Additional Instructions Respecting a Peace Treaty with Great Britain
In Congress Octr. 18. 1780
Congress took into consideration the report of the committee on the letters of 23 and 24 March last from the honble. John Adams minister plenipotentiary for negotiating a treaty of Peace and a treaty of commerce with the king of G Britain and thereupon
Resolved That the said minister be informed it is clearly the Opinion of Congress that a short truce would be highly dangerous to these United States.
That if a truce be proposed for so long a period or for an indefinite period requiring so long notice previous to a renewal of hostilities as to evince that it is on the part of the king of Great Britain a virtual relinquishment of the object of the war and an expedient only to avoid the mortification of an express acknowledgment of the independence and sovereignty of these United States, the said minister be at liberty with the concurrence of our ally to accede thereto provided the removal of the British land and naval armaments from the United States be a condition of it.1
That in case a truce shall be agreed on by the belligerent parties, Congress rely on his attention and prudence to hold up the United States to the world in a stile and title not derogatory to the character of an independent and sovereign people.
That with respect to those persons who have either abandoned or been banished from any of the United States since the commencement of the war, he is to make no stipulations whatsoever for their readmittance; and as to an equivalent for their property he may attend to propositions on that subject only on a reciprocal Stipulation that Great Britain will make full compensation for all the wanton destruction which the subjects of that nation have committed on the property of the citizens of the United States.2
That in a treaty of peace it is the wish of Congress not to be bound by any public engagement to admit British subjects to any of the rights or privileges of citizens of the United States; but at all times to be at liberty to grant or refuse such favors, according as the public interest and honor may dictate; and that it is their determination not to admit them to a full equality in this respect with the subjects of his most Christian Majesty unless such a concession should be deemed by the said minister preferable to a continuance of the war on that account.
Extract from the minutes3
Chas Thomson Secy.
RC (Adams Papers); endorsed by Francis Dana: “Additional Instructions of Congress respecting the Negotiation of Peace Recd. Jany: 10th. 1781. at Paris”; in JA’s hand: “dated Oct. 18. 1780.”; in an unidentified hand: “Oct 18. 1780 Hon J A.” In a letter dated 10 Jan. 1781, Dana informed JA of the arrival of the instructions, but indicated that he was not sending them on to Amsterdam because he feared trusting them to the regular mail. Dana’s letter was written immediately below a copy of a letter from the Committee for Foreign Affairs to JA of 12 July 1780, and was filmed at that date (Adams Papers, Microfilms, Reel No. 352). In a letter of 16 Feb. 1781, Dana informed the Committee for Foreign Affairs that he still had the instructions and it is possible that JA did not receive them until Dana met him at Leyden in mid-April (Wharton, ed., Dipl. Corr. Amer. Rev. description begins Francis Wharton, ed., The Revolutionary Diplomatic Correspondence of the United States, Washington, 1889; 6 vols. description ends , 4:259–260, 367).
1. This and the following paragraph respond to the points raised by JA in his letter of 23 March (No. 23, above), but it is doubtful that the instructions would have made JA’s task any easier if, in fact, Great Britain had ever proposed a truce. JA’s instructions of 16 Oct. 1779 had provided for a cessation of hostilities during negotiations, provided that all British troops were immediately withdrawn from the United States, but the negotiations were to be preceded by British recognition of American independence (vol. 8:203, calendared; JA, Diary and Autobiography description begins Diary and Autobiography of John Adams, ed. L. H. Butterfield and others, Cambridge, 1961; 4 vols. description ends , 4:181–183). The new instructions provided for a protracted truce conditioned on the withdrawal of British troops, but it is unclear how JA could have upheld the character of the United States as fully sovereign and independent if the truce was designed to permit Britain “to avoid the mortification” of acknowledging that very fact.
2. This and the following paragraph are a response to JA’s first letter of 24 March (No. 24, above), and are significant because JA’s original instructions made no mention of the treatment of the loyalist refugees in the peace treaty.