Thomas Jefferson Papers

From Thomas Jefferson to Edmund Pendleton, 16 December 1783

To Edmund Pendleton

Annapolis Dec. 16. 1783.

Dear Sir

I received your favor of the 8th inst. with great satisfaction as it anticipated a proposition I want to make you of interchanging communications sometimes. The termination of the war will render what I can send you less interesting perhaps, while your intelligence will retain it’s value. It is very essential to us to obtain information of facts, of opinions, and of wishes from our own country: with this view I have been writing by every post to my acquaintances in the General assembly but never yet have been able to provoke one scrip of a pen from any person of that honourable body.

On the day before yesterday we for the first time had seven states. The Definitive treaty had been received by the President some time, and a joint letter from our Ministers. This gave us an account of the various propositions and steps taken on both sides in the negociation which preceded the Definitive treaty. Mr. Hartley was the British negotiator with America. He was well disposed but his zeal for systems friendly to us constantly exceeded his powers to agree to them. Our ministers proposed a free intercourse between every part of the British dominions and the U.S. saving the rights of their chartered companies. Mr. H. approved of it, but his court declined assenting. He then1 proposed that the unmanufactured produce of the U.S. should be admitted into G.B. and the manufactures of G.B. into the U.S. and that we should be allowed to carry our own produce to the W. Indies. On being questioned however he had no authority to conclude upon these articles even if agreable to us. News then arrived in France that our ports were thrown open to British vessels unconditionally. This stopped the negotations till he should communicate the intelligence to his court and receive their instructions. They immediately drew back; no further instructions were sent, till the other powers were ready to sign their definitive treaties when the British court ordered Hartley to sign the provisional articles as definitive. While they were expecting his instructions for the commercial treaty our Ministers went on with discussions for the definitive pacification. They proposed that we should be allowed to stay execution on judgments for British debts 3 years from the signature of the treaty, and that no interest should be demanded but from the time of the signature: that instead of recommending a restitution of confiscated property, a valuation of all destructions of property on both sides should be made and the balance only be paid by the party which had suffered least: that the Lakes, the Missisipi and St. Laurence with all the carrying places should be common to both. No answer could ever be obtained from the British court on any of these points. After signing definitively Hartley went to England expecting to return and settle the Commercial system; but they think it very incertain whether he will return. They press in the warmest terms the execution of the articles in favor of the tories. They say that the introduction of committees and town—meetings when we have a regular government established, the situation of the army, our reluctance to pay taxes, and the circumstances under which Congress left Philadelphia have reduced our new establishments much in the eyes of the European nations: that if England can be prevailed on to establish a liberal system of commerce, other nations will do so too; but probably not otherwise: that were it certain we could be brought to act as one united nation she would make extensive concessions, but under present appearances she has no inducement to this as she is not afraid of retaliation: and conclude by observing that if in our commercial system we do not act collectedly ‘we shall soon find ourselves in the situation in which all Europe wishes to see us, viz. as unimportant consumers of her manufactures and productions, and [as]2 useful labourers to furnish her with raw materials.’ We have no certain prospect of nine states in Congress and cannot ratify the treaty with fewer. Yet the ratifications are to be exchanged by the 3d of March.

We have received a copy of the Dutch preliminaries. G.B. keeps Nagapatnam, and restores all other places taken. The Dutch are still to pay them the usual salute at sea.

There being at present nothing else worthy a communication to you, I subscribe myself with great esteem Dr. Sir Your friend & servt.,

Th: Jefferson

RC (NN); endorsed by Pendleton. Entry in SJL reads: “E.P. 7 states—Definitive treaty—joint letter of ministers—general view of negotations—their thoughts on tories, committees, situation of army, reluctance of taxes, departure of Congress. They are not acting as one nation in matters of commerce—Dutch treaty.”

Pendleton’s favor of the 8th inst. has not been found, nor have the letters that TJ evidently wrote by every post to … acquaintances in the general assembly (see note to preceding document), though entries in SJL appear for letters to such members of the legislature as David Ross, Mann Page, John Tyler, Gabriel Jones, Archibald Stuart, and Joseph Jones (see under dates of 27 Nov., 5 and 12 Dec. 1783). Other acquaintances in the General Assembly to whom he might have written were Izaac Zane, Thomas Mann Randolph, John Page, and Thomas Nelson, Jr. David Hartley’s zeal for systems friendly TO US appears in a copy of a MS in DLC: TJ Papers, 9: 1489–94, commenting on the American Commissioners’ proposal “for an universal and unlimited reciprocity of Intercourse and Commerce between Great Britain and the … United States.” Hartley found this proposal “fertile in future Prospects to Great Britain” and thought that “America also may wisely see in it a solid foundation for herself.” His conclusion exhibited a statesmanlike vision too far—seeing to gain acceptance: “The Independance of the American states being established, their first Consideration ought to be, to determine with what Friendships and Alliances they will enter into the new World of Nations. They will look round them, and cast about for some natural, powerful, and permanent Ally, with whom they may interchange all cementing Reciprocities, both commercial and political. If such an Ally is to be found anywhere for them, it is still in Great Britain. … [She] is undoubtedly the first of European Nations in Riches, Credit, Faculties, Industry, Commerce, Manufactures, internal Consumption and foreign Export; together with Civil Liberty, which is the source of all, and Naval Power, which is the Support of all. The Dominions appertaining to the Crown of Great Britain are large and fertile, its Colonies still extensive and in close Vicinity to the American States; Great Britain being herself an American as well as an European Power and all her Empire connected by her Naval Force. The Territories of the American States, from the Atlantic Ocean to the Mississippi, contain an inexhaustible Source of Riches, Industry and future Power. These will be the Foundations of great Events in the new Page of Life. Infinite Good or infinite Evil may arise according to the Principles upon which the Intercourse between Great Britain and the American States shall be arranged in its Foundation. Great Britain and the United States must be still inseparable, either as Friends or Foes. This is an awful and important Truth. These are considerations not to be thought slightly of, not to be prejudged in Passion, nor the Arrangements of them to be hastily foreclosed. Time given for Consideration may have excellent Effects on both sides. The Pause of Peace, with friendly Intercourse, returning Affection and dispassionate Inquiry can alone decide these important Events, or do justice to the anxious Expectations of Great Britain or America” (dated 1 June 1783; endorsed by TJ: “Commerce. Notes &c. on treaty of by D. Hartley”).

1At this point TJ deleted the following: “probably by their instructions.”

2TJ omitted “as” in the quotation from the Commissioners’ letter of 10 Sep. 1783 (Wharton, Dipl. Corr. Amer. Rev., vi, 687–91).

Index Entries