Benjamin Franklin Papers

David Hartley to the American Peace Commissioners, 12 August 1783

David Hartley to the American Peace Commissioners2

Copies: Public Record Office,3 Library of Congress, Massachusetts Historical Society

August 12 and 13 were of far greater diplomatic consequence than this exchange of formal letters about the birth of an English princess (the present letter and the commissioners’ answer of the following day) would suggest. On Tuesday, August 12, at the weekly meeting of ministers at Versailles, Franklin and Adams learned that the French and Spanish definitive treaties with Great Britain had been prepared and corrected and were ready to be signed. The Americans presented Vergennes with a copy of their proposal for an Anglo-American definitive treaty, given to Hartley the previous Wednesday, which the French minister promised to review.4 By the time evening fell, however, all prospects for the success of that proposal had evaporated. A courier from England brought Hartley dispatches from Fox, including (in addition to notification of the royal birth) a letter of August 9 enclosing the king’s ratification of the preliminary articles and the text of a definitive treaty with the United States which Hartley was authorized to sign without further instructions. Hartley immediately informed Adams of this news, and the two made plans to travel together to Passy the next morning.

On August 13 at Passy, Hartley and the American peace commissioners exchanged ratifications and examined the British proposal. Fox had characterized it as “purposely made out exactly & nearly literally conformable to the Provisional Articles,” as indeed it was, with the addition of a preamble and conclusion.5 Fox instructed that further commercial negotiations be postponed until they could be conducted by British and American ambassadors on their native soil. The Americans agreed, and plans were made to prepare texts of the definitive treaty as soon as possible.

During these discussions, the commissioners informed Hartley that they had agreed to allow the ministers of the two Imperial courts to sign the treaty as mediators. Hartley vigorously opposed the idea, whereupon they assured him that they would be guided by the decision of his government and would wait for its answer. Either way, they said, they would sign the treaty as it stood.6

Hartley never did consult Fox on the issue of mediation, believing the concept to be “extremely offensive.”7 When or even if he communicated a final answer to the commissioners is not known. They were still waiting for a response on August 23, when Bariatinskii discussed the topic with Franklin.8 It is possible that the commissioners themselves dropped the issue, taking their cue from Vergennes. According to Adams’ account, when they told him “at last” of Hartley’s objections, Vergennes turned to Franklin and—using a tone that strongly suggested that “he did not wish the Mediation should take place”—pointed out that mediation could not be employed unless Hartley agreed.9 If that meeting took place on Tuesday, August 26, and Vergennes left it believing that no further obstacles would prevent his scheduling a signing ceremony, this would explain why he, Manchester, and Aranda had settled on a date by the following day.1

Paris Aug 12 1783


I have the honour of transmitting to you a Copy of a Letter which I have received from Mr Fox, containing an Account of the Queen having been happily delivered of a Princess, and that her Majesty & the young Princess are as well as can be expected.2

Since the reconciliation which has happily taken place between our two Countries, I am happy in the opportunity of communicating to you such an occasion of our joint congratulations, as the first token of that satisfaction which your Country (and you as the Ministers of it in the present case) will receive from this and from every event, which may contribute to the happiness and honour of the King, the Queen & all the Royal Family of Great Britain.

I am Gentlemen with the greatest respect and consideration Your most obedt Servt

D Hartley

To their Excellencies the Ministers Plenipotentiary of the United States of America &c &c &c

[Note numbering follows the Franklin Papers source.]

2Hartley delivered this letter to the commissioners at their meeting of Aug. 13, described in the headnote.

3This copy and the commissioners’ response of the following day were sent by Hartley to Fox in a letter of Aug. 13 (Public Record Office).

4See the Editorial Note on the Project for a Definitive Treaty, [Aug. 6].

5See BF to Vergennes, Aug. 16, and to Laurens, Aug. 21.

6For the meetings at Versailles and Passy see JA to Livingston, Aug. 13 (Adams Papers, XV, 220–2); Hartley to Fox, Aug. 13, cited above.

7He was compelled to explain it in a letter of Aug. 20, however, after learning that Manchester had already written to Fox about it. According to Hartley’s version of events (which differs from JA’s version, related above), it was he who raised the issue of mediation at the Aug. 13 meeting, having heard a rumor that the Americans had been considering it. He gave them an ultimatum, refusing to exchange ratifications unless the American commissioners agreed that mediators would not sign the treaty: Hartley to Fox, Aug. 20, 1783, in Giunta, Emerging Nation, I, 922.

8BF assured the Russian minister that they “would always consider it a particular honor that the foundation of our independence had been confirmed,” and were “exert[ing] all our efforts toward this goal,” but Hartley was “opposing us in this, responding that England has no need of mediation.” Bariatinskii to Osterman, Aug. 24, 1783, in Nikolai N. Bolkhovitinov, The Beginnings of Russian-American Relations, 1775–1815, trans. Elena Levin (Cambridge, Mass., and London, 1975), pp. 23–4.

9Adams Papers, XV, 255. A month earlier, Vergennes had written to La Luzerne that in his opinion the settlement of the Anglo-American treaty would be easier without mediation: Giunta, Emerging Nation, I, 893.

1See JA to BF and Jay, Aug. 27.

2Princess Amelia (1783–1810), King George and Queen Charlotte’s fifteenth and final child, was born on Aug. 7: E. B. Fryde et al., eds., Handbook of British Chronology (3rd ed., London, 1986), pp. 46–7.

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