Benjamin Franklin Papers

David Hartley to the American Peace Commissioners: Memorial and Proposed Article, [19 May 1783]

David Hartley to the American Peace Commissioners: Memorial and Proposed Article

(I) Copies: Massachusetts Historical Society (four), William L. Clements Library, Library of Congress, National Archives (four); press copy of copy: National Archives; (II) Copies: Massachusetts Historical Society (four), Archives du Ministère des affaires étrangères, William L. Clements Library, Library of Congress, National Archives (four); press copy of copy: National Archives

Formal negotiations between the United States and Great Britain to establish a trade agreement and conclude the definitive peace treaty broke down almost immediately over the exchange of credentials. When Franklin, Adams, Jay, and Laurens met with British representative David Hartley on April 27 and discovered that he had not been granted any particular authority, they refused to negotiate formally until he received a commission under the Great Seal conferring full powers equivalent to their own. Hartley immediately wrote for such a commission, but in the meantime informal discussions continued. Hartley gave the American peace commissioners a document that he had sent to Franklin a month earlier—his proposed “Supplemental Treaty” regarding the opening of trade—and a memorandum explaining it. Two days later, on April 29, the Americans presented him with a set of three draft articles, the first of which concerned trade, which they asked him to forward to London. Regarding them as largely unobjectionable, Hartley forwarded them that same day to Charles James Fox, the new British secretary of state for foreign affairs, describing them as having been drawn up that morning “between the American Ministers and myself.”5

Fox waited until May 15 to answer. He rejected outright the three draft articles, accusing Hartley of either having misunderstood his instructions or deliberately ignoring them. The most problematic article was the first one, which would have granted American ships full reciprocity in carrying goods into British ports. Hartley’s instructions, Fox reminded him, specified that American ships would only be permitted to carry American produce. If the American commissioners entertained expectations of full reciprocity, it would be “an insuperable Obstacle.” Fox enclosed an Order in Council of May 14 which specified that only oil or nonmanufactured goods or merchandise from America would be allowed to enter British ports on the same basis as formerly. He also enclosed a commission that the king signed on May 14, granting Hartley full powers to negotiate, conclude, and sign treaties, conventions, or any other instruments with ministers authorized by “our Good Friends the United States of America.” Fox warned him, however, that he was not to sign any treaty without the king’s approval, and emphasized that the king wanted this business concluded as soon as possible.6

On May 19 Hartley met with the American commissioners at Adams’ residence, where they exchanged commissions. Hartley’s was “very magnificent,” according to Adams, having the Great Seal affixed to it in a silver box with gold tassels. Hartley expressed regret at the Order in Council, which he found unjust. The parties agreed to meet daily at six o’clock in the evening at Adams’ lodgings until the work was finished. Their first session was held on Wednesday, May 21. On that day, Hartley gave the Americans the memorial and proposed article published below.7

The actual papers that Hartley handed to the Americans have been lost, though many contemporary copies survive. The variations among them have posed a challenge to the present editors. Hartley must not have dated the sheets, as none of the American legation copies is dated; they bear notations, however, indicating that Hartley delivered them on May 21. Hartley’s own copies, made by his secretary as a record of what he sent to Fox, are dated May 19, but those texts are not identical to what the Americans received: the memorial differs slightly in its wording and the proposed article does not include the preamble.8 Because Hartley refers to these documents by the date of May 19 in his subsequent correspondence with the American commissioners as well as with Fox we place them under that date, recognizing that he could have amended them at any time before the May 21 meeting. Regardless of when they assumed their final form, the texts published below are authoritative versions of what the Americans received, being endorsed by John Adams and retained as part of his official record of the negotiations. The memorial was copied by Franklin’s secretary Jean L’Air de Lamotte, and its notation is in the hand of William Temple Franklin, the official legation secretary. The copy of the preamble and proposal was made by William Temple Franklin himself.

Hartley’s memorial, while ostensibly addressed to the American peace commissioners, seems equally designed to placate Fox. The opening section hardly seems necessary for the Americans: it recapitulates events they knew well, and quotes back to them a text that they themselves had written. The heart of the memorial, in which Hartley explains why he is changing the terms of their previous agreement (paragraphs four through six), quotes nearly verbatim from Fox’s letter to Hartley of April 10.9 The British negotiator could no longer be accused of ignoring his instructions.1


[May 19, 1783]

A Proposition having been offered by the American Ministers for the Consideration of his Britannic Majesty’s Ministers, and of the British Nation, for an entire & reciprocal Freedom of Intercourse and Commerce between Great Britain and the American United States, in the following Words, viz,2

“That all Rivers, Harbours, Lakes, Ports & Places belonging to the United States, or any of them, shall be open and free to the Merchants and other Subjects of the Crown of Great Britain, and their trading Vessels, who shall be received, treated and protected, like the Merchants and trading Vessels of the State in which they may be, and be liable to no other Charges or Duties.

“And reciprocally that all Rivers, Harbours, Lakes, Ports and Places under the Dominion of his Britannic Majesty, shall be open and free to the Merchant & trading Vessels of the said United States, & of each and every of them, who shall be received, treated and protected, like the Merchants and trading Vessels of Great Britain & be liable to no other Charges and Duties, saving always to the chartered trading Companies of Great Britain such exclusive Use and Trade of their respective Ports and establishments, as neither the other Subjects of Great Britain, or any of the most favored Nation participate in.” It is to be observed that this Proposition implies a more ample Participation of British Commerce than the American States possessed even under their former Connexion of Dependence upon Great Britain, so as to amount to an entire Abolition of the British Act of Navigation, in respect to the thirteen United States of America; and altho’ proceeding on their part from the most conciliatory and liberal Principles of Amity and Reciprocity, nevertheless it comes from them as newly established States, & who in Consequence of their former Condition of Dependence have never yet had any established System of national commercial Laws, or of commercial Connexions by Treaties with other Nations, free and unembarassed of many weighty Considerations, which require the most scrupulous Attention, and Investigation on the Part of Great Britain, whose antient System of national and commercial Policy, is thus suddenly called upon to take a new Principle for its Foundation, and whose commercial Engagements with other ancient States, may be most materially affected thereby. For the Purpose therefore of giving sufficient time, for the Consideration and Discussion of so important a Proposition, respecting the present established System of the commercial Policy and Laws of Great Britain, and their subsisting commercial Engagements with foreign Powers, It is proposed that a temporary Intercourse of Commerce shall be established between Great Britain and the American States, previously to the Conclusion of any final and perpetual Compact. In this intervening Period, as the strict Line & Measure of Reciprocity from various Circumstances cannot be absolutely and compleatly adhered to, it may be agreed that the Commerce between the two Countries shall revive, as nearly as can be upon the same footing and Terms as formerly subsisted between them; provided always that no Concession on either Side in the proposed temporary Convention, shall be argued hereafter in support of any future Demand or Claim. In the mean time the Proposition above stated may be transmitted to London, requesting (with his Majesty’s Consent) that it may be laid before Parliament for their Consideration.

It is proposed therefore that the unmanufactured Produce of the United States shd. be admitted into Great Britain without any other Duties (those imposed during the War excepted) than those to which they were formerly liable.3 And it is expected in return that the Produce and Manufactures of Great Britain shd. be admitted into the United States in like Manner. If there shd. appear any Want of reciprocity in this proposal, upon the Grounds of asking Admission for British Manufactures into America, while no such Indulgence is given to American Manufactures in Great Britain; The Answer is obvious, That the Admission of British Manufactures into America is an Object of great Importance and equally productive of Advantage to both Countries; while on the other hand, the Introduction of American manufactures into Great Britain, can be of no Service to either, and may be productive of innumerable Frauds, by enabling Persons so disposed, to pass foreign European Goods, either prohibited or liable to great Duties by the British Laws, for American Manufactures.

With regard to the west Indies, there is no Objection to the most free Intercourse between them and the United States. The only Restriction proposed to be laid upon that Intercourse, is prohibiting American Ships carrying to those Colonies any other Merchandize than the Produce of their own Country. The same Observation may be made upon this Restriction as upon the former. It is not meant to affect the Interest of the United States, but it is highly necessary, least foreign Ships shd. make Use of the American Flag to carry on a Trade with the British west Indian Islands.

It is also proposed upon the same Principle to restrain the Ships that may trade to great Britain from America, from bringing foreign Merchandize into Great Britain. The Necessity of this Restriction is likewise evident, unless Great Britain meant to give up her whole Navigation Act. There is no Necessity of any Similar Restrictions on the Part of the American States, those States not having as yet any Acts of Navigation.—

Notations by William Temple Franklin: Mr. Hartley’s Observations & Propositions, left with the American Ministers the 21 May 1783. / Mr. Hartley’s, Observations, & Propositions 21. May 1783.


Preamble to the following Agreement as proposed by Mr. Hartley

Whereas it is highly necessary that an Intercourse of Trade & Commerce should be open’d between the People & Territories belonging to the Crown of Great Britain and the People & Territories of the United States of America: And whereas it is highly expedient that the Intercourse between Great Britain and the said United States should be established on the most enlarged Principles of reciprocal Benefit to both Countries; but from the Distance between Great Britain & America, it must be a considerable time before any Convention or Treaty for establishing and regulating the Trade and Intercourse between Great Britain and the said United States of America, upon a permanent Foundation can be concluded: Now for the purpose of making a temporary Regulation of the Commerce and Intercourse between Great Britain and the said United States of America—It &ca.

Mr. Hartley’s proposed Agreement.4

It is agreed that all the Citizens of the United States of America, shall be permitted to import into, and export from any Part of his Britannic Majesty’s Dominions, in American Ships, any Goods, Wares & Merchandize, which have been so imported or exported by the Inhabitants of the British American Colonies, before the Commencement of the War, upon Payment of the same Duties & Charges, as the like sort of Goods or Merchandize are now or may be subject & liable to, if imported by British Subjects, in British Ships from any British Island or Plantation in America: And that all the Subjects of his Britannic Majesty shall be permitted to import and to export from any Part of the Territories of the thirteen United States of America, in British Ships, any Goods, Wares & Merchandize, which might have been so imported or exported by the Subjects of his Britannic Majesty, before the Commencement of the War upon Payment of the same Duties & Charges, as the like sort of Goods, Wares & Merchandize are now, or may be subject and liable to, if imported in American Ships, by any of the Citizens of the United States of America.

This Agreement to continue in force until [blank] Provided always that nothing contained in this Agreement, shall at any time hereafter, be argued on either side, in support of any future Demand or Claim.—

Notations: [by John Adams] Mr Hartleys Proposition of 21 May 1783 / [by William Temple Franklin] Mr. Hartley’s proposed Agreement—deliver’d in the 21st. May 1783. for the Consideration of the American Ministers.—

[Note numbering follows the Franklin Papers source.]

5See XXXIX, 412–16, 510–16, 524–6.

6Hartley’s commission is in XXXIX, 605–7, where Fox’s letter is discussed in annotation. On May 20 Hartley reported to Fox that the commissioners were “extremely pleased” by the king’s referring to the United States as Britain’s “good friends”: Giunta, Emerging Nation, II, 123.

7He also gave them a copy of the May 14 Order in Council: Butterfield, John Adams Diary, III, 120–1, 128.

8Hartley sent these to Fox on May 22, entitling the first “Memorial” and the second “Ulterior Article”: Giunta, Emerging Nation, II, 124–30.

9See XXXIX, 481–2n.

1Hartley said as much in his cover letter to Fox of May 22. For that letter and a private one of May 23 see the annotation of WTF to Hartley, May 21.

2The following extract is from the peace commissioners’ first proposed article of April 29, which specified that the proposal was contingent upon a complete British evacuation of the United States: XXXIX, 524–5.

3A summary of the May 14 Order in Council; JA’s copy is in Butterfield, John Adams Diary, III, 128–30.

4This article in effect prohibits the export to Britain of American goods whose manufacture had been prohibited before the war. Such prohibition was part of the Navigation Acts’ system by which colonial trade and economies had been regulated for the benefit of the British economy and the Royal Navy.

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