Papers of John Adams, volume 15

The President of Congress to the American Peace Commissioners, 16 June 1783 President of Congress Boudinot, Elias American Peace Commissioners
The President of Congress to the American Peace Commissioners
Gentn., Philadelphia, June 16. 1783.

I am sorry to inform you, that by the Resignation of Mr. Livingston, as minister for foreign affairs, it has become necessary, that you should receive the Resolutions of Congress relative to your Mission, through my Hands.1 The Disadvantage arising from this Necessity, untill a Successor to that worthy Gentleman is appointed, will be yours, as it is impossible for me to do more than barely to transmit the Acts of Congress, necessary for your Information.

Enclosed you have one of the 1st. May last,2 & another of the 12th. Instant, which I hope will get safe to hand, time enough for your Government.3 The Commission & Instructions referred to in the first, not being ready, it was thought best to forward the Resolution without Delay, that you might know what was intended in the present important Period of your Negotiation.— We have been much 40surprized that we have not received any Communications from you, since the Cessation of Hostilities, except a Letter of the 5. April from M. Laurens.4

I have the honor to be with the most perfect Consideration & Esteem. / Gentlemen, / Your &c.

(signed) Elias Boudinot.

LbC-Tr in Jean L’Air de Lamotte’s hand (Adams Papers); APM Reel 103.


Robert R. Livingston resigned in Dec. 1782 but continued in office until he left Philadelphia in early June 1783. Congress appointed John Jay as his successor on 7 May 1784 (vol. 14:246).


This resolution stemmed directly from JA’s 5 Feb. 1783 letter to the president of Congress. It authorized JA, Benjamin Franklin, and John Jay to negotiate an Anglo-American commercial treaty and, as the following paragraph indicates, ordered a commission and instructions to be prepared. Congress, however, never implemented its resolution and no commission or instructions were ever sent (vol. 14:238–245). For JA’s reaction to the arrival of the 1 May resolution, which changed his entire attitude toward remaining in Europe, see his first 8 Sept. letter to the president of Congress, below.


The resolution of 12 June revoked the power given to American ministers in Europe to accede to the Armed Neutrality. It also indicated Congress’ determination that if the definitive treaty included a provision regarding neutral rights, the United States should not be required to “support those stipulations by arms.” For the origins of the resolution in a number of letters sent to Congress by C. W. F. Dumas and for an inference by Robert R. Livingston as to the commissioners’ intentions, see Livingston’s 31 May letter to the commissioners, and note 2, vol. 14:512–514. For the commissioners’ reaction to Livingston’s and Congress’ rationale for the resolution, see their 10 Sept. letter to the president of Congress; and for the implementation of the resolution, see Congress’ instructions of 29 Oct., both below.


For Henry Laurens’ letter, which largely concerned the demise of the American Intercourse Bill and Parliament’s growing sentiment in favor of restrictions on Anglo-American trade, see Laurens, Papers , 16:174–179.

Henry Laurens to the American Peace Commissioners, 17 June 1783 Laurens, Henry American Peace Commissioners
Henry Laurens to the American Peace Commissioners
Gentlemen, London 17th. June 1783—

I had the honor of addressing you the 10th. immediately after my landing at Dover—1 As early as possible after my arrival here I obtained an Interview with Mr. Secretary Fox, who was pleased to read to me part of his latest Dispatches to Mr. Hartley which he supposed would reach Paris on the 14th. tis probable therefore that before this time, as much of the Contents as is proper for your Knowledge, has been communicated.2

“Reciprocity” since the 100th of April has undergone a certain Degree of Refinement; the definition of that term appears now to be, Possession of advantages on one side, and Restrictions on the other.3 “The Navigation Act is the vital of Great Britain, too delicate to bear a touch—” the sudden and unexpected, perhaps illicit arrival 41of Ships and Cargoes from America may have caused this change of Tone. But you have heard in detail & are more competent to Judge.

From a desire of forming an opinion I asked Mr. Fox whether he thought, I might venture for a few days to take the benefit of Bath, and yet be time enough at Paris for the intended commercial Agreement? he replied, “I rather think you may.” One need not be a Conjurer to draw an inference— You will either have finished the Business before I could travel to Paris; or without being missed there, I may go to Bath and repair my nerves.

In this state of uncertainty, when ’tis easy to percieve affections are not as We could wish them, nor quite so warm as We had been taught to believe, it would not be wise to commit the United States, wherefore I shall rest the Business till I hear from you, or until a more favorable prospect, flattering myself with hopes of your surmounting the late seeming Difficulties; an inconvenience on your side is preferable to the hazard of a disgrace.

I am with great Regard and Respect, / Gentlemen, / Your most obedient, and / most humble servant,

Henry Laurens,

RC (Adams Papers); internal address: “Their Excellencies. / The Ministers Plenepotentiary / from the United States of America / at / Paris.” LbC-Tr (Adams Papers); APM Reel 103.


In addition to announcing his arrival in England at four o’clock in the morning, Laurens’ letter of 10 June enclosed a copy of the 6 June “Proclamation”—Order in Council— permitting trade between the West Indies and the United States, but only in selected commodities and British ships (LbC-Tr, APM Reel 103).


For the substance of the dispatches David Hartley received from London, see his letter to the commissioners of 14 June, above.


Laurens’ reference to 10 April is probably to his conversations with Charles James Fox on that day and on 4 April, described in letters to Robert R. Livingston of 5 and 10 April (Laurens, Papers , 16:174–179, 182–184). In those conferences, which Laurens would have discussed with his colleagues in Paris, Fox seemed committed to forging an amicable agreement with the United States over trade, his views according with the original intent of the American Intercourse Bill—even in its then much-amended form. By June, with sentiment in Parliament favoring more restrictive measures, Fox was far less amenable to a settlement favorable to the United States.