From Arthur Lee
Philadelphia Ocr. 1st. 1782
I enclose you some late proceedings by which you will perceive that Mr. Laurens is to be made a victim if possible to the system of throwing every thing into one man’s hands. By these votes you will judge pretty accurately who are Devotees to this unjust, unwise, and irrepublican system. Except that of N. Y. where one of the ays was from policy given against the motion of which he was probably the prompter.1 However they have at last fed the one man’s pride, vanity and all arrogating disposition by putting him sole in the Commission for negociating with Sweden, which woud not have been done had he not written that it was the particular desire of the King of Sweden communicated to him by the Ambassador of that Court at Vesailles, that he might be the person. It was an omission, for which I am blamable, not to have inserted this in the Commission, that if a fiction or a mere compliment, and I suspect it was one or the other, the falsity or the vanity of it might have appeard. The words of his Letter are these—“The2 Ambassador from Sweden to this Court applied to me lately to know if I had Powers that woud authorise my making a treaty with his master in behalf of the U.S. Recollecting a general one that was formerly given to me with the other Commissioners I answered in the affirmative. He seemd much pleasd and said the King had directed him to ask the question, and had chargd him to tell me, that he had so great an esteem for me that it woud be a particular satisfaction to him to have such a transaction with me. I have perhaps some vanity in repeating this; but I think too, that it is right the Congress shoud know it, and judge if any use can be made of the reputation of a Citizen for the public Service.”3
It is with sorrow, I inform you of the death of young Col: Laurens, who was killd lately in a skirmish with the British near Charles-town. He is as much a public as a private loss; and I am much afraid it will be an accumulation of misfortune on his most worthy Father too great for him to bear.4
The Enemy have revoked the order for the evacuation of Augustine;5 but all their motions tend to that of N. York and Charles-town. They are to strengthen the garrison of Quebec, recal their indian parties from our frontiers, and bend all their force against the french and spanish Islands. How far we can in prudence pursue them thither with our land forces, is not yet the subject of discussion. Remember me to Mr Laurens if in Europe, and to Mr. Dana when you write to him.
Congress have resolvd not to conclude any Peace but in confidence and concurrence with our Allies and to prosecute the war, till a peace satisfactory to all can be obtaind. All propositions for Negociation are to be referrd to the Commissioners in Europe.6 Genl. Lee died here a few days since and was buried with great honor.7
RC and enclosures (Adams Papers). The enclosures are not with this letter in the Adams Papers, but see note 1.
1. On 17 Sept., Congress considered Henry Laurens’ resignation as peace commissioner and resolved that reasons for appointing him remained valid and that “his services in the execution of that trust cannot be dispensed with.” Congress then resolved to inform its peace commissioners that they should convene together wherever peace negotiations might take place. On 20 Sept., Congress considered and then defeated James Madison’s motion that the 17 Sept. resolution “informing Mr. Laurens that his services as a minister plenipotentiary for negotiating peace cannot be dispensed with by Congress, and so much of the other resolution of the same date as relates to Mr. Laurens, be not transmitted till the further order of Congress.” Lee likely enclosed the extracts from the minutes containing the resolutions of 17 and 20 Sept. and the roll calls that are in the Adams Papers and filmed under those dates (Microfilms, Reel No. 358). For Madison’s motives in offering the resolution, principally in reaction to the petition that Edmund Burke offered in Parliament in Dec. 1781 on Laurens’ behalf, see Smith, Letters of Delegates description begins Letters of Delegates to Congress, 1774–1789, ed. Paul H. Smith and others, Washington, D.C., 1976–2000; 26 vols. description ends , 19:201; for a draft of the petition itself, see Laurens, Papers description begins The Papers of Henry Laurens, ed. Philip M. Hamer, George C. Rogers Jr., David R. Chesnutt, C. James Taylor, and others, Columbia, S.C., 1968–2003; 16 vols. description ends , 15:456–458. The New York delegate referred to by Lee was probably James Duane, who had been on the committee, with James Madison, that had originally offered the resolution rejecting Laurens’ resignation (JCC description begins Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789, ed. Worthington C. Ford and others, Washington, D.C., 1904–1937; 34 vols. description ends , 23:584–585, 593). For the 17 Sept. resolution concerning the commissioners, see also Robert R. Livingston’s letter of 15 Sept., and note 6, above.
2. Opening quotation marks supplied.
3. The Swedish ambassador to France, Gustaf Philip, Graf von Creutz, approached Benjamin Franklin on 23 April regarding a Swedish-American treaty of amity and commerce, probably because of the imminent recognition of the United States by the Netherlands and the likelihood of a Dutch-American commercial treaty in the near future. Franklin informed Robert R. Livingston of the Swedish request in a letter of 25 June, with the result that on 28 Sept. Congress resolved on a plan for a Swedish-American treaty and issued Franklin a commission and instructions for its negotiation (Franklin, Papers description begins The Papers of Benjamin Franklin, ed. Leonard W. Labaree, William B. Willcox, Claude A. Lopez, Barbara B. Oberg, Ellen R. Cohn, and others, New Haven, Conn., 1959–?. description ends , 37:204–205, 538; JCC description begins Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789, ed. Worthington C. Ford and others, Washington, D.C., 1904–1937; 34 vols. description ends , 23:610–624). Lee’s quotation from Franklin’s letter of 25 June is accurate.
4. John Laurens was killed on 27 Aug., during a skirmish on Chehaw Neck, S.C. For an account of the action, see Laurens, Papers description begins The Papers of Henry Laurens, ed. Philip M. Hamer, George C. Rogers Jr., David R. Chesnutt, C. James Taylor, and others, Columbia, S.C., 1968–2003; 16 vols. description ends , 15:605.
5. When Sir Guy Carleton, the new commander in chief in America, reached New York in May, his orders were to evacuate New York, Charleston, Savannah, and possibly St. Augustine. A shortage of shipping, however, forced the cancellation of the immediate evacuation of St. Augustine, and it was not carried out until the early fall of 1783 (Mackesy, War for America description begins Piers Mackesy, The War for America, 1775–1783, Cambridge, 1964. description ends , p. 474, 492; David Syrett, Shipping and the American War, 1775–1783, London, 1970, p. 236–237, 239).
6. On 24 Sept. the Chevalier de La Luzerne had made representations to a congressional committee concerning letters he had received from the Comte de Vergennes concerning British peace overtures. In the course of his presentation the French minister reportedly stated that the shortest way to defeat British artifice and intrigue regarding a peace treaty would be to make it absolutely clear “that the United States neither can nor will make any peace without the concurrence of their ally, and that, if England has any overtures for peace to make to them, the American plenipotentiaries are sufficiently empowered to receive them and to negociate a peace if those overtures are admissible” (Wharton, Dipl. Corr. Amer. Rev. description begins The Revolutionary Diplomatic Correspondence of the United States, ed. Francis Wharton, Washington, D.C., 1889; 6 vols. description ends , 5:757–762). This led Congress, on 3 and 4 Oct., to adopt a number of resolutions. On the 3d, it thanked France for its support in the preliminary peace negotiations then ongoing and assured it that Congress would “inviolably adhere” to the Franco-American alliance and make no separate peace. But Congress reiterated its peace ultimata regarding boundaries, fishing rights, and free navigation of the Mississippi, while noting that any claims for restitution of or compensation for property confiscated by the states would meet “insuperable obstacles.” On the 4th, Congress took the action mentioned by Lee by declaring that “the ministers plenipotentiary of these United States in Europe are vested with full power and authority in their behalf, and in concert with their allies, to negotiate and conclude a general peace.” Congress again declared that the United States would adhere to the Franco-American alliance and make no separate peace (JCC description begins Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789, ed. Worthington C. Ford and others, Washington, D.C., 1904–1937; 34 vols. description ends , 23:632–634, 637–639). Copies of the 3 Oct. resolutions are in the Adams Papers and filmed at that date (Microfilms, Reel No. 358), but there is no indication by what means JA received them.