Benjamin Franklin Papers

Continental Congress to the American Peace Commissioners: Instructions, [15 June 1781]

Continental Congress to the American Peace Commissioners: Instructions

Copies: Archives du Ministère des affaires étrangères,2 Library of Congress (two), National Archives (two), Massachusetts Historical Society, Charles E. Feinberg, Detroit (1957);3 L (draft):4 National Archives; LS:5 Philip D. Sang, River Forest, Illinois (1959), Massachusetts Historical Society

[June 15, 1781]6

Instructions to the honourable John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, John Jay, Henry Laurens and Thomas Jefferson, Ministers Plenipotentiary, in Behalf of the United States, to negociate a Treaty of Peace.


You are hereby authorised and instructed to concur in behalf of these United States with his most christian Majesty, in accepting the Mediation proposed by the Empress of Russia and the Emperor of Germany.

You are to accede to no Treaty of Peace which shall not be such as may 1st effectually secure the Independence and Sovereignty of the Thirteen United States according to the Form and Effect of the Treaties subsisting between the said United States and his most christian Majesty; And 2dly. in which the said Treaties shall not be left in their full Force and Validity.—

As to disputed Boundaries, and other Particulars, we refer you to the Instructions given to Mr John Adams dated 14 August 1779, and 18 October 1780, from which you will easily perceive the Desires & Expectations of Congress.7 But we think it unsafe at this Distance to tye you up by absolute & peremptory Directions upon any other Subject than the two essential Articles abovementioned.— You are therefore at liberty to secure the Interest of the United States in such manner as Circumstances may direct, and as the State of the belligerent—and the Disposition of the mediating—Powers may require. For this purpose you are to make the most candid and confidential Communications upon all subjects to the Ministers of our generous Ally the King of France; to undertake nothing in the Negotiations for Peace or Truce without their Knowledge and Concurrence; and ultimately to govern yourselves by their Advice and Opinion; endeavouring in your whole Conduct8 to make them sensible how much we rely upon his Majesty’s Influence for effectual support9 in every thing that may be necessary to the Peace, Security, and future Prosperity of the United States of America.— If a Difficulty should arise in the Course of the Negociation for Peace, from the Backwardness of Great Britain to acknowledge our Independence, you are at liberty to agree to a Truce, or to make such other Concessions as may not affect the Substance of what we contend for, and provided that Great Britain be not left in Possession of any Part of the United States.— .

Samuel Huntington Presidt
Cha. Thomson, secry.

Notation: Juin 1781.

[Note numbering follows the Franklin Papers source.]

2In BF’s hand. The foreign ministry made a French translation: Doniol, Histoire, IV, 604–6.

3The last of these is in WTF’s hand. BF attested that it is a true copy and endorsed it, “Instructions relative to the Peace Treaty.” It also bears an endorsement by JA, “Ultimately to govern ourselves by their Advice & opinion.”

4In the hand of Charles Thomson and printed in JCC, XX, 651–2.

5We do not print from either of them because they are partially in code. On the former is a notation by Charles Thomson, “Mr Jay has the Key.” The latter, which is in a different code, has been partially decoded.

6The date is taken from the first LS and also appears on the National Archives copies (which are in the Secret Journals). See also JCC, XX, 650n.

7JCC, XIV, 958–60; XVIII, 948–50; Adams Papers, X, 278–80.

8The preceding fourteen words were added on June 11 after a contested congressional vote. Four days later a motion to reconsider was defeated: JCC, XX, 626–7, 650. Delaware delegate Thomas Rodney (who had voted to reconsider) considered this passage “Abject and Humiliating” (Smith, Letters, XVII, 325); BF and his colleagues basically disregarded it.

9The preceding word is supplied from JCC, XX, 652.

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