Papers of John Adams, volume 14

From Robert R. Livingston, 14 April 1783 Livingston, Robert R. Adams, John
From Robert R. Livingston
No: 16. Duplicate Sir Philadelphia 14th: April 1783—

I received two days ago your favors of the 22d: and 23d: of January with the declarations for the cessation of Hostilities on which a 408doubt of much importance to the People of this Country is started— towit to know at what periods hostilities ceased on this Coast, that is what is meant by as far as the Canaries; if it means in the same Latitude, hostilities ceased here the third of March, and a great number of Vessel must be restored— if it does not mean a latitudinal Line, what does it mean? which carries any certainty with it?—1 The Terms of the provisional Treaty also occasion much Debate— a variety of questions have been started, but these I shall speak off in my Letter to you in conjunction with your Colleagues, that you may if opportunity should offer before the definitive Treaty is concluded find some means to rid them of their Ambiguity—2 It would give me pain to find that the Dutch do not attain their Objects in the close of the war, and still more to impute their misfortunes to any disertion of their Interests by France, since I confess freely to you, that her conduct as far as I have observed, it has appeared to me in the highest degree generous and disinterested— The extreme langour of the Dutch—their divisions,—and the less than nothing that they have done for themselves entitle them to little—without the uncommon exertions of France; They would not have had a single settlement left either in the East or West Indies, so that they lay absolutely at her mercy and therefore I was pleased to find their instructions to their Ministers so expressed as to leave no room to fear that they would obstruct the Peace, when they contributed so little to the prosecution of the War— But I rather pitied than blamed their Weakness, they were torn by Factions and cloged by an Executive, which strove to find Reasons for having no Execution—3

Congress the day before yesterday agreed to ratify the provisional Articles as such, and to release their Prisoners, in which the British took the lead—4 As the Tories have little reliance upon the Effect of the recommendations of Congress, great numbers of them have sailed and are daily sailing for Nova Scotia— With respect to your Salary I must pray you to settle with Doctor Franklin, the amount of the Bills drawn in your favor— you will with those that go by this conveyance receive the amount of three quarters Salary, computing the salary at two thousand, seven hundred and seventy seven & 68/90 Dollars per Quarter which were laid out in Bills at six shillings and three pence currency for 5 Livres which was a very advantageous Exchange to you— This however Congress have directed by the enclosed Resolution to be altered, and your Salaries to be paid in Bills at the rate of five Livres, five sous per Dollar, as this resolution retrospects you will have with the Bills transmitted you 5 409livres more than is due for three quarters salary— this will be deducted from the last quarter for which, I will get a warrant, and leave it with the Treasury here for you or your order—6 By settling this matter with Doctor Franklin and redrawing upon your Banker in Holland, you will leave my accounts unembarrassed, which is of consequence to me, as I determine to quit the place I now hold in the course of a few Weeks, and enjoy in retirement the pleasures of peace— I have charged no commissions upon these money Transactions, nor do I propose to charge any— Your account of contingent Expences is before a Committee— should Congress agree to accept your resignation (which I am sorry to see you offer since the connections you have formed, and the experience you have acquired might render you particularly serviceable in Holland) it will be best that you settle it with them yourself on your arrival—7 The want of permanent funds and the opposition which some States have given to every attempt to establish them, The demands of public Creditors, and particularly of the Army have excited much uneasiness here, satisfactory measures will I hope be adopted to calm it, and do ample justice— The army whose proceedings I transmit have done themselves honor by their conduct on this occasion, too much praise could not be given to the Commander in Chief for the share he had in this transaction, if he was not above all praise—8

I have the honor to be, Sir, / with very great Respect and Esteem / your most obedt humble servt.

Robt R Livingston

Dupl (MHi:John Adams, Embassy MSS); internal address: “The Honorable / John Adams—”; endorsed: “recd. 15. June 1783” and by John Thaxter: “No. 16 / Secy. Livingston / 14th. April 1783.” MS and enclosures (Adams Papers). Tripl (MHi:John Adams, Embassy MSS).


JA replied on 16 June and indicated to Livingston that, in fact, his interpretation was correct and that hostilities had ceased on 3 March (Wharton, Dipl. Corr. Amer. Rev. , 6:488–491).


See Livingston's 21 April letter to the commissioners, below.


In his letter of 16 June (Wharton, Dipl. Corr. Amer. Rev. , 6:488–491), JA conceded that the Dutch had not contributed as much to the war effort as they might have done, but he noted that by merely entering the war they had forced Britain to divert a significant number of naval vessels to watch the Dutch fleet. Regarding their failure to obtain a peace settlement with Britain, JA was less explicit, but his meaning was clear. He believed that the Dutch difficulties stemmed from their decision to rely on France to protect their interests in the peace negotiations and that the United States would have suffered the same fate if he and his colleagues had not violated their instructions and conducted the negotiations with Britain apart from France.


Livingston, in fact, is referring to the proclamation issued by Congress on 11 April ( JCC , 24:238–241), by which it declared a cessation of hostilities in accordance with the Anglo-American agreement of 20 Jan. (calendared), but see also JA's letter to Livingston of 22 Jan., both above. In effect, Congress’ action was a de facto ratification of the provisional treaty, but the actual or de jure ratification took place on 15 April ( JCC , 24:241–251).

410 5.

The amount, left blank in all three copies of this letter, should be 6,250₶, for which see Lewis R. Morris’ letter of 18 April, below, which likely accompanied Livingston's letter.


Livingston enclosed Congress’ resolution of 7 March setting down the means by which American diplomats or other agents in Europe would be paid ( JCC , 24:175–176). Livingston's account is accurate, but for more details see Lewis R. Morris’ letter of 18 April, below.


On 1 April Congress had considered, but not acted upon, JA's resignation. It had approved the return of Henry Laurens and Francis Dana, however, and copies of those resolutions were enclosed with this letter ( JCC , 24:225–227). For JA's resignation and Congress’ action thereon, see his 4 Dec. letter to Livingston and note 2, above. Livingston sent copies of the resolutions to Dana and Laurens in letters of 1 and 8 May, respectively (Wharton, Dipl. Corr. Amer. Rev. , 6:403–404, 410–411).


This enclosure is not in the Adams Papers and JA does not mention it in later letters, but it presumably included George Washington's 15 March address to the assembled officers of the Continental Army at Newburgh, New York, and the proceedings of the officers following it. Washington's action became necessary when elements of the officer corps became dissatisfied with Congress’ financial support of the army and, in particular, its failure to implement the promised half-pay pensions. The resulting anonymous Newburgh Addresses of 10 and 12 March demanded redress from Congress and threatened that the army would not disband at the war's conclusion if the officers’ demands were not met. Washington's emotional appeal to the officers’ patriotism and good sense diffused the situation and Congress, upon receiving news of the incident, took action to ameliorate the grievances regarding the pensions. For the addresses of 10 and 12 March, the proceedings on the 15th, and Congress’ response of the 22d, see JCC , 24:207–209, 294–299, 306–311.

To William Gordon, 15 April 1783 Adams, John Gordon, William
To William Gordon
Dear Sir, Paris. 15th: April. 1783—

Your letter of the 30th. Novemr: came to hand yesterday, & afforded me real pleasure & great Consolation. The Sentiments it contains were precisely such as actuated the American Ministers for Peace, on the same day. It is astonishing that occasion shd. ever have been given to you or them to think in that manner—

A complicated & extensive system of Imposture has been practised, upon America & her Ministers, by one French Minister & one American Minister; and yet to that very French Minister has been given Jurisdiction over us, “in all cases whatsoever.”1 But these words will always produce Resistance & Disobedience—

I lament, with all my soul, the necessity to which we were reduced. It is a deplorable example: it ought never to be drawn into Precedent— I shd. be very glad to see a List of the Yeas & Nays in the vote for that memorable Instruction. You will have heard eno: of it by this time; & you may well imagine we are anxious to know our Fate.—

I confess to you I have been so fatigued, perplexed & distressed with that system of Duplicity & Chicanery, wh: has been practised upon Congress & their Servants in Europe, that I am worn out. My 411Strength & Spirits are exhausted. Mr: Jay & Mr: Dana are not less weary & disgusted; nor wd. Mr: Laurens I believe have been less so, if he had been in the way of knowing as much as we do— Dr: F. is disgusted with nothing but Integrity & cares for nothing but his place; for the preservation of wh: alone, in the negotiations for Peace, he meanly abandoned the System, wh: he had firmly pursued, & joined Mr: Jay and me in that principle, for wh: he had quarelled with me for a course of years & attacked & abused me without mercy—

Mr: Dana's hands have been tied, &, not having been pressed by such urgent necessities, as others have been, he did not venture to break the Cords. At last, howr:, he has communicated his mission to the Ce. d’Osterman the Russian Chancellor & recd: a favorable answer.

It has been industriously propagated, both in Europe & America that the Nations & Courts of Europe were averse to our Independence—the exact reverse of wh: was true. Every nation in Europe, except England, wished well to our Independence, and not one Court was averse to it, altho’ several did not chuse to quarrell with England.

Not one of the Nations of Europe was more industriously represented as averse to our Independence than Holland. I knew better. I took measures to inform myself, wh: I knew to be infallible & ventured on a decisive step: All Europe gaped, as well as America, and the whole diplomatic body of Europe wd. have condemned the measure, altho’ they sd. it was ably done— If it had not succeeded it cod. not possibly have done harm. But it succeeded & triumphed over such deep-laid Contrivances to defeat it, as wd. surprise you to read in detail if they shd. ever be written. The finesse & subtilty of the 2. Ministers aforesaid were exhausted to defeat me, by disgusting & discouraging me, by neglects, slights, Contempts, Attacks & Mænuvres, & every thing but an avowed open opposition, which wd. have ruined their Characters in Europe as well as America— The system of Conduct towards me, the double-faced measures to defeat me in reallity if possible, but to secure to themselves the honor of my Success, if they could not, wd. be one of the most curious Chapters in the Machiavellian Chronicles. In God's name, let us keep our own sincerity & learn to devellope the duplicity of others. It is not Duplicity only, it is Multiplicity & it is variegated thro’ all the Shades of Refinement, one running into another, like the Colors of the Rainbow. My Countrymen used to be apt eno: in develloping British Politics; but they have lately had to do with another sort, too 412refined for their penetration, or for their experience. They will soon learn it, tho’ I hope they will never practise it—

We need not wonder at the simplicity & innocence, the amiable unsuspecting Confidence of our own Countrymen, when we see the old experienced Dutchmen taken in, the history of wh: is very curious. Our Country has cause to be thankfull that her ministers were more jealous, or had better information— Without this, Lousiana & Illinois, as well as the Banks of Newfoundland, would have made more noise in the world than Trinquemale & Negapatnam, or the liberty of Navigation—

Your Countryman was never more mistaken than wn: he spoke slightly of Mr: Jay, wm: I wd. not scruple to pit against the proudest Statesman in Europe. Our Country was never better represented than by him—

We expect Mr: Laurens & Mr: Hartley every day to finish— I don't like the new Coalition; yet we are assured that the intention is sincere to finish liberally—

I have written very freely & rely upon yr: discretion— / I am, Sir, with great respect, / Yrs:

LbC in Charles Storer's hand (Adams Papers); internal address: “Dr: Gordon.”; notation by John Thaxter: “Paris 16th. April— Delivered to / Capt. Adam Hoops of Philadelphia—”; APM Reel 108.


JA's immediate reference is to the Joint Peace Commission's instructions of 15 June 1781, in which the American Commissioners were directed “to make the most candid & confidential communications to the ministers of 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” (vol. 11:376). He also equated the French attitude toward the United States with the British view of the American colonies expressed in the Declaratory Act of 1766, a comparison that would have resonance with Gordon, an historian of the Revolution. In the Declaratory Act, Parliament decreed “that the said colonies and plantations in America have been, are, and of right ought to be, subordinate unto, and dependent upon the imperial crown and Parliament of Great Britain; and that the king's Majesty, by and with the advice and consent of the Lords Spiritual and Temporal, and Commons, of Great Britain, in Parliament assembled, had, hath, and of right ought to have, full power and authority to make laws and statutes of sufficient force and validity to bind the colonies and people of America, subjects of the crown of Great Britain, in all cases whatsoever.”