Papers of John Adams, volume 15

From Arthur Lee, 14 January [1784] Lee, Arthur Adams, John
From Arthur Lee
Dear Sir. In Congress Jany. 14th. 1783 [1784]

The Ratification having this day, the first on which nine States were represented, been unanimously passed; a special Messenger will be immediately dispatchd with it which gives me an opportunity of writing a few words to you which may arrive speedily & safely.

The department of foreing Affairs being not yet filld, the business is of course in disorder & neglected. The arrangement of that department, & the appointment of a Minister to England, will soon be taken up. I cannot say who will be chosen Secretary for foreign Affairs; but I think you stand fairest for the Embassy to the Court of St. James.1 Dr. F. has desird leave to resign unless his grandson is appointed Minister to some Court. Neither of these things has been yet noticd. The latter I beleive will hardly be agreed to.2 The resignation many desire to accept, & if it can be carried Mr. Jay’s merit, will probably place him in the old man’s place. We are sensible that to the firmness & integrity of yourself & of the former Gentleman, we owe the peace, the good conditions, & our escape from the snares of an artful friend. Snares infinitly more dangerous to the Independence, honor & happiness of the U. S. than the arms of the most powerful Enemy can ever be.


Powers to you Mr Jay & Dr. F. (provided he remains) will be sent, I beleive, soon, constituting you joint negociators of treaties with such Nations as may propose to be so connected with us. The present Express goes so instantaneously that it cannot as I wishd be done in time for him.

The 5 Pr Ct. Impost gains ground but Connecticut & Rhode Island seem very little disposd to it as yet. The Commutation or halfpay to the Army is strongly remonstrated against by the former. Virginia has passed an Act for ceding all the ultramontane Country, northwest of the Ohio, to the U. S.3 This is the fund on which I rely for the payment of our public debt, & supporting the future expence of the Union. The finest & most fertile Country in the world, if properly managd will be a source of wealth to the U. S. superior to that of any Power upon Earth. The Officers of our late Army, have constituted themselves a perpetual Body under the title of Cincinnati. Genl. Washington is at their head. It gives alarm to the People, & this seems to increase. To one of your discernment it is unnecessary to say what may probably be the consequences of such an Association. It is conjecturd that the french are at the bottom of it. What intentions some may have in it, I will not conjecture; but very manifestly it may be productive of Monar[chy] in this Country.

If you think it will be acceptable to Mr. Jay, I shoud wish you to make my respects to him. His conduct abroad has given me the highest opinion of his abilities & virtue.

Col. Harmar (who is sent with the Ratification) is a gentleman of very approvd integrity, & on whom you may rely shoud you want a person of such a character.



P.S. Mr. Dana arrivd at Boston from Petersbourg a few weeks since

P.S. I presume you have heard that Dr. F. has written to Congress against you. His enmity you cannot be a stranger to, & you will be inducd to dispise this effort of it, when I assure you it, has no manner of effect. It is however justice due to him to say that he allows you to be sensible & honest.4

RC (Adams Papers); endorsed: “Mr Lee 14. Jan. 1784 / ansd 6 April. / recd / Arthur Lee.” Filmed at 14 Jan. 1783. Some loss of text where the seal was removed.


Congress appointed John Jay secretary for foreign affairs on 7 May but did not appoint JA minister to Great Britain until 24 Feb. 1785 ( JCC , 26:355; 28:98).


Benjamin Franklin offered his resignation several times, most notably in letters to the president of Congress or Robert R. Livingston of 12 March 1781, 5 Dec. 1782, 22 July 4521783, and, in a letter not yet received by Congress, 26 Dec. 1783 (Franklin, Papers , 34:446–447; 38:416–417; Wharton, Dipl. Corr. Amer. Rev. , 6:585–586, 746–747). Congress did not approve Franklin’s return until 7 March 1785 ( JCC , 28:122). For Franklin’s efforts to convince Congress to provide a diplomatic post for William Temple Franklin, see Samuel Osgood’s letter of 7 Dec. 1783, and note 20, above.


On 20 Oct. the Va. General Assembly voted to cede its land claims northwest of the Ohio River to the United States, and on 1 March 1784, Congress accepted title to the land. The significance of Virginia’s cession was that it, together with those by other states, permitted Congress to begin efforts to organize and administer the territory. The most important result of this effort was the adoption of the 1787 Northwest Ordinance ( JCC , 26:112–117; 32:334–343).


Lee refers to Franklin’s criticism of JA in his 22 July 1783 letter to Robert R. Livingston, as being “in some things absolutely out of his senses.” For the full quotation and its origins, see the Editorial Note to the commissioners’ 18 July letter to Livingston, above. The only previous letter in this volume to mention Franklin’s charge was James Warren’s of 27 Oct., and note 4, above. But see also AA’s letter of 15 Dec., with which she enclosed an extract from Franklin’s letter, AFC , 5:278–282.

From Samuel Osgood, [14 January 1784] Osgood, Samuel Adams, John
From Samuel Osgood
Sir.— Annapolis Decr 7 14th. 1783 [14 January 1784]1

I had the Pleasure of seeing Mr. Thaxter your late Private Secretary at Philadelphia.— Congress were then on their Way to this Place— He being anxious to return to Masstts. it was not tho’t expedient for him to come on here, as he delivered his Dispatches to the President of Congress in Philadela. & as it did not seem probable that Congress would be soon assembled at this Place.— This is the first Day we have had nine States assembled.— About fifteen Days since, having then no Prospect of nine States, it was moved that seven States should proceed to ratify the Definitive Treaty— The Competency of seven States, was urged upon these Grounds, that Nine States had ratified the Provisional Treaty, the Articles of which constituted the definitive. That Nine States did in October last instruct our Ministers commissioned to make Peace to adopt the Provisional Articles as a definitive Treaty unless farther Advantages for the United States could be obtain’d.— That the Ratification had become mere Matter of Form— That seven States might expedite it & the United States would be bound thereby.— That the Time for exchanging Ratifications would expire on the 3d of March That if not exchanged on or before that Time, the Provisional Treaty would be at an End, & it would be in the Option of G. B.n after that Time to accept it, or not as she should think proper. These Assertions, excepting the Matters of Fact, were very warmly opposed—& Congress being pretty equally divided—the Matter was of Course delayed till 453this Day— I hope Colo. Hermer who is entrusted with the Ratification will arrive before the Time expires for exhanging it.—2

In some of your Letters you seem to be in Opinion that there is an absolute Necessity of braceing up the Confederation That Funds are necessary for supporting the Credit of the United States— I cannot collect your Ideas precisely— But I am apprehensive that if you were here, you would find it very difficult to establish Funds that would not have a Tendency to destroy the Liberties of this Country.— Our Embarassments are very great— Our Danger lies in this— That if permanent Funds are given to Congress, the aristocratical Influence, which predominates in more than a Major Part of the United States will finally establish an arbitrary Government in the United States— I do most heartily wish there was no continental Treasury & that our Debt was equitably divided among the several States.— In the Way of this, lays our foreign Debt—perhaps it would be better to establish Funds for this alone.— But it is impossible to say what the States will do as to Funds— Congress have none as yet & I am apprehensive they will not have any permanent ones— many of the States are very Jealous.— Every State imagines or pretends to imagine that they have very large Demands against the United States— The Accounts are unadjusted & I fear it is the Policy of some States to keep them forever in that Situation.— This becomes every Day more & more serious— Our State is very deeply interested in it.— She is now uneasy about it & that Uneasiness must encrease—for her Delegates however powerful & Eloquent will never be able, to argue the Money out of the Pockets of the Citizens of another State into those of our own—At least appearances are against it at present Time will discover whether our Union is natural; or rather whether the Dispositions & Views of the several Parts of the Continent are so similar as that they can & will be happy under the same Form of Government.— There is too much Reason to beleive they are not—

I have been in Congress sometime & intend to leave it forever in four or five Weeks—3 I have not done myself the Honor to write you from Time to Time; for which Omission I hold myself inexcuseable— Tho I don’t know of any Information I could have communicated, which would have essentially altered any Thing— I have seen the Days of Servility, if not of Corruption & I weep over them.—

Congress, I think will certainly adjourn the Beginning of May next to the first Monday in November following4 The Business has 454greatly diminished since Peace took Place There are a few Objects of great Magnitude which require the Assent of Nine States.— Our Army is dismissed saving about five hundred Men— It now remains with Congress to determine whether they will maintain any Men at the Expence of the United States— The Question has been warmly debated in Congress—but no Decision— The Opponents say that the Confederation gives Congress no Power to keep up Troops in a Time of Peace— There is an inconquerable Aversion in many to any Thing that looks like a standing Army in Time of Peace— They will therefore have no Nest Egg. & why may not every State provide for its own Garrisons— The Confederation speaks this Language.— The Question will not obtain in the present Congress.— The Civil List must be put upon a new footing before Congress Adjourn— A very important Report respecting the future Negociations with the Indians is now before Congress & will require very close Attention This is a very delicate Business as it respects the several States I expect N—— Y——k will purchase all our western Territory of the Indians, before we know it— They are really to cunning for M——tts in Matters of Land.—5

A general Plan for entering into Commercial Treaties must be matured & adopted before the Recess.— And I think by the present Appearance in Congress the Interest of the United States will be the governing Principle Last November bro’t about a capital Revolution in Congress the Limitation of three Years, struck off a Number indeed all the prime Actors in the late strange & unnatural System of our foreign Affairs.— Our State have instructed us to urge a new Arrangement of the Office of Finance— They seem to apprehend that such an Office in the Hands of one Person is incompatible with the Liberties of this Country— A Board in Commission is their Object.— The one & the other have very weighty Objections— I wish there was no Occasion for either. I understand the united Netherlands have no public Chest.—

Our late Officers having formed themselves into a Society by the Name of the Cincinnati— The Institution begins to be attended to & by many judicious Persons it is thot that in Time it will be very dangerous— It is suggested that the Idea did not originate on this Side the Atlantic—Latet Anguis in Herba.—6 surely this Country will not consent to a Race of Hereditary Patricians.— There are many others besides the Officers whose Names ought & will be immortalized for their Conduct during the late War.—

If you should receive a long Letter, the Writer desires you to 455consider that the first Sheet was not intended for you—7 The short Notice he had of this Opportunity did not permit him to Copy it— He was obliged to send it in the present Form or not at all— The Beginning of it will be unintelligible With very great Respect / I am Sir Your most humble Servt.

Samuel Osgood

RC (Adams Papers); internal address: “His Excellency J Adams.—”; endorsed: “Mr Osgoods Letter / recd 5 April. 1783.” Filmed at 14 Dec. 1783.


JA did not send a reply to this letter until 30 June 1784 (LbC, APM Reel 107), but see note 1 to Osgood’s letter of 7 Dec. 1783, above.


With only seven of the nine states needed to ratify the definitive treaty present, Congress on 23 Dec. 1783 passed a resolution calling on absent members to hasten to Annapolis or risk missing a 3 March 1784 deadline for the exchange of ratifications in Europe. For the next three weeks a vociferous debate ensued about whether members should ratify with only seven states present. Thomas Jefferson was opposed, drafting a resolution on [27 Dec.] 1783 stating that a seven-state ratification would constitute a “breach of faith in us, a prostitution of our seal, and a future ground, when that circumstance shall become known, of denying the validity of a ratification.” Members were nearing a compromise that would have dispatched a provisional ratification to Europe, when the arrival of delegates from Connecticut and South Carolina on 13 and 14 Jan. 1784 allowed the immediate and unanimous ratification by nine states. The treaty reached Europe more than three weeks past the deadline, but the British took no notice and exchanged ratifications at Paris on 12 May ( JCC , 25:836–837; Jefferson, Papers , 6:424–426; Morris, Peacemakers , p. 447–448).


Samuel Osgood’s career in Congress ended with his final vote on 1 March despite an appointment that lasted until 1 November. During March members debated whether Osgood should be excluded from further service owing to a three-year term limitation in the Articles of Confederation. A resolution barring him from further service failed to pass on 23 March, but Osgood nevertheless departed Annapolis in early April (Biog. Dir. Cong.; JCC, 26:120–121, 136–137, 156–160; Smith, Letters of Delegates , 21:434–435, 485, 519).


Congress remained in session until 3 June and reassembled in Trenton, N.J., on 1 Nov. ( JCC , 27:555–556, 641).


Osgood refers to the report and its supplement, approved on 15 Oct. 1783, that set down the parameters for negotiations with the Native American tribes in the middle and northern departments ( JCC , 25:680–693). As Osgood notes, the principal issue for Massachusetts was the effect of the instructions on its western land claims vis-à-vis New York, a concern that the Massachusetts delegation expressed in a 16 Oct. letter to the General Court (Smith, Letters of Delegates , 21:67–68). But Congress also resolved on 15 Oct. “that the preceding measures of Congress relative to Indian affairs, shall not be construed to affect the territorial claims of any of the states, or their legislative rights within their respective limits” ( JCC , 25:693).


A snake in the grass.


While Osgood may have intended the first page of the 7 Dec. letter, above, for some otherwise unidentified correspondent, the remaining pages clearly were intended for JA.