Adams Papers

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

To Benjamin Franklin and John Jay

The Hague April 20. 1784


I have just now received the Letter which Dr Franklin did me the Honour to write me on the 16th. with the Copy of the Treaty with Sweeden. I have before inclosed the King of Prussias Project of a Treaty, prepared as I am assured by his Minister with his own Hand in his private Cabinet.

I believe it has been reserved to the present Age when the subtilties of Aristotle and the schools are transferred from Theology to Politicks, to discover Room for a Doubt in the Construction of the Armistice. and therefore We shall Search in vain in any Admiralty, for a Precedent. The Words are “Le terme Sera d’un mois depuis la manche et les mers du Nord, jusqu’aux Isles Canaries inclusivement, Soit dans l’Ocean, Soit dans la Mediterranée.”1

This Limit is to extend to the Southermost Point of the Southernmost Canary Island, from the Channell. This is the Extent from North to South.— What is to be the Extent from East to West? is it to have none. is it to be confined to a mathematical Line, running from the Middle of the Channel to the remotest Part of the remotest Canary? or is it to be a Space as Wide as the Channel, running from it to that Canary? or is it to be as wide as that Island. if none of these Constructions have common Sense in them, what can We suppose to have been the Meaning of the Contracting Parties? They have ascertained the Space very exactly from North to South, and as they have left the Extent from East to West without limits, it is very clear they intended it should be unlimited and reach all round the Globe, at least where there is any Ocean or Mediterranean.

I have the Honour to be Gentlemen / your most obedient and most / humble servant

John Adams

RC (NNC:John Jay Papers); addressed by JQA: “France / à / Leurs Excellencies / Messieurs B. Franklin et J. Jay / Ministres Plenipotentiaires des Etats Unis / de l’Amerique / à / Passy / près / Paris”; internal address: “Their, Excellencies / Benjamin Franklin Esq / & / John Jay Esqr.”; endorsed by John Jay: “Mr. Adam’s Letter / of 20 Ap. 1784 to / Mrs. Franklin & Jay.” LbC (Adams Papers); APM Reel 107.

1JA quotes from Art. 22 of the 20 Jan. 1783 Anglo-French preliminary peace treaty (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 2:112). The Anglo-American preliminary treaty took effect upon the signature of that treaty but contained no provision regarding the cessation of hostilities, or, as Franklin phrased it in his 16 April 1784 letter, above, “the Limits & Term of Captures.” The British and American proclamations of the cessation of hostilities, dated 14 and 20 Feb. 1783, respectively, therefore included an English translation of the French passage (vol. 14:264–266, 281, 284–285). JA thought that there should be little room for variant interpretations of the meaning of the provision since, as he indicated in his 20 April 1784 letter to John Hurd, below, essentially the same language had been used in Art. 25 of the 3 Nov. 1762 preliminary peace treaty between Britain, France, and Spain ending the Seven Years’ War (Parliamentary Hist., description begins The Parliamentary History of England, from the Earliest Period to the Year 1803, London, 1806–1820; 36 vols. description ends 15:1250).

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