Papers of John Adams, volume 15

To Robert R. Livingston, 17 July 1783 Adams, John Livingston, Robert R.
To Robert R. Livingston
Sir, Paris July 17th. 1783.1

Last evening Mr. Hartley spent two hours with me, and appeared much chagrined at the Proclamation, which had never been communicated to him by his Principals.2 He has too much contempt of the commercial abilities of the French—and consequently said that the French could derive but little benefit from this step of his Court, but thought the Dutch would make a great advantage by it. I endeavoured to discover from him, whether he suspected that his Court had any hand in stirring up the two Imperial Courts to make War upon the Turks. I asked him, what was the state of their Mediterranean Trade & Levant Trade? He said it was dead, and that their Turkey Company was dead, and therefore he did not think his Court cared much about either, or would ever do any thing to prevent the Empires. He thought it possible, that they might rather encourage them.

I am quite of Mr. Hartleys Mind, that the Dutch will profit of all English Blunders, in regulating the West India Trade, and am happy that Mr. Van Berckel will be soon with Congress, when its Members & Ministers may communicate thro’ him any thing they wish to 132their High Mightinesses. They may enquire of him, what are the Rights of the East and West India Companies? To what an extent our Vessels may be admitted to Surrinam, Curacao, Demerary, Essequibo, Berbice, St. Eustatia? What we may he allowed to carry there? And what we may bring from thence to the United States, or to Europe? Whether we may carry Sugars &ca. to Amsterdam, Rotterdam &ca. There are at Rotterdam and Amsterdam one hundred and twenty seven or eight Refineries of Sugar. How far these may be affected &ca.

I lay it down for a rule, that the Nation, which shall allow us the most perfect liberty to trade with her Colonies, whether it be France, England, Spain or Holland will see her Colonies flourish above all others, and will draw proportionably our Trade to themselves— And I rely upon it the Dutch will have sagacity to see it, and as they are more attentive to mercantile profit than to a military Marine, I have great hopes from their friendship. As there will be an Interval before the signature of the definitive Treaty, I propose a Journey of three weeks to Amsterdam and the Hague, in hopes of learning in more detail the intentions of the Dutch in this respect. I am in hopes too of encouraging the Loan, to assist our Superintendant of Finances. The Dutch may be a great resource to us in Finance and Commerce. I wish that Cargoes of Produce may be hastened to Amsterdam to Messs. Willinks and Co.; for this will give vigour to the Loan— And all the Money we can prevent England and the two Empires from obtaining in Holland, will not only be Nerves for us, but perhaps be useful too to France in her Negotiations.

I have spent the whole forenoon in conversation with the Duke de la Vauguyon. He thinks that England wishes to revive her Trade to the Levant, to Smyrna, Aleppo &ca., & her Carrying Trade in Italy: And altho’ She might be pleased to see France involved in War with the Emperor and Empress, yet he thinks her Funds are not in a condition to afford Subsidies to either, and therefore that She will be perfectly neutral. Quere, however, whether, if by a Subsidy or a Loan of a Million or two a year She could make France spend eight or ten Millions, She would not strive hard to do it? The Duke thinks France will proceed softly—endeavor, if possible, to avert the furious Storm that threatens, and to compose the disputes of the three Empires, if possible— But she will never suffer such an usurpation as the conquest of the Turkish Provinces in Europe. France will certainly defend Constantinople. He thinks that the Empress of Russia 133has not revenues, & cannot get Cash to march & subsist vast Armies, and to transport great fleets, and that the Emperor has not revenues neither to support a long War.

This is however a serious business, and France lays it so much to heart, and looks upon the chance of her being obliged to arm so probable, that I presume this to be the principal Motive of her refusal to lend Us two or three Millions of Livres more.

As to our West India Questions, the Duke assures me, that the French Ministry, particularly the Comte de Vergennes, are determined to do every thing they can consistent with their own essential interests, to favor and promote the Friendship and Commerce between their Countries & ours— That they, especially the Comte, are declared Enemies of the French fiscal System, which is certainly the most ruinous to their Commerce, and intend to do every thing they can to make alterations to favor Commerce— But no Change can be made in this, without affecting their Revenues, and making Voids, Failures and Deficiencies, which they cannot fill up. They must therefore proceed softly— That France would favor the Commerce between Portugal and America, because it would tend to draw off that Kingdom from her Dependence on England— That England, by her commercial Treaty with the Portuguese in 1703, have turned them into an English Colony, made them entirely dependent, and secured a Commerce with them of three Millions Value. France would be glad to see this, or as much of it as possible, turned to America.

The Duke agrees fully with me in the Maxim, that those Colonies will grow the most in wealth, Improvements, Population and every sort of Prosperity, which are allowed the freest communication with us, and that we shall be allowed to carry Lumber, Fish, and live-Stock to their Islands, but that the Exports of their Sugars to us he thinks must be in their own Ships, because they are afraid of our becoming the Carriers of all their Commerce—because they know & say, that we can do it cheaper then they. These Sentiments are different from those, which he mentioned to me a few days ago, when he said, the West Indian Trade with us must be carried on in French Bottoms.

The Duke said, the English had been trying to decieve us, but were now developing their true Sentiments. They pretended for a while to abolish the Navigation Act, and all distinctions, to make one People with us again—to be friends, brothers &ca, in hopes of 134drawing us off from France, but not finding Success, they were now shewing their true plan. As to the pretended System of Shelburne, of an universal free Commerce, altho’ he thought it would be for the good of Mankind in general, yet for an English Minister it was the plan of a Madman, for it would be the ruin of that Nation. He did not think Shelburne was sincere in it— He only meant an Illusion to Us— Here I differ from the Duke, & believe that the late Ministry were very sincere towards us, and would have made a Treaty with us, at least to revive the universal Trade between us upon a liberal plan. This Doctrine of ruin, from that plan, to the English, has been so much preached of late in England by the French, and by American Refugees, who aim at establishments in Canada & Nova Scotia, & by the old Butean Administration, and their Partisans, that I dont know whether any Ministry could now support a generous Plan. But if Temple, Thurlow, Shelburne, Pitt &ca should come in, I should not despair of it. It is true the Shelburne Administration did encourage the Ideas of cordial perfect friendship, of entire reconciliation of affections, of making no distinctions between their People and ours, especially between the Inhabitants of Canada & Nova Scotia & us, & this with the professed purpose of destroying all Seeds of War between Us. These Sentiments were freely uttered by Fitzherbert, Oswald, Whiteford, Vaughan, and all who had the confidence of that ministry, & in these Sentiments they were, I believe, very sincere— And they are indeed the only means of preventing a future War between us & them; and so sure as they depart from that plan, so sure, in less than fifteen years, perhaps less than seven, there will break out another War. Quarrels will arise among Fishermen, between Inhabitants of Canada & Nova Scotia & us, & between their People & ours in the West Indies, in our Ports, and in the Ports of the three Kingdoms, which will breed a War, in spight of all we can do to prevent it. France sees this & rejoices in it, & I know not whether we ought to be sorry— Yet I think we ought to make it a Maxim to avoid all Wars, if possible, and to take Care that it is not our fault, if we cannot. We ought to do every thing, which the English will concur in, to remove all Causes of Jealousies, & kill all the Seeds of Hostility, as effectually as we can, and to be upon our guard, to prevent the French, Spaniards and Dutch from sowing the Seeds of War between Us, for we may rely upon it, they will all do it, if they can.

I have the honor to be, with great / Respect, / Sir, / your most obedient & / most humble Servant

John Adams.3

RC in John Thaxter’s hand (PCC, No. 84, V, f. 7–12); internal address: “Honble. R. R. Livingston Esqr / Secretary of foreign Affairs.” LbC (Adams Papers); APM Reel 108.


In the Letterbook is the notation by John Thaxter: “Delivered Capt. Barney at Havre de Grace by J. Thaxter.”


Presumably the Order in Council of 2 July, for which see JA’s second 14 July letter to Livingston, above.


In JA’s hand.

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.