Papers of John Adams, volume 13

XI. To Robert R. Livingston, 8 October 1782 JA Livingston, Robert R. XI. To Robert R. Livingston, 8 October 1782 Adams, John Livingston, Robert R.
XI. To Robert R. Livingston
The Hague. October 8th. 1782 1 Sir

At 12. oClock today I proceeded, according to appointment, to the State-House, where I was received, with the usual formalities, at the head of the Stairs, by Mr: Van Santheuvel, a Deputy from the Province of Holland, and Mr: Van Linden, the first Noble of Zealand and a Deputy from that Province; and by them conducted into the Chamber of Business (Chambre de besogne,) an apartment adjoining to the Truce-Chamber (Chambre de Treve) where were executed the Treaty of Commerce, and the Convention concerning Re-captures, after an Exchange of Full Powers.

The Treaty and Convention are both enclosed, or at least, an authentic Copy of each. If the Copy should arrive before the Original, which I shall reserve to be sent by the safest opportunity I can find, it will be a sufficient foundation for the Ratification of Congress.2

I hope the Treaty will be satisfactory to Congress. It has taken up much time to obtain the Remarks and the Consent of all the Mem-390bers of this complicated Sovereignty. Very little of this time has been taken up by me, as Congress will see by the Resolution of their High-Mightinesses containing the power to the Deputies to conclude and sign the Treaty: for, altho’ all Communications were made to me in Dutch, a language in which I was not sufficiently skilled to depend upon my own knowledge, Mr. Dumas was ever at hand and ever ready to interpret to me every thing in french, by which means I was always able to give my answers without loss of time.

The Papers, in which the whole progress of this Negotiation is contained in Dutch, French and English; make a large bundle, and, after all, they contain nothing worth transmitting to Congress. To copy them would be an immense labor to, no purpose, and to send the Originals, at once, would expose them to loss.3

Several Propositions were made to me, which I could not agree to, and several were made on my part, which could not be admitted by the States. The final result, contained in the Treaty, is as near the Spirit of my Instructions as I could obtain, and I think it is, in nothing, materially variant from them.4

The Lords the Deputies proposed to me to make the Convention a part of the Treaty. My answer was, that I thought the Convention, which is nearly conformable with that lately made with France, would be advantageous on both sides; but as I had no special Instructions concerning it, and as Congress might have objections that I could not foresee, it would be more agreable to have the Convention seperate, so that Congress, if they should find any difficulty, might ratify the Treaty without it—This was accordingly agreed to.

It seemed at first to be insisted on, that we should be confined to the Dutch Ports in Europe, but my friend Mr: Van Berckel and the Merchants of Amsterdam came in aid of me, in convincing all that it was their interest to treat us upon the footing Gentis amicissima in all parts of the world.

Friesland proposed that a Right should be stipulated, for the Subjects of their Republic to purchase lands in any of our States: But such Reasons were urged as convinced them that this was too extensive an object for me to agree to—1st. It was not even stipulated for France—2d. If it should be now introduced into this Treaty, all other nations would expect the same, and altho’, at present, it might not be impolitic to admit of this, yet nobody would think it wise to bind ourselves to it forever—3d. What rendered all other Considerations unnecessary was, that Congress had not Authority to do this, it 391 image 392 being a matter of the interior policy of the Seperate States—This was given up.

A more extensive Liberty of engaging Seamen in this Country, was a favorite Object; but it could not be obtained.

The Refraction, as they call it, upon Tobacco in the Weigh-houses, is a thing that enters so deeply into their commercial Policy, that I could not obtain any thing, more particular or more explicit, than what is found in the Treaty.

Upon the whole, I think the Treaty is conformable to the Principles of perfect Reciprocity, and contains nothing that can possibly be hurtfull to America, or offensive to our Allies, or to any other Nation, except Great-Britain, to whom it is indeed, without a speedy peace, a mortal blow.

The Rights of France and Spain are sufficiently secured by the 22d. Article, altho’ it is not in the very words of the Project, transmitted me by Congress: It is the same in substance and effect. The Duc de la Vauguyon was very well contented with it, and the States were so jealous of unforseen Consequences from the words of the Article,5 as sent me by Congress and as first proposed by me, that I saw it would delay the Conclusion, without end. After several Conferences, and many Proposals, we finally agreed upon the Article, as it stands, to the satisfaction of all Parties.

The Clause, reserving to the Dutch their Rights in the East and West-Indies, is unnecessary, and I was averse to it, as implying a Jealousy of us. But as it implies too a Compliment to our Power and Importance; was much insisted on; and amounted to no more than we should have been bound to, without it, I withdrew my Objection.

The Proviso of conforming to the Laws of the Country, respecting the external shew of public worship, I wished to have excluded; because I am an Enemy to every appearance of restraint in a matter so delicate and sacred as the Liberty of Conscience; but the Laws here do not permit Roman Catholics to have Steeples to their Churches, and these Laws could not be altered.

I shall be impatient to receive the Ratification of Congress, which I hope may be transmitted within the time limited.

I have the honor to be, Sir, Your Most Obedt. humble. Servt. J. Adams

RC and enclosure in Charles Storer’s hand (PCC, No. 84, IV, f. 193–196); endorsed: “Letter Oct 8. 1782 J. Adams with Copy of treaty of Amity & Commerce & of Convention respecting recaptured Vessels between the States general of the Netherlands & the United States of America Read Jany. 21. 1783 Referred to Mr Madison Mr Hamilton Mr Ellsworth.” The only enclosure with this letter in the PCC is a copy of the States General’s resolution of 17 Sept. (No. X, above), but see note 2 below.


This letter constitutes JA’s only account of the negotiations leading to the treaty of amity and commerce and to the convention on recaptures and his only explanation of the reasons for accepting provisions that might be seen as running counter to his instructions. His description of the signing ceremony in the first paragraph should be compared with that in his diary entry for 8 Oct., but see also John Thaxter’s comment on the signing in his 9 Oct. letter to AA (JA, D&A , 3:16; AFC , 5:8–10).


Besides this copy, JA sent a duplicate and triplicate of this letter (PCC, Misc. Papers, Reel 1, f. 695–700, 701–707). Congress apparently received signed originals of the treaty and convention and at least two sets of attested copies of the two agreements, but which documents went with this 8 Oct. copy of the letter or with the duplicate and triplicate is unknown. Indeed Congress’ journal for 21 Jan. 1783 states that “a letter of 8 October, 1782, from the honourable J. Adams, was read, accompanied with a certified copy of a treaty of amity and commerce, and of a convention respecting re-captured vessels” (JCC, 24:50). This seems to indicate that Congress first received attested copies of the treaty and the convention and that it was those documents, rather than the signed originals, that Congress ratified on 23 Jan. (same, p. 66–82). None of the copies, either original or attested, enclosed by JA with his letters are in the (PCC, but see Miller, Treaties , 2:89.


For the consequences of JA’s failure to send Congress the materials relating to the negotiations and the apparent absence of at least a portion of them from the Adams Papers, see the editorial note to the group document, above.


In its report to Congress, the committee to which JA’s letter and the treaty and the convention had been referred agreed with JA. While it noted that Arts. 4, 5, 6, 10, 12, 18, and 22 were different from what had been proposed in the Treaty Plan of 1780, it declared “that on a comparison of the former [the treaty] with the instructions given to the said Minister Plenipo: on the subject, they find that no variations have taken place which affect the substance of the plan proposed by Congress” and thus “the Committee are of opinion that the Treaty ought to be immediately and fully accepted and ratified.” Regarding the convention on recaptures, mentioned by JA in the following paragraph, the committee noted “that although no express authority has been delegated by Congress on that subject,” it “is adapted to the mutual advantage of the parties, and ought also to be forthwith ratified” ( JCC , 24:65). At JA’s behest, C. W. F. Dumas exchanged the instruments of ratification on 23 June 1783 (Wharton, Dipl. Corr. Amer. Rev. , 6:502). Copies of the instruments signed by Elias Boudinot and Robert R. Livingston that include the text of Congress’ resolutions of 23 Jan. 1783 and the texts, in both Dutch and English, of the treaty and convention are in the Adams Papers and filmed at 23 Jan. (Microfilms, Reel No. 360).


For the consequences that the Dutch foresaw from the article as originally proposed, see Adriaan van Zeebergh’s commentary of 25 July, above.