Benjamin Franklin Papers

David Hartley to the American Peace Commissioners: Memorial, 1 June 1783

David Hartley to the American Peace Commissioners: Memorial5

Copies:6 National Archives (two), Library of Congress, Massachusetts Historical Society, Public Record Office; transcript: National Archives


June. 1st: 1783.

The proposition which has been made for an universal & unlimited reciprocity of Intercourse & Commerce, between Great-Britain and the American United-States,7 requires a very serious Consideration on the part of Great-Britain, for the reasons already stated in a Memorial, dated 19th: May. 1783, and for many other reasons, which, in the future discussion of the proposition, will appear. To the American States, likewise, it is a matter of the deepest importance, not only as a proposition of Commercial Intercourse, which is the least part, but most principally as a political basis & Guarantee for their newly established Constitutions. The introduction of British Interests, into a communion of Intercourse, will bring forward an universal Guarantee on the part of Great-Britain, in the future progress of political events, which may affect the United-States of America in their national Capacity. The Proposition is fertile in future prospects to Great-Britain, & America may also wisely see in it a solid foundation for herself.

All Circumstances are most fortunately disposed, between Great-Britain & the American States, to render them usefull friends & Allies to each other, with a higher degree of suitableness between themselves than any other nations can pretend to. France cannot interchange Reciprocities with the American States, by reason of numberless impediments in her System of Government, in her Monopolies, & in her system of Commerce. France has the great dis-ability of difference in Language to contend with, and the institution of the present French Manufactures has never, at any time heretofore, been trained or adapted to American Commerce. The only particular & specific facility, which France ever possessed for American Intercourse, has for many years been transferred into the British Scale, by the Cession of Canada to Great-Britain. The future Commerce between France & America will chiefly be regulated by such Conveniences as France can draw to herself from America, without much aptitude, on the part of France, to accommodate her manufactures & Commerce to American Demands. In short, an Interchange of reciprocities between France & America, would run against the stream on both sides, and all established habits manners, language, together with the principles of Government and Commerce, would militate against such a System.—8

Conformably to this Reasoning it appears that France has not, at any time, entertained any systematical design of forming any union or consolidation of Interests with America. She took up the American Cause as instrumental to her political views in Europe. America likewise accepted the Alliance with France for her seperate views, vizt. for the establishment of her Independance. The Alliance therefore is completed & terminated without leaving behind it any political principle of future, permanent Connection between them. Occasional Circumstances produced a temporary alliance. Similar Circumstances may, on any future occasion, produce a similar event of a temporary Compact. Dissimilar Circumstances, arising from any future political views of the Court of France in Europe, may, without any inconsistence of principle, throw the power of that Kingdom into a scale adverse to the future Interests of the American States. In such Case, therefore, where there cannot exist any permanent political Connection, between France & America, and where the commercial Attachments can be but feeble, it would be in vain to expect in the French nation any such Ally as newly established States ought to look out for, to give maturity and firmness to their Constitutions.—

As to Spain, every argument which has been stated, respecting diversity of language, manners, government, system of Commerce & monopolies, from those which prevail in the United-States of America, obtains in a superior degree: And much more to add besides, for Spain is not only incompetent to interchange reciprocities with the American States, but likewise her own situation in America will, at all times, render her extremely jealous of her neighbors. The only activity which Spain has exerted in the war, has been to procure a barrier against the American States, by annexing West-Florida to her former acquisition of New-Orleans; thereby embracing the mouth of the Mississippi, &, by means of that river, jointly with her landed possessions, establishing a strong & jealous boundary against any future progress of the American States in those parts.— Spain therefore cannot be looked upon by the American States as a suitable object of their election, to become a permanent Ally & friend to them. Portugal likewise labours under all the disabilities of language, manners, monopolies, Government & System of Commerce. Her national Power & Importance would be likewise insufficient to constitute a strong and permanent Ally to the American States. All these Nations will undoubtedly be found to have many commodious Qualities for participation in Commerce; but the pre-eminent faculties, necessary to constitute a firm & permanent Ally to the American States, will be found deficient in them.— As to the Italian States, or any other Powers in the Mediterranean, they are certainly not adequate to any Competition of political Alliance with the rising States of America. They will also constitute very commodious links & Connections in the general Circuit of Commerce; but, beyond these Considerations, they have no share in the present Question. The several States in the Germanic Body are in the same predicament.—

As to the Northern Powers, vizt: those in the Baltic, they are not favoured,9 either by vicinity or Climate, for a frequent or facile Intercourse of Commerce with America: and even, respecting several material Articles of Commerce, jealousies & Competitions might arise. As to political Alliances there are no such in prospect from them towards the American States. Even if there were any superfluity of force in any of them, beyond the necessities of their respective domestic situations, the extreme distance would be conclusive against any possible application of such power, as a political Alliance, favorable to the establishment & confirmation of the American States.—

The only maritime State on the Continent of Europe, remaining to be discussed, as a competent Candidate for Commerce or Connection with America is the Republic of the United-Netherlands, commonly called Holland. In respect to American Commerce, the Dutch have among themselves every facility, combined, which the seperate States of Europe possess distinctively, in their own Concerns, or nearly. Their Industry, frugality & habits of Commerce may even carry them so far as to make them rivals to the Americans themselves, in the transportation of European Merchandize to America— These faculties of Commerce would have been of infinite Importance to the American States, if the war had continued between Great-Britain & them: But upon the event of Peace it becomes a matter of the most perfect Indifference to America, whether each European State navigates its own Commerce into the Ports of America, which will be open to all, or whether the commercial faculties of Holland ennable her to exceed in rivalship her European Neighbours, & thereby to navigate European Goods to America, beyond the proportion of her national share. The faculties of a nation of Carriers may be fortunate for the Marine of that nation, but, considered in themselves & with respect to other nations, they are but secondaries in Commerce. They give no ground of reciprocity or participation. That one nation should say to another, you shall navigate all our rivers, harbors, Lakes, ports & places, if we may do the same in yours1 is a proposition of reciprocity: but that Holland should say to America, we will bring European Goods to you, or you may be your own Carriers, is neither Concession or Reciprocity. Holland is not a nation of Rivers, Harbors, Lakes, Ports & Places for the distribution of Goods & manufactures for internal Consumption, and therefore her reciprocities must be very scanty. Holland is the market-place of Europe & the Dutch Seaman are the Carriers, appertaining to that Market-Place. The admission of American Ships to that market-place, freely to import & export, is an act of reciprocity undoubtedly, on the part of Holland, as far as it goes, but in no degree adequate to the unlimited participation of the Commerce of America, thro’out all the Rivers, Harbours, Lakes, Ports & Places of that vast Continent. The Commercial Reciprocities of Holland, therefore, being inferior on her part towards America, the next point of view, in which Holland is to be considered, as relevant to this Question, is, as a nation of Power capable of becoming an effectual & permanent Ally & Guarantee to the American States; for that is the great Object, which America, as a wise nation, recently arisen into Independence, ought to keep in view. Holland has undoubtedly been a nation of great & celebrated naval force. She remains so still, but having, for many years, suspended her exertions of force & having directed the faculties of her people into the commercial line, she seems not to have any superfluity of force, beyond the necessity of providing for her own Security, & certainly no such redundance of power, as to extend to the protection of distant nations, as Allies or Guarantees. It appears therefore, upon the whole of this argument, that Holland, tho’ a commercial nation, cannot even interchange commercial reciprocities with America, upon an equal footing, and that her faculties of force are inadequate to those, which America ought to expect in the permanent Allies & Guarantees of her Country.—

The Independence of the American States, being established, their first Consideration ought to be, to determine with what friendships and Alliances they will enter into the new world of nations. They will look round them & cast about for some natural, permanent & powerfull Ally, with whom they may interchange all cementing reciprocities, both commercial & political. If such an Ally is to be found anywhere for them, it is still in Great-Britain—at least it is certain, that, in looking round Europe, no other is to be found. There is no inherent impossibility to prevent such a Connection from taking place—it must depend upon the free will & common Interest of the parties. There are all possible faculties, on both sides, to give & to receive all adequate & beneficial reciprocities, which are practicable & more likely to be permanent, between Independant parties, than between two parties, where one is dependant upon the other. Great-Britain is undoubtedly the first of European nations in riches, credit, faculties, Industry, Commerce, manufactures, internal Consumption & foreign export, together with civil liberty, which is the source of all, and naval Power, which is the support of all. The Dominions appertaining to the Crown of Great-Britain are large & fertile—its Colonies still extensive, & in close vicinity to the American States—Great-Britain herself, being an American, as well as an European power, and all her Empire connected by her naval force— The Territories of the American States, from the Atlantic Ocean to the Missisippi, contain an inexhaustible source of riches, industry & future power— These will be the foundation of great events in the new page of life. Infinite good or infinite evil may arise, according to the principles, upon which this Intercourse between Great-Britain & America shall be arranged in its foundation. Great-Britain & America must be still inseperable, either as friends or Foes.2 This is an awfull & important truth—these are Considerations not to be thought of slightly, not to be prejudged in passion, nor the arrangements of them to be hastily foreclosed. Time given for Consideration may have excellent effects on both sides. The pause of peace, with friendly intercourse, returning affection & dispassionate enquiry can alone decide these important events, or do justice to the anxious expectations of Great-Britain & America.

Notation: No. 8. Mr. Hartley’s Memorial 1st. June 1783.

[Note numbering follows the Franklin Papers source.]

5Drafted while waiting for Fox to comment on his memorial and proposed article of [May 19]; see that document and WTF to Hartley, May 21. Hartley sent this new draft of a memorial to Fox on June 2, before showing it to the American commissioners (Giunta, Emerging Nation, II, 141–2). Responding to the Americans’ growing impatience, however, he soon told them of its contents and by June 5 had read it to them. He did not give them a copy until June 14; see Hartley to the commissioners of that date.

6We publish the one with the fewest abbreviations and obvious copying errors, made by JA’s secretary Charles Storer. We have corrected one erroneous word, noted below, and silently corrected one slip of the pen.

7Proposed by the commissioners on April 29: XXXIX, 524–5.

8Hartley’s analysis is very perceptive. For a variety of economic and cultural reasons, including those listed by Hartley, French businessmen failed to capture a substantial portion of the American market after the war: Claude Fohlen, “The Commercial Failure of France in America,” in Nancy L. Roelker and Charles K. Warner, eds., Two Hundred Years of Franco-American Relations … ([Worcester, Mass., 1983]), pp. 93–119.

9We substitute this word, present in all other copies (including the one Hartley sent to Fox), for what Storer wrote: “formed”.

1A paraphrase of the commissioners’ Article 1: XXXIX, 524–5.

2As Hartley put it to Fox on June 5, “for their own security, they [the commissioners] must desire the alliance & friendship of the only power who can in any degree be a terror or restraint to them”: Giunta, Emerging Nation, I, 860.

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