Adams Papers

From John Adams to Robert R. Livingston, 22 January 1783

To Robert R. Livingston

Paris Jany. 22d. 1783.


Upon a sudden notification from the Comte de Vergennes, Mr. Franklin and myself, in the Absence of Mr. Jay and Mr. Laurens, went to Versailles, and arrived at the Comte’s Office at 10. oClock on Monday, the twentieth of this Month1 At eleven arrived the Comte d’Aranda & Mr. Fitzherbert. The Ministers of the three Crowns signed & sealed the Preliminaries of Peace, and an Armistice, in presence of Mr. Franklin and myself, who also signed and sealed a Declaration of an Armistice, between the Crown of Great Britain and the United States of America, and recieved a Counter-Declaration from Mr. Fitzherbert—2 Copies of these Declarations are inclosed.—3 The King of Great Britain has made a Declaration concerning the Terms that he will allow to the Dutch, but they are not such as will give Satisfaction to that unfortunate Nation, for whom, on Account of their Friendship for Us, and the important Benefits We have recieved from it, I feel very sensibly and sincerely.—4 Yesterday we went to Versailles again to make our Court to the King and Royal Family, and recieved the Compliments of the foreign Ministers.

The Comte d’Aranda invited me to dine with him on Sunday next, and said he hoped, that the Affair of Spain and the United States would be soon adjusted à l’amiable— I answered, that I wished it with all my Heart.— The two Floridas and Minorca are more than a quantum meruit5 for what this Power has done, and the Dutch unfortunately are to suffer for it.

It is not in my power to say, when the definitive Treaty will be signed.— I hope not before the Dutch are ready.— In six Weeks or two Months at farthest, I suppose.

It is no longer necessary for Congress to appoint another Person in my Place in the Commission for Peace, because it will be executed before this reaches America— But I beg Leave to renew my Resignation of the Credence to the States General and the Commission for borrowing Money in Holland, and to request that no Time may be lost in transmitting the Acceptance of this Resignation, and another Person to take that Station, that I may be able to go home in the Spring Ships.6

I have the honor to be, with great / Respect, / Sir, / your most obedient & / most humble Servant.

John Adams.—7

RC and enclosure in John Thaxter’s hand (PCC, No. 84, IV, f. 321–322, 327–328); internal address: “Honble. Robert R. Livingston Esqr / Secretary of State for the Department / of foreign Affairs.—”; endorsed: “Mr. Adams— / 22d Jany 1783.” For the enclosure, see note 3. LbC (Adams Papers); APM Reel 108.

1Vergennes wrote to Benjamin Franklin on 18 January. Franklin replied on the same day that he, JA, and William Temple Franklin would be at Versailles at the specified time but that Henry Laurens and John Jay were at Bath, England, and Normandy, respectively (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 , 38:595–596).

2To this point, JA includes a close rendering of the first paragraph of his Diary entry for 20 January. There, after noting that the American, British, French, and Spanish ministers had all displayed their commissions to each other, JA wrote that “thus was this mighty System terminated with as little Ceremony, and in as short a Time as a Marriage Settlement” (JA, D&A description begins Diary and Autobiography of John Adams, ed. L. H. Butterfield and others, Cambridge, 1961; 4 vols. description ends , 3:106). JA was more expansive in his letter to AA of this date, writing that “thus drops the Curtain upon this mighty Trajedy. It has unravelled itself happily for Us. And Heaven be praised. Some of our dearest Interests have been saved, thro many dangers” (AFC description begins Adams Family Correspondence, ed. L. H. Butterfield, Marc Friedlaender, Richard Alan Ryerson, Margaret A. Hogan, and others, Cambridge, 1963–. description ends , 5:74).

3JA enclosed the French text of the declarations that he and Franklin had exchanged with Alleyne Fitzherbert on 20 Jan., calendared above. Franklin wrote to Livingston on 21 Jan. and enclosed the declarations, as well as Arts. 1 and 22 of the Anglo-French preliminary treaty setting down the conditions governing the armistice (for the letter, see Wharton, Dipl. Corr. Amer. Rev. description begins The Revolutionary Diplomatic Correspondence of the United States, ed. Francis Wharton, Washington, 1889; 6 vols. description ends , 6:225; for the letter and enclosures, see PCC, No. 82, II, f. 341–360). Both letters reached Congress on 10 April (PCC, No. 185, III, f. 61), but it was upon Franklin’s letter and its enclosures that Congress acted on the 11th. This was likely because he included the articles from the Anglo-French treaty, the terms of which were incorporated into Congress’ proclamation of the 11th “Declaring the cessation of arms, as well by sea as by land, agreed upon between the United States of America and his Britannic Majesty; and enjoining the observance thereof” (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 , 24:238–240).

4If JA was surprised by the signing of the Anglo-French and Anglo-Spanish preliminary treaties on 20 Jan., the Dutch were even more so, as is evident from Dumas’ letter of 24 Jan., below. Owing to assurances from the Duc de La Vauguyon at The Hague, Dutch peace negotiators Gerard Brantsen and Mattheus Lestevenon van Berkenrode had been instructed to allow the Comte de Vergennes to negotiate with the British on behalf of the Netherlands, with the expectation that Vergennes would safeguard and promote Dutch interests (vol. 13:246). The Dutch apparently had received no intimation from the French foreign ministry that any progress had been made in negotiations on their behalf with Britain, much less that negotiations were almost complete between Britain, France, and Spain.

The Dutch consternation was even more pronounced because the signings came on the heels of Fitzherbert’s memorial to the Dutch negotiators of 31 Dec. 1782, which, together with the Dutch response of 5 Jan., was widely printed in Dutch and British newspapers. See for example, the Gazette d’Amsterdam of 21 Jan., the London Chronicle of 23–25 Jan., and part 1 of John Almon’s Remembrancer for 1783, p. 168–170. Fitzherbert was responding to a Dutch memorial of 6 Dec. in which Brantsen and Berkenrode presented the Dutch peace ultimata as contained in their instructions, notably that Britain formally recognize Dutch neutral rights as defined by Catherine II’s 1780 Declaration of Armed Neutrality, restore all conquered territories, and indemnify the Dutch for their losses (vol. 13:246–248). Fitzherbert’s discouraging counter-proposal categorically rejected the Dutch ultimata. This was particularly true of Dutch rights to free navigation as a neutral in time of war. Britain proposed to treat the Netherlands as it did any nation with which it had no treaties; that is, in accordance with the general principles of the law of nations, which did not recognize the principles of the Armed Neutrality as settled law. The Dutch memorial supported the demand for British recognition of the right of Dutch ships to navigate freely by referring to Charles James Fox’s offer of just such recognition in March 1782. Fitzherbert rejected that precedent, stating that Fox’s purpose had been to procure a separate Anglo-Dutch peace, a rationale that was no longer valid in Dec. 1782. With regard to the other points, the British proposed to return captured Dutch possessions with the exception of Trincomalee on Ceylon and rejected absolutely any indemnification of Dutch losses.

On 5 Jan. the Dutch diplomats responded to Fitzherbert’s statement by declaring that it offered virtually no basis for negotiation. In their reply, Brantsen and Berkenrode were true to their instructions, but their steadfastness proved of little consequence. Fitzherbert told JA that Britain’s harsh treatment of the Dutch was owing to Spain’s hard-line stance on Minorca and the Floridas (JA, D&A description begins Diary and Autobiography of John Adams, ed. L. H. Butterfield and others, Cambridge, 1961; 4 vols. description ends , 3:107). In reality, however, economic losses and the Dutch Navy’s inability to successfully challenge the Royal Navy left the Netherlands with virtually no bargaining power in its negotiations with England. For an abortive proposal to finesse the obstacle posed by the British refusal to recognize Dutch maritime rights in an Anglo-Dutch peace treaty involving JA and his colleagues as well as the Dutch view of the law of nations and the Armed Neutrality, see Dumas’ letter of 24 Jan., and note 2, below.

JA was concerned about the Dutch situation for a variety of reasons, not the least of which was the Dutch decision to allow Vergennes to negotiate with the British on their behalf. In his Diary JA indicates that he spoke with Vergennes prior to the 20 Jan. signing of the French and Spanish preliminaries: “I asked the C. de Vergennes what was to become of Holland. He smiled and said, that We had nothing to do with that. I answered, with a Smile too, it was very true We had nothing to do with it, but that I interested myself very much, in the Welfare and Safety of that People. He then assumed an affected Air of Seriousness and said he interested himself in it too a good deal” (JA, D&A description begins Diary and Autobiography of John Adams, ed. L. H. Butterfield and others, Cambridge, 1961; 4 vols. description ends , 3:106–107). From this Diary entry it appears that JA believed, as the Dutch ultimately did themselves, that Vergennes was subordinating Dutch interests to those of France. JA had no argument with Vergennes’ devotion to French interests, but the Diary entry and his comments in later letters, such as that to Livingston of 23 Jan., below, indicate that JA saw the Dutch predicament as an object lesson in what would have happened to the United States if the American Peace Commissioners had followed their instructions to be guided by France in negotiations with Great Britain.

5More than it deserves.

6In his letter to AA, JA used nearly the same language regarding his resignation and return home, but at the end he wrote, “if I were to stay in Europe another Year I would insist upon your coming with your daughter but this is not to be and I will come home to you” (AFC description begins Adams Family Correspondence, ed. L. H. Butterfield, Marc Friedlaender, Richard Alan Ryerson, Margaret A. Hogan, and others, Cambridge, 1963–. description ends , 5:74, 76).

7In JA’s hand.

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