Benjamin Franklin and John Adams to the President of the Congress
Passy July 23d. 1778
We have just received a Message from Monsr. Le Comte De Vergennes, by his Secretary, acquainting Us; that Information is received from England of the Intention of the Cabinet there, to offer (by additional Instructions to their Commissioners) Independence to the United States, on Condition of their making a Separate Peace, relying on their Majority in both Houses, for Approbation of the Measure.1 M. De Vergennes, upon this Intelligence requests, that we would write expressly to acquaint the Congress, that tho’ no formal Declaration of War has yet been published, the War between France and England is considered as actualy existing from the time of the Return of the Ambassadors; and that if England should propose a Peace with France, the immediate Answer to the Proposition would be, our eventual Treaty2 with the United States is now in full Force; and we will make no Peace but in Concurrence with them. The same Answer it is expected, will be given by the Congress, if a seperate Peace should be proposed to them. And we have given it as our firm Opinion, that such an Answer will be given by you, without the least Hesitation or Difficulty, tho’ you may not have been informed before, as you now are, that War being actually begun, the Eventual Treaty is become fully and compleatly binding. We are with great Respect, Sir, your most obedt. & most humble Servants
RC (PCC, No. 85); docketed: “Letter from B. Franklin J. Adams Paris July 23. 1778 Read March 5. 1779. The eventual Treaty is become actually in Force”; notation at the top of the first page: “(Duplicate).”
1. Compare the official view of this reported offer with JA’s more pointed comments in his private letters to James Warren, Henry Laurens, and Samuel Adams of 26, 27, and 28 July respectively (all below).
2. That is, the Treaty of Alliance was an eventual treaty in the sense that events—the outbreak of war—had to occur before its provisions, in this case Article 8, could go into effect (OED description begins The Oxford English Dictionary, Oxford, 1933; 12 vols. and supplement. description ends ; Miller, ed., Treaties description begins Hunter Miller, ed., Treaties and Other International Acts of the United States of America, Washington, 1931–1948; 8 vols. description ends , 2:38–39).
3. Arthur Lee did not sign this letter, although he was given an opportunity to do so, but he did make a copy (MH-H: Lee Papers). Included with Lee’s copy in the Lee Papers is a note, apparently from JA and Benjamin Franklin, stating that “Mr A. Lee is desired to sign and return the enclosed if he approves it.” Lee docketed this note as follows: “Reed, from a Commissionaire on my way from Challiot to Paris, between 6 and 7 O’clock in the Evening, containing a Paper of which the enclosd is an exact Copy. A. Lee July 24th. 1778. Returned unsignd at 8 O’clock next morning.”