Papers of John Adams, volume 15

To Robert R. Livingston, 13 August 1783 Adams, John Livingston, Robert R.
To Robert R. Livingston
Sir Paris August 13 1783.

Yesterday, I went to Court with Dr: Franklin, and presented to the Comte de Vergennes, our Project of a definitive Treaty, who told us he would examine it, and give us his sentiments upon it. It was 221Ambassadors day, and I had Conversation with a Number of Ministers, of which it is proper I should give you an Account.

The Dutch Ambassador Berkenrode, told me, that last Saturday the Comte de Vergennes, went to Paris, and dined with the Imperial Ambassador the Comte de Merci in Company with the Duke of Manchester, the Comte d’Aranda, the Prince Baratinskoy and Mr: Markoff, with their Secretaries. That after Dinner the Secretaries, in the Presence of all the Ministers, read over, compared & corrected the Definitive Treaties between France, and Great Britain; and between Spain and Great-Britain, and finally agreed upon both. So that they are now ready for Signature, by the Ministers of Great-Britain, France and Spain as Principals and by those of the two Imperial Courts, as Mediators.

The Duke of Manchester told me, that Mr: Hartley’s Courier who carried our Project of a Treaty, arrived in London last Saturday, and might be expected here, on next Saturday, on his return.

In the Evening, on my Return from Versailles, Mr: Hartley called upon me, at my house, and informed me, that he had just Receiv’d a Courier from Westminster, who had brought him the Ratification, of our Provisional Treaty under the Kings own hand and under the Great Seal of the Kingdom inclosed in a Silver Box, ornamented with golden Tossells, as usual, which he was ready to exchange to morrow morning. He informed me farther that he had receiv’d very satisfactory Letters from the Duke of Portland; and Mr: Fox, and the strongest assurances that the dispositions of his Court were very good to finish immediately, and to arrange all things upon the best Footing. That he had farther receiv’d, plenary, Authority to sign the Definitive Treaty, to morrow, or to Night if we pleased. that he had receiv’d a Draught, already formed, which he would shew us. We agreed, to go together to morrow Morning, to my Colleagues, and this morning we went out in Mr: Hartley’s Carriage, exchanged the Ratifications, and he produced to us, his Project of a definitive Treaty. It is the Provisional Treaty, in so many Words, without Addition or Diminution. it is only preceded with a preamble, which makes it a definitive Treaty. And he proposed to us, that all Matters of Discussion respecting Commerce, or other Things should be left to be discussed by Ministers to be mutually appointed to reside in London & Philadelphia. We told him that it had been proposed to us that the Ministers of the two Imperial Courts, should sign the Treaty as Mediators, and that we had answered, that we had no Objection to it. He said he had unanswerable ones. first, he had no 222Authority and could not obtain any, certainly under 10. days, nor probably ever. for, 2. it would he thought give great Offence to his Court, and they never would agree to it, that any Nation should interfere between them and America. 3. for his Part he was fully against it and should write his opinion to his Court. if he was about to marry his Daughter, or set up a Son in the World, after he was of age, he would never admit any of his Neighbours to intervene, and sign any Contract he might make, as Mediators. There was no need of it.

We told him there was no need of warmth upon the Occasion, or any pretence for his Court to take Offence. That it had been proposed to us that the Imperial Ministers should sign as Mediators. our answer had been that we had no Objection: that we were willing and ready to consent to it or even to request it. His Court had a right to Consent or Dissent as it thought proper. To be sure, the Mediation could not take place without their Consent. That he might write to his Court the proposition and if he receiv’d orders to Consent or Dissent, it would be equally well in the meantime we were ready to sign the definitive Treaty, either with, or without the Mediation. whenever the other Parties were ready to sign, according to his Project just receiv’d from his Court, that is simply a repetition of the definitive Treaty.

We have agreed to this because it is plain, that all Propositions for alterations in the provisional Articles will be an endless discussion, and that we must give more than we can hope to receive. The critical state of Things in England and at the Court of Versailles, and in all the rest of Europe, are pressing Motives to get this Business finished.

Mr: Hartley told us from his Court, that they had expected an American Minister at St: James’s these three Months, and that all further Matters might be there discussed. He also announced to us the Birth of another Princess, the fifteenth Child of the Queen, upon which Event he receiv’d our Congratulations which I hope Congress will approve, and repeat by their Minister in London, for these Personal and family Compliments, are more attended to in Courts and have greater effects than may be imagined.

I lament very much that we cannot obtain an Explanation, of the Article respecting the Refugees, and that respecting Debts: but it is plain we must give more than they are worth for such Explanations: And what is of more decisive Importance, we must make a long 223Delay and put infinitely greater Things at Hazard by this Means, even to purchase an Alteration at a dear Rate.

With great Regard, I have the Honour to be, / Sir, your most obedient and most humble / Servant

John Adams1

RC in JQA’s hand (PCC, No. 84, V, f. 149–152); internal address: “R. R. Livingstone Esqr: / Secretary of foreign Affairs.” LbC (Adams Papers); APM Reel 108.


Closing and signature in JA’s hand.

To Robert R. Livingston, 13 August 1783 Adams, John Livingston, Robert R.
To Robert R. Livingston
Sir. Paris August 13. 1783.

Yesterday at Versailles the Baron de Waltersdorff came to me and told me, he had delivered to Mr: Franklin, a Project of a Treaty between the Court of Denmark, and the United States, and asked me, if Mr: Franklin had shewn it to me? I answered him, that I knew nothing of it.—1 He said he wondered at that, he presumed it was because of my Absence at the Hague, for that it had been shewn to Mr: Jay. Here, by the way he was misinformed, for upon my return from Versailles I called upon Mr: Jay, on Purpose to ask him, and he assured me he had not seen it. I asked Waltersdorff, if his orders were, to propose his Project to us all. He said, no. His Court had been informed that Mr: Franklin was the Minister, authorized and empowered by Congress, to treat with all the Powers of Europe, and that they had, for this Reason sent him orders to deliver the Project to Mr: Franklin but he supposed Mr: Franklin would consult his colleagues.

The same Information I doubt not, has been given to the Court of Portugal, & every other Court in Europe viz: that Dr: Franklin is alone empowered to treat with them, and in Consequence of it, very probably Propositions have been or will be made to him, from all of them, and he will keep the whole as secret as he can from Mr: Jay, Mr: Laurens, Mr: Dana and me. Now I beg to be informed by Congress whether he has such Authority or not? having never been informed of such Powers, I dont believe he has them— I remember there was Seven Years ago, a Resolution of Congress that their Commissioners at Versailles should have Power to treat with the other Powers of Europe, but upon the Dissolution of that Commission, this Authority was dissolved with it or if not, it still resides with Mr: Deane, Mr: Lee and myself, who were once in that 224Commission as well as Mr: Franklin and if it is by Virtue of this Power he acts, he ought at least to communicate with me, who alone am present.2 I think however, that neither he nor I, have any legal Authority, and therefore, that he ought to communicate every Thing of this Kind to all the Ministers here, or hereabouts, Mr: Jay, Mr: Laurens, and myself at least. It is not from the vain wish of seeing my poor name upon a Treaty that I write this. if the Business is well done, it is not of much Importance in itself who does it. But my Duty to my Country obliges me to say that I seriously believe, this clandestine manner of smuggling Treaties, is contrived by European Politicians, on Purpose, that Mr: Jay and I may not have an opportunity of suggesting Ideas for the preservation of american Navigation, Transport Trade and Nurseries of Seamen. But in another Point of View it is of equal importance. This Method reflects contempt and ridicule upon your other Ministers. When all Europe sees, that a Number of your Ministers are kept here as a kind of Satellites to Mr: Franklin in the affair of Peace, but that they are not to be consulted or asked a Question, or even permitted to know the important Negotiations which are here going on with all Europe, they fall into Contempt.3 It cannot be supposed that Congress mean to cast this Contempt upon us, because it cannot be supposed they mean to destroy, the Reputation Character, Influence and Usefullness of those, to whom in other Respects they intrust Powers of so much Consequence and therefore I am perswaded that Congress is as much imposed upon by it, as the Courts of Europe are.

I asked the Baron what was the Substance of the Treaty. He said his Court had taken for Model my Treaty with Holland. I said nothing to him in answer to this but I beg Leave to say to Congress that the Negotiation with Holland, was in very different Circumstances. We were then in the fiercest Rage of the war. a Treaty with that Republick was at that Time of as much Weight in the War as the Captivity of Burgoyne or Cornwallis. A Treaty with any Power was worth a Battle or a Siege. and no moments of Time were to be lost. Especially in a Country so divided that, Unanimity being necessary, every Proposition was dangerous. At present the Case is altered, and we may take time to weigh and inquire. The Baron tells me, that St Thomas and St: John, two of their Islands, are free Ports but that Ste: Croix which is of more importance than both is not. That foreign Vessells, our Vessells are permitted to bring our Produce and carry away half the value in Sugar &c. The Island produces communibus Annis4 Twenty Thousand Hogsheads of Sugar, and their 225Melasses is better than that of the French, because they make only “Sucres brutes.”5 He says they have some Sugar Houses at Copenhagen. But notwithstanding this; I think it is worth while for Congress to try, if they cannot by the Treaty obtain a Right to take away Cargoes to the full value of those they bring. it is worth while to try too, if we cannot obtain a Tariff to ascertain the Duties to be paid on exportation and Importation. it is worth while too to get the Duties ascertained in the Danish Ports in Europe, at least that we may not pay in their Ports more than they pay in ours. or that our Vessells may not be obliged to pay more than theirs especially when we import our own produce. I pretend not to be a Master of these Commercial Subjects, but I think that Dr: Franklin has not studied the Subject more then myself, that both of us want the Advice of Mr: Laurens and Mr: Jay, and that all of us want that of American Merchants, and especially of Congress. I am therefore against this Secret and hasty Method of concluding Treaties at this Time, when they may be more maturely reflected on.

I know very well to what ill-natured Remarks these Reflections are Liable, but they shall not hinder me, from doing my duty. I do seriously believe there are Clandestine insinuations going about to every commercial Nation in the World, to excite them, to increase their own Navigation and Seamen at the Expence of ours, and that this smuggling of Treaties is one Means of accomplishing the Design. altho Mr: Franklin may not be let into the secret of it. for from long Experience and Observation I am perswaded that one Minister at least and his Dependents, would prefer that the Navigation of any Nation in the World, even that of the English should grow rather than ours. In the last Courier de L’Europe6 it is said that all the Commercial Powers are concerting Measures to clip the Wings of the Eagle, and to prevent us from having a Navy.7 I believe it. that is to say, I believe, Measures are taken with them all, to bring them into this System, altho’ they are not let into the secret Designs, and do not know from whom the Measures come, nor with what Views promoted.

With great Regard I have the Honour to be / Sir, your most Obedient and most humble / Servant

John Adams8

RC in JQA’s hand (PCC, No. 84, V, f. 157–160); internal address: “R. R. Livingstone Esqr: / Secretary of foreign Affairs.” LbC (Adams Papers); APM Reel 106.


Ernst Frederik von Walterstorff, chamberlain to the king of Denmark, was currently on a visit to France. He approached Benjamin Franklin about a Danish-American commercial treaty in April and presented Franklin with a draft treaty on 4 June. The 226draft, with some alterations, was enclosed with Franklin’s 22 July letter to Robert R. Livingston (Franklin, Papers , 39:462, 467–468; Franklin to Walterstorff, 7 June, DLC: Franklin Papers; Wharton, Dipl. Corr. Amer. Rev. , 6:586–587).


On 16 Oct. 1776 Congress issued additional instructions to the three American commissioners at Paris—originally Benjamin Franklin, Silas Deane, and Arthur Lee, but later Franklin, Lee, and JA—to negotiate treaties with other European nations represented at the French court ( JCC , 6:884). When Congress appointed Franklin the American minister to France, it did not formally terminate the joint commission or rescind its authority to negotiate treaties with nations to which Congress had not sent its agents. For more on the issue and JA’s concerns, see vol. 11:118,120–121.


At this point in the Letterbook there is a heavily canceled passage that begins “if Congress means to cast this Contempt upon Us” and ends “on by it, as the Courts of Europe.” Both phrases, with minor variations, appear in the following sentence, but the unreadable portion of the canceled text between those phrases in the Letterbook is much shorter than the text between the similar phrases in the recipient’s copy.


That is, on a yearly average.


Raw sugar.


JA gives the substance of the passage appearing in the Courier de l’Europe of 5 August.


At this point in the Letterbook JA inserted but then canceled his closing and added the remainder of this paragraph.


Closing and signature in JA’s hand.