Benjamin Franklin Papers
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William Temple Franklin to David Hartley, 21 May 1783

William Temple Franklin to David Hartley

Copies: William L. Clements Library,9 Library of Congress, Massachusetts Historical Society (two)

After Hartley gave his proposed article to the American peace commissioners on the evening of May 21 (see Hartley’s memorial and proposed article, [May 19]), the Americans withdrew for discussion. Unsure of whether Hartley had the authority to sign it without consultation with his court, they decided to pose the question in writing. John Adams drafted a letter, and Franklin suggested that it be sent under Temple’s signature. The present letter is Temple’s adaptation of Adams’ draft.1

The next morning, Adams drafted a formal proposal for a temporary trade agreement that adapted Hartley’s proposal. He inserted an article calling for the ministers to be nominated and vested with full powers to conclude a permanent commercial treaty, and incorporated Hartley’s article almost verbatim as Article 2.2

Around the same time, John Jay also drafted a provisional trade convention. While there is no evidence that Jay’s three articles were ever presented to Hartley, the issues they raised were certainly discussed (see the annotation below), and the commissioners copied them into the legation letterbooks. The first article banned the British importation of slaves into America, “It being the Intention of the said States intirely to prohibit the Importation thereof.” The second granted Ireland the right to negotiate its own trade agreements with the United States. The third emphasized the strictly temporary character of the convention, as “the Discussion of Questions respecting reciprocity has in forming of it been avoided.”3

Paris May 21st 1783


The American Ministers have done me the honour to direct me to present you their Compliments, and to desire to be informed, whether the Proposition you made them this Evening, is such as you can agree to & subscribe without further Instructions or Information from your Court?

I have the honour to be Sir, Your most obedient & most humble Servt

W T Franklin

His Excellency D Hartley Esqr

Notation by David Hartley: Answered in person—That I would write to London for special instructions4

[Note numbering follows the Franklin Papers source.]

9This copy, the only one that includes the complimentary close and signature, was made by Hartley’s secretary George Hammond. The other copies are in the commissioners’ legation letterbooks, and JA’s letterbook.

1For that draft see Butterfield, John Adams Diary, III, 124.

2Butterfield, John Adams Diary, III, 125–7.

3The letterbook copies (Library of Congress, Mass. Hist. Soc.) are the only surviving versions, and they are undated. The text is in Morris, Jay: Peace, pp. 540–1, under the ascribed date of June 1.

4Before replying to the commissioners, Hartley consulted the Duke of Manchester, the new British ambassador to the French court, who agreed that Hartley’s instructions required him to write to London for an answer. Hartley called on JA the next morning (May 22) and so informed him. JA complained about the lack of reciprocity in Hartley’s proposed article, and argued the importance of American participation in the British West Indies trade.

In his May 22 letter to Fox, Hartley speculated that the Americans might sign the proposed article with a few modifications. They had talked to him about excluding the importation of slaves as the first step in abolishing slavery; he hoped that this would not “meet with any difficulty on your side of the water.” He predicted that “with a little management” the commissioners could be brought into agreement with the provisions about trade in manufactured goods, but that participation in the West Indies trade was “the rub.” They had often asked him, “Why won’t your nation come forward to meet us? What are they afraid of? We are ready to meet them upon any terms of liberality & reciprocity.” Hartley followed this dispatch with a private letter of May 23 appealing for concessions and emphasizing how impatient and mistrustful the Americans were. He begged Fox to send news about the evacuation of British troops from America, which was one of the commissioners’ chief concerns: Giunta, Emerging Nation, II, 124–30, 131–2; Butterfield, John Adams Diary, III, 127–8.

In a June 18 letter to Fox (Clements Library), Hartley recalled that on May 21 the commissioners also asked whether the British-American commercial treaty would include Ireland. Two days later he wrote that the commissioners had inquired of the Shelburne ministry about the future terms of Irish-American trade in “a Memorandum upon the Margin of the Provisional Bill, which was sent to them for their opinion, about the time of its first appearance in the House of Commons”: Giunta, Emerging Nation, II, 163. The ill-fated American Intercourse Bill (XXXIX, 296–7n, 352) had been presented to the commissioners by Fitzherbert in early March. The Americans much approved its “liberal spirit” and proposed to include an article in the definitive treaty guaranteeing reciprocal free trade, which they hoped would also include Ireland. However, Fitzherbert did not feel authorized to give them a response on this point: Morris, Jay: Peace, p. 539n; Fitzherbert to Lord Grantham, March 13, 1783, in Giunta, Emerging Nation, I, 784.

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