Adams Papers

John Adams to Benjamin Franklin and John Jay, 20 February 1784

To Benjamin Franklin and John Jay

The Hague Feb. 20. 1784


The Day before Yesterday the Baron de Thuilemeyer the Envoy to their High Mightinesses, from the King of Prussia, did me the Honour of a Visit, but as I had Company, he stayed but a short time. As I accompanied him to the Door, he whis told me, that he had Something to Say to me from the King, and desird me to name an Hour, when he might call upon me again. I told him his Hour should be mine, and that I would return his Visit at any hour he should choose the next day. But he choose to call upon me and mentioned Eleven in the Morning. Accordingly Yesterday he came, and told me “that the King who honoured him with a Personal Correspondence, and who was acquainted with my Character by Reputation, had directed him to make me a Visit, and to observe to me, that as his Subjects had occasion for our Tobacco and perhaps other Things, and as We had occasion for Silesia Linnens, and perhaps other Productions of his Dominions, he thought an Arrangement might be made between his Majesty and the United States, which would be beneficial on both Sides,” and the Baron desired to know my Sentiments of it.

I Answered him “that I was very Sensible of the Honour done me by his Majesty, but that I had Singly no Authority to treat, or enter into Conferences officially upon the subject. That Congress had been pleased to confer upon their late Ministers at the Peace, Authority to enter into Conferences. That I could do nothing but in Concurrence with Mr Franklin and Mr Jay who were at Paris: but I thought I could answer for the good Dispositions of those Ministers as well as my own for forming an Arrangement between the two Powers, which might be beneficial to both.— That I would write to you, Gentlemen an account of what had passed between Us. But that it was possible you might have already announced to the Baron de Goltz,1 the. That I should be[”] He desired that I would, and said he would, write by the first Post to the King, and enquire if his Majesty had any Thing in particular to propose, would inform him of my Answer, and wait his further orders, which probably he should receive, as soon as I should have an Answer from Paris.—2

I have at last obtained Some better hopes of Saving Mr Morris’s Bills which become payable in this Month & March but have as yet nothing like Certainty of Saving those in May. and if fresh Bills appear, which I very much fear, We must fail at last.— however, I have agreed to open a new Loan, and must stay here to Sign the Instruments & obligations, having obtained a Promise, of Money to Save the Bills in March, so that I Shall not be able to join you Gentlemen, for sometime.

I Suppose We may make the Treaty with Holland or that with Sweeden, in general the Model of one with Prussia. if you think any alterations necessary, they may be proposed to the King either by the Baron de Goltz or de Thuilemeyer. meantime I think it would be proper for you Gentlemen to write to Congress for a Commission to treat & conclude for I take it for granted that no Power can conclude with Us, without any other full Power than our Instruction.

LbC (Adams Papers); internal address: “Their Excellencies Benjamin Franklin / & John Jay Esqrs.”; APM Reel 107.

1The Baron Bernhard Wilhelm von der Goltz had been the Prussian minister to France since 1768 (Repertorium, description begins Ludwig Bittner and others, eds., Repertorium der diplomatischen Vertreter aller Länder seit dem Westfälischen Frieden (1648), Oldenburg, 1936–1965; 3 vols. description ends 3:327). There had been no exchanges, however, between Goltz and Franklin regarding a treaty.

2The Baron von Thulemeier’s meeting with JA ultimately led the Prussian diplomat to present JA with a draft Prussian-American treaty. But this initial effort came to nothing because, as JA informed Thulemeier, neither he nor his colleagues at Paris had the power to negotiate such a treaty and could only submit the proposal, with their observations thereon, to Congress and await instructions. In slightly altered form, JA included this paragraph and the previous one in his 9 March 1784 letter to the president of Congress informing Congress of his meeting with Thulemeier and Frederick II’s proposal for a treaty, below. For the draft and its fate, see the Proposed Prussian-American Treaty of Amity and Commerce, [9 April – post 5 May], below, and for additional information on Thulemeier, see Descriptive List of Illustrations, No. 1, above.

By the time the proposed treaty reached Annapolis the situation had significantly changed, for on 7 May Congress appointed JA, Franklin, and Thomas Jefferson to a new joint commission empowered to negotiate treaties with 23 nations, including Prussia, in Europe and North Africa, for which see the joint commission to negotiate an Anglo-American commercial treaty, [12 May], note 1, below. JA learned of the new commission in early August (from W. T. Franklin, 1 Aug.; from Benjamin Franklin, 6 Aug., both below). But not until 10 Nov. did the commissioners submit their own draft treaty to Thulemeier, below, and it was that draft that served as the basis for the final treaty signed by JA, Franklin, and Jefferson in 1785 (Miller, Treaties, description begins Treaties and Other International Acts of the United States of America, ed. Hunter Miller, Washington, D.C., 1931–1948; 8 vols. description ends 2:162–184).

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