Adams Papers

To John Adams from Henry Laurens, 26 March 1783

From Henry Laurens

London 26th March 1783.

Dear Sir,

I was yesterday honored by the reciept of your Letter of the 12th. Instant.

Can Mystery remain when Demonstration is produced? Time has acted his part, if We affect to disbelieve the Evidence which he has brought forth, neither will We be persuaded tho’ one rose from the dead. You will herewith receive copy of a Letter from Mr. Bridgen in confirmation of what I said to you in my last, if after this there shall still remain in your opinion a “Mystery which Time only can unriddle,” it must so rest with you—1 I will not attempt an Exposition because I would not without necessity speak even a Truth to offend you. Time or even one moment’s reflexion will however convince you that if you can believe the Person capable of the Doings already proved, is a fit and proper person for a confidential Friend in the important affairs of the United States of America, your Faith is strong enough to admit that your very best Friends may be of a different Opinion—private Affections and Attachments I presume not to touch. Believe me sir I write to you in Friendship and that even respecting the faulty Person himself I wish it were possible with the utmost stretch of Charity to believe him not guilty.

I lately saw in a Morning Chronicle a publication of your first Commission for making a Treaty of Commerce with Great Britain and of the revocation of that Commission which staggered me because upon being questioned by some of our best friends I had signified an Opinion that such a Commission was subsisting. I know but of one Person in England who could have made that mischievous publication I wish he may not be possessed of more important Documents.2

That “the noble Lord”3 did boast is beyond all doubt but I had the good fortune to give a check to his success by propounding a Question almost in terms with that which you have put— How does His Lordship know whether We conferred with, or what We communicated to our Ally? but admitting the fact, which I do not admit, what then? Be assured that a disappointed & mortified S—— maugre all pretensions to Whigism has as good a stomach for such a “Feat” as even an H—— a G—— or the other S or S had.

I coincide exactly in your opinion on the Delay of the Definitive Treaty, the Evacuation of New York, the Tories, Recommendations &c. and ’tis probable I have given a Damp to the third Edition for the [“]Provisional Establishment and Regulation of Trade &c” by framing a counter Bill supposed to be pending in each of the United States for regulating the British trade which I held up as a Mirror to a noble Lord and a few of the most eminent Commoners, the picture alarmed them, and if I judge right a Lead will be laid upon their Bill.4

“You cannot think our Country will hang their Ministers for being cheated into Independence Fisheries &c &c.” I fancy not, but be as grave as you please upon the subject, believe me his Lordship boasted of having “cheated” us “into” those great benefits & flattered himself with hopes that upon the same ground he would be able to “cheat” us out of them again. I hope his Wings will be clipt. If the proper Ministry shall succeed I have every reason to expect an honest and liberal proceeding with respect to us will immediately ensue. My opinion is founded upon the most explicit assurances from the very best hands— The Tories nicknamed Loyalists, are execrated by the Circle in which I sometimes move and yet they say they must “make some Provision for some of the poor Devils for National honor’s sake—” I reply, make what provision you will, it would be impertinent in me to interfere in that Business, but you must not attempt to cram them down our throats, ’tis time you should know that America will not be taxed without her own consent. I have uniformly discouraged all attempts to trade with the United States until the Definitive Treaty shall be concluded, and the British Forces by Land & Sea effectually withdrawn. The Reasonings which I have urged particularly personating the State of New York have been acknowledged invincible, but some of the Merchants are nevertheless mad, and will send their Ships—let them be mad. I trust the United States will be wise.

My Son & Daughter join in respectful Compliments with, / Dear Sir, / your obedient and / most humble servant,

Henry Laurens.

P.S. 4th. April. I beg leave to refer to a few lines of P. S. to Doctor Franklin. I shall be on my way to Paris about the 8th. Inst. Mr. Oswald it seems is not to be at the finishing our negotiations, I am thankful however for the appointment of another honest Man—David Hartley Esquire who desires me to present his Compliments.—5


RC and enclosure (Adams Papers); internal address: “His Excellency / John Adams Esquire / Paris.”; endorsed: “recd 9. of April at night.”; by John Thaxter: “Mr. Laurens / 26. March 1783.”

1The enclosed letter of 12 March 1783 from Edward Bridgen stated that Edmund Jenings admitted to identifying Bridgen as the person who urged him to forward an anonymous letter to JA even though he had no basis for doing so. Bridgen’s letter was included in Mr. Laurens’s True State of the Case. By Which His Candor to Mr. Edmund Jenings Is Manifested, and the Tricks of Mr. Jenings Are Detected, [Bath], 1783, p. 68 (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 , 16:326).

2JA’s 29 Sept. 1779 commission and Congress’ resolution of 12 July 1781 revoking it appeared in the Morning Chronicle and London Advertiser of 11 March. Laurens is almost certainly correct about Edmund Jenings’ being the paper’s source for the publication but wrong that JA might have any objections to it. See JA’s letter to Jenings of 28 Jan., and note 1; and Jenings’ letter of 14 March, and note 4, both above. But Laurens was concerned over more than Jenings’ involvement. In a 5 April letter to Robert R. Livingston, Laurens reported on a meeting with Charles James Fox, who “was desirous of knowing whether the American Ministers were authorized and disposed to open an Intercourse & Commerce upon terms of Reciprocity without delay, I replied, I believed they were, altho’ a late Publication by a suspected hand, of the Revocation of Mr. Adams’s Commission left me not so clear on that point” (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 , 16:174–176).


4For the bill’s third version and Laurens’ full account of his conversation with Fox about it, 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 , 16:174–179. The bill was permanently tabled, and on 9 April Fox moved that in lieu of its passage the Prohibitory Acts be repealed. The suggestion met little opposition and was approved (Parliamentary Hist. description begins The Parliamentary History of England, from the Earliest Period to the Year 1803, London, 1806–1820; 36 vols. description ends , 23:724–728, 730).

5Laurens arrived at Paris on 15 April, and Hartley reached the city nine days later, on the 24th (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 , 16:188; JA, D&A description begins Diary and Autobiography of John Adams, ed. L. H. Butterfield and others, Cambridge, 1961; 4 vols. description ends , 3:112). However, on 12 March and again on the 31st Hartley wrote letters to Benjamin Franklin and enclosed with each proposals for “Supplemental” or “Provisional” treaties with the United States. The proposals were apparently derived from Hartley’s comments of 10 March, during the debate over the American Intercourse Bill, setting down the “heads of a treaty, calculated to lead to the establishment of such commercial regulations, between Great Britain and the United States.” With one notable exception, the articles proposed by Hartley were apparently intended to form the basis for a convention or conventions for the implementation of the preliminary treaty of 30 Nov. 1782 in the period prior to the conclusion of the definitive treaty or to do essentially what the American Intercourse Bill was designed for, that is to regulate Anglo-American commerce until a permanent commercial treaty was negotiated or until commercial provisions were incorporated into the definitive treaty. The exception was an article to be incorporated directly into the definitive treaty by which “the Subjects of his Britannick Majesty & the citizens of the united States shall mutually be considered as Natural born Subjects, & enjoy all rights & privileges as such, in the Respective Dominions and territories, in the Manner heretofore accustomed.”

At some point Franklin gave JA copies of Hartley’s two letters and their enclosures, for the documents are in the Adams Papers, apparently the only extant copies. It is not known when Franklin did so, but there is no indication that the proposals contained in Hartley’s letters were ever placed before the negotiators. The outcome of the debates over the American Intercourse Bill made it clear that Hartley’s proposals, particularly on trade, were at odds with the growing British resistance to any additional concessions to the United States. Thus, despite whatever sympathy the American Commissioners might have had for Hartley’s good intentions, negotiations with him resulted in a definitive treaty only little changed from the preliminaries of 30 Nov. 1782. The letters and enclosures in the Adams Papers can be found under the dates of 12 and 31 March and [March-April]; but see also Wharton, Dipl. Corr. Amer. Rev. description begins The Revolutionary Diplomatic Correspondence of the United States, ed. Francis Wharton, Washington, 1889; 6 vols. description ends , 6:288–291, 353–355). For JA’s use of Hartley’s proposals, see his Draft Articles to Supplement the Preliminary Anglo-American Peace Treaty and his Proposed Articles for an Anglo-American Commercial Treaty, both at [ca. 27 April], below.

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