Papers of John Adams, volume 15

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.

To Robert R. Livingston, 18 July 1783 Adams, John Livingston, Robert R.
To Robert R. Livingston
Sir, Paris. 18th. July. 1783.—1

There is cause to be solicitous about the State of things in England. The present Ministry swerve more & more from the true System for the prosperity of their Country & ours. Mr: Hartley, whose Sentiments are at bottom just, is probably kept here, (if he was not sent at first) merely to amuse us, & to keep him out of the way of embarrassing the Coalition, in Parliament

We need not fear that France & England will make a common Cause against us, even in relation to the Carrying-Trade to & from the West-Indies: altho’ they may mutually inspire into each other false notions of their Interests at times, yet there can never be a Concert of operation between them. Mutual emnity is bred in the blood & bones of both—and Rivals & Enemies at heart they eternally will be— In order to induce both to allow us our natural right to the carrying Trade, we must negotiate with the Dutch, Danes, Portuguese, & even with the Empires; for the more friends & resources we have, the more we shall be respected by the French & 138English—and the more freedom of trade we enjoy with the Dutch possessions in America, the more will France & England find themselves necessitated to allow us—

The present Ministers in England have very bad advisers; the Refugees & Emissaries of various other Sorts—and we have nobody to watch, to counteract, to correct, or prevent any thing—

The U: States will soon see the necessity of uniting in measures to conteract their Enemies, & even their friends. What powers Congress shd. have for governing the Trade of the whole—for making or recommending prohibitions or Imposts, deserves the serious Consideration of every man [in] America. If a constitutional, legislative Authority cannot be given them, a sense of common danger & necessity should give to their recommendations all the energy upon the minds of the people, which they had 6. years ago—

If the union of the States is not preserved, & even their unity in many great points, instead of being the happiest people under the Sun, I don’t know but we may be the most miserable. We shall find our foreign Affairs the most difficult to manage of any of our Interests— We shall see—feel them disturbed by invisible agents & Causes, by secret Intrigues, by dark & misterious insinuations, by concealed Corruptions of a thousand sorts, Hypocrisy & Simulation will assume a million shapes,—we shall feel the evil, without being able to prove the Cause— Those, whose penetrations reach the true Source of the evil will be called suspicious, envious, disappointed, ambitions: In short, if there is not an authority sufficiently decisive to draw together the minds, affections, & forces of the States in their common foreign Concerns, it appears to me we shall be the sport of trans-atlantic Politicians, of all denominations, who hate liberty in every shape, & every man who loves it, & every Country that enjoys it. If there is no common Authority, nor any common Sense to secure a revenue for the discharge of our engagements abroad for money, what is to become of our honor, our justice, our faith, our Credit, our universal, moral, political & commercial Character? If there is no common power to fulfill engagements with our Citizens, to pay our Soldiers & other Creditors, can we have any moral Character at home? Our Country will become the Region of everlasting discontents, reproaches & animosities, and, instead of finding our Independence a blessing, we shall soon become Cappadocians enough to wish it done away—2

I may be tho’t gloomy; but this ought not to discourage me from 139laying before Congress my apprehensions.— The dependence, of those who have designs upon us, upon our want of affection to each other, & of authority over one another, is so great, that, in my opinion, if the U: S: do not soon shew to the world a proof that they can command a common revenue, to satisfy their Creditors at home & abroad—that they can act as one people, as one nation, as one man in their transactions with foreign nations, we shall be soon so far despised, that it will be but a few years, perhaps but a few mths: before we are involved in another war— What can I say in Holland, if a doubt is started, whether we can repay the money we wish to borrow. I must assure them in a tone, that shall exclude all doubt that the money will be repaid. Am I to be hereafter reproached with deceiving the Moneylenders? I cannot believe there is a man in America who wd. not disdain the supposition, & therefore I shall not scruple to give the strongest assurances in my power: But, if there is a doubt in Congress, they ought to recall their Borrowers of money.—

I shall set off tomorrow for Holland, in hopes of improving my health, at the same time that I shall endeavor to assist the loan & to turn the Speculations of the Dutch Merchts:, Capitalists & Statesmen towards America. It is of vast importance that the Dutch shd. form just ideas of their Interests, respectg: their Communication between us & their Islands & other Colonies in America. I beg that no time may be lost in commencing Conferences, with Mr: Van Berkel upon this Subject as well as that of money—but this shd. not be communicated to the French or English; because, we may depend upon it, both will endeavor to persuade the Dutch to adopt the same plan with themselves. There are jealousies, on both sides the Pas of Calais,3 of our Connections & Negotiations with the Dutch: But while we avoid, as much as we can, to enflame this jealousy, we must have Sense, firmness & Independance enough not to be intimidated by it from availing ourselves of advantages that Providence has placed in our power. There ever have been & ever will be, suspicions of every honest, active & intelligent American, & there will be, as there has been, insidious attempts to destroy, or lessen your Confidence in every such Character. But if our Country does not support her own Interests & her own Servants they will assuredly fall. Persons, who study to preserve or obtain the Confidence of America by the favor of European Statesmen or Courts, must betray their Country to preserve their places.—


For my own part, I wish Mr: Jay & myself almost any where else but here. There is scarce any other place, where we might not do some good. Here we are in a state of annihilation—

I have the honor to be, Sir, / Your humle: servt.

John Adams.4

RC in Charles Storer’s hand (PCC, No. 84, V, f. 13–16); internal address: “Robert. R. Livingston Esqr:.LbC (Adams Papers); APM Reel 108.


This letter was among those from JA that Congress received on 12 Sept. (PCC, No. 185, III, f. 78–80). It was copied by at least two delegations, Pennsylvania and Connecticut, and sent to their respective governors (Smith, Letters of Delegates , 21:14, 33–35).

It is also JA’s last letter from Paris until that of 10 Aug., after his return from the Netherlands. At the bottom of the Letterbook copy is the notation “See the Holland Letter Book Vol. 3,” for which see APM Reel 106. This is one of the Letterbooks that JA left at the U.S. legation at The Hague when he went to Paris in Oct. 1782 and the one in which he entered his letter of 23 July, below, his first following his return there the previous day.


When in the first century B.C. the Romans conceded to them the right to live under their own laws, the Cappadocians, declaring themselves unable to bear the freedom, asked to be excused from it and to have a king appointed for them (Strabo, Geography, Book XII, ch. ii, sect. 11).


That is, the Pas de Calais, the French name for the Strait of Dover, the narrowest part of the English Channel.


In JA’s hand.