Thomas Jefferson Papers

Resolution on Treaties of Amity and Commerce, [April? 1784]

Resolution on Treaties of Amity and Commerce

[Apr.? 1784]

Resolved that treaties of Amity and commerce with the European nations ought not to be refused on our part until those nations will send ministers to negotiate them within these states nor ought they to be delayed until they shall have previously been submitted to the several legislatures and received their approbation.

1. Because it is not to be expected that the nations of Europe, antient and established as they are, will cross the Atlantic to treat with us on our own ground;1 nor is there any fact or information existing within the knowlege of Congress which would authorize such an expectation.

2. Because a refusal to treat with them in Europe amounts to a refusal to treat with them at all, to the suppression of every effort for the admission of our citizens to their ports on an equal footing with those of other countries, to a continuance of the occlusion of the West Indian markets against the produce of these states; loses a crisis of favourable disposition in the European powers in general to enter into connections of amity and commerce with us; endangers the loss of a proferred treaty from the Emperor of Morocco, who2 has made us friendly advances whose honour will be touched and resentment kindled by our declining to meet them, and whose power and connections may, in our present unarmed state, shut to us the ports of the Mediterranean, oblige us to send our commodities to them in foreign bottoms, or to seek them in our own, at the risk of consigning our citizens to perpetual slavery and chains.

3. Because3 the federal constitution does not require that treaties before their conclusion should be communicated to the thirteen legislatures and should receive all their several approbations,4 and such a delay in the present instance would be unseasonable and injurious to them; would protract the negotiations to a length indefinite both in time and expence; would leave our citizens in the mean time exposed to all the evils before stated5, and would be more distressing to these states whose channels of commerce are yet to be opened, than to the nations constituting the other parties who may in the mean time pursue their antient and long established tracts; and might suffer opportunities finally to pass by which might never be recalled.6

Dft (DLC). MS (DLC); both are entirely in TJ’s hand; the latter, a fair copy, is endorsed in the hand of a clerk: “Mr. Jefferson Yeas & Nays. Mr Williamson.” The former is a much-corrected text; some of its deletions are indicated in the notes below. There is no textual difference between Dft and MS except as indicated in note 1.

This intended resolution is not mentioned in the Journal, and Ford, description begins Paul Leicester Ford, ed., The Writings of Thomas Jefferson, “Letterpress Edition,” N.Y., 1892–1899 description ends iii, 428 states that the “first notice of this subject is in the Secret Journals of Congress [iii, 452–4], March 26, 1784, when the report of a committee, consisting of Jefferson, Gerry, and Williamson, was taken into consideration by Congress. These resolutions were probably prepared in connection with that report.” This is undoubtedly correct, but the relationship implied by Ford seems to be that the present resolutions were brought in on or about 26 Mch. 1784. This is very unlikely, since the debate on that day involved a defeat of the attempt to strike from the instructions to ministers the third item: “That these United States be considered in all such treaties… as one nation, upon the principles of the federal constitution” (JCC description begins Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789, ed. W. C. Ford and others, Washington, 1904–1937 description ends , xxvi, 169.) It is much more likely that the present resolutions were drawn up during the long delay over the adoption of the report submitted by TJ on 20 Dec. 1783. TJ took only five days to prepare that report, a fact which indicated his desire to have treaties of amity and commerce authorized at once. The report was debated on 22 Jan. 1784, being one of the first subjects taken up after the ratification of the peace treaty, and his report was then recommitted. Nothing happened until the committee brought in an amended report on 4 Mch.; this report was debated on 1 and 2 Apr. and then recommitted a second time. Again on 12 Apr. the report was recommitted a third time and Spaight and Paine were added to the committee. Between this date and 7 May the Journal records no discussion of this long-contested report (see Vol. 6: 400–401). In view of this delay in a matter that TJ regarded as of great urgency, it is logical to conclude that the present resolutions must have been drawn up sometime during April as a substitute for the report on instructions or as a means of stimulating Congress to some action. It is, of course, possible that they were offered earlier as a compromise motion to obtain agreement on the most essential points involved in the instructions to ministers; but the emphasis in the resolutions on the danger of delay would seem to support the assumption that the later date is the more probable. See, in this connection, TJ to Madison, 25 Apr. 1784. The matter deleted in the margin of Dft, as indicated in note 6, also would seem to point to this conclusion. In view of these evidences, these resolutions are tentatively assigned to some date during the month of April. The fact that the MS was actually introduced in Congress is proved by the endorsement, which shows also that TJ demanded a roll-call vote. This, plus the fact that the MS was retained by him and that no mention of the motion appears anywhere in the Journal, indicates that he must have withdrawn the motion—perhaps because, on 7 May, Congress at last adopted the major portion of the instructions to foreign ministers.

1In MS the remainder of this sentence has a line drawn through it, possibly indicating an amendment offered in Congress.

2In Dft TJ made several attempts at expressing the motive of the Emperor of Morocco and then deleted all: “from some personal trait of,” “probably of personal,” “good character more than from any motive of policy or interest.”

3In Dft there are the following deletions at this point: “by proposing that no treaty shall have been concluded till it” and “delaying to conclude the separate treaties until they shall have.”

4At this point in Dft there is the following deletion: “the negotiations will be protracted to a length indefinite if not.”

5At this point in Dft TJ found considerable difficulty in expressing his thought; the deletions and interlineations are so numerous that they cannot be fairly represented, but their meaning is clear: TJ argued that such a delay would “suffer … the opportunities to pass … which they ought to seize” since they might not “again be offered” and that such “a delay … is unreasonable … detrimental to these states [and] not required by the federal constitution.”

6In margin of Dft there is a paragraph reading in part as follows: “3. Because Congress have given instructions to the ministers in Europe to neg[otiate].” This paragraph is deleted in Dft

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