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To James Madison from Benjamin Hawkins, 9 August 1783

From Benjamin Hawkins

RC (LC: Madison Papers). Cover missing. Addressed to “The Hon’ble Mr. Maddison.” Long after JM received the letter, probably he or someone at his bidding placed a bracket at the close of the fourth paragraph. If JM meant that the first four paragraphs should be included in the earliest published collection of his papers, his wish was disregarded by Henry D. Gilpin, perhaps because the documents edited by him were confined to JM’s own writings.

Princeton August the 9th. 1783

Dear Sir.

I thank you for the new publication you sent me.1 We have letters from Mr. Dana up to the 14th of april O.S. he has communicated his Mission to the vice Chancellor count Osterman and instead of being received, after a second communication, as he expected, he upon invitation visited the count, who made a verbal communication, in substance as follows2

1st. That her majesty could not consistent with the character of a mediator receive a minister from the United States ’till the conclusion of the definitive treaty between France, Spain and Great Britain3

2nd. That she could not even then do it, consistent with the laws of neutrality while his letter of Credence bore date prior to the acknowledgement of their independence by the king of Great Britain.4

3 That she could not do it regularly while his letters of credence bore date before she herself had acknowledged their independence5

4 That she could not do it consistently before a minister had been received from the United States in Great Britain.6

Mr. Dana mentions something like, his being about to leave Russia as soon as, the season, will admit of traveling, and that he intends to send a memorial to the Count; I assure you I fear, he will take for his guide the conduct of M. J. A. on a similar occasion7

I have the honor to be, Dear Sir, Your most obedient & most humble Servant

Benjamin Hawkins

We have ten states, Mass. Rh. Con. N.Y N.J: Pen. Ma. Virgin N & S Carolina8

1On 4 August JM had received Meriwether Smith’s pamphlet. He perhaps gave or loaned his copy to Hawkins. See Randolph to JM, 12 July 1783, and n. 4.

2Unnoted in the journal, Congress on 9 August 1783, having received dispatches on the 8th from Francis Dana, minister-designate at the court of St. Petersburg, dated (old style) 6, 11, and 14 April, referred them to a committee composed of Samuel Huntington, chairman, Arthur Lee, and Ralph Izard (NA: PCC, No. 185, III, 73; No. 186, fol. 117). For these dispatches, see Wharton, Revol. Dipl. Corr description begins Francis Wharton, ed., The Revolutionary Diplomatic Correspondence of the United States (6 vols.; Washington, 1889). description ends ., VI, 381–82, 390–91, 392–96. In the present letter Hawkins summarized only the latest of these communications. For Ivan Andreievich, Count Osterman (1724–1811), see JM to Randolph, 17 June 1783, n. 5.

3Papers of Madison description begins William T. Hutchinson, William M. E. Rachal, et al., eds., The Papers of James Madison (7 vols. to date; Chicago, 1962——). description ends , V, 187; 189, n. 13; 235; 236, n. 14; 467; citations in 469, n. 9; VI, 419, n. 3; 427, n. 13; 452; 453, n. 2; Rights of Neutral Nations, 12 June, n. 5; JM to Randolph, 17 June 1783, and n. 5. The separate definitive treaties concluded by Great Britain with France, Spain, and the United States were all signed on 3 September 1783.

4Dana’s commission was dated 19 December 1780. See Papers of Madison description begins William T. Hutchinson, William M. E. Rachal, et al., eds., The Papers of James Madison (7 vols. to date; Chicago, 1962——). description ends , VI, 453, n. 2; Rights of Neutral Nations, 12 June 1783, nn. 68.

5Russia and the United States delayed entering into formal diplomatic relations until 1809, thirteen years after Tsarina Catherine’s death (Samuel Flagg Bemis, A Diplomatic History of the United States [New York, 1942], p. 45).

6On 1 June 1785 King George III received John Adams as the minister of the United States to the court of St. James (Boyd, Papers of Jefferson description begins Julian P. Boyd et al., eds., The Papers of Thomas Jefferson (18 vols. to date; Princeton, N.J., 1950——). description ends , VIII, 176).

7The “M.” before “J. A.” may stand for “Monsieur,” although Hawkins could have meant “Mr.,” “Minister,” “Master,” or even “Mynheer.” Hawkins’ abridgment of what Dana wrote is approximately accurate. After stating Osterman’s four reasons for the tsarina’s refusal to recognize the independence of the United States, Dana summarized his own oral reply, and then added: “An important question arises out of this state of things: What remains to be done on the part of the United States? It belongs to me only to answer what I propose to do further myself, which is to draw a memorial containing this answer, with such observations upon it as shall occur to me, tending to show the futility of the objections which have been made to my immediate reception, and to send it to the vice-chancellor. To such a measure I am advised on a good part.” By this last sentence Dana evidently meant the example or counsel of his friend and former chief, John Adams. When minister-designate of the United States at The Hague, Adams had been impatient because of the slowness of the States-General in according him a formal reception. He finally on 19 April 1781 sent one memorial to the States-General and another to the Prince of Orange and Nassau, urging a recognition of American independence. Hawkins neglected to note, however, that Adams’ continuing persistence, greatly aided by the pressure of Dutch merchants, the influence of the French ambassador at The Hague, the surrender of Cornwallis, and other circumstances, brought him success on 22 April 1782 (Papers of Madison description begins William T. Hutchinson, William M. E. Rachal, et al., eds., The Papers of James Madison (7 vols. to date; Chicago, 1962——). description ends , III, 31, n. 2; 265, n. 2; 282, n. 2; 284; IV, 219; 287, n. 25; 364, n. 3). During the three months following his submission of a memorial to Osterman on 27 April 1783 (old style), Dana received no satisfactory reply. Convinced that his mission was futile and authorized by Congress to abandon it, he thereupon left St. Petersburg to return to Boston (Wharton, Revol. Dipl. Corr description begins Francis Wharton, ed., The Revolutionary Diplomatic Correspondence of the United States (6 vols.; Washington, 1889). description ends ., VI, 411–15, 477, 494, 597, 636; JCC description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds., Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789 (34 vols.; Washington, 1904–37). description ends , XXIV, 226, 227, 267; Papers of Madison description begins William T. Hutchinson, William M. E. Rachal, et al., eds., The Papers of James Madison (7 vols. to date; Chicago, 1962——). description ends , VI, 427, n. 14; Rights of Neutral Nations, 12 June 1783).

8Hawkins’ statement is substantiated by tallied votes recorded in the journal of Congress for 7 and 13 August 1783 (JCC description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds., Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789 (34 vols.; Washington, 1904–37). description ends , XXIV, 493–94, 505).

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