Papers of John Adams, volume 14

To Edmund Jenings, 21 April 1783 Adams, John Jenings, Edmund
To Edmund Jenings
Sir, Paris. 21st. April. 1783—1

Englishmen surely are possessed too much of the Spirit of Commerce, & are too perfect Masters of its maxims, to be informed that it goes all over the world, by land & Sea, in quest of proffit.— Every Cask of Rice or Indigo, of Tobacco or Flax-seed, of Wheat or Flour & every Cargo of naval Stores, which goes to Europe fm. America, will have written on it, “Detur digniori,”2 i:e: This Cask or Cargo is 434consigned to him who will give the best price & pay me in such things as will suit me best. And every American Merchant who comes to Europe will go to that nation, of whatever language or religion, wh: can furnish him with the Goods he likes best—at the cheapest rate—on the largest Credit, and will receive the pay in such things as he has or can acquire. Every lad of 19. in America knows this, tho’ Mr: Burke may be ignorant of it—

The English must submit, to become Rivals to the rest of Europe for American Commerce. I believe they have it in their power to draw the greatest part of our Commerce to themselves; but they must embrace the oppo: & use the means. The quality of Goods will not depend upon an Act of Parliament, tho’ the price may: But the facility of making Remitts: will greatly depend on the bill or Treaty. The principal point of British Policy is, as I conceive, to facilitate to the Americans the means of making Remitts: to British Merchants. America will, for a Century, be always in debt to Europe. They will never be able to get to Europe Produce, Cash, or Commodities of any kind, fast eno: to pay for the European produce & manufactures they will have occasion to consume. Yet their Trade will be advantageous too: But the advantage will lie in fresh improvements in Land, Houses & Stock at home.

If therefore America has a Manufacture that will sell in Europe, such as Hatts for example, it is prudent in England to let them be imported, because it facilitate to the American the means of paying his debt in England, & it draws the American Hats to England, to be there exchanged for British Manufactures, instead of being carried to other nations of Europe, who will be glad to receive & pay for them in their manufactures.— For the same reason it is policy in England to allow Americans to bring any kind of Commodities fm. any part of the Earth to Great Britain, because whatever is bro't there will be laid out there—and if we are restrained fm. carrying any thing we have—(no matter where we got it) to G: B:, we shall carry it to some other rival Nation.—3

Tell me wherein I am mistaken. I beleive it is not prudent to say much abt: this matter at present; because these Questions will all be discussed, betwn: Mr: Hartley & the American Ministers in a few days, & be decided— If not they will be left untill an American Minister, in London, or a British one in Philadelphia, shall be authorised to finish the business—



LbC in Charles Storer's hand (Adams Papers); internal address: “Mr: Jennings—”; APM Reel 108.


This letter responds to Edmund Burke's position on Anglo-American trade as related by Jenings in his letter of 11 April, above. It is also JA's second communication to Jenings of this date. For the first, see the postscript to his letter of the 18 April, above.


Literally, let it be given to the more worthy, but JA provides his own appreciation of the expression.


This letter reads as if JA had Adam Smith's The Wealth of Nations at his side while he wrote his rebuttal of Edmund Burke and all those in Parliament and the Fox-North coalition who shared his views on Anglo-American trade. However, while there is a copy of the 1778 second edition of Smith's work in JA's library at MB, there is no indication that he had yet read The Wealth of Nations, and there is no reference to it in any of his extant letters to date ( Catalogue of JA's Library ). JA's familiarity with Smith's concepts likely came from his reading of Thomas Pownall's A Memorial, Most Humbly Addressed to the Sovereigns of Europe, on the Present State of Affairs, Between the Old and New World, London, 1780. It is difficult to overstate the pervasive influence of The Wealth of Nations on Pownall's work. But JA did more than simply read Pownall's Memorial; he revised and published it as A Translation of the Memorial to the Sovereigns of Europe upon the Present State of Affairs Between the Old and New World into Common Sense and Intelligible English, London, 1781. For the importance of Pownall's Memorial and JA's Translation in understanding JA's views of trade, foreign policy, and the place of the United States in the world, see vol. 9:157–220.

Robert R. Livingston to the American Peace Commissioners, 21 April 1783 Adams, John Franklin, Benjamin Jay, John Livingston, Robert R.
Robert R. Livingston to the American Peace Commissioners
(Copy) No. 2. 2plicate. Gentlemen, Philadelphia 21st. April 1783.

Upon the receipt of the provisional Articles & a subsequent account brôt by a Vessel dispatched by Count d’Estaing,1 I wrote the Letter No. 1. to Sr. Guy Carleton, & No. 2. to Admiral Digby: to which I recieved the Answers No. 3. & 4. You will find them cold & distant— Those they wrote to the Minister of France, in answer to similar Communications made by him, were still more so, and contain the same illiberal doubts, which are mentioned in mine, expressed in much stronger terms. When they recieved an authentic account of the Treaty, they sent a Copy of it, no part being omitted, to Congress thro’ the General. When the Proclamation for the Cessation of Hostilities was recieved at New York, it was sent to me by an officer with the Letters No. 5. & 6., to which I returned the Answers No. 7. & 8.2

After this, two great questions were agitated in Congress—1st. Whether they should proceed to the immediate ratification of the 436provisional Articles—and 2dly. whether they should release the Prisoners. Some maintained, with respect to the first of these points, that they knew not in what light to consider the provisional Articles, whether as Preliminaries, or a definitive Treaty— That the Preamble said they were to constitute the Treaty while at the same time they were only to be inserted in it— Those Terms they considered as contradictory, and they wished to have explanations from you on this head, to know what the operation of a ratification would be; and they inferred from your Silence, that none was necessary. They observed that no time was set for the Evacuation of New York— That the Ratification would in some measure compel them to release their Prisoners, & thus strengthen their Hands, when it was possible that the definitive Treaty might not take effect between Great Britain and France; and that the Ratification and the Restoration of Prisoners, if it left us nothing more to do, was in some sort to desert our Allies. To this it was answered, that the provisional Articles were only to be recieved as Preliminary—that from the very Nature of them they could not be definitive— that the Ratification would not alter the Nature of them, but confirm them as they stood—that they were confessedly very advantageous to Us— That the neglecting any such acceptation of them, as was necessary on our part, would give the Enemy a pretence for violating the Stipulations they contained— that the principal points between France & Great Britain being settled, we had no reason to apprehend a failure of a definitive Treaty— that it was important to shew, that we were determined to adhere in every particular to the Engagements you had made. These Arguments prevailed, & the Resolution No. 9. passed, directing the Ratification which I inclose.3 It is probable that the definitive Treaty will be signed before this can reach you, otherwise it would be extremely desirable that some Ambiguities in the provisional Articles should be cleared up, and other Objects, which have been touched upon at different times in my public Letters, attended to. The sixth Article is not so precisely expressed as to point out to what time, the word future refers—whether to the Signature of the provisional Articles— whether to the Act which gave it the force of a Treaty, or to the definitive Treaty, tho’ I should suppose the second to be the intention from the opposition between the word now, and the time of the ratification in America.

The 7th: Article leaves the time for the evacuation of New York upon so loose a footing, that I fear our troublesome Guests will long continue to be such unless a day is fixed for their departure in the 437definitive Treaty. You can easily concieve the impatience that the distressed Inhabitants of New York feel at every moments delay, & the fears & jealousies that prevail among them, lest it should be meant to retain these Posts as Pledges for the performance of the Stipulations in favor of the Tories.— By the debates in Parliament on the third of March it is evident that they had then no Orders to evacuate.

You will observe that the Ratification does not extend to the seperate Article— The Treaty between Spain & Great Britain renders it unnecessary— And Congress not caring to express any Sentiment upon that Subject.4 I refer you to my Letters to Dr. Franklin & Mr. Jay upon the Subject of a free Trade with the West Indies, and the Logwood Trade, which are important objects here, and I hope will be attended to in your definitive Treaty.5 It were to be wished that the Ambiguity with respect to the time of the cessation of Hostilities upon this Coast was cleared up, and the construction we put upon it adopted, to wit, that by as far as the Canaries was intended the Latitude of the Canaries, which construction can be supported by a variety of Arguments, and is extremely important to Us, as a Number of our Vessels have been taken since the third of March.

I have the honor to be, Gentlemen, / with great Esteem & Respect, / your most obed. humble Servt.

Robt. R. Livingston

Dupl (Adams Papers); internal address: “Honble. John Adams, Benjn. Franklin / John Jay & Henry Laurens Esqrs.”; endorsed: “Mr Livingstone to the Ministers / for Peace. 21. April. 1783.”


For the arrival of the preliminary treaty on 12 March and news of the general peace on the 24th, see Livingston's 25 March letter to the American Peace Commissioners, and notes 1 and 5, above.


The eight enclosed letters, which are not with this document in the Adams Papers, included the following: Livingston to Carleton, 24 March and 11 April; Carleton to Livingston, 26 March and 6 April; Livingston to Digby, 24 March and 12 April; Digby to Livingston, 27 March and 6 April. In their initial replies, both Carleton and Digby told Livingston that despite his assurances that the cessation of hostilities had been signed, they would wait until receiving official word from London before taking steps to disarm (Wharton, Dipl. Corr. Amer. Rev. , 6:336, 337, 346, 348, 362, 363, 367–368, 369–370).


Livingston presumably means that he is enclosing both Congress’ unanimous resolution of 15 April “that the said articles be ratified, and that a ratification in due form be sent to our Ministers” ( JCC , 24:242) and the text of the ratified treaty as incorporated into the instrument of ratification exchanged by the commissioners and David Hartley in August, but see note 4.


The instrument of ratification is signed by Elias Boudinot, president of Congress, and Robert R. Livingston, secretary for foreign affairs, and attested by Charles Thomson, secretary of Congress. This ratified text of the treaty does not include the separate article, which, as Livingston notes here, was not ratified. In the Journals, however, Congress’ 15 April resolution setting out “the form of the ratification” contains the full text of the original treaty, including the separate article. Assuming that the Journals’ text is correct and there is no exception in the earlier resolution approving ratification, it seems likely that Congress consented to the ratification of the whole treaty, including the 438separate article. Since Livingston's statement regarding the nonratification of the article is the only contemporary reference to the article's omission, it seems evident that sometime after Congress had voted and in the course of preparing the instrument of ratification for signature, it was decided not to include the separate article (Miller, Treaties , 2:104–105; JCC , 24:243–251). Note that in their 18 July reply to this letter and Livingston's earlier one of 25 March, the peace commissioners vigorously defended the inclusion of the separate article, arguing at length that they had kept it secret so as not to damage peace negotiations in which Britain was then engaged with France and Spain (Wharton, Dipl. Corr. Amer. Rev. , 6:566–570).


In letters to Benjamin Franklin on 5 Sept. and John Jay on 12 Sept. 1782, Livingston urged that during treaty negotiations they make it a high priority to protect the right of U.S. merchants to trade in the West Indies, arguing that losing the trade would damage the American economy and ultimately the economies of England and France (same, 5:696–698, 720–724).