Papers of John Adams, volume 15

From Matthew Ridley

To Robert R. Livingston

From Francis Dana, [29 July 1783] Dana, Francis Adams, John
From Francis Dana
My Dear Sir St: Petersbourg July 18th. 1783. O.S. [29 July N.S.]

’Tis done. The bolt of your Vulcan has hit its aim.1 The idea you mentioned to me some time since, relative to the use of the Credit I had asked for, and which in reply I told you was not new to me, that the same had been repeatedly thrown out here by persons, whom to suspect of sinister or interested views wou’d be deemed by some a most damnable political heresy, has crossed the Atlantic and gotten possession of Congress. I am told they will not buy a Treaty at this day.2 But pray remark what I have said in my Letter to you of the 21st. of last May relative to this subject, particularly in the last paragraph of it beginning thus “Besides I shou’d not be surprised.”3 You may turn also to my letter of the 26th. of the same month.4 But contemptible beyond all contempt, (pardon the expression) is the construction upon my Instructions. Wou’d it not put a Pettifogger out of Countenance to be detected in such a miserable thing. Pray my 180Friend are you sufficiently versed in the diplomatic science to develop the whole meaning of the term “communicate,” and of the double &c? These Lord Coke observes are very pregnant often times. And that Gentleman has read Lord Coke, and must therefore be an excellent Commentator.5 But least he shou’d not have read the Text thrõ when he made his comment, I have laid it out at its full length before him. He may now comment upon it at leisure. I have thought it too plain to need any of mine. Do not imagine my Friend that I am angry, shall I say, at this Dutch Commentator. No, I have other feelings respecting him, and our much abused Country. I recollect the cause of the Instruction we received relative to the Fishery at our departure— I recollect the fatal revocation of your powers to conclude a Commercial Treaty with G: Britain.6 I call it fatal because, if I am not deceived, We have lost forever the most important advantages of a free Commerce with the British West Indies by that measure. We might have obtained every thing at the conclusion of our preliminary Treaty if our Commissioners had had that Power. This is evident from the Bill of Mr: Pitt the Chancellor of the Exchecquer.7 This last stroke, I think, tops the system. A more favourable moment for negotiating a commercial Treaty here, will in all probability, never happen. The present views of Great Britain give us many advantages to draw forth convenient concessions. Can Russia see with indifference Great Britain holding out special favours for the encouragement of our Naval Stores? But I need not enter into particulars with you on these subjects, who have surveyed them on all sides. I send you enclosed my letter to Mr: Livingston—8

I have several times acquainted Congress of my wish & intention to return to America as soon as I had concluded a commercial Treaty with Her Imperial Majesty. In consequence of this, they have by a resolution approved of my returning “provided I shou’d not be engaged in a Negotiation with this Court at the time of receiving the resolution in which Case it is the desire of Congress that I shou’d finish such negotiation before I return.” I am not engaged in any, as I have not yet had my Audience; and to communicate but not to sign is beyond my comprehension, and I believe woud surpass theirs also. If I shou’d break thrõ this cobweb I shou’d find myself stopped short by the other matter which is essential. What is to be done in such circumstances? I answer the wisest part appears to me, is to get out of them as soon as possible. But for this last difficulty I wou’d demand my Audience as soon as the definitive 181Treaty is concluded, enter immediately upon the negotiation of a Treaty of Commerce, and maugre all comments sign, ah, and seal too, “the form and terms of a Treaty” I shou’d agree upon, with Her Majesty’s Ministers. As it is, I say to myself be gone. And will be gone.9 And may God grant I may soon have the pleasure of meeting you in our Country, and all Friends well— I will take Master John’s things under my own care. Adieu my dear Sir / Your’s &c &c


P.S. I pray you to present my most respectful regards to Mr: Jay of whom I hear every thing I cou’d wish— You will not write me again— Desire Mr. Thaxter to take all my matters under his care, along with him when he returns to America. Mr: Allen will take his passage with me. I believe he will find his account in coming here.

RC and enclosure (Adams Papers); internal address: “His Excellency John Adams / Minister Plenipotentiary &c”; endorsed: “Mr Dana. July 18. / 1783.” Filmed at 18 July.


Dana refers to JA’s letter of 22 February. There JA referred to Dana’s instructions as “Chains Strong Chains” and declared that “there is a Vulcan [the Comte de Vergennes] at Versailles whose constant Employment it has been to forge Chains for American Ministers” (vol. 14:286).


This entire letter is a commentary on Robert R. Livingston’s letter of 1 May, which transmitted Congress’ 1 April resolution approving Dana’s return to the United States but more importantly contained Livingston’s interpretation of Dana’s powers under his commission and his sense of Congress’ attitude toward the negotiation of a Russo-American treaty. Here Dana specifically refers to his request for funds to pay the customary fee to the Russian negotiators for signing a treaty. He had requested the funds in his letter of 18 Nov. 1782 to Livingston and of 25 Nov. to JA. In a 24 March 1783 letter to Dana, JA indicated that Benjamin Franklin questioned whether the fee to the Russians was necessary and wondered whether Dana was being “imposed on.” JA suggested that Dana procure a certificate from other diplomats indicating that the payment was necessary. Clearly Dana believed that Franklin’s view (see note 3) had been sent to America and was what motivated Livingston’s comment that “I am persuaded that it is the wish of Congress rather to postpone any treaty with Russia than to buy one at this day” (Wharton, Dipl. Corr. Amer. Rev. , 6:54–56, 403–404; JCC , 24:227; vol. 14:81–83, 358–359).


Of [1 June], and note 7, above, in which Dana indicates his suspicion that Franklin, with Vergennes’ support, wanted to negotiate any Russo-American treaty at Paris. Hence his comment in this letter on Livingston’s reference to buying a treaty, for which see note 2.


Of [6 June], above.


In his letter of 1 May, Livingston observed that, “with respect to a commercial treaty, none can be signed by you. Your powers only extend to ‘communicate with her Imperial majesty’s ministers on the subject of a treaty,’ &c., but not to sign it” (Wharton, Dipl. Corr. Amer. Rev. , 6:403). Livingston was referring to Dana’s instructions of 19 Dec. 1780, the sixth of which directed him to “assure her Imperial Majesty and her ministers of the sincere disposition of these United States to enter into a treaty of friendship and commerce with her” and authorized him “to communicate with her Imperial Majesty’s ministers on the form and terms of such treaty, and transmit the same to Congress for their ratification.” However, Dana’s commission of the same date appointed him a minister plenipotentiary “authorized in our name, and on behalf of the United States, to propose a treaty of amity and commerce between these United States and her said Imperial Majesty, and to confer and treat 182thereon with her ministers, vested with equal powers, . . .; transmitting such treaty for our final ratification. And we declare in good faith that we will confirm whatsoever shall by him be transacted in the premises” ( JCC , 18:1166–1173). As Dana indicates, Livingston’s construction seems somewhat tortured since there would be little point for either Dana or the Russian representatives to enter into any negotiations if he could not sign the final treaty. And if the final product of the negotiations was unsigned then it would effectively be a draft, leaving Congress nothing to ratify. Indeed, this was essentially the position taken by Dana in his reply to Livingston of 27 July 1783 (Wharton, Dipl. Corr. Amer. Rev. , 6:597–598). For Coke’s comment on Sir Thomas Littleton’s use of “&c.,” see Sir Edward Coke, The First Part of the Institutes of the Lawes of England; or, Commentarie upon Littleton, London, 1628, sect. 10.


In 1779 France opposed making the American claim to fishing rights on the Grand Banks of Newfoundland one of the peace ultimata for the Anglo-American peace treaty, so Congress instead made it a sine qua non for the proposed Anglo-American commercial treaty, both of which JA was commissioned to negotiate. When in 1781, again at France’s behest, Congress removed JA as the sole peace commissioner and created the joint peace commission, it also, almost as an afterthought, revoked his commission to conclude an Anglo-American commercial treaty. For these incidents and the shared conviction of JA and Dana that there was evidence of not just a fundamental conflict between French and American interests but a French policy of subordinating American interests to their own, see the indexes to vols. 8 through 14.


The American Intercourse Bill (vol. 14:333).


Dana’s letter to Livingston of 27 July 1783 is much like this one to JA. The principal difference is that Dana’s anger and frustration at the termination of his mission so close to success are even more evident. “This letter,” he wrote, “has come very opportunely to hand, as we are in expectation every moment of receiving the account of the conclusion of the definitive treaty of peace, when I should have immediately had my audience of her Imperial majesty. I shall now think it expedient to decline that honor, for it would be a very useless ceremony to take an audience of reception one day when the next I must ask one of departure” (Wharton, Dipl. Corr. Amer. Rev. , 6:597–598).


In his letter to Livingston of 27 July and two others of [29 July] to the loan consortium and to the Amsterdam merchant Duncan Ingraham Jr. (same; MHi:Francis Dana Letterbooks, Private, 1782–1784), Dana indicated that he would be sailing for Boston aboard the Duchess of Kingston’s yacht in about three weeks, but see Dana’s letter of 29 Sept., and note 1, below. The yacht was presumably the vessel that the exiled Elizabeth Chudleigh, Countess of Bristol and self-proclaimed Duchess of Kingston, had sailed to St. Petersburg on in 1777 ( DNB ).