Papers of John Adams, volume 16

Arthur Lee to John Adams, 12 August 1784 Lee, Arthur Adams, John
From Arthur Lee
My dear Sir, New-York. Augt. 12th. 1784

Your favor of the 6th of April found me here two days ago, waiting for the necessary preparatives to a definitive treaty of peace & boundary, which in conjunction with some other gentlemen I have undertaken to negociate with the indian nations. To œconomize, by saving the expence of a monthly bounty to which the troops of Massachusetts & N. Hampshire, were entitled, A Majority of Congress determind to disband them, & trust the raising others for garrisoning the western posts & protecting the treaties to the States of N. York Pensylvania, Jersey, & Connecticut. This, as was forseen, has delayd that important business the Season passing away fast, & not a man yet raisd. By this delay we leave the Indian trade to be fixd in british channels—the western lands to be occupied by Emigrants from whom we shall never wrest them—& the indian nations to confederate against us. But we have savd a pepper-corn bounty;1 & with as much wisdom, I think, as the british plannd their 295 perpercorn revenue. By a resolution of Congress, the Super-intendant of Finance is to quit his office on or before the 10th of Novr. next, & his powers are vested in three Commissioners of the Treasury. A Mojority of Congress coud not have been brought into this measure so ungracious to the talents & merits of Mr. Morris, but that the States in general, (not so sensible of his private benevolence, or public services) seemd determind against his possessing such enormous powers. He, & his once fidus Achates, Mr. Holker have quarrelld—the latter having a demand upon him for £150,000, which he denies to be due.2 They abuse each other without decency or measure & declare mutually their ability to ruin each other. The monied question is submitted to arbitration, & I have no doubt they will be silencd soon by a sense of mutual danger in the exposure of each others transactions. The three Commissioners of the treasury are Mr Jenifer of Maryland—Mr Elsworth of Connecticut & Mr. Denning of this state.

Mr Dana, came to Congress some time before we adjourned, & remains there, as one of the Committee of the States, Congress being adjournd to meet at Trenton the 29th of Ocr. I concur entirely with you in opinion of Mr. Dana’s worth & knowlege. He was in nomination for Secretary of foreign Affairs. But his conduct abroad had interposd a bar, & the french, flanklin & morrisonian interests are inexorable against any one who has been active in promoting the independence of America agt. gallic opposition. Some how or other, they are either afraid of Mr Jay, or beleive him more placable than the rest, and the Office was at last filld up with him. He is arrivd, but I have not seen him. It is not yet certain that he will accept. He has written to Congress very favorably of you. Mr. Lee is very much flatterd by the good opinion you express of him; but influences must alter much before the blots in this character, expressd in your latin quotation, will suffer either Mr Dana or himself to preside over foreign Affairs. I wish, for the public good, that Mr. Jay may serve.

You are now to enter with a new partner whose real character you will study well before you confide in him. His genius is mediocre, his application great, his affectation greater, & his vanity greater than all. This last is the wheel by which the french and Dr. Franklin will endeavor to work him to their purposes. For a time I doubt not they will succeed. But it is not improbable that Dr. Franklin’s jealousy of being eclipsd by him will soon produce a schism. You know how greedy Dr. F. is of praise & power—how intolerant, even to 296 brutality & villainy, he is of any other person’s praise. Mr. J. will snuff up the incense of french adulation, with not a bit less avidity; & as they are both in the same course for obtaining it, I shoud not wonder if they were soon to become rivals & enemies. But at first you must expect they will draw together, especially in one of the most material points, the carrying on the Negociations at Paris. Politically speaking, there can be nothing more injurious to us, than negociating with others at a Court, which is interested in embarrassing you & from its establishd means must know your proceedings. Besides it looks as if we were not yet sui juris;3 but were obliged to seek shelter under that petticoat near which Dr. Franklin’s medal has stationd us, with so much historical truth, & so much to our honor. But, it is convenient to him, & it is flattering to him also, as it wears the appearance of his presence being indispensible in all our foreign transactions; & these considerations, you know, have with him ever outweighd, & will ever outweigh, the honor & interests of our Country. Apropos of these Medals—Dr. Franklin makes presents of them in gold & silver over Europe & America, & he writes Congress that he expects the public will pay for them. He has done the same with regard to an edition of the Constitutions of the States, which he has presented to All the crownd heads, prime Ministers, Ambassadors & great men in Europe. The honor & the returns will fall to Dr. F. the expence to the U.S. because thõ Congress have not approvd, yet they have not censurd the proceeding; & he will pay the public money & have it passd in his Accounts.4

Rhode Island still resists the 5 pr Ct there are many declaimers against the present institution of Congress, & in general there is much talk of increasing their powers. Impatience under the want of money to satisfy our public creditors makes too many charge it blindly to the Constitution, when in truth it is owing to the heavy weight the war has laid upon us, & the almost entire loss, in many States, of the produce of the Earth, for seven years. Less causes than these made France bankrupt the former, & suspend payment this war. But we seem to be debtord in every thing & credited for nothing. And I think a candid enquirer will find the cause of this dishonor & discredit to the public in the placing two men in the first offices of trust & power, who have constantly aimd at exalting themselves by depretiating the public & have carried on the most scandalous system of low favoritism & peculation, so as to disgrace as well as to empoverish the finances of the U.S. Woud any one believe that after Mr. Morris had had the sole direction of the 297 expenditures in the secret & commercial Committees where so many millions of the public money were lavishd away without any account renderd, thõ demanded of him by a resolve of Congress, that the whole finances of the U.S. shoud be put into his hands, with permission to have secret partnerships in trade, & the appointment of new Officers to lucrative places, & the dissmission of others at his pleasure?— Woud any one beleive, that after the french Court had insisted, that if the supplied us with any more money to cloath the Army &c, they woud apply it themselves & not trust it in the hands of Dr F. & his Agents—after he had so misapplied the public money, that for near three years the cloathing pretended to have been purchasd with it was not sent & that at last it was pretended to be sent in an old Indiaman the Captain was chargd before a Committee of Congress by the captain of the Alliance with intentionally quitting his convoy & being Capturd—after several Captains had deposd before a Committee of Congress that they offerd to take the cloathing upon freight & were refusd it, unless they woud bring teas &c for Dr. Franklin’s Agents freight free—after Congress were obligd in the most pressing time to send Col Laurens over to procure money from the french Court, & cloathing for the Army.5 Dr. F. being professedly unable to do it—woud any one believe after this that he shoud be continud Minister—after he had been convicted of advocating those reprobated Articles in the commercial Treaty wih. France; & endeavoring by downright lying under his hand to fix them upon us, woud any one have expected that Congress woud have declared their confidence in his integrity & abilities & joined him in another still more important negociation—After Deane was reprobated as a Traitor, & it was known that Dr. F. was his friend, his advocate, & his partner, that he had written a willfull falshood to deceive me & cover Deane’s iniquities, had recommended him to the confidence of Congress as one who had done the most important services to the U.S. without being able to specify one—does it not appear meraculous that he shoud be still confided in?6 But the solution of all these wonders is simple. The french influence was absolute. That influence was exerted to fix & maintain Mr. Morris & Dr. Franklin in places of the highest efficiency & trust; as men who woud forward the designs of the french Minister upon our fishery, our western lands, & our Independence. The same influence was openly exerted to crush those who were avowd Enemies to thier designs, or as you very properly observe—honos pro crimini; & ob virtutes, certissimum exitium.


Sir James Jay is in this City. I have not had an opportunity of conversing with him; nor have I heard that he is under the censure of his Countrymen. He & Mr Temple seem to have subjected themselves to suspicion by being too mysterious & refind in their political proceedings. But I am inclind to think they meditated no ill; & did no harm, but to themselves By this time, I hope you are happy in the society of Mrs. Adams. The sacrifise you have made so long of each other’s company, is great. Please to make my best respects to her, & my Compts. to my old-young friend your Son.


P.S. I woud have said something of the present complexion of Congress; but as there will be a very great change when they meet next it is immaterial. Mr Jeffersons place & mine are filld up with R. H. Lee & Col. Grayson. But I doubt much whether R. H. will serve.7 The Cincinnati have in a great measure reconcild themselves to their Country, by laying down the hereditary honor they had assumd, & some other reforms. It is supposd the whole will soon fall into oblivion

RC (Adams Papers); endorsed: “M. A. Lee. Aug. 12. / 1784 / Much matter.”


That is, Congress, in saving a trivial amount of money by disbanding the army, had complicated its relations with the Native American tribes and endangered its ability to control the frontier.


For the breach between Robert Morris and his “fidus Achates,” or faithful friend, John Holker, resulting from efforts to settle the accounts arising from their complex business relationship, public and private, since Holker’s 1778 arrival in the United States as an unofficial representative of the French government and his later service as agent of the French ministry of marine and consul general, see Morris, Papers , 7:272–275; 9:407–410.


That is, competent in a legal sense to manage one’s own affairs.


For Benjamin Franklin’s Libertas Americana medal, see vol. 14:xiii, 344; for Constitutions des treize États-Unis de l’Amérique, Paris, 1783, which was translated by the Duc de La Rochefoucauld and published by Franklin, see vol. 14:505.


Lee refers to the April 1781 capture of the Marquis de Lafayette, which was carrying a large amount of clothing to the United States. The ship’s capture had consequences for Col. John Laurens’ mission to raise a European loan because of the need to pay for the lost cargo from the proceeds of the loan guaranteed by France and raised in the Netherlands (vol. 11:249–250, 295–296, 386–387). For the deposition of Capt. John Barry of the Alliance concerning the Marquis de Lafayette’s reluctance to sail at all and its subsequent failure to remain with his convoy, see JCC , 22:386–388. It should be noted that Lee was on the congressional committee appointed to examine Barry concerning the loss of the Marquis de Lafayette.


Lee refers to the original Arts. 11 and 12 of the 1778 Franco-American Treaty of Amity and Commerce. The first freed Americans from paying any duties on molasses exported from the French West Indies, while the second freed the French from paying any duties on goods exported from the United States to their islands. This disparity—between Americans paying duties on most goods exported from the islands and the French paying no duties on any goods exported from the United States—led Congress to seek the deletion of the articles from the ratified treaty, a request to which the Comte de Vergennes agreed. In a 22 July 1778 letter to James Lovell, chairman of the Committee for Foreign Affairs, 299 Franklin opposed the deletion of the articles as unfriendly to France and attributed Congress’ action to receiving information from Lee, who had opposed the provisions but had nevertheless signed the treaty. Earlier, in a 31 March letter to the president of Congress, Franklin wrote that Silas Deane had done “great and important Services to his Country” and attributed Deane’s recall by Congress to “Misrepresentations” by Arthur and William Lee, principally the former (Miller, Treaties , 2:10–11, 32–34; JCC , 11:459–460; Franklin, Papers , 26:203–204; 27:137–139).


Both William Grayson and Richard Henry Lee were elected delegates to the Continental Congress on 22 June 1784. Grayson did not take his seat until 11 March 1785, while Richard Henry Lee attended on 1 Nov. 1784 (Smith, Letters of Delegates , 21:xxv, xxvi; 22:xxvii).

Charles Thomson to the American Commissioners, 13 August 1784 Thomson, Charles American Commissioners
Charles Thomson to the American Commissioners
Gentlemen, Philadelphia 13 Aug. 1784

In pursuance of the orders of the Comee of the States I have the honor to transmit to you the Copy of a letter signed T. Gilfillan dated London the 19 feby 1784 with the copy of an inspection roll of Negroes taken on board certain vessels at Anchor near Staten Island on the 30 Novr 1783. to be made use of in any negotiations you may have with the Court of Great Britain agreeably to the Instructions heretofore transmitted to you1

With great Respect I have the honor / to be Gentlemen your Most Obedt & m h. S.

C T.

FC (PHi:Charles Thomson Papers, Letterbook, 1784); internal address: “The honbl. J Adams B Franklin & T. Jefferson—”


This letter is essentially a paraphrase of a 22 July resolution by the Committee of the States ( JCC , 27:596). The first enclosure was a letter dated London, 19 Feb., from Thomas Gilfillan to WSS enclosing a 30 Nov. 1783 list of 286 slaves and free blacks embarked in the course of the British evacuation of New York and bound for Nova Scotia (PCC, No. 78, XXI, f. 349, 352). The second was the list itself, signed by Gilfillan and William Armstrong (same, No. 53, f. 276–295). When the list was made, Lts. Gilfillan and Armstrong were assistant deputy quartermasters general with the British Army at New York, while WSS was an aide-de-camp to George Washington (Worthington Chauncey Ford, British Officers Serving in the American Revolution, 1774–1783, Brooklyn, N.Y., 1897, p. 19, 78; Heitman, Register Continental Army ).

Thomas Cushing to John Adams, 16 August 1784 Cushing, Thomas Adams, John
From Thomas Cushing
Dear Sir. Boston August: 16th: 1784

I have just received your Favor of the 7th of May last; am oblidged to you for the Intelligence it contained—1 I Perceive you are somewhat uneasy about the Line between Massachusetts and Nova Scotia, The Provisional Articles make the River St Croix the Boundary, There are three Rivers of the same name that Empty themselves into the Bay of Passamaquaddy & although they are not very far 300 distant from each other It is very Important which shall be the Boundary, The United States say, It is the Eastermost River; (which will in that Case give them the Command of the Whole of the Bay before mentioned) The Brittons Contend that it is the Middle River, which goes by the name of Schoodick as well as St Croix & have Accordingly settled Upon the Eastern side of said River: Our General Assembly at their last Session appointed Benja Lincoln, Henry Knox and George Partridge Esqrs Agents to repair to the Eastern part of this State & there inform themselves what Encroachments have been made by the Brittains & finally report their Proceedings to the General Court; this measure was Adopted in consequence of a Resolution of Congress of the sixth of January last, recommending that Enquiry should made into this Matter,2 It is Probable the Commissioners had before them some particular Map; when the Article relative to this Boundary was Agreed upon, If so it may be in their Power to throw some light upon this Subject and perhaps determine precisely which of the Rivers, that enter the Bay of Passamaquaddy, was Intended as the Boundary—

You have doubtless been Informed that Congress the last year Sent Baron Stuben to the Governor of the Province of Quebec to Demand the delivery of all those Posts that fell within the Jurisdiction of the United States by the Definitive Treaty, & that The Governor Informed him that he had not received the Ratification of the Treaty but supposed that when that arrived the Evacuation of those Posts would be of Course,3 In May last Congress ordered an officer to Canada & repeated their Demand for the Delivery of the Posts aforesaid, but all the Answer that Could be obtained from the Governor, was, that although he had received the Definitive Treaty yet he had not received any directions from his Master relative to the Evacuation or Delivery of those Posts, & that it was impossible for him to say When he shoud, This Conduct of the Governor, togather with Sr John Johnston’s Inviting the Indians in those parts to hold a Conferrence with him at Niagara, and their Preparing to meet him there, affords some grounds of Suspicion that we shall have some difficulty in that Quarter—4

The General Assembly of this State at their last Session preferred a Petition to Congress representing, that as the State of New York had sett up a Claim to some part of the Lands to the Westward of Hudson’s River Which of Right belonged to this Commonwealth, and as it was highly necessary to have the said Claim brought to 301 an immediate decision, they therefore prayed that Commissioners might be appointed for Enquiring into and Determining upon the Same, in Consequence of Which Congress appointed the first Monday in December next for the Appearance of the respective States by their lawfull Agents, at the place at Which Congress Shall then Sit, to proceed in the premises, and The Court have since Appointed three Gentlemen Vizt The Honble Mr Dana Mr Lowell & Mr Sullivan to Collect the Evidence of the Title of this Commonwealth to the Lands above referred to & to prosecute the Suit to final determination— If I do not misremember you were one of a Committee some years ago to Examine into & State the Title of this Commonwealth to the Land aforesaid; If you can afford any Aid or assistance to these Gentlemen upon this Subject I doubt not you will chearfully do it and thereby make an addition to the many & various Services with Which you have already benefitted Your Country—5

With great Esteem I have the Honor to be, Sir / Your most obedient & humble Servant

Thomas Cushing

RC and enclosure (Adams Papers); internal address: “His Excellency John Adams Esqr”; endorsed: “Lt Gov. Cushing.”; docketed by CFA: “Aug 16. 1784.”; enclosure endorsed: “Lt. Govr. Cushing, Aug. 16. / ansd. Oct. 25. 1784.” For the enclosure, see note 2.


JA’s letter to Cushing of 7 May has not been found, perhaps because Cushing did not retain the RC, but also because at that time JA was being inconsistent in keeping LbC’s. From Cushing’s comments regarding the disputed Nova Scotia-Massachusetts boundary that immediately follow, it seems that JA’s letter was a reply to Cushing’s letter of 26 Nov. 1783 and specifically to the postscript in which the Lieutenant Governor wrote, “it is apprehended there will be some difficulty in Settling the Line between this State & Nova Scotia however hope the Definitive Treaty will be so explicit as to prevent all Dispute” (vol. 15:376–378). For JA’s comments on the difficulties in determining the boundary during the peace negotiations, see his reply of 25 Oct. 1784, below.


The enclosure Cushing sent with this letter was a copy of the Mass. General Court’s 7 July resolve creating the three-man commission. In addition to reporting their findings to the General Court, Benjamin Lincoln, Henry Knox, and George Partridge, should any incursions have occurred, were to make representations to the governor of Nova Scotia “and request him in a friendly manner, and as a proof of that disposition for peace and harmony which should subsist between neighboring States, to recall from off the said territory the said subjects of his Britannic Majesty” (Mass., Acts and Laws , 1784–1785, p. 242). For the congressional resolution that spurred Massachusetts to act, see JCC , 26:11.


For Gen. Friedrich von Steuben’s mission to Canada in mid-1783 and his unsuccessful negotiations with Gen. Frederic Haldimand, British commander in chief in Canada, see vol. 15:327.


Congress resolved on 12 May 1784 that Knox should open a correspondence with Haldimand to determine when “the posts within the territories of the United States, now occupied by British troops, shall be delivered up.” On 13 June, Knox ordered Lt. Col. William Hull to proceed to Quebec and deliver to Haldimand his letter of the same date requesting the information sought by Congress. Hull delivered the letter on 12 July 302 and on the following day Haldimand replied that despite having seen the definitive treaty, he had no orders regarding the evacuation of the posts and thus could not comply with Congress’ request ( JCC , 27:376; PCC, No. 167, f. 403–405, 419–420, 423–425, 427–428). Sir John Johnson was the British superintendent and inspector general for the Six Nations ( DAB ). For additional reports regarding the situation on the Canadian-American frontier and negotiations between Johnson and the Native Americans, see JA’s 25 Oct. letter to Cushing, and note 2, below.


For the effort to resolve the longstanding New York-Massachusetts boundary dispute, see Elbridge Gerry’s letter of 16 June, and note 5, above. For JA’s 1774 report on Massachusetts boundaries, now lost, see vol. 2:22–81.