Benjamin Franklin Papers

Elias Boudinot to the American Peace Commissioners, 16 June 1783

Elias Boudinot to the American Peace Commissioners

Copies: Library of Congress (two), Massachusetts Historical Society, National Archives

This letter from Elias Boudinot, president of Congress, not only announces the resignation of Minister for Foreign Affairs Robert R. Livingston, it also encloses a resolution of great importance to the peace commissioners. On February 5 John Adams had written to Congress that there no longer was a reason to delay making a commercial treaty with Great Britain or sending a minister there to negotiate it.2 That letter prompted the appointment of a congressional committee, which on May 1 reported that although the peace commissioners had an implied power to include commercial provisions in the final peace treaty, they had no direct authority to make a separate commercial treaty with Britain. Congress immediately passed the resolution enclosed with the present letter, ordering that a commission be prepared for Adams, Franklin, and Jay to enter into a commercial treaty with Great Britain, subject to revision by Congress and the British government, and meanwhile to make a commercial convention good for one year. Congress also ordered Livingston to draft a commercial treaty and relevant instructions.3 Livingston presented them to Congress five days later, and they were referred to a new committee,4 whose report was finally submitted on June 19, long after Livingston had resigned and three days after Boudinot wrote the present letter. Ignoring Livingston’s draft, the committee simply recommended that the commissioners be authorized to make both a commercial convention and a treaty, subject to congressional revision.5 Congress failed to act on the recommendation. After the signing of the peace treaty, Congress resolved to negotiate with all the commercial powers of Europe. In May, 1784, with Jay and Laurens returning to America, Congress appointed a new commission consisting of Franklin, Adams, and Thomas Jefferson to negotiate commerical treaties with twenty nations including Great Britain6.

Philadelphia June 16. 1783.


I am sorry to inform you, that by the Resignation of M. Livingston, as Minister for foreign affairs,7 it has become necessary, that you should receive the Resolutions of Congress relative to your Mission, through my Hands. The disadvantage arising from this Necessity, until a Successor to that worthy Gentleman is appointed, will be yours, as it is impossible for me to do more than barely to transmit the Acts of Congress, necessary for your Information.

Enclosed you have one of the 1st. May last,8 and another of the 12th. Instant,9 which I hope will get safe to hand, time enough for your Government. The Commission & Instructions referred to in the first, not being ready, it was thought best to forward the Resolution without delay, that you might know what was intended in the present important Period of your Negotiation. We have been much surprized that we have not received any Communications from you, since the Cessation of Hostilities, except a Letter of the 5 April from M. Laurens.1

I have the honor to be with the most perfect Consideration & Esteem, Gentlemen, your most obedt. and very hble Servt.

(signed) Elias Boudinot.

To the American Ministers.

[Note numbering follows the Franklin Papers source.]

2Adams Papers, XIV, 238–45.

3JCC, XXIV, 320–1. The question of the commissioners’ powers to make a commercial treaty had already been discussed by Congress: William T. Hutchinson et al., eds., The Papers of James Madison, First Series (17 vols., Chicago, London, and Charlottesville, 1962–91), VI, 452.

4Giunta, Emerging Nation, II, 108–9, 110–12; Hutchinson, Papers of James Madison, VII, 15.

5JCC, XXIV, 404–5.

6JCC, XXVII, 372–4; Jefferson Papers, VII, 262–6.

7Livingston had actually submitted his resignation in December, 1782, claiming that his salary did not cover the expenses of office, but agreed to remain until the following spring. He submitted a new letter of resignation on May 9, 1783, which Congress accepted on June 4, passing a resolution thanking him: XXXVIII, 405–6n; JCC, XXIV, 336–7, 382. For the difficulties this caused see our annotation of Lewis R. Morris to BF, June 5.

8The resolution discussed in the headnote.

9For this June 12 resolution (JCC, XXIV, 392–4) see our annotation of Livingston to the Commissioners, May 31. It was copied into the commissioners’ legation letterbooks, and BF noted on the copy that he retained, “Resolution of Congress June 12. 83 relating to Holland &c” (APS). For additional background see Livingston’s Report to Congress, June 3, 1783 (Giunta, Emerging Nation, II, 143–5); Hutchinson, Papers of James Madison, VII, 127–33, 137–41.

1Laurens Papers, XVI, 174–9.

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