Papers of John Adams, volume 15

From James Warren

John Adams’ Account with John Stockdale

The President of Congress to the American Peace Commissioners, 27 October 1783 President of Congress American Peace Commissioners
The President of Congress to the American Peace Commissioners
Gentlemen Princetown Oct. 27th 1783

Previous to my leaving the Chair of Congress, I take the liberty again to address you, merely as an individual that you may not be left totally without Information until the Choice of a Minister for foreign Affairs shall take place. I have pressed Congress much on this subject, and am fully convinced of the difficult Situation you must be in for want of Information from this important Office— I have the honor of acknowledging the rect of your several favours of the ———1 My last addressed to you, was on the 15th of July giving you a minute account of the Mutiny of the Soldiers in Philadelphia and of our subsequent removal to this Place—since which we have remained here tho. in but indifferent Circumstances of accommodation— Congress lately have determined to fix their place of Residence at the Head of the Delaware over the Falls of Trenton— They take in contemplation to fix another place the Falls of Potomack near Georgetown and to sit alternately at each Place year about— They have also determined to adjourn on the 8th Novr to Annapolis for their temporary residence—2 They have also passed several important Acts lately, which you will see by the several Proclamations contained in the Newspapers which I do myself the honor of transmitting herewith from the month of Sept 2d ———3 Congress have not yet taken the Appointment of a minister for foreign Affairs under Consideration, as their Time is principally taken up with previous measures of a Peace arrangement both Civil & Military— It will now be put off till the removal to Annapolis— I shall add to this Letter (I believe) several Acts of Congress In consequence of a Report on your last Official Letter we have been most Anxiously 326(looking(?)) for the Definitive Treaty which is really a matter of much more importance in this Country than it is in Europe— The States at best cannot be convinced that Peace is made to any Purpose without this welcome Act, and the Conduct of the British in these States has confirmed them in the Opinion— We lately sent Baron Steuben to Canada to settle with Genl Waldenson the Time and manner of delivering up & receiving the Posts and fortifications on the Frontiers whenever that Genl should be ready so to do— He was refused even a conference on the subject— Genl Waldenson declaring that he knew of no Peace between Britain and America, that his orders were to cease Hostilities which he had carefully done but could go no further— The Baron thinks they are planning their schemes in Canada for holding the Frontier Posts for a year or two longer which would prove ruinous to these States rendition of them must be urged without delay.4 The Minister from Holland is arrived and to receive his public Audience on Friday next.5

The Effects of the Mutiny in Philadelphia are all done away— The Sergeants who were condemned to die, recd Pardon from Congress in the very last moment of despair this has had a good Effect and the Army have been disbanded without any bad consequences but unhappily without Money.6

Nov. 1st

Yesterday we gave public audience to Mr Van Berckel— Just before the Ceremony began Col Ogden arrived with the News of the completion of the Definitive Treaty, this gave a large addition to the general Joy that was already great on the occasion of the Day—7 Mr Van Berckel appears to be a person very much suited to the Manners of our People and I am very much mistaken if he does not do great honor to his Commission— I shall endeavour to enclose his address and our answer—

Novr 3d

This Morning Congress met & made choice of a new President for the ensuing Year General Mifflin was unanimously chosen, tho’ absent I suppose he will take the Chair in a day or two— I feel myself very happy in having filled up my year and that after having devoted myself altogether to the Public Service for near eight years, I am like to retire to private Life under the blessings of so glorious a Peace— My Presidentship has also been honored by the Signature of 327both Preliminary Articles & Definitive Treaty which has greatly compensated for all my other Sacrifices.

E B.

MS not found. Printed from J. J. Boudinot, ed., The Life of Elias Boudinot, 1:410–413; internal address: “To The Honble Commissioners”; notation: “Commissioners / Private.”


This letter points out the problem facing Congress and the commissioners in the absence of a secretary for foreign affairs, which left no one with the authority—Boudinot writes “merely as an individual” and does not actually reply to any letters received—to answer the commissioners’ letters or issue instructions. Counting Boudinot’s letter, only three letters had been addressed to the commissioners since 1 June. Since Boudinot’s last letter, of 15 July, however, Congress’ dispatch book indicates that it had received 42 letters: two from the commissioners as a group, 24 from JA, four from Benjamin Franklin, six from John Jay, and six from Henry Laurens (PCC, No. 185, III, f. 71–85).


For two weeks in mid-October, Congress fiercely debated prospective temporary and permanent residences for the federal government. Commencing the discussion on 6 Oct., Congress resolved the following day that buildings should be erected on the banks of the Delaware, near the falls, as a permanent meeting site. Bitter opposition from southern delegates led Congress to reconsider this decision, and the body eventually resolved on 21 Oct. to establish a second “federal town” on the banks of the Potomac. Until the government buildings on the Delaware and Potomac were completed, Congress agreed to meet alternately at Trenton and Annapolis ( JCC , 25:646–660, 711–714; Smith, Letters of Delegates , 21:88, 99).


Asserting a congressional power established under the Articles of Confederation, Congress issued a proclamation on 22 Sept. that affirmed the United States government’s (as opposed to the individual states’) exclusive control over the purchasing or receiving of land from Indian nations. Another proclamation, approved in Congress on 25 Sept., announced the ratification of a treaty of amity and commerce between Sweden and the United States. Two additional acts, both dated 18 Oct., appeared in American newspapers prior to 27 October. One discharged soldiers of the army as of 3 Nov., thanking them for their service; the other named the second Thursday of December a day of public thanksgiving (Pennsylvania Gazette, 15 Oct.; Pennsylvania Packet, 23, 25 Oct.).


Rather than “Genl Waldenson” the reference should be to “Genl Haldimand.” On 20 July, Gen. Friedrich von Steuben left West Point to meet at Sorel, Quebec, with Gen. Frederic Haldimand, British commander-in-chief in Canada, regarding the transfer of British-occupied frontier posts in U.S. territories to American control. Steuben reported to George Washington that Haldimand refused to make arrangements for evacuation, denying him the right even to visit the posts. A similar mission undertaken by Lt. Col. William Hull in the summer of 1784 was also unsuccessful, and the posts in question remained in British hands for another thirteen years (John McAuley Palmer, General Von Steuben, New Haven, Conn., 1937, p. 312–314; Smith, Letters of Delegates , 20:643–645; Washington, Papers, Confederation Series , 2:10–11). On Haldimand, see also vol. 3:33.


Pieter Johan van Berckel, minister plenipotentiary from the Netherlands, informed the president of Congress of his arrival in the United States in a letter of 19 Oct., to which Boudinot replied on 24 October. Boudinot presented Van Berckel’s message, as well as the letter of credence enclosed in it, to Congress on 25 Oct. (Wharton, Dipl. Corr. Amer. Rev. , 6:713–714). As Boudinot notes in the paragraph dated 1 Nov., Congress formally received Van Berckel on 31 Oct., at which time the minister addressed the delegates. Citing the Netherlands’ support of the American struggle for independence, Van Berckel congratulated Congress on the revolution’s success and pledged to nurture the commercial relationship between the two nations. Boudinot’s answer similarly emphasized the history of friendship between the Americans and Dutch, pointing specifically to the treaty of amity and commerce signed the year before ( JCC , 25:780–786).


Maj. Gen. Robert Howe, directed by Washington in June 1783 to suppress the mutiny of Pennsylvania soldiers that drove Congress out of Philadelphia, subsequently held courts-martial at a military camp 328outside the city to prosecute participants in the uprising. The court convicted two sergeants of the 3d Pennsylvania Regiment, Christian Nagle and John Morrison, sentencing them to death; four additional soldiers were to receive corporal punishment. Congress resolved on 13 Sept. to grant all of the convicted soldiers a full pardon. Congress justified its decision by arguing, “Whereas the said prisoners appear not to have been principals in the said mutiny, and no lives having been lost, nor any destruction of property committed . . . the United States in Congress assembled, have thought fit to pardon and remit.” Boudinot notified Howe of the resolution in a letter written later that day, leaving it up to him when to inform the soldiers of Congress’ intervention on their behalf. Howe waited until minutes before the two sergeants’ scheduled execution on 22 Sept. to issue the pardon. A local newspaper reported that “the two unhappy men received this most agreeable news at the awful moment when they expected to be summoned into eternity” (president of Congress to the commissioners, 15 July, above; JCC , 25:565–567; Smith, Letters of Delegates , 20:666–667; Pennsylvania Packet, 27 Sept.).


News of the definitive peace treaty reached Boston first, conveyed by passengers in the ship Robin-Hood, Capt. Smith, which arrived at Cape Ann on 22 October. The Boston Evening Post of 25 Oct. reported that the gentlemen on board pronounced “that the DEFINITIVE TREATY WAS ABSOLUTELY SIGNED ON THE SECOND DAY OF SEPTEMBER LAST; but that it did not come in the Ship.” When the letters and papers on the vessel became available, a letter written in London on 6 Sept. began to appear in American newspapers, claiming “The Definitive Treaty with the United States of America was also signed at Paris the third instant, by David Hartley, Esq his Majesty’s Plenipotentiary, and the Plenipotentiaries of those States” (see, for example, the Boston Independent Ledger, 27 Oct., and the Pennsylvania Packet, 6 Nov.). Word of the treaty first appeared in the Pennsylvania press on 1 Nov., after Col. Matthias Ogden arrived in New York from London to confirm the news. The Pennsylvania Packet of that date reported, “in last night’s New-York stage came passenger the reverend Mr. Rogers, from that city, which he left on Thursday afternoon. He brings us the very important and agreeable intelligence of the definitive treaty of peace being signed at Paris on the third of September last. The account was brought to New-York from Boston . . . And we have the pleasure of mentioning another channel by which this news is certified;—just as our informant came away, the ship Harford, captain Folger, arrived at New-York in 30 days from London; in her came passenger, colonel Ogden, who confirms the happy tidings beyond a doubt.”