Benjamin Franklin Papers

The American Peace Commissioners to David Hartley, 17 July 1783

The American Peace Commissioners to David Hartley2

LS:3 Public Record Office; AL (drafts):4 American Philosophical Society, Massachusetts Historical Society; copies: William L. Clements Library, Library of Congress, Massachusetts Historical Society, National Archives

Passy, July 17th. 1783.


We have the honour to inform you that we have just received from Congress their Ratification in due Form of the Provisional Articles of the 30th. of November 1782,5 and we are ready to exchange Ratifications with his Britannic Majesty’s Ministers as soon as may be.

By the same Articles it is stipulated, that his Britannic Majesty shall with all convenient Speed, and without causing any Destruction or carrying away Negroes or other Property of the American Inhabitants, withdraw all his Armies, Garrisons and Fleets from the United States and from every Port, Place & Harbour within the same.6 But, by Intelligence lately received from America, and by the inclosed Copies of Letters and Conferences between General Washington and Sir Guy Carleton,7 it appears that a considerable Number of Negroes belonging to the Citizens of the United States, have been carried off from New-York contrary to the express Stipulation contained in the said Article.8 We have received from Congress their Instructions to represent this Matter to you, and to request that speedy and effectual Measures be taken to render that Justice to the Parties interested which the true Intent and Meaning of the Article in Question plainly dictates.

We are also instructed to represent to you,9 that many of the British Debtors in America have in the Course of the War sustained such considerable and heavy Losses by the Operation of the British Arms in that Country, that a great Number of them have been rendered incapable of immediately satisfying those Debts: we refer it to the Justice and Equity of Great Britain, so far to amend the Article on this Subject, as that no Execution shall be issued on a Judgment to be obtained in any such Case but after the Expiration of three Years from the Date of the definitive Treaty of Peace. Congress also think it reasonable that such Part of the Interest which may have accrued on such Debts during the War shall not be payable, because all Intercourse between the two Countries, had, during that Period, become impracticable as well as improper, it does not appear just that Individuals in America should pay for Delays in payment which were occasioned by the civil and military Measures of Great Britain. In our Opinion the Interest of the Creditors as well as the Debitors requires that some Tenderness be shewn to the Latter, and that they should be allowed a little Time to acquire the Means of discharging Debts which in many Instances exceed the whole Amount of their Property.

As it is necessary to ascertain an Epocha, for the Restitutions and Evacuations to be made, we propose that it be agreed, that his Britannic Majesty, shall cause to be evacuated the Posts of New-York, Penobscot and their Dependences, with all other Posts and Places in Possession of his Majesty’s Arms, within the United States, in the Space of three Months after the Signature of this definitive Treaty, or sooner if possible, excepting those Posts contiguous to the Water Line, mentioned in the fourth Proposition,1 and these shall be evacuated, when Congress shall give the Notice therein mentioned.

We do ourselves the honour of making these Communications to you, Sir, that you may transmit them and the Papers accompanying them to your Court, and inform us of their Answer.

We have the honour to be, Sir, Your most obedient and most humble Servants

John Adams.
B Franklin
John Jay

Dd. Hartley Esqr.

[Note numbering follows the Franklin Papers source.]

2This letter was drafted over the course of a week during which the commissioners received the king’s Order in Council of July 2; this, in Hartley’s words, “produced a convulsion in our negotiation.” (For the Order in Council see Falconer to BF, July 8.) The Americans had received it by Monday, July 14, when JA made a copy. The next day at Versailles, they ascertained that Vergennes had also read it; this prompted a discussion about American trade with the French West Indies. Hartley learned of it only on July 16 during a meeting with JA; his inability to answer for his government further eroded what little remained of the commissioners’ trust. Hartley complained to Fox, warning him of the damage this had caused and repeating his desire to return to England to discuss these issues in person. Adams Papers, XV, 111–14, 122–6; Hartley to Fox, July 17, 1783, Clements Library; Hartley to Fox, July 24, 1783, in Giunta, Emerging Nation, II, 202–5.

3In the hand of L’Air de Lamotte.

4This document was drafted in multiple stages. JA wrote a first draft on July 11, to which BF made two suggestions for wording changes (APS). WTF made a fair copy, which JA signed; this then went to Jay for review. Jay crossed out a sentence and interlined a substitute. The three commissioners obviously conferred at that point; two new sections were drafted (one by Jay, the other by JA) and marked for insertion, with BF altering one phrase. The date was also changed to July 17 (Mass. Hist. Soc.). Part of the final draft is published in Morris, Jay: Peace, pp. 546–8, where Jay’s contributions are identified.

5Joshua Barney had brought the ratification on July 2; see BF to Laurens, July 6, and the Commissioners to Livingston, July 18.

6Article 7 of the preliminary articles: XXXVIII, 386.

7Hartley forwarded these enclosures “without any Comment” to Fox on July 25, along with the present letter. (His copy of the entire packet is at the Clements Library.) The enclosures were Thomas Walke’s May 3 letter to the Va. delegates to Congress about Britain’s refusal to return slaves; Congress’ May 8 resolution transmitting Walke’s letter to George Washington; Washington’s May 8 letter to President of Congress Boudinot; a report of the May 6 conference between Washington and Carleton; Washington’s May 6 letter to Carleton; and Washington’s May 8 commission to Egbert Benson, William S. Smith, and Daniel Parker to supervise the British embarkation from New York. For these see William T. Hutchinson et al., eds., The Papers of James Madison, First Series (17 vols., Chicago, London, and Charlottesville, 1962–91), VII, 5–7; JCC, XXIV, 333; Fitzpatrick, Writings of Washington, XXVI, 410–14; Giunta, Emerging Nation, I, 848–52. In his Aug. 9 response, Fox defended Carleton but promised to make inquiries: Giunta, Emerging Nation, I, 916.

8Livingston reported this in his letters of May 9 (XXXIX, 578–80) and May 28, above. BF informed Laurens about the complaints on July 6, above.

9This paragraph was drafted by Jay and concerns the May 30 congressional resolutions that Livingston sent to the commissioners on May 31 (above).

1Actually, the fifth of Hartley’s six propositions of [June 19], above; see also the commissioners’ response of June 29.

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