Papers of John Adams, volume 15

To C. W. F. Dumas

To Edmund Jenings

From Cotton Tufts, 26 June 1783 Tufts, Cotton Adams, John
From Cotton Tufts
Dear Sir Wey Boston June 26. 17831

If ever Wisdom Fortitude Patience & Perseverance were necessary, they were peculiarly so in the late Negociations in which You have been engaged. I thank Heaven for the large Display of these Virtues You have given and for the Success with which Your Labours have been crowned— I had long feared the Machinations of ——— fortunately for America her Negociators knew her Interest and they have neither been duped or ensnared by Friends nor conquered by Enemies, they have obtained Terms, much more honorable than 58could have been expected and had the Articles with respect to the Refugees have been omitted it might have been added, equal to our utmost Desires— But this could scarce have been hoped for, where on the Side of our Enemy Honor the Faith of the Nation & the most sacred Promises were pledged for their Security— You had a just Notion of Your Countrymen, their Bitterness and Resentment against that Set of Men cannot be conquered but by great Length of Time were they to be admitted here, their scituation must be very uncomfortable, especially the most of those that were proscibed— As the Articles which respect them will probably e’er long be discussed in the several Legislatures, I must entreat You to favour me with Your Sentiments by the first Conveyance relative to the 5 & 6th. Articles. Is the whole of the 5th. to be considered merely as recommendatory by Congress to the several Legislatures to be by them decided upon or is the conluding Part of the 5th. to be considered as binding & absolute Viz. “And it is agreed that all Persons, who have any Interest in confiscated Lands either by Debts Marriage Settlements or otherwise, shall meet with no lawful Impediment in the Prosecuttion of their just Rights”? Is the 6th. positive & binding or only recommendatory?2

That which was the fond Intention of the Parties to be binding I wish may be faithfully complied with, But I fear that in some a pungent Sense of past Injuries, in others a narrow and contracted Spirit will prevent that Liberality of Sentiment which might be productive of the greatest Good— On one hand the fond & irreconcileable Enemies of our Country & Constitution ought to be excluded on the other those whose Absence has not been grounded on Enmity and who may make good Subjects, ought to be admitted—this I think Policy requires—

Once more the County of Suffolk have placd me on the public Theatre—3 I find the Field large and capacious an unbounded Prospect lies before the Legislator— I start, I tremble, but when or where we shall fiz down, I am sometimes weary of conjecture— One false Step may tarnish all our hard earnt Glory, stamp an indelible mark of Infamy on our national Character and entail Misery on unborn Millions— To bring order out of Confusion and to reduce a Multitude to a just Decision requires more Wisdom and Patience than is commonly allotted to Mankind and is hard to be obtained where the Rulers are numerous and without a System to regulate all their Movements—

Congress have recommended the Establishment of a permanent 59Fund for the Payment of our national Debt, included in this Debt is Five Millions of Dollars agreed upon between Congress and the Army in Lieu of half Pay for Life promised their Officers &c— This Commutation is much reprobated in the Country & excites great Clamour—4 Those who wish to do Justice, and without Delay to adopt Measures for settling the national Credit on a firm Basis, find themselves not a little embarrassed—

Connecticut I am informed has voted their Officers & Soldiers One Years full pay as an Adequate Reward— It is said Rhode Island has done the same— & What Measures will be taken here I am not able to say, tho there have been frequent Debates in the House of Representatives on this Subject, Yet I am apt to think that the Question will not be determined in the present Session—perhaps they may sever the National Debt and provide Funds for the Payment of that part of it which is foreign— But as imposts & Excise are recommended for this Purpose—the Work will go on but slowly— the Discussion of this Subject in a Body consisting of so many Members as compose the House & Senate will take up much Time and the Season of the Year calling for the Country Gentlemen to attend their Farms, this important Matter will I fear pass over to another Session—

Yesterday was laid before us a most affectionate Letter from Genl Washington, taking his Leave of this Legislature & being about to resign his Military Command and retire into private Life—without any other Emolument & Reward, than the pleasing Satisfaction of having served his Country, he breathes forth the most benevolent Wishes for the Happiness of the United States and manifests a Concern for their Interest & Welfare—political, moral & religious— truly affecting—5

I have already exceeded the bounds of a Letter & must conclude by renewing my Request that You would favour me by the first oppy with yr. Sentiments upon the 5 & 6th. preliminary Articles—

I am with great Respect & Esteem / Yr. affe. Friend & H Sert


RC (Adams Papers); addressed: “His Excellency John Adams Esq”; internal address: “His Excellency John Adams Esq—”; endorsed: “Dr Tufts. June 26. / ansd 10. Sept. 1783.”


To some degree this letter was AA’s doing. In her 30 June letter to JA she wrote that “I have engaged our Friend Dr. Tufts to write you fully upon political matters,” but see also Richard Cranch’s reference to Tufts’ writing to JA on “Publick Affairs” in his letter of 26 June, AFC , 5:187, 190.


Article 5 of the preliminary peace treaty directed that Congress should “earnestly recommend” to the states that either the “Estates, Rights and Properties” be restored to the loyalists from which they had been taken or restitution be paid for their losses. Tufts quotes the final sentence of the article, the only one not phrased as a recommendation. Since neither it nor Art. 6 were set down as recommendations to be made by Congress to the states, the implication is that these provisions were binding rather than recommendatory (vol. 14:106–107). However, in his 10 Sept. reply to Tufts, JA refused to provide any guidance. He wrote that “the[se] Articles must be [explained] by a Consideration of the [words] of them and the whole Treaty, [and] I do not consider myself at Liberty to Say any Thing about their Meaning any more than if I had [drawn] a Will, I could explain the [Intention] of the Testator. Give it as generous a Construction as you can, and call in Christian Charity as well as public Faith and human Policy to your [Aid]” ( AFC , 5:240–241).

Richard Cranch posed essentially the same questions as did Tufts regarding Arts. 5 and 6 in his letter of 26 June. Responding to Cranch on 10 Sept., JA was only slightly more forthcoming than in his reply to Tufts, declaring that “the Treaty must Speak for itself. I do not Think myself qualified for a Commentator, nor should think myself at Liberty to comment if I knew how. From the Treaty itself, the Stipulations may be easily distinguished from the Recommendations. The former should be Sacred and the latter coolly considered, at least” (same, p. 185–188, 239–240).


Tufts was a member of the Mass. senate.


As Tufts indicates, there was no more divisive issue in Massachusetts in 1783 than the commutation of pay for Continental Army officers and its link to the proposed impost intended to pay the national debt and finance Congress’ administration of the national government. In fact, the controversy was a national one and mirrored the later conflict between the Federalists and Antifederalists over the U.S. Constitution, for both centered on the division of power between the states and central government. On 21 Oct. 1780, Congress promised Continental Army officers who remained in service until the peace half-pay for life without, however, specifying whether the money was to be paid by Congress or the states. By 1783 many of the officers lacked confidence in the states’ ability or willingness to honor the promise. This, combined with general dissatisfaction with Congress’ inability to adequately finance the army, led the officers in early March to demand a new and more reliable arrangement. George Washington’s 15 March response to the officers’ demands did much to defuse the situation, but Congress was forced to act and on 22 March adopted its commutation resolution. Instead of half-pay for life, the officers would receive “five years’ full pay in money, or securities on interest at six per cent. per annum . . . the said securities to be such as shall be given to other creditors of the United States.” Congress rather than the states would provide the compensation and the only means by which it would have the funds to do so would be if the proposed impost was adopted, providing it with adequate income from a source independent of the states.

The commutation and the impost were key elements in the plans of those seeking to establish a stronger central government, most notably Robert Morris. For such proponents, commutation was important because it obliged a significant constituency— Continental Army officers—to support Congress over the states if it hoped to obtain compensation. In Massachusetts this played directly into the fears, very prevalent in New England, of a standing national army, which were only enhanced by the later controversy over the Society of the Cincinnati ( JCC , 18:960–962; 24:207–210; Ferguson, Power of the Purse , p. 155–164; vol. 14:410). For comments by those on both sides of the commutation and impost issues, see James Warren’s letter of 24 June, above, as well those from Tristram Dalton of 16 July, 8 Aug., and 5 Dec.; Elbridge Gerry of 23 Nov.; William Gordon of 7 Jan. 1784; Samuel Osgood of 7 Dec. 1783 and [14 Jan. 1784]; and James Warren of 27 Oct. 1783, all below, and from Warren of 26 Feb. 1784, Warren-Adams Letters , 2:235–238.


This is Washington’s very long circular letter to the states in which he announced his resignation but also addressed the commutation controversy. The General Court printed the letter together with other documents as a pamphlet entitled A Collection of Papers Relative to Half-Pay and Commutation Thereof Granted by Congress, Boston, 1783, Evans, No. 18256. Richard Cranch and Tristram Dalton sent JA copies of the pamphlet with their letters of 18 July 1783 ( AFC , 5:204–206) and 8 Aug., below, respectively.