Adams Papers
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From John Adams to Boston Patriot, 10 May 1809

Quincy, May 10th, 1809.

Sirs,

On the 6th of March a letter was written by the Secretary of State by my order, in the following words, to Mr. Murray:

Philadelphia, March 6, 1799.

Sir,

I enclose a commission constituting you, in conjunction with the Chief Justice Elsworth and Patrick Henry, Esq. of Virginia, Envoys Extraordinary and Ministers Plenipotentiary to the French Republic.—By the President’s direction, I enclose for your information, copies of his Messages to the Senate of the 18th and 28th of March; (it should have been the 18th and 25th of February) by the latter of which you will see the motives inducing the nomination of a Commission for the purpose of negociating with France, instead of resting the business wholly with you. This will doubtless be agreeable, by relieving you from the weight of a sole responsibility in an affair of such magnitude.

It is the President’s desire, that you by letter to the French Minister of foreign relations, inform him “that Oliver Elsworth, Chief Justice of the United States, Patrick Henry, late Governor of Virginia, and yourself are appointed Envoys Extraordinary and Ministers Plenipotentiary of the United States to the French Republic, with full powers to discuss and settle by a Treaty, all controversies between the United States and France.”—But, “that the two former will not embark for Europe until they shall have received from the Executive Directory direct and unequivocal assurances, signified by their Secretary of foreign relations, that the Envoys shall be received in character, to an audience of the Directory, and that they shall enjoy all the prerogatives attached to that character by the law of nations, and that a Minister or Ministers of equal powers shall be appointed and commissioned to treat with them.”

The answer you shall receive to your letter, you will be pleased to transmit to this office.

You will also be pleased to understand it to be the President’s opinion, that no more indirect and inofficial Communications, written or verbal, should be held with any persons whatever, Agents on behalf of France, on the subjects of difference between the United States and the French Republic. If the French government really desire a settlement of the existing differences, it must take the course pointed out: unless the Executive Directory should prefer sending a Minister Plenipotentiary to the United States.

I have the honor to be, very respectfully, / sir, your obedient servant,

Timothy Pickering.

Wm. Vans Murray, Esq. Minister of the U. States at the Hague.

Mr. Murray obeyed these instructions by a letter in these words:—

The Hague, 5th May, 1799.

Citizen Minister,

It is with the greatest pleasure that I hasten to fulfil the instructions, which I have just had the honor to receive from the government of the United States of America, by informing you that the President has appointed Oliver Elsworth, Chief Justice of the United States, Patrick Henry, late Governor of Virginia, and William Vans Murray, Minister resident of the United States at the Hague, to be Envoys Extraordinary and Ministers Plenipotentiary of the United States to the French Republic, with full powers to discuss and settle by a Treaty, all controversies between the United States and France; but that the two former, Mr. Elsworth and Mr. Henry will not embark for Europe until they shall have received from the Executive Directory, direct and unequivocal assurances, signified by their Minister of foreign relations, that the Envoys shall be received in character to an audience of the Directory, and that they shall enjoy all the prerogatives attached to that character by the law of nations, and that a Minister or Ministers of equal powers shall be appointed and commissioned to treat with them.

I request you, Citizen Minister, to lay this subject before your government, and as the distance is so great, and the obstacles so numerous in an Atlantic voyage, that you will favor me, as speedily as possible, with the answer which is to lead to such happy and important consequences.

Accept, Citizen Minister, the assurances of my perfect high esteem.

(Signed) Wm. V. Murray.

To the Citizen Talleyrand,

Minister of the Exterior Relations of the French Republic, &c. &c. Paris.

When Mr. Murray received the answer of the French Minister, he inclosed it, with the following letter from himself, to the Secretary of State:—

The Hague, 7th of May, 1799.

Dear Sir,

On the 4th inst, late in the evening, I had the honor to receive your No. 22, containing the commission of envoys.

On the fifth I addressed, precisely, agreeably to your instructions, as I conceived, the inclosed letter to Mr. Talleyrand, the minister of exterior relations. You will perceive, sir, that I did not think myself at liberty to go, not only not out of the commas, but beyond them. In one word alone I deviated, in the word minister, instead of secretary of foreign relations. No direct nor indirect and inofficial communications, written or verbal, will be held by me with the French agents on American affairs.

I accept the appointment which it has pleased the President to clothe me with, under a grateful sense of the high honor conferred upon me, so unexpectedly, by this mark of his confidence. I may be allowed to say, that though I was deeply sensible of the honor conferred by the first nomination, and shall always, I hope, retain a most grateful recollection of it; yet, sir, the new modification of that nomination gave me great pleasure, always conceiving as I thought I did, that any negociation with France would be full of anxieties and political perils to the Envoys that should be employed by our government. I had no wishes to be engaged in it, and no expectation that I should be: To have a share in it was by me unsought: You will excuse this declaration, because I was instrumental in certain preliminary steps relative to the advances of France which produced the basis of the appointment.

I sent the original of the inclosed to Mr. Talleyrand, by post; another, a copy, to Maj. Montflorence, to be handed to him; a third to a Mr. Griffith for Maj. M. in case the other failed, to be opened by Mr. G. if Maj. M. should have been out of Paris, and directed Mr. G. to follow the instructions which he would find in the letter to Maj. M. which were to deliver the inclosed to Mr. Talleyrand, and take his letter in answer for me, and send it to me.

As soon as I have the answer of the Directory, I shall have the honor of transmitting copies to you, sir, by different ways.

I am, with the greatest respect, and sincere esteem, dear sir, faithfully your most obedient servant,

William V. Murray.

The Hon. Timothy Pickering, Esq. Sec’ry of State, of the U. States of America.

Paris, 23d Floreal, (12th May 1799)

7th. year of the French Republic, one and indivisible.

The Minister of Exterior Relations,

To Mr. Wm. Vans Murray, Minister resident of the U. States at the Hague.

I augur too well, sir, from the eagerness you display, in fulfilling the instructions of your government, not to hasten to answer the letter I received from you, dated the 15th of this month.

The Executive Directory being informed of the nomination of Mr.Oliver Elsworth, of Mr. Patrick Henry, and of yourself, as Envoys Extraordinary and Ministers Plenipotentiary of the United States to the French Republic, to discuss and terminate all differences which subsist between the two countries, sees with pleasure, that its perseverance in pacific sentiments has kept open the way to an approaching reconciliation. It has a long time ago manifested its intentions with respect to this subject. Be pleased to transmit to your Colleagues, and accept yourself, the frank and explicit assurance, that it will receive the Envoys of the United States, in the official character with which they are invested: that they shall enjoy all the prerogatives which are attached to it by the law of nations, and that one or more Ministers shall be authorised to treat with them.

It was certainly unnecessary to suffer so many months to elapse for the mere confirmation of what I have already declared to Mr. Gerry, and which, after his departure, I caused to be declared to you at the Hague. I sincerely regret that your two colleagues await this answer at such a distance. As to you, sir, whom it will reach in a few days, and who understand so well the value of time, when the restoration of harmony between two republics which every thing invites to friendship, is in question, be assured that as soon as you can take in hand the object of your mission, I shall have the honor immediately to send you passports.

Accept, sir, the assurances of my very sincere consideration.

(Signed) Ch. Mau. Talleyrand.

The foregoing documents were not published till they were communicated to Congress with my Message of December 5th, 1799. The Messages to the Senate nominating the Minister and the Envoys were never published till now, as I remember. I may be, however, mistaken. These papers were not published till the mischief was done that they might have prevented, and innumerable prejudices and errors propagated all over the nation.

I have omitted two facts which ought to have been inserted in a former letter:

I. One is, that one of the Heads of Department at Trenton was more diffident than the rest. He said he was far from being sanguine. He had signed the letter to me, urging a postponement of the mission, because he did not like to be singular; but he wished me to decide the question according to my own judgment and sentiments. He also shewed me a letter from the Attorney-General in Virginia, saying that the people expected that the envoys should proceed, and would be disappointed if they did not.

II. Another fact is that I transiently asked one of the Heads of Department, whether Elsworth and Hamilton came all the way from Windsor and Newark to Trenton, to convince me that I ought to suspend the mission?

John Adams.

Printed Source--Boston Patriot.

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