Benjamin Franklin Papers

Continental Congress to the American Peace Commissioners: Instructions, 29 October 1783

Continental Congress to the American Peace
Commissioners: Instructions8

DS: Library of Congress; draft,9 two copies, and incomplete copy: National Archives; copy: Massachusetts Historical Society

October 29th. 1783.

By The United States in Congress Assembled

To the Ministers Plenipotentiary of the United States of America at the Court of Versailles empowered to negociate a Peace or to any one or more of them.

First. You are instructed and authorised to announce to his Imperial Majesty the Emperor of Germany1 or to his Ministers the high sense which the United States in Congress Assembled entertain of his exalted character and eminent virtues and their earnest desire to cultivate his friendship and to enter into a Treaty of Amity and Commerce for the mutual advantage of the Subjects of his Imperial Majesty & the Citizens of these United States.

Secondly. You are instructed to meet the advances and encourage the disposition of the other Commercial Powers of Europe for entering into Treaties of Amity and Commerce with these United States. In negociations on this subject you will lay it down as a principle in no case to be deviated from that they shall respectively have for their basis the mutual advantage of the contracting Parties on terms of the most perfect equality and reciprocity and not to be repugnant to any of the Treaties already entered into by the United States with France and other Foreign Powers. That such Treaties shall in the first instance be proposed for a term not exceeding fifteen Years, and shall not be finally conclusive until they shall respectively have been transmitted to the United States in Congress Assembled for their examination and final direction; and that with the draughts or propositions for such Treaties shall be transmitted all the information which shall come within the knowledge of the said Ministers respecting the same and their observations after the most mature enquiry on the probable advantages or disadvantages & effects of such Treaties respectively.

Thirdly. You are instructed to continue to press upon the Ministers of his Danish Majesty2 the justice of causing satisfaction to be made for the value of the Ships and Goods Captured by the Alliance Frigate and sent into Bergen, and how essentially it concerns the honor of the United States that their gallant Citizens should not be deprived of any part of those Prizes, which they had so justly acquired by their valour. That as far as Congress have been informed, the estimate of those Prizes at fifty thousand pounds sterling is not immoderate; that no more however is desired than their true value, after every deduction which shall be thought equitable. That Congress have a sincere disposition to cultivate the friendship of his Danish Majesty and to promote a commercial intercourse between his Subjects and the Citizens of the United States on terms which shall promise mutual advantage to both Nations. That it is therefore the wish of Congress that this claim should still be referred to the equitable disposition of his Danish Majesty in full confidence that the reasonable expectations of the Parties interested will be fully answered; accordingly you are fully authorised and directed after exerting your best endeavours to enforce the said claim to the extent it shall appear to you to be well founded, to make abatements if necessary and ultimately to accept such compensation as his Danish Majesty can be prevailed on to grant.3

Fourthly. You are further instructed to enquire and report to Congress the reasons why the expedition of the Alliance and Bon homme Richard and the Squadron which accompanied them was carried on at the expence and on account of the Court of France?4 Whether any part of the profit arising therefrom accrued to the United States; or any of the expence thereof hath been placed to their Account? Whether the proceeds of any of the Prizes taken in that expedition and which is due to the American Officers and Seamen employed therein is deposited in Europe, and what amount; where; and in whose hands?

Fifthly. The acquisition of support to the Independence of the United States having been the primary object of the instructions to our Ministers respecting the Convention of the neutral Maritime Powers for maintaining the freedom of Commerce, You will observe that the necessity of such support is superceded by the Treaties lately entered into for restoring peace. And although Congress approve of the principles of that Convention as it was founded on the liberal basis of maintainance of the rights of neutral nations and of the Privileges of Commerce; yet they are unwilling at this juncture to become a party to a Confederacy which may hereafter too far complicate the interests of the United States with the Politics of Europe; and therefore if such a progress is not already made in this business as may render it dishonorable to recede, it is the desire of Congress and their instruction to each of the Ministers of the United States at the respective Courts in Europe, that no further measures be taken at present towards the admission of the United States into that Confederacy.5

Sixthly. The Ministers of these United States for negociating a Peace with Great Britain are hereby instructed, authorised & directed to urge forward the definitive Treaty to a speedy conclusion and unless there shall be an immediate prospect of obtaining Articles or explanations beneficial to the United States in addition to the provisional Articles, that they shall agree to adopt the provisional Articles as the substance of a definitive Treaty of Peace.6

Seventhly. The Minister or Ministers of these United States for negociating a Peace are hereby instructed to negociate an explanation of the following paragraph of the declaration acceded to by them on the 20th. of January 1783 relative to Captures Viz: “That the term should be one month from the Channel and North Sea as far as the Canary Islands inclusively whether in the Ocean or the Mediterranean.”7

Eighthly. Mr. Jay is hereby authorised to direct Mr. Carmichael to repair to Paris should Mr. Jay be of opinion that the interest of the United States at the Court of Madrid may not be injured by Mr. Carmichael’s absence;8 and that Mr. Carmichael carry with him the Books and Vouchers necessary to make a final and compleat settlement of the account of public monies which have passed through the hands of Mr. Jay and himself and that Mr. Barclay attend Mr. Jay and Mr. Carmichael to adjust those Accounts.9

Ninthly. Mr. Jay has leave to go to Bath should he find it necessary for the benefit of his health.1

Cha Thomson

Endorsements: [in John Adams’ hand:] Instructions / [in Franklin’s hand:] Oct. 29. 83—

Notation: For the Ministers plenipo &c

[Note numbering follows the Franklin Papers source.]

8These instructions were prepared by a committee appointed on Sept. 29 to respond to letters Congress had received from individual American commissioners, including BF’S long letter to Livingston, July 22[–26] (XL, 355–70). The committee, consisting of Samuel Huntington, Arthur Lee, and James Duane, delivered its report on Oct. 22 (see the following note). The instructions were approved on Oct. 29: JCC, XXV, 630–1, 636–7, 753–7. Boudinot enclosed them in his Nov. 1 letter to the American commissioners. Congress also ordered that the fifth instruction be sent to Francis Dana, along with “a copy of the other instructions for his information”: JCC, XXV, 757.

9In the hand of James Duane, and marked by Charles Thomson as having been delivered on Oct. 22. This draft bears emendations and notations indicating which articles were passed. The committee’s third article was rejected: “You are instructed to put a Stop to all Loans for money which are negotiating, or authorized, on behalf of the United States, in any part of Europe.” The seventh article of the final version, published here, was added during debate.

1Emperor Joseph II, who was also archduke of Austria and ruler of the possessions of the House of Habsburg. For his overtures to the United States see XXXIX, 188–9, 445; XL, 368.

2Christian VII.

3This article is a response to BF’s explanation of his negotiations with Denmark: XL, 361–2.

4See XL, 364–5. Such royally financed expeditions had a long history. In the present case, Louis apparently acted from a combination of financial, military, and altruistic motives: Jonathan R. Dull, American Naval History, 1607–1865: Overcoming the Colonial Legacy (Lincoln, Nebr. and London, 2012), pp. 24–5.

5In 1780 Congress had agreed to the principles of Empress Catherine II’s League of Armed Neutrality and had designated Francis Dana as minister to the Russian court. It also had authorized its ministers in Europe to accept an invitation to join the league: XXXIV, 188–9, 244n, 532; JCC, XVIII, 905. See also XL, 88–9, where Livingston foretold what these instructions might say.

6The American peace commissioners had already done so. They adopted the preliminary articles as the basis for the definitive peace signed on Sept. 3 (XL, 566–75).

7This article, added by Congress during the final days of discussion, had been drafted the previous August. It was in response to an Aug. 18 petition from a group of Boston merchants whose ships were taken by the British after March 3, the day they believed the armistice should have taken effect on the east coast of the United States: JCC, XXIV, 518; Adams Papers, XVI, 107n. For the declaration of the cessation of hostilities, which included the timetable of the armistice, see XXVIII, 605–8; XXXIX, 7n. As soon as it was signed, BF had had to issue a memorandum clarifying the reference to the Canary Islands for American merchants in France. Livingston had written for clarification in April, and the American commissioners had responded on July 18: XXXIX, 171–2, 487–8; XL, 330.

8William Carmichael had been received by the Spanish court as American chargé d’affaires in late August. He gave the date variously as Aug. 22 (in a letter to Jay: Jay Papers, III, 459) and Aug. 23 (in a letter to Livingston; see XXXIX, 464n).

9This eighth instruction had been approved as a resolution on Oct. 1 (JCC, XXV, 636). Congress wrote the resolution in response to Jay’s letters to Livingston of May 30 and June 1, complaining that Carmichael had not responded to his repeated requests to send a complete set of accounts relating to the Spanish mission, and asking Congress to order Carmichael to come to Paris and settle the accounts with Barclay. Without such an order, Jay feared that Carmichael would never do so: Jay Papers, III, 369, 372. Jay was correct. On July 1 he informed Carmichael of Barclay’s commission to settle the American public accounts in Europe and instructed him to bring all relevant documentation to Paris as soon as possible. Carmichael refused on July 29, claiming he was obligated to remain in Madrid unless he was instructed otherwise by Congress. The two men continued to argue until Jay forwarded the congressional resolution to Carmichael on Jan. 28, 1784. (All these letters between Jay and Carmichael are at the Columbia University Library.) For background on the relationship between Jay and Carmichael and the settling of the Spanish accounts see Jay Papers, II, 168–74; III, 550–4, 555–6.

1This instruction had also been resolved by Congress on Oct. 1: JCC, XXV, 636.

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