Papers of John Adams, volume 14

From Robert Montgomery

To C. W. F. Dumas

503 Robert R. Livingston to the American Peace Commissioners, 28 May 1783 Livingston, Robert R. Adams, John Franklin, Benjamin Jay, John
Robert R. Livingston to the American Peace Commissioners
(Copy) No: 3. Gentlemen, Philadelphia. 28th. May. 1783

By the direction of Congress, contained in the enclosd resolutions, I have the honor to transmit you the Correspondence between General Washington & Sir Guy Carlton, together with minutes of their Conference, when, in pursuance of the invitation of the first, they met in Orange-County.1 Nothing can be a more direct violation of the 7th: Article of the Provisional Treaty, than sending off the Slaves, under pretence that their Proclamation had set them free, as if a British General had, either by their laws, or those of nations, a right by Proclamation to deprive any man whatever of property: They may with much more propriety pretend to re-establish every of their Adherents in all the Rights they had before the war, since they have engaged so to do, and the People, with whom they made these engagements, were capable of entering into them, which Slaves were not—or even, if they were, the promise made to them must be under the same limitations with those made to their other Adherents in this Country, & amounts to nothing more than this, make yourselves Free, and we will protect you in that freedom as long as we can. The Articles imply that they were no longer able to protect them. You will be pleased to remonstrate on this Subject, and inform Congress of the Effect of your Representations—2

We have been much embarassed by our not having a line from you since the Provisional Articles took effect, nor being at all acquainted with the progress of the Definitive Treaty, ‘tho’ the earliest information on this Subject becomes very important. Congress, after some hesitation, have ventured to hope, that it will meet with no obstructions, & have accordingly discharged, by the enclosed Resolutions, a very considerable part of their army upon those principles of Œconomy which extreme necessity dictated— As scarce a week passes without several arrivals from France, Congress complain, with some reason of your Silence: for my own part, I could wish that you would, severally, impose upon your selves the task of writing weekly, & sending your letters to Mr: Barclay— As you are 504possessed of Cyphers there can be no hazard in this where the Subject of your Correspondence requires Secrecy—

I am, Gentlemen, with the greatest respect & Esteem, / Your Most Obedt: humle: servant,

(signed) R. R. Livingston.

RC (Adams Papers); internal address: “The Honourable / John Adams, / Benja: Franklin, / John Jay, & / Henry Laurens. / Esquires.”; endorsed: “Mr Livingstone to the Ministers / for Peace 28. May. 1783.” Note that with this letter in the Adams Papers is a copy of Congress’ resolution of 1 May authorizing the commissioners to enter into an Anglo-American commercial treaty. Livingston's failure to mention it may mean that it was enclosed with the president of Congress’ 16 June letter to the commissioners, where it is specifically mentioned (Wharton, Dipl. Corr. Amer. Rev. , 6:491). For the documents that were enclosed with this letter, which have not been found, see note 1.


Livingston enclosed a copy of Congress’ 26 May resolution regarding the destruction or removal of property, including slaves, and ordering that the correspondence and other papers between Washington and Carleton regarding the issue be sent to the peace commissioners. The commissioners were “directed to remonstrate thereon to the Court of Great Britain, and take proper measures for obtaining such reparation as the nature of the case will admit” ( JCC , 24:363–364). The “correspondence and other papers” likely included some or all of the following documents: Washington's letters to Carleton of 21 April and 6 May; Carleton's to Washington of 24 April and 12 May; and Washington's minutes of their meeting on 6 May (PCC, No. 152, XI, f. 241–247, 263–268, 279–285; No. 169, IX, f. 224–226). Livingston included another copy of the 26 May resolution with his 31 May letter to the commissioners, below.


At the 6 May meeting mentioned in note 1, above, Carleton informed Washington that slaves who had crossed to the British side on a promise of freedom were being allowed to depart on ships evacuating New York. Washington argued that allowing slaves to leave violated the provision of the preliminary treaty that prohibited carrying away American property. Carleton responded that an embarkation register would provide former owners a basis for compensation and that in any case he could not conceive that British negotiators intended “a notorious breach of the public faith towards people of any complexion.” On 17 July, in response to Livingston's letter of 28 May, the American Peace Commissioners wrote to Hartley and objected to the practice (Wharton, Dipl. Corr. Amer. Rev. , 6:556–557).