Adams Papers

To John Adams from Francis Dana, 9 May 1783

From Francis Dana

St: Petersbourg
April 28th. 1783. OS [9 May N.S.]

Dear Sir

The post of the 21st. inst: brôt Mr: Thaxter’s Letters of the 31st. of March, and 3d. of April; by which I find you had received mine of the 24th. of Feby: informing you that I had that day communicated my Mission to the Vice Chancr: and the reason why I did it.1 The Contents of this packet will therefore much surprise you. You will be ready to ask what has since taken place. I only answer the first objection Cause assigned, at present. Hereafter I may attempt to account for so unexpected an Event— I have only to pray you if Mr: T. has leisure, to desire him to make out a copy of the Memorial, and of my Letter to the Vice-Chancellor accompanying it.2 You will be pleased to forward this packet, which you are desired to read, by the first occasion. From your Friend & humble Servant.


P. S. Send no more Letters on to me here, unless I shortly request you to do it.

RC (Adams Papers); internal address: “His Excellency J. Adams Esqr: &c”; endorsed: “Mr Dana / April 28th 1783.” Filmed at 28 April.

1Thaxter’s 31 March letter had a postscript dated 3 April (MHi:Dana Family Papers). Thaxter noted in the postscript that when Dana’s [7 March] letter, above, arrived “several of our Countrymen were present when our Friend opened your Letter, & altho’ he did not read it to Us, yet he dropped a Hint which spread genuine Joy on each Countenance, followed with a cordial Battement des Mains [applause].”

2On the previous day, 8 May, Dana sent a memorial to Ivan A. Osterman, vice chancellor of Russia. In it he challenged the arguments used by Osterman during his conference with Dana on 23 April, at which Osterman attempted to justify Russia’s refusal to immediately recognize the United States. This letter is the first of three, the others dated [12] and [15 May], both below, dealing with the conference and the memorial. The packet enclosed with this letter included a brief covering letter to Robert R. Livingston of [9 May] and the [8 May] memorial with its letter of transmittal to Osterman. It did not include a second, longer, and more analytical letter to Livingston of [9 May], due to Dana’s certainty that this letter would be opened and its enclosures read by Russian agents (Wharton, Dipl. Corr. Amer. Rev. description begins The Revolutionary Diplomatic Correspondence of the United States, ed. Francis Wharton, Washington, 1889; 6 vols. description ends , 6:411–415, 416–418).

The 23 April conference climaxed Dana’s efforts to obtain Russian recognition and, as his [8 May] memorial indicates, it was profoundly disappointing because Russia was clearly unwilling to recognize the United States. Dana’s memorial summarized then rebutted Osterman’s arguments. According to Dana, Osterman offered three obstacles to immediate recognition. First, the revived Austro-Russian mediation required Russia to maintain its neutrality, which would be compromised if it recognized the United States before a definitive treaty was concluded. Second, Dana would need a new commission dated after the conclusion of the definitive treaty, since to accept a commission with a prior date would also compromise Russian neutrality. Finally, and again with reference to Russian neutrality, an American minister could not be received at St. Petersburg before Great Britain had received a minister in London. Regarding the first point, Dana noted that Britain had already recognized the United States as sovereign and independent by agreeing to negotiate with its commissioners and by concluding the provisional peace treaty. Therefore, Dana argued, Russian recognition could not compromise its neutrality. As to the third obstacle to recognition, Dana argued that other nations had received American ministers and that if British reception of a minister was to be the criteria for receiving a minister from the United States, then the new nation’s ability to exercise its sovereignty with regard to the nations of Europe would be seriously compromised. But it was Osterman’s second point that elicited Dana’s most passionate response. Dana interpreted Osterman’s comment to mean that Russia would recognize the sovereignty and independence of the United States as dating from the conclusion of the definitive treaty rather than, as his commission of 19 Dec. 1780 indicated, from 4 July 1776, when the Declaration of Independence was officially proclaimed. Dana noted that for the United States to accept Osterman’s view would be “to strike off near seven years of their existence as free, sovereign, and independent States” (same, p. 411–415).

In a Russian account of the 23 April conference (U.S. and Russia description begins The United States and Russia: The Beginning of Relations, 1765–1815, ed. Nina N. Bashkina and others, Washington, 1980. description ends , p. 181–183), Osterman’s remarks appear more ambiguous and conditional than Dana’s account indicates, but generally it supports Dana’s version. In his [14 June] response to the [8 May] memorial, Osterman indicated that Dana had misinterpreted Russia’s position, particularly with regard to the date of his commission. The vice chancellor implied that he had merely meant that Dana’s commission should bear a date later than 19 Dec. 1780. In a conversation with Dana shortly thereafter, Osterman indicated that the “demand did not touch on the question of when American independence was established” and that “so delicate a matter ought not to have been brought up” (same, p. 190–192). For additional comments by Dana concerning this issue, see Dana’s letters of [12] and [15 May], below.

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