Joint Commission to Negotiate a Treaty
of Amity and Commerce with Great Britain
The United States in Congress Assembled
[12 May 1784]1
To all to whom these presents shall come or be made known—Send Greeting—
Whereas an intercourse between the Subjects of His Britannic Majesty and the Citizens of the United States of America founded on the principles of equality, reciprocity and friendship may be of mutual advantage to both Nations— Now therefore Know Ye that we reposing special trust and confidence in the integrity, prudence and ability of our trusty and beloved the honorable John Adams late one of our ministers plenipotentiary for negotiating a peace and heretofore a delegate in Congress from the State of Massachusetts and Chief Justice of the said State—the honble: Docr. Benjamin Franklin our minister plenipotentiary at the Court of Versailles and late another of our ministers plenipotentiary for negotiating a peace and the honorable Thomas Jefferson a delegate in Congress from the State of Virginia and late Governor of the said State have nominated, constituted and appointed and by these presents do nominate, constitute and appoint them the said John Adams, Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson our ministers plenipotentiary giving to them or the majority of them full power and authority for us an in our name to confer, treat and negotiate with the Ambassador, Minister or Commissioner of His said Britannic Majesty vested with full and sufficient powers of and concerning a Treaty of Amity and Commerce to make and receive propositions for such Treaty and to conclude and sign the same, transmitting it to the United States in Congress Assembled for their final ratification. This Commission to continue in force for a term not exceeding two years from the date hereof—
In Testimony whereof we have caused the Seal of the United States to be hereunto affixed, Witness His Excellency Thomas Mifflin President this twelfth day of May in the Year of our Lord one thousand seven hundred and eighty four and of the Sovereignty and Independence of the United States of America the Eighth—
Chas Thomson secy.
MS (Adams Papers); docketed by JA: “Commission to Adams Franklin / and Jefferson to / treat with Great Britain concerning Com / merce. / 12. of May 1784.”; notation: “England.”
1. On 11 May, in consequence of its 7 May resolution “that a commission be issued to Mr. J. Adams, Mr. B. Franklin and Mr. T. Jefferson, giving powers to them, or to the greater part of them, to make and receive propositions for such treaties of amity and Commerce, and to negotiate and sign the same, transmitting them to Congress for their final ratification; and that such commission be in force for a term not exceeding two years,” Congress resolved on the form of the commissions, all of which were to bear the date 12 May (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, D.C., 1904–1937; 34 vols. description ends 26:362; 27:372–374). The commission printed here is an example of the twenty commissions issued by Congress on this date for treaties with European nations and the Barbary States. The others were Russia, Austria, Prussia, Denmark, Saxony, Hamburg, Spain, Portugal, Genoa, Tuscany, Rome, Naples, Venice, Sardinia, the Ottoman Empire, Morocco, Algiers, Tunis, and Tripoli. The commissions are virtually identical, except for the different formulas depending on the country for which each was issued and because of the copying process itself. For a detailed examination of what textual variations exist, see Jefferson, Papers, description begins The Papers of Thomas Jefferson, ed. Julian P. Boyd, Charles T. Cullen, John Catanzariti, Barbara B. Oberg, and others, Princeton, 1950–. description ends 7:262–265. The only other original 12 May commission in the Adams Papers is for the treaty with Portugal; for the others, see MHi:Coolidge Collection. The commissions were enclosed with a 16 May letter from Charles Thomson to Thomas Jefferson and were carried by Jefferson when he sailed aboard the Ceres from Boston for France on 5 July. He reached Paris on 6 Aug. (Jefferson, Papers, description begins The Papers of Thomas Jefferson, ed. Julian P. Boyd, Charles T. Cullen, John Catanzariti, Barbara B. Oberg, and others, Princeton, 1950–. description ends 7:261–262, 312, 364). On 25 Aug. JA wrote to C. W. F. Dumas, below, and noted that our commissions “are as numerous as the sands.” For a later revision of the commissions to negotiate treaties with the Barbary States, see the 11 March 1785 letter from John Jay to the commissioners, and the joint commission to negotiate a treaty with Morocco of the same date, both below.
On 3 June 1784 Congress authorized three additional commissions for supplemental treaties with France, the Netherlands, and Sweden (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, D.C., 1904–1937; 34 vols. description ends 27:530). This likely was done to avoid offending those nations, but the initial oversight was probably owing to the fact that relatively recent treaties existed between them and the United States. They were sent under cover of an 18 June letter from Thomson to the commissioners, below.