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F.: (Page 398.) - John Adams, The Works of John Adams, vol. 1 (Life of the Author) 
The Works of John Adams, Second President of the United States: with a Life of the Author, Notes and Illustrations, by his Grandson Charles Francis Adams (Boston: Little, Brown and Co., 1856). 10 volumes. Vol. 1.
Part of: The Works of John Adams, 10 vols.
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[Commencement of the letter to Mr. Livingston, as first drawn up by Mr. Jay, but concluded to be left out:—]
Sir,—We have had the honor of receiving, by Captain Barney, your two letters of the 21st and 25th of April last, with the papers referred to in them.
We are happy to find that the provisional articles have been approved and ratified by congress, and we regret that the manner in which that business was conducted, does not coincide with your ideas of propriety.
Your doubts on that head appear to have arisen from the following circumstances:—
1. That we entertained and were influenced by distrusts and suspicions which do not seem to you to have been altogether well founded.
2. That we signed the articles without previously communicating them to this court.
3. That we consented to a separate article which you consider as not being very important in itself, and as offensive to Spain.
4. That we kept and still keep that article a secret.
With respect to the first, your doubts appear to us somewhat singular. In our negotiation with the British commissioner it was essential to insist on and, if possible, to obtain his consent to four importaut concessions, namely:—
1. That Britain should treat with us as being what we were, namely, an independent people.
The French minister thought this demand premature, and that it ought to arise from, and not precede the treaty.
2. That Britain should agree to the extent of boundary we claimed.
The French minister thought the demand extravagant in itself, and as militating against certain views of Spain which he was disposed to favor.
3. That Britain should admit our right in common to the fishery.
The French minister thought this demand too extensive.
4. That Britain should not insist on our reinstating the Tories.
The French minister argued that they ought to be reinstated.
Was it unnatural for us, Sir, to conclude from these facts that the French minister was opposed to our succeeding on these four great points, in the extent we wished? To us it appeared evident that his plan of a treaty for us, was far from being such an one as America would have preferred; and as we disapproved of his model, we thought it imprudent to give him an opportunity of moulding our treaty by it.
Whether the minister was influenced by what he really thought would be best for France, is a question which, however easy or however difficult to decide, is not very important to the point under consideration. Whatever his motives may have been, certain it is that they were such as militated against our system; and, as in private life it is deemed imprudent to admit opponents to full confidence, so in public affairs the like caution seems equally proper.
But, admitting the force of this reasoning, why, when the articles were completed, did we not communicate them to the French minister before we proceeded to sign them? For the following reasons, Sir.
As Lord Shelburne had excited expectations of his being able to put a speedy termination to the war, it became necessary for him either to realize those expectations or to quit his place. The parliament having met while his negotiations with us were pending, he found it expedient to adjourn it for a short term, in hopes of then meeting it with all the advantage which he might naturally expect from a favorable issue of the negotiation. Hence it was his interest to draw it to a close before that adjournment expired; and to obtain that end, both he and his commissioners prevailed upon themselves to yield certain points on which they would probably have been otherwise more tenacious. Nay, we have and then had good reason to believe that the latitude allowed by the British cabinet for the exercise of discretion was exceeded on that occasion.
You need not be reminded, Sir, that the King of Great Britain had pledged himself in Mr. Oswald’s commission to confirm and ratify not what Mr. Oswald should verbally agree to, but what he should formally sign his name and affix his seal to.
Had we communicated the articles, when ready for signing, to the French minister, he doubtless would have complimented us on the terms of them; but at the same time he would have insisted on our postponing the signature of them until the articles then preparing between France, Spain, and Britain should also be ready for signing, he having often intimated to us that we should all sign at the same time and place.
This would have exposed us to a disagreeable dilemma.
Had we agreed to postpone signing the articles, the British cabinet might, and probably would, have taken advantage of it. They might have insisted that as the articles were res infectæ, and as they had not authorized Mr. Oswald to accede to certain matters inserted in them, they did not conceive themselves bound in honor or justice to adopt Mr. Oswald’s opinions, or permit him to sign and seal, as their commissioner, a number of articles which they did not approve. The whole business would thereby have been set afloat again, and the minister of France would have had an opportunity, at least, of approving the objections of the British cabinet, and of advising us to recede from demands, which in his opinion were immoderate, and some of which were too inconsistent with the views and claims of Spain to meet with his concurrence.
If, on the other hand, we had refused to postpone the signing, and supposing that no other ill consequence would have resulted, yet certainly such refusal would have been more offensive to the French minister than our doing it without his knowledge, and, consequently, without his opposition. Our withholding from him the knowledge of these articles until after they were signed, was no breach of our treaty with France, and therefore could not afford her any ground of complaint against the United States. It was, indeed, a departure from the line of conduct prescribed by our instructions, but we apprehend that congress marked out that line for their own sake, and not for the sake of France. They directed us to ask and be directed by the advice of the French minister, because they supposed it would be for the interest of America to receive and be governed by it. It was a favor she asked from France, and not a favor that she promised to and we withheld from France. Congress, therefore, alone have a right to complain of that departure. As to the confidence which ought to subsist between allies, we have only to remark that as the French minister did not think proper to consult us about his articles, our giving him as little trouble about ours was perfectly equal and reciprocal.
[Benj. Franklin’s observations on Mr. Jay’s draft of a letter to Mr. Livingston, which occasioned the foregoing part to be left out.]
Mr. Franklin submits it to the consideration of Mr. Jay, whether it may not be advisable to forbear, at present, the justification of ourselves respecting the signature of the preliminaries, because
That matter is at present quiet here.
No letter sent to the congress is ever kept secret.
The justification contains some charges of unfavorable disposition in the ministers here towards us, that will give offence and will be denied.
Our situation is still critical with respect to the two nations, and the most perfect good understanding should be maintained with this.
The congress do not call upon us for an account of our conduct or its justification. They have not, by any resolution, blamed us. What censure we have received, is only the private opinion of Mr. L.
Mr. Laurens is not here, who is concerned with us.
Will it be attended with any inconvenience, if that part of the letter which relates to the signature, be reserved to a future occasion?
[Mr. Laurens’s commencement of the letter to Mr. Livingston, of—.]
Sir,—By Captain Barney, of The Washington, we have received the honor of your several letters of—together with the papers referred to.
While we rejoice upon learning the provisional articles were so acceptable and satisfactory to congress and to our fellow-citizens in general as to entitle them to an immediate ratification, we cannot but regret that our manner of proceeding in that negotiation should have subjected us to an implied censure. Having already assigned reasons for our conduct, we shall not enlarge upon the present occasion. Should congress be pleased hereafter to question us, we trust we shall render such an account of our motives respecting all the articles, general and separate, as will acquit us in the judgment of our country, under which we must stand or fall. Spain, having acceded to the line drawn in article NA for dividing Floridas from the United States, there can be no doubt she will readily avail herself of the separate article, should congress think proper to make the tender.
We perfectly concur with you, Sir, in opinion, that “honesty is the best policy.” Had it appeared to us that another party were guided in their proceedings by this simple maxim, we should not have been driven into a measure as essential to the true interest of our country as it was necessary for defeating a scheme evidently calculated to militate against that interest. We have, indeed, hazarded our own tranquillity by departing from a rigid observance of an injunction, and though we confess ourselves amenable to congress, we have the consolation of knowing that we have done nothing dishonest, nothing detrimental to the just rights of our ally, or to those of any other nation, nothing inconsistent with that true policy which we trust will bear the test of strict inquiry, even at the courts of France and Spain. We do not mean by any thing we have written to impeach the friendship of the king and nation towards the United States, but we may be allowed to suggest that the minister at this court is so far our friend, and so far disposed to promote our happiness and interest as may correspond with his system of policy for extending the power, riches, and glory of France. God forbid we should ever sacrifice our faith, our honor and gratitude. At the same time it is our duty to support the dignity and independent spirit which should characterize a free and generous people, and since it has pleased God in his Providence to place us in the political system of the world, we should modestly endeavor to move like a primary planet, not least, though last created.