Adams Papers

[In Congress, June–August 1776]

[In Congress, June–August 1776]

The Committee for preparing the Model of a Treaty to be proposed to France consisted of1  When We met to deliberate on the Subject, I contended for the same Principles, which I had before avowed and defended in Congress, viz. That We should avoid all Alliance, which might embarrass Us in after times and involve Us in future European Wars. That a Treaty of commerce, which would opperate as a Repeal of the British Acts of Navigation as far as respected Us and Admit France into an equal participation of the benefits of our commerce; would encourage her Manufactures, increase her Exports of the Produce of her Soil and Agriculture, extend her navigation and Trade, augment her resources of naval Power, raise her from her present deep humiliation, distress and decay, and place her on a more equal footing with England, for the protection of her foreign Possessions, and maintaining her Independence at Sea, would be an ample Compensation to France for Acknowledging our Independence, and for furnishing Us for our money or upon Credit for a Time, with such Supplies of Necessaries as We should want, even if this Conduct should involve her in a War. If a War should ensue, which did not necessarily follow, for a bare Acknowledgement of our Independence after We had asserted it, was not by the Law of Nations an Act of Hostility, which would be a legitimate cause of War. Franklin although he was commonly as silent on committees as in Congress, upon this Occasion, ventured so far as to intimate his concurrence with me in these Sentiments, though as will be seen hereafter he shifted them as easily as the Wind ever shifted: and assumed a dogmatical Tone, in favour of an Opposite System. The Committee after as much deliberation upon the Subject as they chose to employ, appointed me, to draw up a Plan and Report. Franklin had made some marks with a Pencil against some Articles in a printed Volume of Treaties, which he put into my hand. Some of these were judiciously selected, and I took them with others which I found necessary into the Draught and made my report to the Committee at large, who after a reasonable Examination of it, agreed to report it. When it came before Congress, it occupied the Attention of that Body for several days. Many Motions were made, to insert in it Articles of entangling Alliance, of exclusive Priviledges, and of Warrantees of Possessions: and it was argued that the present Plan reported by the Committee held out no sufficient temptation to France, who would despize it and refuse to receive our Ambassador. It was chiefly left to me to defend my report, though I had some able Assistance, and We did defend it with so much Success, that the Treaty passed without one Particle of Alliance, exclusive Priviledge, or Warranty.2

1Here two-thirds of a line was left blank in the MS, doubtless indicating that JA intended to consult the Journals of Congress (which were on his shelves) and fill in the names. The members of “the committee to prepare a plan of treaties to be proposed to foreign powers,” appointed on 12 June, were Dickinson, Franklin, JA, Harrison, and Robert Morris (JCC description begins Worthington C. Ford and others, eds., Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789, Washington, 1904–1937; 34 vols. description ends , 5:433). JA himself listed the names of the committee members when he went over this ground later in his Autobiography with the Journals in hand; see a later entry under 12 June 1776, below.

2JA’s draft of the “Plan of Treaties,” a document which “furnished the model for all, except one, of the eighteenth century treaties of the United States, and may be regarded as a charter document of early American maritime practice” (Bemis, Diplomacy of the Amer. Revolution description begins Samuel Flagg Bemis, The Diplomacy of the American Revolution: The Foundations of American Diplomacy, 1775–1823, New York and London, 1935. description ends , p. 46), is in PCC, No. 47, and is printed, with appended forms of passports, &c., also drafted by JA, in JCC description begins Worthington C. Ford and others, eds., Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789, Washington, 1904–1937; 34 vols. description ends , 5:576–589, under date of 18 July 1776, when it was reported to Congress. On 20 July Congress ordered it printed for the use of the members; on 22 and 27 Aug. it was debated in committee of the whole and on the latter date, after amendments, referred back to the original committee for the purpose of drawing up instructions to agents to be sent to France. On 17 Sept. it was adopted in its final form as a “plan of a treaty [to] be proposed to His Most Christian Majesty” (same, p. 768–779; see also p. 594, 696, 709–710, 718, and entry No. 121 in “Bibliographical Notes,” same, 6:1124). JA’s present summary of his arguments for the Plan probably pertains to the debates in committee of the whole late in August.

JA’s draft, the committee report, and the plan as adopted by Congress, with instructions, are now available in the Papers of John Adams, volume 4.

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