Papers of John Adams, volume 14

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).

To C. W. F. Dumas, 29 May 1783 Adams, John Dumas, C. W. F.
To C. W. F. Dumas
Sir Paris May 29. 1783.

Last night I received your Favour of the 23d. of May.— I regret extreamly that I must loose the opportunity of the Company of Mr Vanberckel to America: but there is no appearance, that the definitive Treaty will be Signed in Time to allow me that Satisfaction and Advantage.

The Treaty with Sweeden is now printing with a Collection of the Constitutions and Treaties, which is making under the Correction of the Duke de la Rochefaucault, but I cant Say when it will be ready.1 I Should be glad to Send a Copy of it to our good Friend Luzac, but I have none.


Your Amuzements with your Ward, are very rational and will turn very much to his Advantage. You make him translate Suetonius, I hope in Writing, either into French or English.

The Desire of our Friends, Shall be attended to, respecting a certain Ambassador extraordinary.2

I rejoice in the Arrival of the Ratification of our Treaty and Convention. If it were possible, I would go to the Hague to make the Exchange and to Amsterdam to Sign Some more Obligations, but as Mr Hartley is here, and We know not the day and hour when We may be called to Business, I am afraid I cannot with Prudence, quit this Station. It may be expected by their High Mightinesses that I should make the Exchange in Person, and I should wish for that Honour, but considering the Circumstances, I think they will not take it amiss, if it is offered by another. I therefore request of you sir, to make an offer of the Exchange in my Behalf.—3 If you receive the Ratification of the States General you will please to keep it, under Lock & Key, untill my Return.

I have the Honour to be

LbC (Adams Papers); internal address: “Mr Dumas.”; APM Reel 108.


This was Constitutions des treize États-Unis de l’Amérique, Paris, 1783, a collaboration between Benjamin Franklin and the Duc de La Rochefoucauld, who translated the documents. A copy of the volume is in JA's library at MB ( Catalogue of JA's Library ). For a detailed account of the publication of this collection, based in part on The Constitutions of the Several Independent States of America, which Congress published in 1781 at JA's recommendation (vol. 10:178–179; 11:476–477), see Luther S. Livingston, Franklin and His Press at Passy, N.Y., 1914, p. 181–188.


Sir Joseph Yorke. See Dumas’ letter of the 23d, and note 4, above.


Dumas exchanged the ratifications at The Hague on 23 June. He informed Livingston of the exchange in a letter of that date, carried by Pieter van Berckel, who was departing for America later that day (Wharton, Dipl. Corr. Amer. Rev. , 6:502). He informed JA of the event in a brief note of the 24th (Adams Papers).