Jefferson’s Compromise Motion concerning Ratification of the Definitive Treaty
[2 January 1784]
Whereas it is stipulated in the definitive treaty of peace between the United states and his Britannic majesty that the ratifications of the said treaty shall be exchanged on or before the 3d. day of March next and there now remains before that period little more time than is requisite for the passage of the said ratification across the Atlantic; And Congress consisting at present but of 7. states, these differ in opinion, some of them considering 9. as requisite under the Confederation to the establishment of every treaty while others are of opinion that nine having ratified the Provisional treaty, and instructed their ministers to enter into a definitive one conformable thereto which is accordingly done seven may under these particular circumstances ratify what has been so declared by nine to have their approbation; and those of the former opinion being equally desirous with the latter that no power which it may be supposed they possess should remain unexercised for the final ratification of this instrument1 provided it may be done with the preservation of good faith towards the other contracting party and without being supposed to convey any opinion of Congress that such ratification is authoritative, which supposition would be contrary to truth:
Resolved therefore that the states now present in Congress do declare their approbation and ratification2 of the said treaty; that the same be duly attested under the seal of the states: and transmitted to our ministers:3 that so soon as nine states shall be present in Congress, the said treaty shall be submitted to them and their ratification when obtained shall be transmitted to our ministers also in hope of it’s reaching them by the stipulated time, in which case this shall be used and the former cancelled; that [if] however they do not receive the ratification by nine states before the time for exchange they then produce4 the act of the seven states,5 offering it to the acceptance of the other party in exchange for theirs with assurance that it will be followed by another expedited by nine states which shall be delivered to them also;6 and at the same time explaining (if they find it necessary for the preservation of our good faith) the differences of opinion which exist as to the compe[tence]7 of seven states to this act; or if it be more eligible to the other pa[rty] that then they agree on a further day for the exchange of ratifications.
MS (DLC: PCC, No. 29); entirely in TJ’s hand, with numerous deletions and corrections, the more important of which are noted below; endorsed by Thomson: “No. 9. Motion of Mr. Jefferson Jany. 2. 1784 Referred to Mr Jefferson Mr Williamson Mr Read Mr Gerry Mr Howell of ratification of def. treaty [and, at a later date, in the same hand:] Jany 14 1784 Rendered Useless by the ratification this day by 9 states. to be filed.” Committee Book (DLC: PCC, No. 186) records the appointment of the committee on 2 Jan. and the fact that it reported the following day. Ford, description begins Paul Leicester Ford, ed.,The Writings of Thomas Jefferson,“Letterpress Edition,” N.Y., 1892–1899 description ends III, 372–5, prints the present and the following document as if they are, respectively, the rough draft and the fair copy of the same text. But this is misleading. The present MS seems indeed to be a rough draft and it also bears close resemblance to the document following, but it is more proper to designate it as TJ’s motion of 2 Jan., whereas the document following is the report handed in by the committee of five on 3 Jan.; this is clearly shown by the endorsements on the two and by the record in Committee Book. Since both documents underwent numerous changes that would be difficult to represent if their text should be considered as one, they are here presented separately (in accord with their true nature) despite their duplication in part.
For the earlier debates in Congress that led to the present compromise proposed by TJ, see note to resolution printed above under date of 27 Dec. 1783. The fact that the Journals of Congress contain no reference to this motion or to the report of the committee is explained there. In his Autobiography TJ states that the report “was debated on the 3d. and 4th. and on the 5th. a vessel being to sail for England from this port [Annapolis] the House directed the President to write to our ministers accordingly” (Ford, description begins Paul Leicester Ford, ed.,The Writings of Thomas Jefferson,“Letterpress Edition,” N.Y., 1892–1899 description ends i, 82–3; see also Burnett, Letters of Members description begins Edmund C. Burnett, ed., Letters of Members of the Continental Congress description ends , vii, No. 476). There is no evidence that Mifflin wrote such a letter to the ministers.
1. Preceding five words interlined in substitution for “establishment of peace,” deleted.
2. TJ first wrote: “approbation of and […] to this” and then over-wrote “and ratification” so as to render one word illegible.
3. The following passage is deleted at this point: “with instructions not to make use of it till the last point of time.”
4. This word interlined in substitution for “tender,” deleted.
5. Following this point, this passage was deleted and the reading as given above substituted: “expressing at the same time the doubts which Congress themselves entertained of its validity, and proposing that that shall be accepted and shall,” &c.
6. Following this point, this passage was deleted: “and that they agree on a further day for the exchange of ratifications at their option.”
7. Part of this word obscured; it was probably abbreviated by TJ as “competc.” Ford, description begins Paul Leicester Ford, ed.,The Writings of Thomas Jefferson,“Letterpress Edition,” N.Y., 1892–1899 description ends III, 375, gives it as “compliance” as if the word were completely legible; but it is not, and the reading, which is conjectural, is erroneous: there was never any question of the “compliance” of seven states in the ratification, but only of their competence to ratify.