Adams Papers

To John Adams from Robert R. Livingston, 6 November 1782

From Robert R. Livingston

No: 12

Philadelphia 6th. Novr. 1782.


The scene of Action is so entirely transfered to your side of the Atlantick that scarce any occurance among us at present is sufficiently interesting to furnish matter for a publick Letter. The Resolutions which have from time to time evinced the steady Determination of Congress in no event to Relinquish the great Object of the War or to think of Peace but in Connection with their Allies have been already transmitted you—1 the military force on both sides is perfectly Unactive by the enclosed extracts from Genl. Carlton & Genl— Washingtons Letters you will see that the first is so bent on peace that notwithstanding the opinion of his superiors he does not see, that the War has any longer an Object, it is high time that he disownes them for their Conduct is a Right Disownal of him.2

The clauses of the Commission to Mr. Fitzherbert which are designed to enclude us are Strong indications of the extream Reluctance of the British to give up their supposed Dominion over this Country you have great credit with me for the Judgment you have formed from time to time of the Court of Britain your opinions sometimes runs counter to those generally received.3

Nothing can be more conformable to my Wishes than the Instructions you transmitted keep up that Spirit in—and we have nothing to fear from that Quarter [but]4 lengthy negotiations even after they shall Commence in earnest.

We have got no Accounts of the Evacuation of Charlestown,5 as that Event begins daily to grow more uncertain, such is the Inconstancy of the Enemy that one may as well predict what appeareance a cloud will put on two hours hence by our knowledge of the Wind as reduce their Conduct to any settled shape by knowing their professions— but the Troops have gone into Winter Quarters at West Point— The French have marched to the Eastward to be nearer their Fleet which lies at Boston— part of the British Fleet consisting of fourteen sail of the Line & Eight Frigates excluding a ship of 40 Guns Sail’d from New York the 26th: Inst. they have such a decided Superiority in the American Seas that if they had Correspondent Land Forces or knew how to apply those they keep koop’d up in America they might Render themselves very formidable in the West Indies This however is I hope an evil which will be e’er long Remedied— Bills for the Amount of your salary from Jany. last have been Regularly transmitted to Doctr: Franklin— You will Receive with this the Amount of the last Quarter ending the 1st. Octr. Morris my secretary will enclose you a state of your Account—6 I should be glad you would Acknowledge the Rect. of these monies as they come to hand— Since I [s]tand charged with them in the Treasury Books—The Enclosed Resolutions will shew you that Mr. Boudinott has succeeded Mr. Hanson president of Congress7

I have the honour to be Sir, / Your Most Ob Hum: Servt

Robt R Livingston

RC and enclosures (Adams Papers); endorsed by John Thaxter: “No. 12. / Mr. Secy. Livingston / 6th. Novr. 1782.”; by JA: “ansd. 23 Jan. 1783.” Dupl (Adams Papers). Dupl (MHi:John Adams, Embassy MSS). For the enclosures, see notes 1, 2, and 6.

1This is Livingston’s first letter to JA since 15 Sept. (vol. 13:465–468) and is a belated reply to JA’s 18 Aug. letter (see note 3) that reached Congress on 17 Oct. (PCC, No. 185, III, f. 45). Livingston here refers to Congress’ resolutions of 3 and 4 Oct. (see vol. 13:509, 510), but if they were communicated earlier, the means by which JA received them is unknown. Livingston, however, likely enclosed additional copies, for with this letter in the Adams Papers are copies of both resolutions, together with another of 17 Oct. by which Congress instructed its diplomats in Europe to “transmit full and frequent communications as well of their proceedings with the courts at which they respectively reside as of those which relate to negotiations for peace” (JCC description begins Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789, ed. Worthington Chauncey Ford, Gaillard Hunt, John C. Fitzpatrick, Roscoe R. Hill, and others, Washington, 1904–1937; 34 vols. description ends , 23:663).

2Livingston refers to Washington’s letter of 8 Sept. and Carleton’s reply of the 12th, extracts from which are with this letter in the Adams Papers. In his letter, Washington asked Carleton whether his repeated assertion “that all hostilities stand suspended,” included operations on land and sea, and particularly those in the Northwest Territory. Carleton replied that the suspension might be more accurately described as “partial,” but then wrote, “yet I must at the same time frankly declare to you that being no longer able to discern the object we contend for, I disapprove of all hostilities both by land & sea, as they only tend to multiply the miseries of Individuals, when the Public can reap no advantage by Success.” The inclusion of the extract of Washington’s letter was presumably Livingston’s decision, for the congressional order of 17 Oct. (a copy of which is in the Adams Papers), directed only that Carleton’s letter be sent “to the ministers of the United States at Foreign Courts.”

3In this and the following paragraph, Livingston specifically responds to JA’s letter of 18 Aug. (vol. 13:243–250). In this paragraph he refers to the Latin text of Alleyne Fitzherbert’s commission, included in the letter, and JA’s comment that the commission was ambiguous regarding negotiations with the United States. The following paragraph refers to text of the Dutch instructions to its peace negotiator, Gerard Brantsen, that JA also included in his letter.

4This was a copying error by Livingston’s clerk. The missing word is supplied from the duplicate in the Adams Papers.

5Charleston was not evacuated until 14 Dec. (John Richard Alden, The South in the Revolution 1763–1789, Baton Rouge, 1957, p. 267).

6From Lewis R. Morris, 6 Nov., below.

7By this resolution of 4 Nov. (JCC description begins Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789, ed. Worthington Chauncey Ford, Gaillard Hunt, John C. Fitzpatrick, Roscoe R. Hill, and others, Washington, 1904–1937; 34 vols. description ends , 23:708), Elias Boudinot of New Jersey was elected president in place of John Hanson of Maryland. A copy is in the Adams Papers.

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