Papers of John Adams, volume 11



Instructions to the Joint Commission to Negotiate an Anglo-American Peace Treaty, 15 June 1781 375

The instructions to the joint commission were far different from those that guided John Adams as the sole American minister pleni-potentiary empowered to negotiate an Anglo-American peace treaty (JA, Diary and Autobiography , 4:181–183). In 1779 Congress directed Adams to seek the “the Advice of our Allies,” using also his discretion and knowledge of American interests. The 1781 instructions required the American negotiators “to make the most candid and confidential communications upon all subjects to the ministers of our generous Ally the King of France to undertake nothing in the Negotiations for Peace or truce without their knowledge and concurrence and ultimately to govern yourselves by their advice and opinion.” The ability of the French minister at Philadelphia, the Chevalier de La Luzerne, to bend Congress to the dictates of French foreign policy is clearly evident from these instructions. For an account of Congress' decision to expand the number of peace negotiators, see Commissions and Instructions for Mediation and Peace, Editorial Note, 15 June, below; and the notes to the Instructions to the Joint Commission to Negotiate a Peace Treaty, 15 June, below.

In this volume Adams says no more about his instructions than he did about the commission that accompanied them (Descriptive xivList of Illustrations, No. 6, above). This reticence may be owing to Adams being unaware of the sharp contrast between the instructions of 1779 and those of 1781. As can be seen in the illustration, Adams deciphered only one passage in the third paragraph of the instructions that contains the injunction, quoted above, that the commissioners be governed by the views of the French government. Adams' failure to decipher the entire paragraph, probably because of difficulties with the Lovell cipher, lends credence to his assertion that he did not learn of the instruction until he arrived at Paris in 1782 to join the peace negotiations (JA, Diary and Autobiography , 3:38).

From the original in the Adams Papers.