Adams Papers

From John Adams to Robert R. Livingston, 14 December 1782

To Robert R. Livingston

Paris. 14th. Decemr: 17821


There is more matter than time to write at present. The King of Sweden has done the United-States great honor, in his Commission to his Minister here to treat with them, by inserting, that he had a great desire to form a Connexion with States, which had so fully established their Independence, and, by the wise & gallant Conduct, so well deserved it; and his Minister desired it might be remembered, that his Sovreign was the first who had voluntarily proposed a Treaty with us—2

Mr: Secretary Townsend announced, on the 3d. of December, in a letter to the Ld. Mayor, the Signature of our Preliminaries.3 On the 5th. his Majesty announced it, in his Speech to both Houses— Addresses of Thanks, in both houses, passed without a division—.4

There is a note in the Courier de l’Europe, of the 6th. inst. worth transcribing—vizt. “Nous distinguons ces trois Lignes avec des Caracteres italiques, a fin de prendre date d’aujourd’hui de l’assertion sur laquelle nous nous étendrons davantage par la suite; que ce n’est a aucune des Causes indiguèes jusqu’a present même dans les deux Chambres du Parlement que nous devons la Paix, les Benedictions de cette Paix que nous regardons com̃e certaine— mais a la Neutralitè armèe. Elle sera durable cette Paix”—5

I have transcribed this note, because it falls in with an opinion that I have long entertained. The armed-Neutrality, & even Mr: Dana’s Mission to it, has had greater Effects than the world is yet informed of—and would have had much greater, if his hands had not been tied—

On the 4th. inst: I wrote a resignation of all my Employments in Europe, which I have now the honor to confirm, & to request that the acceptance of it may be transmitted to me several ways, by the first Ships—

I have the honor to be, Sir, / Yr: Most Obedt: / humle: servt

John Adams

RC in Charles Storer’s hand (PCC, No. 84, IV, f. 317–318); internal address: “Robert. R. Livingston Esqr. / Secretary of State for foreign Affairs.” LbC (Adams Papers); APM Reel 108.

1JA wrote a second letter to Livingston on this date (PCC, No. 84, IV, f. 309–314) enclosing a proposal from the London mercantile firm of Bridgen & Waller to provide Congress with copper blanks to make coins, as well as other services attendant to such an undertaking. The proposal was first made to Henry Laurens in May and was considered but not accepted by Congress. For a more detailed account, see Laurens, Papers description begins The Papers of Henry Laurens, ed. Philip M. Hamer, George C. Rogers Jr., David R. Chesnutt, C. James Taylor, and others, Columbia, S.C., 1968–2003; 16 vols. description ends , 15:512. On 20 Dec. the commissioners sent the same proposal to Livingston as an enclosure to their letter of that date (PCC, No. 85, f. 290–299). Two copies of the proposal were sent because, according to a 19 Dec. postscript to Laurens’ 18 Dec. letter to Edward Bridgen, JA believed that Franklin would not agree to a joint letter from the commissioners. For Laurens’ account of his ultimately successful efforts to obtain a joint letter, see his postscripts of 19, 20, and 21 Dec. to his letter to Bridgen (Laurens, Papers description begins The Papers of Henry Laurens, ed. Philip M. Hamer, George C. Rogers Jr., David R. Chesnutt, C. James Taylor, and others, Columbia, S.C., 1968–2003; 16 vols. description ends , 16:88–90). JA first learned of Bridgen’s desire to sell copper blanks to Congress in Aug. 1781 from Bridgen’s letter to Edmund Jenings of 17 Aug. 1781, which Jenings enclosed in his letter to JA of 22 August. For Jenings’ letter and Bridgen’s 1781 proposal, see vol. 11:465–466.

2 This is JA’s English translation of a passage from the commission of Count Gustav Philip de Creutz that Benjamin Franklin had presumably shown to him. Franklin provided a similar translation in the 14 Dec. postscript to his letter of 5 Dec. to Livingston (Franklin, Papers description begins The Papers of Benjamin Franklin, ed. Leonard W. Labaree, William B. Willcox, Claude A. Lopez, Barbara B. Oberg, Ellen R. Cohn, and others, New Haven, 1959–. description ends , 38:415).

3 News that the preliminary Anglo-American treaty had been signed reached London on the morning of 3 Dec. (Morning Chronicle and London Advertiser, 5 Dec.). The first official notice of the event appeared in a letter that Thomas Townshend, secretary of state for home affairs, immediately wrote to the Lord Mayor of London, Nathaniel Newnham, announcing “that a messenger is this moment arrived from Paris with an account of provisional articles having been signed the 30th of November by his Majesty’s commissioners and the commissioners of the United States of America, to be inserted in and to constitute a treaty of peace, which is to be concluded, when terms of a peace shall be agreed upon between Great Britain and France.” Townshend’s letter fulfilled a promise made in a 23 Nov. letter to the lord mayor meant to curb speculation in the market. There the secretary wrote “that the negociations, now carrying on at Paris, are brought so far to a point, as to promise a decisive conclusion whether for war or peace, before the meeting of parliament, which will, on that account, be prorogued from Tuesday, the 26th instant, to Thursday, December 5. I have his Majesty’s commands to assure your lordship, that you will receive immediate notice of the issue.” For the letters and the Commons debate concerning them, during which Charles James Fox questioned the ministry’s motives and timing in sending them, see Parliamentary Hist. description begins The Parliamentary History of England, from the Earliest Period to the Year 1803, London, 1806–1820; 36 vols. description ends , 23:279–292.

4 In his speech, George III declared, “I have pointed all My Views and Measures, as well in Europe as in North America, to an entire and cordial Reconciliation with those Colonies.

“FINDING it indispensible to the Attainment of this Object, I did not hesitate to go the full Length of the Powers vested in Me, and offered to declare them Free and Independent States, by an Article to be inserted in the Treaty of Peace. Provisional Articles are agreed upon, to take effect whenever Terms of Peace shall be finally settled with the Court of France.

“IN thus admitting their Separation from the Crown of these Kingdoms, I have sacrificed every Consideration of My own, to the Wishes and Opinion of My People. I make it My humble and earnest Prayer to Almighty God, that Great Britain may not feel the Evils which might result from so great a Dismemberment of the Empire; and, that America may be free from those Calamities, which have formerly proved in the Mother Country how essential Monarchy is to the Enjoyment of Constitutional Liberty.— Religion—Language—Interest—Affections may, and I hope will yet prove a Bond of permanent Union between the Two Countries: To this End, neither Attention nor Disposition shall be wanting on My Part” (His Majesty’s Most Gracious Speech to Both Houses of Parliament, on Thursday, December 5, 1782, London, 1782).

JA likely got his information from London newspapers, which reported on the king’s speech and the debates in both houses over the address of thanks in their issues of 6 and 7 December. Perhaps thinking it irrelevant, JA did not mention that, in contrast to Townshend’s letter of 3 Dec. (see note 3), the king did not refer to the “United States of America.” Moreover, while the addresses from the Lords and the Commons both passed unanimously, without division or vote, there was considerable debate about the nature of an acceptable Anglo-American peace and the ministry’s motives in granting independence. The political discord presaged the later parliamentary divisions over the treaty and the Shelburne ministry’s replacement by the Fox-North coalition in April 1783 (Parliamentary Hist. description begins The Parliamentary History of England, from the Earliest Period to the Year 1803, London, 1806–1820; 36 vols. description ends , 23:203–279).

5 We distinguish these three lines with italics for the purpose of asserting what we grow more convinced of with the passage of time; that we owe the peace, the blessings of which we regard as certain, to none of the causes indicated so far in the two houses of Parliament, but to the Armed Neutrality. It will be a lasting peace.

The Courier de l’Europe’s note and JA’s comment refer specifically to George III’s request that “you [Parliament] will take therein proper Measures to give all Foreign Nations, in Matters of Foreign Commerce, an entire and perfect Confidence in the Probity, Punctuality, and good Order of Our Government.”

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