This series has seven easy 5 minute installments. This first installment: The American’s Report.
The battles had been won. Now the diplomats had to negotiate a peace treaty. George Washington was the official head of the military part of the Revolutionary War. Benjamin Franklin was unofficially but in practice the head of the diplomatic part of the war. Now the ball was in his court. His negotiating team (they called themselves “Commissioners”) consisted of John Adams, John Jay, Henry Laurens, and himself.
The selections are from:
- Report to Congress by American Diplomatic Commission sent in 1782.
- War of American Independence by John M. Ludlow published in 1876.
For works benefiting from the latest research see the “More information” section at the bottom of these pages.
There’s 1 installment by American Diplomatic Commission and 6 installments by John M. Ludlow. We begin with American Diplomatic Commission’s report.
THE AMERICAN PEACE COMMISSIONERS
PARIS, 14 December, 1782.
We have the honor to congratulate Congress on the signature of the preliminaries of a peace between the Crown of Great Britain and the United States of America, to be inserted in a definitive treaty so soon as the terms between the crowns of France and Great Britain shall be agreed on. A copy of the articles is here enclosed, and we cannot but flatter ourselves that they will appear to Congress, as they do to all of us, to be consistent with the honor and interest of the United States, and we are persuaded Congress would be more fully of that opinion if they were apprised of all the circumstances and reasons which have influenced the negotiation. Although it is impossible for us to go into that detail, we think it necessary, nevertheless, to make a few remarks on such of the articles as appear most to require elucidation.
Remarks on Article 2d, relative to Boundaries
The Court of Great Britain insisted on retaining all the territories comprehended within the Province of Quebec, by the act of Parliament respecting it. They contended that Nova Scotia should extend to the river Kennebec; and they claimed not only all the lands in the Western country and on the Mississippi, which were not expressly included in our charters and governments, but also such lands within them as remained ungranted by the King of Great Britain. It would be endless to enumerate all the discussions and arguments on the subject.
We knew this Court and Spain to be against our claims to the Western country, and, having no reason to think that lines more favorable could ever have been obtained, we finally agreed to those described in this article; indeed, they appear to leave us little to complain of and not much to desire. Congress will observe that, although our northern line is in a certain part below the latitude of 45°, yet in others it extends above it, divides the Lake Superior, and gives us access to its western and southern waters, from which a line in that latitude would have excluded us.
Remarks on Article 4th, respecting Creditors
We had been informed that some of the States had confiscated British debts; but although each State has a right to bind its own citizens, yet, in our opinion, it appertains solely to Congress, in whom exclusively are vested the rights of making war and peace, to pass acts against the subjects of a power with which the Confederacy may be at war. It therefore only remained for us to consider whether this article is founded in justice and good policy.
In our opinion no acts of government could dissolve the obligations of good faith resulting from lawful contracts between individuals of the two countries prior to the war. We knew that some of the British creditors were making common cause with the refugees and other adversaries of our independence; besides, sacrificing private justice to reasons of state and political convenience is always an odious measure; and the purity of our reputation in this respect, in all foreign commercial countries, is of infinitely more importance to us than all the sums in question. It may also be remarked that American and British creditors are placed on an equal footing.
Remarks on Articles 5th and 6th, respecting Refugees
These articles were among the first discussed and the last agreed to. And had not the conclusion of this business at the time of its date been particularly important to the British administration, the respect, which both in London and Versailles is supposed to be due to the honor, dignity, and interest of royalty, would probably have forever prevented our bringing this article so near to the views of Congress and the sovereign rights of the States as it now stands. When it is considered that it was utterly impossible to render this article perfectly consistent, both with American and British ideas of honor, we presume that the middle line adopted by this article is as little unfavorable to the former as any that could in reason be expected.
As to the separate article, we beg leave to observe that it was our policy to render the navigation of the river Mississippi so important to Britain as that their views might correspond with ours on that subject. Their possessing the country on the river north of the line from the Lake of the Woods affords a foundation for their claiming such navigation. And as the importance of West Florida to Britain was for the same reason rather to be strengthened than otherwise, we thought it advisable to allow them the extent contained in the separate article, especially as before the war it had been annexed by Britain to West Florida, and would operate as an additional inducement to their joining with us in agreeing that the navigation of the river should forever remain open to both. The map used in the course of our negotiations was Mitchell’s.
As we had reason to imagine that the articles respecting the boundaries, the refugees, and fisheries did not correspond with the policy of this court, we did not communicate the preliminaries to the minister until after they were signed (and not even then the separate article). We hope that these considerations will excuse our having so far deviated from the spirit of our instructions. The Count de Vergennes, on perusing the articles, appeared surprised (but not displeased) at their being so favorable to us.
We beg leave to add our advice that copies be sent us of the accounts directed to be taken by the different States, of the unnecessary devastations and sufferings sustained by them from the enemy in the course of the war. Should they arrive before the signature of the definitive treaty, they might possibly answer very good purposes.
John M. Ludlow begins here.
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