Papers of John Adams, volume 15

To Robert R. Livingston

To Robert R. Livingston

The American Peace Commissioners to David Hartley, 17 July 1783 American Peace Commissioners Hartley, David
The American Peace Commissioners to David Hartley
Sir, Passy, July 17th. 1783.1

We have the honour to inform you that we have just received from Congress their Ratification in due Form of the Provisional Articles of the 30th. of November 1782, and we are ready to exchange Ratifications with his Britannic Majesty’s Ministers as soon as may be.

By the same Articles it is stipulated, that his Britannic Majesty shall with all convenient Speed, and without causing any Destruction or carrying away any Negroes or other Property of the American Inhabitants, withdraw all his Armies, Garrisons and Fleets from the United States and from every Port, Place & Harbour within the same.2 But, by Intelligence lately received from America, and by the inclosed Copies of Letters and Conferences between General Washington and Sir Guy Carleton, it appears that a considerable Number of Negroes belonging to the Citizens of the United States, have been carried off from New-York, contrary to the express Stipulation contained in the said Article. We have received from Congress their Instructions to represent this matter to you, and to request that speedy and effectual Measures be taken to render that Justice to the Parties interested which the true Intent and meaning of the Article in Question plainly dictates.3

We are also instructed to represent to you, that many of the British Debtors in America have in the Course of the War sustained such considerable and heavy Losses by the Operation of the British Arms in that Country, that a great Number of them have been rendered incapable of immediately satisfying those Debts: we refer it to the Justice and Equity of Great Britain, so far to amend the Article on this Subject, as that no Execution shall be issued on a Judgment to be obtained in any such Case but after the Expiration of three Years from the Date of the definitive Treaty of Peace. Congress also think it reasonable that such Part of the Interest which may have 136accrued on such Debts during the War shall not be payable, because all Intercourse between the two Countries, had, during that Period, become impracticable as well as improper, it does not appear just that Individuals in america should pay for Delays in payment which were occasioned by the civil and military Measures of Great Britain. In our Opinion the Interest of the Creditors as well as the Debitors requires that some Tenderness be shewn to the Latter, and that they should be allowed a little Time to acquire the Means of discharging Debts which in many Instances exceed the whole Amount of their Property.4

As it is necessary to ascertain an Epocha, for the Restitutions and Evacuations to be made, we propose that it be agreed, that his Britannic Majesty, shall cause to be evacuated the Posts of New-York, Penobscot5 and their Dependences, with all other Posts and Places in Possession of his Majesty’s Arms, within the United States, in the Space of three Months after the Signature of this definitive Treaty, or sooner if possible, excepting those Posts contiguous to the Water Line, mentioned in the fourth Proposition, and these shall be evacuated, when Congress shall give the Notice therein mentioned.6

We do ourselves the honour of making these Communications to you, Sir, that you may transmit them and the Papers accompanying them to your Court, and inform us of their Answer.

We have the honour to be, / Sir, / Your most obedient and / most humble Servants

John Adams. B Franklin John Jay

RC (PRO:FO 4, 2:139–140); internal address: “Dd. Hartley Esqr.Dft (Adams Papers). LbC (Adams Papers); APM Reel 109. LbC-Tr (Adams Papers); APM Reel 103.


Although dated 17 July and presumably sent to David Hartley on that day, this letter probably was drafted and prepared for the commissioners’ signature on the 11th. The draft has “17” written over “11” in the dateline; is a fair copy, likely in William Temple Franklin’s hand; and has JA’s canceled signature below the closing. It was on 2 July that the commissioners had received Robert R. Livingston’s letters of 25 March, 21 April, 28 and 31 May, the ratified treaty being enclosed with the April letter (to Livingston, 3 July, and note 8, above). At some point, however, the commissioners decided to alter the final sentence of the second paragraph (see note 3) and to add new paragraphs on the evacuation of British forces and the payment of debts (see notes 4 and 5). The original content of the letter and changes all proceed from Livingston’s letters and their enclosures, particularly the April and May letters. Why, with three commissioners present at Paris, these revisions took six days is unknown. There is no reply by Hartley to this letter and the ratified copies were not exchanged until 13 Aug., following the arrival of the British ratification from London (to Livingston, first letter of 13 Aug., below). JA submitted this letter to be printed in the Boston Patriot, 12 Feb. 1812, but said nothing about its drafting.


To this point this paragraph is derived 137from Congress’ resolution of 26 May, which in turn quoted from Art. 7 of the preliminary treaty ( JCC , 24:363–364; vol. 14:107). That resolution and its supporting documents were enclosed in Livingston’s letter of 28 May (vol. 14:503–504).


In the draft this sentence read “We have received from Congress their Instructions to remonstrate upon this Violation of the Treaty, and to take such Measures for obtaining Reparation as the Nature of the Case will admit.” With the exception of the word “Violation,” it was an accurate paraphrase of the 26 May resolution’s final sentence ( JCC , 24:363–364). The revision presumably reflects a desire to make the letter to Hartley less confrontational and avoid creating additional obstacles to the conclusion of the definitive treaty.


With the draft is a paper with this paragraph and the following one in JA’s hand marked for insertion at this point. This paragraph, calling for a three-year moratorium on the payment of debts, was intended as a revision of Art. 4 of the preliminary treaty and stemmed from a resolution adopted by Congress on 30 May and included with Livingston’s letter of the 31st ( JCC , 24:372–376; Miller, Treaties , 2:98; vol. 14:512–514). The alteration was not made.


In the paragraph as drafted by JA the sentence continued “Niagara Detroit, Mihilimackinac.”


The reference to the “fourth Proposition” is to David Hartley’s fourth proposal of [19 June] as modified by the commissioners in their first letter of 29 June, both above. As it appears here the passage is virtually identical to Art. 18 of the [ante 19 July] draft definitive treaty, below. In fact, it was probably copied from that document. According to JA’s letter to Livingston of 10 Aug., below, he prepared that document before he left for the Netherlands on the 19th. By the date of this letter to Hartley that document was likely completed or very near completion. Although considered by Hartley and the commissioners, the proposition’s inclusion in this letter and the draft treaty was likely owing to Livingston’s statement in his letter of 21 April that “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 definitive Treaty” (vol. 14:436–437). The passage was not included in the [3 Sept.] definitive treaty, below.