Benjamin Franklin Papers
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Franklin and John Jay to John Adams, 29 April 1784

Franklin and John Jay to John Adams

LS:6 Massachusetts Historical Society

Passy April 29th. 1784


We received the Letter you did us the honour of writing to us the 10th. Inst, with the project of a Treaty that had been transmitted to you by the Baron de Thulemeier,7 which we have examined, & return herewith, having made a few small Additions or Changes of Words to be proposed, such as Citoyens for Sujets and the like, and intimated some Explanations as wanted in particular Paragraphs.8 The sooner a Copy, with such of these Changes as shall be agreed to by your Excellency and the Prussian Minister, is forwarded to Congress for their Approbation, the better. With regard to the Language of Treaties, we are of Opinion that if the Ministers of the Nation we treat with insist on having the Treaty in their own Language we should then insist on having it also in ours, both to be sign’d at the same time; this was done in our Treaties with France;9 but if both Parties agree to use a Language that is particular to neither but common to both, as the Latin, or the French, as was done in our Treaty with Sweden, we then think it not necessary to have it also signed in English.

With great Respect, we are, Sir, Your most Obedient and most humble Servants1

B Franklin
John Jay

His Excellency John Adams Esqr.

Endorsed: Dr Franklin Mr Jay 1784

Notation: April 29th.

[Note numbering follows the Franklin Papers source.]

6Drafted by BF and written by BFB; see the preceding document.

7The draft Prussian-American treaty (Adams Papers, XVI, 134–56, document I), modeled on the Swedish-American Treaty of Amity and Commerce (XXXIX, 250–85), differed from it in the following ways. It inserted a new Article 3, specifying merchandise to be traded on a most favored nation status, and a new Article 4, affirming the right of each nation to prohibit any trade for reasons of state. It eliminated Swedish-American Articles 22 and 23 and Separate Articles 1 through 4; Separate Article 5 was moved to the body of the Prussian draft as Article 5. Some of the language of the Swedish-American articles was condensed, and Prussia adapted and combined what had been reciprocal Articles 3 and 4 into a new Article 6. Like the Swedish-American treaty, the Prussian draft was in French.

8All comments on the MSare in Jay’s hand. He pointed out that “Septentrionale” did not belong in the title of the United States of America; the French translation should stop after “Etats unis de l’Amérique.” American citizens should be referred to as “Citoyens” throughout the treaty, rather than “Sujets.” He corrected certain mistranscribed words. He requested clarification of the restrictions on liberty of conscience in Article 7 and suggested that Article 21, on the right to carry prizes into ports, might conflict with the article on the same issue in the Franco-American treaty (published in XXV, 612–13, as Article 19; it was later renumbered 17).

9XXV, 583–626.

1JA received this communication on May 4, and met with Thulemeier the next evening to discuss the Americans’ proposed alterations. Thulemeier summarized the points they discussed in an undated memorandum (Adams Papers, XVI, 158–61) that, after showing it to JA, he sent to Berlin on May 18: Thulemeier to Frederick II, May 18, 1784, Geheimes Staatsarchiv Preußischer Kulturbesitz. On June 6 JA received from Thulemeier the Prussian response: the suggestions were accepted, and as for Article 21, Prussia proposed changing it so that each country was prohibited from bringing prizes into the ports of the other. JA sent to Miffin Thulemeier’s memorandum and the Prussian response on June 7, adding that unless Congress wished further changes, all that was needed was a commission to conclude the treaty, preferably at The Hague: Adams Papers, XVI, 161n, 227–8.

Frederick II would have preferred to eliminate Article 21 entirely, because, as he wrote to Schulenburg on May 22, “il pourroit nous compromettre, et que d’ailleurs nous ne faisons point de pirateries.” Since there was neither a Prussian navy nor Prussian privateers, the article would effectively apply only to American ships seeking shelter in Prussian harbors. Prussia would assume a burden (antagonizing the European nation from which the Americans took the prize) without receiving a corresponding benefit. On May 27, Schulenburg submitted to the king a point-by-point response to the American requests, including the reformulation of Article 21, which Frederick accepted in his reply of May 29. All three letters are at Geheimes Staatsarchiv Preußischer Kulturbesitz.

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