Papers of John Adams, volume 15

David Hartley to the American Peace Commissioners, 14 June 1783 Hartley, David American Peace Commissioners
David Hartley to the American Peace Commissioners
Gentlemen June 14. 17831

Permit me to address the enclosed Memorial to your Excellencies, and to explain to you my Reasons for So doing.2 It is because many Consequences now at a great Distance, and unforeseen by Us may arise between our two Countries, perhaps from very minute and incidental Transactions, which in their beginnings may be impercepteble and unsuspected as to their future Effects. Our respective Territories are in Vicinity, and therefore We must be inseperable.3 Great-Britain with the British Power in America is the only nation, with whom, by absolute necessity, you must have the most intimate Concerns, either of friendship or hostility. All other nations are three thousand miles distant from you; You may have political Connections with any of these nations, but, with regard to Great-Britain, it must be so. Political Intercourse & Interests will obtrude themselves between our two Countries; because they are the two great powers dividing the Continent of N: America. These matters are not to come into discussion between us now. They are of too much importance either to be involved in, or even glanced at in any present transaction—

Let every eventual principle be kept untouched untill the two nations shall have recovered from the animosities of war. Let them have a pacific interval to consider deliberately of their mutual & combined Interests, and of their engagements with other nations. Let us not, at the outset of a temporary Convention, adopt the severe principle of reducing every transaction, between the two Nations, to the footing of an exact reciprocity alone. Such a principle would cast a Gloom upon conciliatory prospects. America is not restrained from any Conciliation with G:B. by any Treaty with any other Power. The principles of Conciliation would be the most desireable between G:B: & America—and forbearance is the road to Conciliation. After a war of animosities, time should be allowed for recollection. There are all reasonable appearances of conciliatory 29 30disposition, on all sides, which may be perfected in time— Let us not therefore, at such a moment as this, & without the most urgent necessity, establish a morose principle between us. If it were a decided point against amity & conciliation, it wd. be time eno: to talk of partition & strict reciprocity. To presume in favor of Conciliation may help it forward—to presume against it may destroy that Conciliation, which might otherwise have taken place: But, in the present case, there is more than reason to presume Conciliation. I think myself happy that I have it in my power to assure you, from authority, that it is the fundamental principle of the British Councils to establish Amity and Confidence between G:B: & the American States, as a succedaneum for the relation in which they formerly stood, one to the other. The proof of this consists not in words, but in substantial facts. His Britannic Majesty has been graciously pleased to send orders to his Commanders in N: America for the speedy & compleat evacuation of the Territories of the United-States. His Majesty has given orders in Council, on the 14th. of last month, for the admission of American Ships & Cargoes into G:B:, and, on the 6th. inst:, he has given further orders, permitting the importation from America of several Articles, wh: have been usually considered as Manufactures.4 He has likewise provided for the Convenience of American Merchants, who may wish to land Tobacco in G:B: for re-exportation. Upon the same principle, Mr: Fox, the Secy: of State, corresponding with America, has moved for & recd. the leave of the H. of Commons (nem. con.) to bring in a bill that any American Merchants, importing rice into G:B:, may, upon re-exportation, draw back the whole duty paid on its first importation.5 All these Circumstances, put together, undoubtedly form the most indisputable evidence of the disposition which prevails in the British Councils, to give every facility to the Re-establishment of that intercourse, which must be so beneficial to both nations. I am ordered to inform you, that his Majesty entirely approves of the plan of making a temporary Convention for the purposes of restoring immediate Intercourse & Commerce, and more particularly for the purpose of putting off, for a time, the decision of that important Question, how far the British Acts of Navigation ought to be sacrificed to commercial Considerations, drawn from the peculiar Circumstances of the present Crisis—a question which will require much deliberation & very much inquiry before it can be determined. I am sure, Gent. you will see & admit the reasonableness of our proceeding, in such a Case, with deliberation & discretion, 31more especially when these Acts of prudence do not proceed from any motive of coolness or reserve towards you. In the mean time, the temporary Convention may proceed upon principles of real & accomodating Reciprocity. For instance, we agree to put you upon a more favorable than any other nation. We do not ask a rigid reciprocity for this, because we know, by your present subsisting Treaties, it is not in your power to give it to us. We desire only to be put upon the footing of other nations with you & yet we consent that you shall be upon a better footing with us than any other nation— Thus far we must be allowed to be giving something more than reciprocity, and this we do, as I said before; because we are unwilling to ask what you cannot give. Surely it is not unreasonable, nor more than fm. principles of reciprocity we have a right to expect, that you should imitate our Conduct in this particular, & that you should abstain fm. asking things, under the title of exact & literal reciprocity, which you must know, upon the consideration of our case, that we are unable to give. Virtual and substantial reciprocity we are willing to give, literal reciprocity is impossible, as much from your engagements, as from our system of navigation.

If we can agree upon an article of intercourse & commerce, in the nature of a temporary convention, on the Basis of the Memorial, which I had lately the honor of giving to you, bearing date 19. May 1783,6 no time need be lost in finishing this business; but with this explanation, that, altho’ it is proposed that the Commerce between the United States & the British West Indies should be free with regard to their respective productions, yet that we are not bound to admit the importation of West Indian Commodities into Great Britain in American Vessels. Believe me, Gentlemen, that this restriction does not proceed from any invidious disposition towards the American States. It is imposed on the British Ministers by indispensible prudence and necessity, who in the present state of things could not be justified to their own Country in going hastily to such an extent of concession. This point is not to be looked upon, as merely commercial, but as affecting fundamentally the great political System of British Navigation; and you are to consider that the principle, upon which the whole of our proposed temporary convention is to stand, is, that the Commerce between the two Countries is to be revived nearly upon the old footing; but that each Nation is to keep in its own hands the power of making such regulations, respecting Navigation as shall seem fit. I assure you that this point has been discussed, by the Ministers of the British Cabinet, with 32infinite Candor & with every possible disposition of Amity & favor towards your Country; but the more they have enquired upon this Subject, the more they are overborne by the Conviction that the prejudices on this matter (if that is the name these opinions deserve) are so strong, that such a measure, as a relaxation of the Act of Navigation in this instance, never can be taken, but upon such a full & solemn parliameny: enquiry, as it is impossible to go into at this time of the year, & in this stage of the Sessions. I cannot therefore, Gent: help flattering myself that you are so well acquainted with the difficulties which must embarrass an English Administration in a business of this sort, as to endeavour rather to remove, than encrease them, & I am sure such a plan on yr: part wd. ultimately be most conducive to your objects. When an amicable Intercourse is once opened, & when conciliatory Confidence comes to take place of those jealousies, wh: have lately subsisted, you may easily conceive in how different a manner the whole of this matter will be considered. I am confident that this will be the Case, but if it is not, the provisions being only temporary, it will be in the power of the U: States to take up any hostile mode of proceeding, by restraints, prohibitions &c: whenever they may think fit.—

I have made use above of the word prejudices, in speakg: of the principle of the British Act of Navigation. I hope you will accept that term fm. me, as proceeding so far in Compliance towards the future Consideration of the points now between us, as to keep the question open & free for discussion. If G:B: should in any Case throw down the barriers of the act of Navigation towards America, she shd. be very secure against the possible Case of future enmity or Alliance against her. Such Considerations as these lead to objects, far beyond our present scope, or powers: But I must still add one word more upon this article of prejudices. Such prejudices (if they are so) are not confined to Great-Britain— By your commercial Treaty with France, Article 4th. you are only intitled to a European Trade with that Kingdom, & not even, by that Treaty, to any direct Commerce, between their West-India Islands, & the Ports of the American States—much less to the immediate Communication between the French Islands & the Dominions of the Crown of France, in Europe.7

LbC and enclosure (Adams Papers); APM Reel 109. LbC-Tr and enclosure (Adams Papers); APM Reel 103.

33 1.

Hartley wrote this letter after the arrival of new instructions from London clarifying his powers to negotiate. Hartley’s need to consult his superiors stemmed from the commissioners’ reaction to his proposal of 21 May regarding Anglo-American trade. Hartley put forth an agreement by which Anglo-American trade would be returned to its prewar status until a formal commercial treaty could be concluded. The commissioners did not oppose such an arrangement, although their counterproposal, which JA drafted on the 22d, was more explicit about the restoration of the status quo ante bellum. However, they doubted Hartley’s power to conclude such an agreement. Thus later on the 21st, in a note signed by their secretary William Temple Franklin, the commissioners asked Hartley whether he was “sufficiently authorized to agree and subscribe to the Proposition you have made them this Evening, without further Instructions or Information from your Court.” The next morning Hartley told JA that after examining his instructions he thought it necessary to consult the authorities in London and would send a courier for that purpose on the 23d. In the same conversation, JA, reflecting also the views of his colleagues Benjamin Franklin and John Jay, emphasized that if Anglo-American trade was returned to its prewar status it would have to be so in all respects. JA meant that since American trade with Britain would be, as before the war, regulated by the Navigation Acts, there could be no subsequent modification of those acts to the detriment of the United States, as there had been with the Order in Council of 14 May. This was important because by returning to the prewar trading relationship and the application of the Navigation Acts to it, the United States was accepting a system “contrived solely for the Benefit of Great Britain.” This was particularly so regarding trade with the West Indies and the prohibition against American manufactures being exported to England (JA, D&A , 3:123–134; vol. 14:485–486).

Hartley’s letter of 14 June reveals that now he could not agree to the proposal he had made on 21 May. This is confirmed by the absence of any similar offer in his proposals to the commissioners of [19 June], below. The sticking point was the West Indies. Whatever Anglo-American relations might have been in the past, the United States was now a foreign country. To return Anglo-American trade to its prewar status required Britain to permit a foreign country to trade with the islands in contravention of both the letter and the spirit of the Navigation Acts. This explains Hartley’s comments dismissing the need for a perfect reciprocity and recognizing the impossibility of relaxing the Navigation Acts without a “full & solemn parliameny: enquiry”; but see also Henry Laurens’ comments about reciprocity and the delicacy of the Navigation Acts, after discussing the dispatches with Charles James Fox, in his letter to the commissioners, 17 June, below; and for Lord Sheffield’s assertion concerning the United States and the Navigation Acts in Parliament on 15 April, see Edmund Jenings’ letter of 3 June, and note 6, above.

In fact, Hartley’s letter and the lengthy memorial enclosed with it (see note 2) make clear the pointlessness of negotiations for either an Anglo-American commercial treaty or a definitive peace treaty including articles intended to regulate Anglo-American trade. Such negotiations since Hartley’s arrival in April made sense only if the sentiments behind the American Intercourse Bill continued to be those of the Fox-North coalition and Parliament. But on 9 April, Fox effectively killed the American Intercourse Bill by postponing its consideration for four weeks and on the 11th proposed the American Manifest Bill. As introduced the bill removed technical obstacles to trade, notably documentation for ships coming from American ports, but it soon was amended and in its final form contained an authorization for “his Majesty in council . . . to make such regulations, with respect to duties, drawbacks, or otherwise, for carrying on the trade and commerce between . . . Great Britain and . . . the . . . united states, as to his Majesty in council shall appear most expedient and salutary” (23 Geo. III, ch. 39). Initially to remain in effect until 20 Dec., this provision was continued by Parliament until 1797, at which time Jay’s Treaty was in effect (Harlow, Founding of the Second British Empire , 1:459–461). This meant that Parliament, beginning with the issuance of the Orders in Council of 14 May and 6 June (see note 4, below), ceded control of Anglo-American trade to the Privy Council and whatever ministry was in office and, so far as Britain was 34concerned, made a commercial treaty irrelevant. This outcome gave additional credence to JA’s concerns, expressed in numerous letters, over the inability of Congress and the states to formulate and execute a unified and effective policy to regulate trade between the United States and Great Britain. For more on the disparity between Hartley’s inclinations and his powers, see Descriptive List of Illustrations, No. 2, above.


In his lengthy memorial of 1 June (LbCTr, APM Reel 109), Hartley sought to counter the commissioners’ assertion that if an Anglo-American commercial agreement was not concluded and substantial restrictions were not placed on what could be imported into Britain in American ships, American trade would gravitate to nations that would allow such imports (JA, D&A , 3:127). He examined the possibilities for American trade with France, Spain, the Italian and Mediterranean states, the northern powers, and the Netherlands and found them all wanting. Only Great Britain, also a North American power and one with which the Americans shared a long history, offered the new nation the long-term economic and political advantages that it needed as it sought to make its way as a sovereign power. The inclusion of the memorial written in early June with Hartley’s letter of the 14th seems strange, however, because the memorial’s conclusions as to the likelihood or necessity of an Anglo-American agreement are more in tune with Hartley’s proposals in May than with what was possible after the dispatches arrived from London.


The greeting, dateline, and letter to this point are in JA’s hand. The remainder of the letter is in Charles Storer’s hand. The enclosed Hartley memorial is in John Thaxter’s hand.


For the text of the 14 May Order in Council, concerning the import of unmanufactured goods from the United States and the export of British manufactured goods to the United States, see JA, D&A , 3:129–130. For the Order of 6 June, which concerned the import of various American commodities, including tobacco, see Harlow, Founding of the Second British Empire , 1:472. For JA’s retrospective and very critical view of the Orders in Council and their effect on Anglo-American trade, which first appeared in the Boston Patriot of 4 Jan. 1811, see JA, D&A , 3:133–134.


For this bill, 23 Geo. 3, ch. 56, see Harlow, Founding of the Second British Empire , 1:472.


This is the memorial and accompanying observations that Hartley presented to the commissioners on 21 May 1783 and which are included in JA’s Diary under that date (JA, D&A , 3:123–124, 131–134). In the Hartley Papers they are dated 19 May (MiU-C).


See Miller, Treaties , 2:6. Hartley might also have referred to Art. 3 of the Dutch-American Treaty of Amity and Commerce, which also denied American ships access to the colonial trade, for which see vol. 13:351–352.

To Robert R. Livingston, 16 June 1783 Adams, John Livingston, Robert R.
To Robert R. Livingston
Sir, Paris June 16th. 1783.

Yesterday afternoon, the duplicate of your Letter of the 14th. of April No. 16. was brought in to me, with the Post-Mark “Brest” upon it.1 As soon as I had read it, I went out to Passy, in hopes that other Dispatches had arrived there, but I found none. While I was there, a Packet of News-Papers, addressed to us all, was brought in with the Post Mark of Brest on it. I still hope & believe that other Dispatches, by the same Conveyance, will appear in a few days, but whether they are still in the Post Office, or whether the Duc de Lauzun intends to bring them in Person, is uncertain.

I think, Sir, there is no room to doubt the Justice of your Opinion, that the Latitude of the Canaries is meant, and consequently 35 36that Hostilities ceased on the whole Coast of the United States on the third of March.

I am well aware, that a variety of questions may be started upon the Provisional Articles. The great Points of Sovereignty, Limits and Fisheries are sufficiently clear— But there are too many other things in much Obscurity. No one of us alone would ever have put his Hand to such a writing. Yet there is no one to blame.— It must be confessed it was done in haste, but that haste was inevitable.— The Peace depended absolutely upon the critical Moment, when that Treaty was signed. The Meeting of Parliament was so near, and the State of the Ministry so critical, that if that Opportunity had been lost, there would have been at least another Campaign. There were never less than three of us, and there were finally no less than three to be consulted on the other side. These Inaccuracies are much to be lamented, but they were quite unavoidable. We shall endeavor to explain them in the definitive Treaty, but I fear without Success.

I hope, Sir, you will excuse me, if I think your Expressions fall short of the real Merit of the Dutch. If they had accepted the Russian Mediation for a seperate Peace, we should have seen a very formidable difference. The vast weight of the Dutch in the East Indies, being added to that of France, has influenced the Minds of the Natives in such a manner, as to turn the Scale against England. The Cape of Good Hope was of vast Importance, was indespensible to France: and we are not yet informed, what proportion of the Expence of French Operations in the East is to be born by the Dutch East India Company, at whose Solicitations, by their Agents sent early to Versailles, they were undertaken. From twelve to fifteen British Ships of the Line, in the best Condition, with the best Officers and Men, have been kept almost constantly in the North Seas to watch the Dutch, a momentous Diversion, which made the Ballance more clear in favor of the Allies in the East & West Indies, as well as in the Channel— And it may be added with strict Truth the Battle of Doggers-Banks imprinted more Terror on the Imaginations of the British Navy and Nation, than all the other Sea Engagements of the War.2 Your Observations of their unfortunate Situation are, however, very just, and their Exertions have not been such as they might and ought to have been: But this was the fault of the Enemies of France in Holland, not of her Friends, and unhappily those Enemies are to be gratified by the Terms of Peace prescribed to that Power, and those Friends mortified— And this Misfortune probably arises from the Instructions in question, by which 37they made themselves of no Importance, instead of acting the Part of a sovereign, independent & respectable Power.3 If they had held their own Negociations in their own Hands, they would probably have obtained better Terms. I could mention many Facts and Anecdotes of much Importance; but these have been communicated to me in Confidence; and as this is a Discussion that concerns Us only indirectly, and as our Instructions were parallel to theirs, altho’ the Execution of them was different, and the Event different, I shall wave any further Observations upon the Subject.

We are happy to learn the Congress have ratified the Treaty imperfect as it is, and that each Side have released their Prisoners. Mr. Hartley communicated to us officially two day ago, that Orders were gone to New-York to evacuate the United States.4

Dr. Franklin has never made any use of the Bills for my Salary, and I have never recieved any part of them. I shall easily settle that matter when I get home, as your Letter encourages me to hope will be very soon. The Connections I have formed in Holland may be of use to the Public wherever I may be, in America or elsewhere, as well as even in that Country itself.— Those Connections will readily become those of any Minister Congress may send there. It cost me all my Happiness, and had very nearly cost me my Life to form them— It has cost me more— It has left me in an ill state of Health, which I shall never fully repair. I shall carry Holland in my Veins to my Grave. It will cost no Man any thing to go there now— His Mind will be at Ease, and he will have Spirits to take the Precautions necessary to preserve his Health. To me it has become physically necessary, as well as a moral and religious Duty, to join my Family. This can be done only by going to them, or bringing them to me, and to bring them to Holland is what I5 cannot think of, both because that on Account of my own Health as well as theirs, and on other Considerations I should not chuse to live among those putrid Lakes, but because I think I can do my Country more and better Service at home than there. I will not disguise another Motive which would be altogether unsurmountable, if it were alone. I do not think it consistent with the Honor of the United States, any more than with my own, for me to stay in Holland, after the Appointment of any other Minister whatsoever to a Mission upon which I came to Europe, and which has been taken from me, without assigning any Reasons.—6 Congress are the sovereign Judges for themselves and the Public of the Persons proper for all Services, excepting that every Citizen is a sovereign Judge for himself. I have never adopted the 38Principle, that it is a Citizen’s Duty to accept of any Trust that is pointed out to him, unless he approves it. On the contrary, I think it a Right and Duty, that no Law of Society can take away, for every Man to judge for himself whether he can serve consistently with his own Honor, and the Honor and Interest of the Public. When the Existence of our Country and her essential Interests were at stake, it was a Duty to run all Risques, to stifle every feeling, to sacrifice every Interest; and this Duty I have discharged with Patience and Perseverance, & with a Success that can be attributed only to Providence. But in time of Peace, the Public in less Danger abroad than at home, knowing I can do more good at home, I should do a very wrong thing to remove my Family to stay in Holland, merely for the sake of holding an honorable Commission, making and recieving Bows and Compliments, & eating splendid Suppers at Court.

There is one piece of Advice I beg leave to offer to the Minister, who may go to Holland, respecting a future Loan of Money— It is, to enquire whether the House of Hope would undertake a Loan for Us, either in Conjunction with the Houses who have the present one, or with any of them, or alone.— In my private Opinion, which ought to be kept as secret as possible, we might obtain a large Loan in that way, and that we cannot in any other. The People in that Interest have the Money. I am not personally known to that House, nor any one of them to me—but I know they are all powerful in Money Matters, & believe they would engage.

The happy turn given to the Discontents of the Army, by the General, is consistent with his Character, which as you observe is above all Praise, as every Character is whose Rule and Object is Duty, not Interest nor Glory, which I think has been strictly true of the General from the beginning, & I trust will continue to the End.7 May he long live, and enjoy his own Reflections, and the Confidence and Affections of a free, a virtuous and a grateful People.

With great Respect and Esteem, I have / the honor to be, / Sir, / your most obedient & / most humble Servant.

John Adams.8

RC in John Thaxter’s hand (PCC, No. 84, IV, f. 403–409); internal address: “Secretary Livingston.”; endorsed: “Letter 16 June 1783 / Mr J Adams / Read Oct 4. 1783”; notation: “Referred to Mr. S. Huntington / Mr. Lee / Mr. Duane” and “The Committee find nothing / in this Letter but what / is provided for by former / Reports—” LbC (Adams Papers); APM Reel 108.


Vol. 14:407–410. This letter is virtually a point-by-point reply to Livingston’s comments in that letter, but see also note 6.


For the 5 Aug. 1781 Battle of the Dogger Bank, see vol. 11:458–460, 464. JA’s comments here regarding the battle’s significance are similar to those that he made at the time. In fact, the encounter between squadrons 39commanded by Adm. Hyde Parker and Adm. Johan Arnold Zoutman was, like most eighteenth-century naval battles, indecisive.


For the Dutch peace instructions, which JA sent to Livingston in a letter of 18 Aug. 1782, see vol. 13:246–248. In particular JA is referring to the second instruction whereby the Dutch negotiators were to “act in a communicative manner, and in concert with the ministry of his sd. majesty [Louis XVI], and will make confidential Communications of all things with them.” JA was sensitive on this subject since he and his fellow peace commissioners chose to ignore a similar provision in their instructions.


See David Hartley’s 14 June 1783 letter to the commissioners, above.


At this point in his Letterbook, JA wrote and then canceled “am unalterably determined not to do.”


In his 14 April letter Livingston mentioned briefly, and with regret, JA’s resignation then pending before Congress because “the connections you have formed, and the experience you have acquired might render you particularly serviceable in Holland” (vol. 14:409). Certainly JA’s comments thereon reflected his desire to go home, but they also showed his unwillingness to continue as minister to the Netherlands, or even in the public service, should someone other than himself be appointed minister to Great Britain. For JA’s earlier comments regarding his entitlement to that position by virtue of his 1779 appointment to negotiate Anglo-American treaties of peace and commerce, see his 5 Feb. letter to the president of Congress, notes 6 and 8, and references there, vol. 14:238–245. But JA had a change of heart when he learned of Congress’ plan to commission himself, Benjamin Franklin, and John Jay to negotiate a commercial treaty with Great Britain, for which see the president of Congress to the commissioners, 16 June, and JA’s first letter to the president of Congress, 8 Sept., both below.


This is a reference to the Newburgh Addresses of 10 and 12 March and George Washington’s 15 March address in response. Washington managed to head off a movement among officers of the army to confront Congress over its failure to provide adequate financial support or to implement promised half-pay pensions. Livingston mentioned the incident in his 14 April letter and may have included an enclosure containing Washington’s address (vol. 14:409, 410).


In JA’s hand.