the revenue from which would have significantly strengthened the power of the government in Philadelphia. As a result, on 6 Dec. Congress resolved to send a delegation to Rhode Island to urge upon the state the “absolute necessity” of complying with the tax. The delegation, composed of Samuel Osgood, Thomas Mifflin, and Abner Nash, set off but returned when it learned that Virginia had reconsidered and now rejected the tax. Virginia's defection sounded the death knell for the impost of 1781 ( JCC , 19:110–113, 23:770–772; E. James Ferguson, The Power of the Purse, Chapel Hill, N.C., 1961, p. 116–117, 152–153).


The difference was that Alleyne Fitzherbert's commission of 24 July authorized him to negotiate with France, the Netherlands, and “all Princes and states whom it may concern,” while Richard Oswald's commission of 21 Sept. permitted him to negotiate with the “United States of America” (vol. 13:243–244, 249, 483–485). Since neither Benjamin Franklin nor John Jay would negotiate with a British representative not specifically authorized to deal with the United States, Oswald was the only person with whom they would negotiate. See, for example, the letters to Livingston from Jay and Franklin of 13 and 14 Oct., respectively, which reached Congress on 23 Dec. (Wharton, Dipl. Corr. Amer. Rev. , 5:809, 811–812; PCC, No. 185, III, f. 50).