Report on Rights of Neutral Nations
MS (NA: PCC, No. 79, III, 255). In JM’s hand. Docketed: “Report of Mr Madison Mr Ellsworth Mr. Hamilton On a report of Secy for forn. Affairs on a letter of 20 March from Mr Dumas Delivered June 11, 1783. read Entd.” Designated by JM for inclusion in this report is part of a report dated 3 June, a minor portion of which is in the hand of, and signed by, Robert R. Livingston, secretary for foreign affairs. The report is docketed: “Report of Secy for foreign Affairs on Mr Dumas’ letter of 20 March 1783 Delivered June 4. Entd Read. June 6 1783 Referred to Mr Madison Mr Ellsworth Mr Hamilton” (NA: PCC, No. 79, III, 247–53).
[12 June 1783]
The Come. to whom was referred the letter & papers from Mr. Dumas1 with the Report of the Secy. of F.A. thereon report that it appears from the sd. papers as stated in the said Report.
1st. that it appears2 from them, that propositions have been made on the part of the States General to the ministers of the United States at Paris, (in order to render an express stipulation in favor of the freedom of navigation less necessary in the treaty of peace between great Britain & the United Provinces of the Netherlands,) either to accede to the treaty of the armed neutrality already concluded between some powers of Europe, or to enter into similar engagements with France, Spain and the United Provinces of the Netherlands3—or in case France & Spain should refuse to enter into a convention founded on the principles of the armed neutrality, or wish to delay it till after the general peace, to form a separate convention for similar purposes between the United Provinces of the Netherlands & the United States of America.
That the answers to these propositions do not appear from the papers transmitted, tho’ there is room to infer from Mr Dumas’s Letter of the 4th. and 18th. of February, that the two first of these propositions were encouraged by our Ministers, and that the states general proposed to act in consequence thereof, & had made the last proposition in order to be prepared in case either or both of the two first should fail.4
It appears to Mr. Livingston that no powers are at present vested in any person in Europe to agree to any treaty similar to that entered into by Russia, Sweden, Denmark & the United provinces of the Netherlands after the peace shall be concluded The resolution of the 5th. of October 1780, empowers the ministers of those states, if invited thereto, to accede to such regulations conformable to the spirit of the declaration of the Empress of Russia as may be agreed upon by the Congress expected to assemble in pursuance of the invitation of her Imperial Majesty. our ministers received no invitation5 & special powers were afterwards given to Mr. Dana, which in their nature superseded that resolution. Mr. Dana was by his commission & instruction empowered to sign the treaty or convention for the protection of commerce in behalf of the United States either with her Imperial Majesty in conjunction with the other neutral powers, or if that shall be inadmissible, separately with her Imperial Majesty or any of those (that is those neutral) powers.6
The Treaty being only made to continue during the war, his powers terminated with the war, or at most extended only to sign it with the neutral powers & not to form a new & separate treaty.7
Whereupon the Come. observe that as the primary object of the Resolution of Ocr. 5. 1780 & of the Comon. & instructions to Mr. Dana relative to the accession of the U.S. to the Neutral Confederacy, no longer can operate,8 and as the true interest of these States requires that they shd. be as little as possible entangled in the politics & controversies of European Nations,9 it is inexpedient for Congs. to renew the said powers either to Mr. Dana10 or to the other Ministers in Europe; But inasmuch as the liberal principles on which the said confederacy was established are conceived to be in general favorable to the interests of Nations, & particularly to those of the U.S. & ought in that view to be promoted by the latter as far as will consist with their fundamental policy. Resolved journal [?] amendmt11 that the Ministers Plenipoy. for peace be instructed to endeavor if it can be done without delaying the definitive Treaty to comprise therein a mutual recognition & establishment of the Rights of Neutral Nations conformable to the principles of the said Confederacy, so far as the same can be done without entering into stipulations which may involve these States in contests or wars for the maintanence of those principles.12
1. See hdn.; also Papers of Madison description begins William T. Hutchinson, William M. E. Rachal, et al., eds., The Papers of James Madison (7 vols. to date; Chicago, 1962——). description ends , VI, 480, n. 3. Charles G. F. Dumas was nominally chargé d’affaires of the United States at The Hague. His brief dispatch of 20 March to Livingston served principally as a covering letter for copies of eighteen of his letters, dating between 24 January and 14 March, bearing mostly on the subject of the committee’s report (NA: PCC, No. 93, II, 220–32, 241–66, 291–92). Of these letters, Dumas had directed one to Benjamin Franklin, nine to John Adams, minister-plenipotentiary to the Netherlands but then in Paris with Franklin as an American peace commissioner, four to the Duc de La Vauguyon, ambassador of France to the Netherlands (Papers of Madison description begins William T. Hutchinson, William M. E. Rachal, et al., eds., The Papers of James Madison (7 vols. to date; Chicago, 1962——). description ends , IV, 291, n. 19), and four to officials of the Dutch government, including two to van Berckel (JM to Jefferson, 10 June 1783, and n. 23). For seven of Dumas’ letters to Adams, see Wharton, Revol. Dipl. Corr description begins Francis Wharton, ed., The Revolutionary Diplomatic Correspondence of the United States (6 vols.; Washington, 1889). description ends ., VI, 229–30, 232, 233–34, 235–36, 255–56, 272, 273.
2. JM copied “1st” through “appears” from Livingston’s report of 3 June. He then interlineated “Cp”[copy?] over “appears” and followed this word with “&c [see beginning to page 4, line 3].” The present editors have conformed with these instructions by inserting Livingston’s report from the place JM designated through folio 4, line 3. Whenever Livingston wrote “United Provinces” or “united provinces,” JM in his copying added “of the Netherlands.”
3. To this point the passage from Livingston’s report either paraphrases or quotes verbatim from the proposal made by the grand pensionary of Holland, Pieter van Bleiswyck, and transmitted by Dumas to Adams in a letter of 24 January 1783 (Wharton, Revol. Dipl. Corr description begins Francis Wharton, ed., The Revolutionary Diplomatic Correspondence of the United States (6 vols.; Washington, 1889). description ends ., VI, 229–30). The preliminary treaty of peace between Great Britain and the Netherlands was signed on 2 September 1783 and the definitive treaty on 20 May 1784 (Papers of Madison description begins William T. Hutchinson, William M. E. Rachal, et al., eds., The Papers of James Madison (7 vols. to date; Chicago, 1962——). description ends , IV, 388, n. 11; VI, 449, n. 9). For the “treaty of the armed neutrality,” agreed to by Russia, Norway, and Denmark on 9 July 1780 and later that year by the Netherlands, a membership almost immediately rendered nugatory by the Anglo-Dutch war, see ibid., II, 56, n. 3; 167, n. 2; III, 45, n. 9; IV, 16, n. 24.
4. Adams, five days after receiving Dumas’ letter of 24 January, responded that he, Jay, and Franklin, although not expressly instructed by Congress on the proposals of the United Provinces, desired to hasten the conclusion of the definitive treaty of peace. To that end “we should not hesitate to pledge the faith of the United States to the observance of the principles of the armed neutrality” (Wharton, Revol. Dipl. Corr description begins Francis Wharton, ed., The Revolutionary Diplomatic Correspondence of the United States (6 vols.; Washington, 1889). description ends ., VI, 233). In letters of 4 and 18 February 1783 Dumas assured Adams that his reply had pleased the Dutch officials; that they were determined not to accept treaty proposals from Great Britain unless they included guarantees concerning “navigation” similar to those in the commercial treaties of the United States with France and the Netherlands; and that they hoped, if France and Spain should be unwilling before the conclusion of the definitive treaty to sign a convention with the United States and the Netherlands “founded on the principles of the armed neutrality,” Francis Dana, or Adams, or the American peace commissioners would be willing on behalf of the United States “to sign such a provisional convention” with representatives duly commissioned by “the United Provinces” (ibid., VI, 235–36, 255–56).
5. For the resolution of 5 October 1780, see n. 8, below. Tsarina Catherine the Great issued a proclamation of armed neutrality on 29 February 1780 (Papers of Madison description begins William T. Hutchinson, William M. E. Rachal, et al., eds., The Papers of James Madison (7 vols. to date; Chicago, 1962——). description ends , II, 56, n. 3). By extending an “invitation” during the war, the tsarina would in effect have recognized the independence of the United States, thereby countenancing rebellion and deeply offending Great Britain (ibid., V, 124, n. 6; 189, n. 13; VI, 427, n. 13).
6. In the left margin of Livingston’s report appears in an unknown hand, “Comon: 18 Decr. 1780 4th Art: Instruct.” For the commission and instructions to Dana, minister-designate to the court of St. Petersburg, see JCC description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds., Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789 (34 vols.; Washington, 1904–37). description ends , XVIII, 1164, 1166–73. Referring to the “treaty of the armed neutrality,” the fourth article of the instructions directed Dana to “use every means which can be devised to obtain the consent and influence of that Court that these United States shall be formally invited, or admitted. to accede as principals and as an independent nation to the said convention. In that event, you are authorized to subscribe the treaty or convention for the protection of commerce in behalf of these United States, either with her Imperial Majesty conjunctly with the other neutral powers, or if that shall be inadmissible, separately with her Imperial Majesty, or any one of those powers.”
7. The portion of the committee’s report taken from that of Livingston ends with the words “separate treaty.” In the left margin of his report, alongside these words, there is written, “9th Article Treaty between Russia &c.” The ninth article of the “convention for an Armed Neutrality,” concluded on 9 July 1780 by Russia, Norway, and Denmark, begins, “This convention shall be in full force as long as this present war shall last.” Statements of the same tenor open the same article of the convention of 1 August 1780 between Russia and Sweden, and the treaty of 10 July 1781 “relative to Armed Neutrality” between Russia and the Holy Roman Emperor ([James Brown Scott, ed.], Official Documents Bearing on the Armed Neutrality of 1780 and 1800 [Washington, 1917], pp. 51, 64, 123).
8. At least by implication, those documents became obsolete at the conclusion of the war. For the resolution of 5 October 1780, see Papers of Madison description begins William T. Hutchinson, William M. E. Rachal, et al., eds., The Papers of James Madison (7 vols. to date; Chicago, 1962——). description ends , II, 167, n. 3; also JCC description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds., Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789 (34 vols.; Washington, 1904–37). description ends , XVIII, 905–6; JM Notes, 21–22 May 1783, and n. 1.
9. Papers of Madison description begins William T. Hutchinson, William M. E. Rachal, et al., eds., The Papers of James Madison (7 vols. to date; Chicago, 1962——). description ends , VI, 224, n. 7; 272; 287; 495, n. 11; JM to Randolph, 20 May; JM Notes, 23 May 1783, and n. 7.
11. Immediately following “policy,” JM interlineated “Resolved journal [?] amendment” and canceled with a diagonal ink line the remainder of the report. His interlineation and deletion reflect the outcome of the debate on the report (JM Notes, 12 June 1783).