Adams Papers

To John Adams from Ralph Izard, 24 September 1778

From Ralph Izard

Paris 24th. Septr. 1778

Dear Sir

I must apologize for not having given you an immediate answer to your Letter of 20th. instant, which would have been the case if I had not been much employed in writing, on account of the sudden departure of Mr. Blake1 for Nantes. It has been my constant wish that as soon as Great Britain shall be compelled, by the virtuous exertions of our Countrymen, to abandon her plans of conquest, we may enjoy the blessings of Peace, uninterrupted by disputes with any Power whatsoever. Contentions with France, ought above all others to be avoided from every consideration. It is upon this account that I have suffered great uneasiness from some articles in the Treaties with this Court, which I fear will in some future day be productive of much discontent, and mischief. Two of those Articles have been pointed out by Congress, and by their direction have been altered.2 The little time which was spent in examining the Treaties, may be the reason why some other parts may have escaped their attention; and I wish they may not occur to them when it is too late. Had the “alterations that were proposed on either side,” to be made from the Treaty originally transmitted by Congress to the Commissioners at this Court, been communicated to me, some good might possibly have been derived from it. I have no doubt but it was the indispensible duty of those Gentlemen to have made such communication, and if any evils should be sustained in consequence of their persisting in their refusal to make them, in spite of every application on my part, they ought to be answerable for them to their Country.3

This, however, is not the proper time, nor place for the discussion of those points. I shall therefore proceed to take notice of that part of the Treaty only, which you have done me the honour to ask my sentiments upon.

The 8th. Article4 of the original Treaty proposed by Congress contains the following words. “The most Christian King shall retain the same rights of fishery on the banks of Newfoundland, and all other rights relating to any of the said Islands, which he is entitled to by virtue of the Treaty of Paris.”

The 13th. Article of the Treaty of Utrecht contains the following, “It shall be allowed to the subjects of France to catch fish, and to dry them on land, in that part only, and in no other besides that, of the said Island of Newfoundland, which stretches from the place called Cape Bonavista, to the northern point of the said Island, and from thence running down by the western side, reaches as far as the place called Point Riche.”5 The French pretended that in consequence of the above Article, they had an exclusive right to fish on such parts of the coast of Newfoundland as are therein described, but the claim was never admitted by England; indeed the Treaty of Utrecht does not af­

ford any grounds for such a claim. The 5th. Article of the Treaty of Paris says, “The subjects of France shall have the liberty of fishing, and drying on a part of the coasts of the Island of Newfoundland, such as it is specified in the 13th. Article of the Treaty of Utrecht.” The words “indefinite, and exclusive right,” make no part of either of the above Treaties, yet they are inserted in the 10th. Article of our Treaty of Commerce; and that it may seem as if no innovation was intended, that right is claimed as having been “DESIGNED” by the Treaty of Utrecht; and the whole is to be [not such as it is specified, but]6 conformable to the “true sense” of the Treaties of Utrecht, and Paris.

Perhaps my apprehensions on this subject may be groundless; and should that not be the case, perhaps they may be useless.7 I am induced to mention this last observation, by the conversation which I had with you about the Fishery, at Mr. Bertin’s at Passy, in which we differed totally respecting the importance of it to America in general, and particularly to the State of Massachuset’s Bay. You were of opinion that the Fishery was not only an object of no consequence, but that it was, and always would be a prejudice to New England. If this should really be the case, some consolation may be derived from it, when the probability of being excluded from part of it is considered. Since the advantages of Commerce have been well understood, the Fishery has been looked upon by the naval Powers of Europe as an object of the greatest importance. The French have been encreasing their Fishery ever since the Treaty of Utrecht, which has enabled them to rival Great Britain at Sea. The Fisheries of Holland were not only the first rise of that Republic, but have been the constant support of all her Commerce, and Navigation.

This branch of trade is of such concern to the Dutch, that in their public prayers, they are said to request the Supreme Being “that it would please him to bless the Government, the Lords the States, and also their Fisheries.” The Fishery of Newfoundland appears to me to be a mine of infinitely greater value than Mexico, and Peru. It enriches the Proprietors, is worked at less expence, and is the source of naval strength, and protection. I have therefore thought it my duty to give my sentiments on this subject to my friend Mr. Laurens.

If my reasons appear to him to have any weight, it is probable they may be communicated to the Delegates of those States who will be more immediately affected. If not, they will be suppressed, as they ought to be, and neither they, nor anybody else will be troubled with them. I am Dear Sir with great regard Your friend & humble Servant

Ra. Izard

RC (Adams Papers); docketed: “Mr Izzard. ans. Septr. 25. 1778.”

1Presumably William Blake who had come from Nantes to Paris in early September and was the husband of Izard’s niece Anne Izard (Cal. Franklin Papers, A.P.S. description begins I. Minis Hays, comp., Calendar of the Papers of Benjamin Franklin in the Library of the American Philosophical Society, Philadelphia, 1908; 5 vols. description ends , 4:8, 9; JA, Diary and Autobiography description begins Diary and Autobiography of John Adams, ed. L. H. Butterfield and others, Cambridge, 1961; 4 vols. description ends , 3:182, and references there).

2That is, Arts. 11 and 12 of the Treaty of Amity and Commerce. For their deletion, see the Committee for Foreign Affairs to the Commissioners, 14 May, and note 4; Commissioners to the Committee for Foreign Affairs, 29 July, and note 1 (vol. 6:116–118, 119–120, 332). For the significance of Izard’s reference to the articles in this letter to JA, see James Lovell to JA, 13 June 1779 (below).

3Izard is referring to the Treaty Plan of 1776 and is assuming powers that he was never intended to have. Neither the instructions sent to the Commissioners at Paris regarding the plan nor Izard’s own instructions of 1 July 1777 as Commissioner to Tuscany required that he or any other American holding a diplomatic commission from the congress be consulted during the negotiation of a treaty with France. Izard’s instructions, which were also sent to the Commissioners at Paris, did state that the Commissioners were to send Izard a copy of the treaty plan together with whatever changes in its provisions had been made during the course of negotiations (JCC description begins Worthington C. Ford and others, eds., Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789, Washington, 1904–1937; 34 vols. description ends , 5:813–817; president of the congress to Izard, 1 July 1777; Committee for Foreign Affairs to the Commissioners, 2 July 1777, Wharton, ed., Dipl. Corr. Amer. Rev. description begins Francis Wharton, ed., The Revolutionary Diplomatic Correspondence of the United States, Washington, 1889; 6 vols. description ends , 2:360–362). Clearly the congres’ intent was to insure that any treaty that Izard negotiated with Tuscany did not conflict with others already concluded.

4In the Treaty Plan of 1776, as adopted by the congress on 17 Sept. and inserted in the Secret Journals, the provision referred to by Izard appears as Art. 3 (vol. 4:291). The same provision, however, is placed at the end of Art. 8 in the copy of the plan that was sent to the Commissioners in Europe (MH-H: Lee Papers; see also Lee Family Papers, Microfilm, Reel 2, f. 695). The texts originated from two different sources within the congress.

When the members of the congress came to debate the treaty plan, a copy of the draft, as revised in committee, was printed for their use. Two copies of the printed version appear in PCC, No. 47, and changes made during the debates have been entered on both of them. The first copy contains written insertions by Charles Thomson, secretary of the congress, and it became the official text of the plan printed in the Secret Journals. The second copy was kept by James Wilson, a member of the committee that had drawn up the treaty plan and that subsequently was directed to draft instructions concerning it. This second copy probably formed the basis for the version sent to the Commissioners. The provision concerning French fishing rights on the coast of Newfoundland was adopted during the debates, and was recorded by both Thomson and Wilson in the bottom margin of the first page, immediately below Art. 8. Thomson noted in the left margin of his copy that this was to be a new article inserted after Art. 2; Wilson did not. When it came time to prepare a copy of the treaty plan for the Commissioners, the copyist, apparently using Wilson’s version, included the addition at the end of Art. 8. The resulting discrepancy in numbering did not prevent each version from having 30 articles since a second error in transferring changes was made. A long amendment that was appended to the last sentence of Thomson’s Art. 30 was made into a new article, numbered 30, by the copyist.

There is no indication that anyone was aware at the time of the differences between the official text of the treaty plan and the copy sent to the Commissioners. Instructions from the congress concerning the plan clearly referred to the articles as they appear in the Thomson version (vol. 4:300–302). If the Commissioners noticed the conflict between their instructions and the treaty plan, they made no mention of it. Nevertheless, the Wilson version did guide the Commissioners, affecting the form, but not the substance, of the final treaty. In the Franco-American Treaty of Amity and Commerce signed on 6 Feb. 1778, Art. 10 is the equivalent of Art. 3 in the Thomson copy and Art. 8 in Wilson’s. In addition, Art. 30 in the official text (29 and 30 in the Wilson version) appears as Arts. 29 and 30 in the signed document.

5This is an exact rendering of a portion of Art. 13 of the Treaty of Utrecht (Lewis Hertslet, ed., Hertslet’s Commercial Treaties, 12 vols., London, 1840-1871, 1:237–239). The area mentioned in the treaty encompassed approximately five hundred miles of coastline.

6The brackets appear in Izard’s text.

7When the Treaty Plan of 1776 was composed and the Franco-American Treaty of Amity and Commerce negotiated, the American recognition of French rights on the coast of Newfoundland contained in Arts. 3 and 10 of the respective documents represented a concession important to France, but of little apparent cost to the United States. There seemed to be little chance that the United States would ever be in a position to challenge the French status on the island and without such a concession France would have been very reluctant to conclude a treaty. In that context Izard’s long dissertation over the dangers of including Art. 10 in the treaty of amity and commerce seems excessive, although his concern over the American fishery is understandable in light of his conversation with JA described later in the letter.

Izard’s arguments do have significance in light of what actually did occur, but which could not have been forseen by Izard or anyone else in September of 1778: Britain’s decision to share its fishing rights with the United States in the peace treaty. Had the United States not renounced any claim to the French rights, it is possible that Britain, in full control of the island at the time of the negotiations, would have sought to remove France from Newfoundland and sour Franco-American relations by assigning the French fishing rights to the United States. Such an offer would have been difficult for the American negotiators to refuse, regardless of any treaty connection with France. In the end, however, French fishing rights were reconfirmed in the Anglo-French treaties of 1783 and 1814 (Art. 3, Definitive Treaty of Peace between Great Britain and the United States, 3 Sept. 1783, 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 , 2:153–154; Clive Perry, comp., An Index of British Treaties, 1101–1968, 3 vols., London, 1970, 2:85).

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