Benjamin Franklin Papers
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Draft of a Declaration to Be Made by the American Peace Commissioners, 2 January 1783

Draft of a Declaration to Be Made by the American Peace Commissioners7

Two D:8 Archives du Ministère des affaires étrangères

Projet de Declaration

1783. Janr. 2

Nous soussignés Ministres Plenipres. des Etats unis &a. Déclarons qu’en agréant et consentant a fixer par notre signature des articles qui avoient été discutés entre nous et M. Oswald muni de pleins pouvoirs a cet effet par S. M. le R. [Sa Majesté le Roi] de la grande Bretagne pour être inserés dans le futur traite de paix, nous n’avons eu pour objet que de faciliter et de constater la negociation dans laquelle les interets de nos souverains devoient etre préalablemt. Traités. Quoique le preambule de ces articles stipule positivement qu’ils n’auront d’effet que dans le cas ou le Traite de paix entre S. M. T. C. [Sa Majesté très Chretienne] et S. M. Brite. [Britannique] sera conclu, nous croyons devoir manifester plus spécialement les intentions de nos souverains a cet egard parceque nous appercevons que le titre de Traité preliminaire dont on qualifie ces articles soit en Angleterre soit dans les papiers publics de l’Europe peut induire en erreur sur la nature de l’acte que nous avons signé le 30. du mois dernier.9

Les Etats unis de l’amérique septe. jaloux de faire connoitre leur fidelité à remplir leurs engagemens et leur reconnoissance pour S. M. T. C. regardent leur cause comme inseparablement unie a celle de S. de. [dite] M. c’est la base des instructions qu’ils nous ont données1 et aucune de nos demarches ne peut s’ecarter de ce principe. Nous remplissons donc un de nos plus pretieux devoirs en declarant que les articles arretés et signès entre nous et le Plenipre. de S. M. Brite. ne changeront rien a la position des Etats unis envers l’Angleterre tant que la paix entre S. M. T. C. et s. M. Brite. ne sera pas conclue, et que nous rejettons toute interpretation des ds. [dits] articles toute induction de la signature que nous y avons apposée qui seroient contraires a cette assertion. Nous esperons que ces verites bien connues dissiperont tous les soupcons qu’on pourroit chercher a repandre sur les sentimens d’une Republique naissante dont l’honneur et les interets demandent égalemt. qu’elle s’etablisse dans l’opinion generale comme mettant au dessus de tout la fidelite et la constance dans ses engagemens.

Fait a Passy ce

[Note numbering follows the Franklin Papers source.]

7A statement drafted by the French foreign ministry for the commissioners to sign. We strongly suspect that Vergennes never presented it to BF, as there are no extant copies other than the unsigned drafts in the AAE and there are no mentions of it in the papers of any of the American commissioners. We include it here for the following reasons: (1) it is a striking expression of the court’s concern over the American signing of the preliminary articles, especially as their own negotiations with Great Britain were still not concluded, and (2) it has been misunderstood by historians who thought a final version was dated Jan. 20, for reasons explained in the following note. Jan. 20 makes no sense; this declaration reaffirms what the Americans had written in the preamble to the preliminary articles, that the articles would not take effect until an Anglo-French treaty was signed. On the day of that signing, the declaration was obsolete. It was also, in any case, redundant, which is why Vergennes may not have given it to the Americans. An English translation is in Giunta, Emerging Nation, I, 757–8; Richard B. Morris puzzles over it in The Peacemakers: the Great Powers and American Independence (New York, Evanston, and London, 1965), pp. 384–5.

8We print the earlier draft, where the date of composition, placed at the upper left corner, is unambiguous. The second D is a fair copy of the first (with accent marks added and minor variations in abbreviations); this must have been the copy that was to have been offered to the Americans for consideration. The title is simply “Declaration,” and, as in the first draft, the dateline “a Passy ce” was left blank. A different hand, however, misled contemporary eyes by filling in the dateline with “20. Jer. 1783.” This handwriting matches that of the clerk who wrote a notation in the upper left corner of the first page, summarizing the contents and again dating it Jan. 20. This clerk, seeing that the undated document concerned the French peace treaty, made an erroneous assumption and took the liberty of inserting the incorrect date in the text.

9The British papers published Townshend’s Dec. 3 letter containing an accurate description of the preliminary articles and their provisional nature; see the annotation of JW to BF, Dec. 6. The Dec. 13 issue of the Gaz. de Leyde, however, reported that Oswald had concluded a “Traité de Paix” with the American commissioners. They corrected this rumor in that day’s supplement, quoting from Townshend’s Dec. 3 letter (which they had just received). The next issue, Dec. 17, printed a full translation of that letter and described the British concessions.

1XXXV, 166–7. The commissioners’ fidelity to their instructions, particularly relative to their responsibilities to the alliance, was questioned by some delegates to Congress (and criticized by La Luzerne) when Barney arrived with the preliminary agreement: William T. Hutchinson et al., eds., The Papers of James Madison, First Series (17 vols., Chicago, London, and Charlottesville, 1962–91), VI, 328, 358–61, 375.

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