Fourth President of the United States
in Congress Assembled
November 1782 to November 1783
Elias Boudinot was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania on May 2nd 1740 and died in Burlington, New Jersey October 24th, 1821. His great-grandfather, Elias, was a French Huguenot, who fled to this country after the revocation of the decree of Nantes. After receiving a Liberal Arts education, Elias Boudinot studied law with Richard Stockton of New Jersey and became distinguished in this profession in the early 1770’s. Boudinot was dutiful to the cause of independence in New Jersey, serving as a member of the Committee of Correspondence for Essex County in 1774. He often used his influence and great legal mind to persuade the New Jersey Provincial Congress to approve the resolutions of the Continental Congress and the United States in Congress Assembled. Boudinot was appointed NJ Commissary-General of Prisoners in 1777. In the same year he was elected a delegate to Continental Congress from New Jersey, serving from 1778 until 1779. He also served in the United States in Congress Assembled from 1781 until 1784.
Boudinot, a wealthily New Jersey lawyer and leader of the Presbyterian Church, won the presidency by a narrow margin The delegate count was 16 to 11. The law however of One state One Vote ended the tally seven states to four and two states not voting.
The other four states cast their votes for three different southern delegates. Eliphalet Dyer wrote to Jonathan Trumbull, November 8, 1782:
Mr. Boudinot of the State of New Jersey, a gebtn of good character, virtuous, and decent behavior, was elected President of Congress on Monday last for the year ensuing; the choice was clear, no strift, as it is the prevailing inclination of Congress, to proceed in course through the States when it can be done with propriety, Jersey having none before.
Boudinot was elected President of the United States in Congress Assembled on November 4th, 1782 with the Journals reporting:
The following members attended, from New Hampshire, Mr. John Taylor Gilman, Phillips White, Massachusetts, Mr. Samuel Osgood, Rhode Island, Mr. Jonathan Arnold, David Howell, Connecticut, Mr. Benjamin Huntington, Eliphalet Dyer, New York, Mr. James Duane, Ezra L’Hommedieu, New Jersey, Mr. Elias Boudinot, John Witherspoon, Pennsylvania, Mr. Thomas Smith, George Clymer, Henry Wynkoop, Delaware, Mr. Thomas McKean, Samuel Wharton, Maryland, Mr. John Hanson, Daniel Carroll, William Hemsley, Virginia, Mr. James Madison, Theodorick Bland, North Carolina, Mr. Abner Nash, Hugh Williamson, William Blount, South Carolina, Mr. John Rutledge, Ralph Izard, David Ramsay, John Lewis Gervais. Their credentials being read, the states proceeded to the election of a President; and the ballots being taken, the hon. Elias Boudinot was elected.”
One of President Boudinot’s first acts was to write a letter of thanks to former President John Hanson:
President of the United States in Congress Assembled Elias Boudinot letter to former President Courtesy of the Klos Family John Hanson transmitting Congress’ official Vote of Thanks. – Courtesy of the Library of Congress.
On the Day of his election Boudinot wrote his wife Hannah:
My dearest Love, I wrote you this Morning, which will probably get to hand before this. You must not blame me hastily for a Step, which from the Nature of the Thing, must be taken before & without consulting you. I informed you that I had this morning accepted the Chair of Congress. Your presence is doubly necessary, and I shall be very awkwardly situated till you arrive. As to my affairs at home, you & Mr. Pintard must settle the whole — you must leave home, for at least one Year. I think you had best sell whatever you think we shall not stand in need of. I leave the whole to your Judgment–only keep the young Steers, and such of the Calves as you think you shall want, or all of them if you please. You must get all the Cash you can; as that all will not be sufficient. Sell one or two Horses, the largest Colt & the little Mare if you can get a good Price for her, say £25–but not otherwise. Sell the Wagon, Plough, Harrow, Chair (reserving your ride to Princeton) & supernumerary Hogs, send one Cow to Pangburns to make up for the lost one. If you can, let out the Steer & Oxen, if you can’t, sell the last–do it. Coll Ludlow will assist you. You must bring whatever you think proper with you. Phillis must come, if not Lena too. I want a body Servant much. Johnson is gone to Maryland. If you could hire Dier for the Year at a reasonable Price I should be glad.
You must do as you Please. As to the Family, I know not what to say about them. I think if you could manage it so that Mr. P could live in the House & Mr. Remson lodge in the office, it would answer a valuable Purpose–but I really know not what to advise to. I wish Mr Remsen to come down here on Saturday or Monday (would be best) before the Superior Court next week, that I may instruct him particularly on the Business of the Court.
I scarcely know what I write. I am all dressed for the reception of Compliments, Congratulations &c &c. How happy should I be was you here. This goes by Dr. Romain who promises to call on you with it. Am my Dearest Love with unbounded Affection, Yours sincerely,
[P.S.] Love to Susan, Mr. Pintard & all Friends.
The next two letters to Hannah provide insights into the personal challenges of a newly elected President under the Confederation Constitution. The Presidency was a position with no pay and allowing absolutely no time for conducting ones personal business outside the realm of public service. Even though President Boudinot was one of the wealthiest men in New Jersey, he warns his wife before coming to Philadelphia that “You must prevail on Elisha to pay a most particular attention to my Business, or I shall be totally ruined.”
On November 6th he writes Hannah:
My dearest Love, I have wrote you in the hurry & Confusion of the Times, twice since Monday Morning. I therefore need not repeat the important Transactions of that Day. Suffice it to say, that every day will appear a Week till you arrive here. The Office I now fill–your Friends–the Season of the Year–and what, I hope will have its weight, your affectionate Husband–all–all require You to make no delay. I am conscious this is a heavy Task, and how you are to execute it, I know not. God only knows, who can & will help you. In the first Place you must plan the state of your Family during the winter. I think it will be absolutely necessary, for Mr. Remsen to stay in the Office if possible. As to Dickey I scarcely know what is best, but on the whole I think he had best be with his uncle Elisha, as I fear this Town would be ruinous to his Studies however this must be the Subject of Consideration. Phillis if not Lena too must be brought along, or if Prince can wait on Tea Table perhaps he might do instead of Lena.
Every Thing must be sold that you can spare. If you make a Vendue (which I hope will not be necessary) you must give 6 Months Credit for the unsaleable articles, provided Security is given, otherwise the money to be paid down. I mean to keep the small Steers & the youngest Colt. Give directions to Baird to saw the Logs, into weather Boards–Inch Boards and a few Plank & Joice, as the Timber will Suit–and Josey must hale them as fast as Sawed. Josey must get as many more Logs in the winter as he can–and must go to School as often as possible. I wish Mr. Pintard could manage it so as to go into the House. You must bring your Plate, best Linnen–particular conveniences & Family Books with you–dont forget the political Essays & four Volumes of Treaties. I shall want all my Books of Acct–my Will &c. You must muster all the money you can. There is a Bond from a Man in Mendum assigned to me by Mr Conklin, try to get as much on it as Possible — and also call on both of the Mr. Conklins who owe for the Plantations and get what you can of them. You must put the Care of my Swamp Lands near home, into the Hands of Mr Southerd, and those over by Long Hill to Mr Ludlow– and Mr Sayres will take Care of those near him.
As to your coming here, my present Plan is for you to load the Waggon which Josey will drive and you & Sukey to come to Princeton in the Chair escorted by one of your Gallants–where I will send the Coach or perhaps a Phaeton to transport you to the most welcome Place you will meet with in this World, I mean the Arms & Heart of your affectionate Husband. I must know the Day when you will be at Princeton, which I hope will not be far off. Bring with you my black Suit of Cloaths & my Winter Cloathes. I wish already for an under Jackett. I have got an elegant Marseilles Quilt for Susan at £4.10. I have also a dozen pair of Coarse worsted Stockings for Servants. If it will be necessary to buy blanketts for the Negroes, will get them ready to send by the Waggon.
You must prevail on Elisha to pay a most particular attention to my Business, or I shall be totally ruined. I think you had best sell some of the Hogs–sell all the unnecessary Utensils about the House. If you can get the 5 half Joes I gave for the Sulkey (Cash in hand) you may also sell that. Susan had better bring her Saddle & Netting for her Horse, if it can be done with Ease. I would not advise the selling the Hay till spring. If Mr. Pintard should so contrive it, as to live in the House this winter, there will be no need of leaving any Horse there if you can get rid of them all–I sell them all, unless Susan would choose to keep the Mare here.
I am distressed for a body Servant, that I can put Confidence in. I shall have none but entire strangers round me, unless you can get one with you–and it will be necessary to have one to ride behind the Coach. What would Mr. P. say to coming & staying at Mr. Risk’s this winter–if he wont–why not go into the House at Elizabeth Town in the Spring and get the Garden in Order.
I have recd a Letter from Elias, who informs me he is in want of Cloaths, and that his Grandfather refuses to find him any. I beg you will try to see Mr. Van Norder and have this matter, explicitely settled. I promissed to pay for his Schooling, Books & ca and Board for a Year to see what chance he stood of applying himself, but his Grand Father was to find him Cloaths. If this is refused I shall send him back again. I can give him some of my old Cloaths that may help out, but I will not have the Care of his Cloathing on my Shoulders. I must beg you to make Memoranda’s in writing of every of your transactions, particularly, the reciept & Payment of all Monies and of all Bargains & Agreements you may make. If Mr. Remsen is with you, he must make out an Extract of the Supreme Court Business and endeavour to come down here on Monday next at farthest, that I may give him proper directions. If he is not with you Dickey must do it as well as he can. The Register and the necessary Accts. & c must be brought in order to assess the Damages in any of the Actions. An Extract also of the Suits in Chancery now depending. He must also call on Mr. Morton & know if Mr. Lewis has settled the Costs in Chancery–if not the Execution must be issued without more delay. I offered to give up to him near one fourth of my part of the Costs & did accordingly mark them off in the register, but I do not mean this if anxz Execution issues. I am willing to take good Security for my part. I have so many Things to write, that I can’t remember enough to set them down in order.
Give my kind Love to all our Friends & Neighbours who I expected to have had the Pleasure of enjoying this Winter but it seems I am not my own Man. Love to Susan and the Family, Am My dearest Love, Yours most Affty, Elias Boudinot”
Elias Boudinot’s next letter to Hannah contains an interesting condition on bringing Jude, their chambermaid warning, “she must get no more Children”. He also laments that former President Hanson is gone and he is all alone with his secretary facing a dinner with 30 gentlemen. He writes on November 13th:
“My dearest Love, It is matter of real grief & sorrow to me that I should ever be the cause of a distressing or uneasy Hour to one who I esteem above all the Honors or Riches of this transitory Life. I feared greatly that the Change of Station would not be pleasing as I was sure the derangement of my Affairs and the additional Labour cast on you would be perplexing–but I remembered & doubt not but you will remember, that God has ever been the director of our Paths and the Guide of our Ways. It is not the first Time that he has led us in the Way which we knew not–and set our Feet in a strong Place. We have embarked in his Service, and it is our part to see that we do his Will and act with a single Eye to his Glory & all will be well. Your affectionate & tender Letter was recd. as usual with a hearty & earnest welcome. Mr. Remsen had arrived here the Evening before, & returned this Morning. As to directions I cannot collect my Thoughts sufficiently to aid you–In general dispose of those Things that you can sell to advantage–especially the Waggon, Plough &c unless they may be wanted. Let the Boards be put under cover, and all the Logs at the Mill properly sawed & secured. The Hay had best be kept & Mr. Pintard to sell it towards the spring, say February I gave £12 per Ton here & 3 Dollars for Carting. Let the Stack in Mr. Southerds field be first used.
As to Servants I have one good Negroe Man & can get another–but on serious Consideration, I think you had best bring Jude as a Chamber maid, on two Conditions–the first she must work very hard–the 2d she must get no more Children, tho I fear her Virtue here. On these Terms I could make out to charge so much for her service as to cloath her very well–say 7/6 per week. She must leave her Child with Mama. I think this would be much best, as Mr. Pintard has a Wench–and Phillis will be better under her Mother than a Stranger. I will enclose a list of the general Furniture, which will direct you what to bring.
The House is very indifferently furnished, and the Finances are two low to get any more. I suppose the necessary ET cetera or first beginning of the winter such as Wood, Hay, Wine & c will require at least 1500 Dollars. You had best bring one Suit of Curtains, or perhaps Susan must go without. The Horses I wish you could sell provided a tolerable Price could be got for them. The big Horse grows very old & I wish to be rid of him at the proper Price of £30. As to Mr. Remsen, he must either lodge in the Office & board with Mr. Pintard, or take a number of Books & all the Papers to his lodging and have the Key of the office to go in occasionally, as you think best. I have referred him to you & he says he will do any Thing you are of opinion will Answer. There are no Broaches of any kind in the House, but if you cannot bring yours with Ease, we can do without. I delivered the Letter you refer to & answers went by Dr. Romaine. If Polly could take the big Horse (if not sold) I should like it, provided she could take Care of him, but how is this possible without a Boy, and where is she to get Hay for him in her Situation. He would be starved. But now as to the grand Point. I cannot think of your staying longer than this Week. You must set off on Monday next at farthest. I am like a Pelican in the wilderness.
Mr. Hanson is gone. I am quite alone with my Secretary. I shall certainly expect you if the weather is good on Tuesday Night. Your Brother Sammy is to Squire you from Princeton. I observe what you say about Patty, and have no Objection to her lodging with Susan as it will be Company for her, and Mr. P. deserves every Thing from us. But how will you get her down, unless her Papa will bring her to Princeton in the Chair. I am very anxious for your arrival lest the weather should change, yet I am loath to hurry you. I have 30 Gentlemen to dine with me to day — what a figure I cut all alone. My Time & Paper will only admit of assuring you Hannah, My dearest Love, Your Elias
– P.S. Bring with you all your Plate.
Boudinot was a lifelong friend of Alexander Hamilton and very close to Robert Morris. He belonged to “the wealthy, wise, and the good,” had the ear of George Washington and was a dutiful servant to the “constructive party.” Robert Morris was the Minister of Finance and one of Boudinot’s earliest Presidential letters was to the “Confederation C.F.O.” of the United States of America. This November 21st letter content about spoons, at least in this author’s opinion, is quite amusing:
“I lately informed you that Mr. Hanson had spoke to Mr. Way for a Coach; on Conversing with him on the subject he informed me that if he made it with a Crane Neck and finished it properly he must have 500£ for it, he would do it without delay–a few days afterwards, Information was brought me, that the most elegant Coach in the Town was to be sold much Cheaper than a new one could be now had for; I sent for Mr. Way & prevailed on him to go & Examine it for me; on his return Acknowledged that it was one of his own make, had been used but a few times and exceeded anything he could now make for want of such materials & it had actually cost him 500£. he consenting Mr. Hanson when I made Application as a purchaser agreed for it at 300£. including a new sett of Harness & putting on the Publick Arms–I have also agreed for a pair of Horses & wine for the Family both Maderia and Claret–The Payments are to be made in 20 days; I thought it best to give you this early notice of it that you may not be called on unexpectedly for the Money; The whole will be about 600£. If the old Coach was advertised for sale perhaps it would bring 150£. as it has a Crane Neck.
I have got the silver from the Treasurer Consisting of knives forks & spoons to the amount near 100 oz but they by no means suit my purpose except the desert spoons (which are only large teaspoons) & three doz large spoons but as there is neither Tea Pott or Coffee Pott in the House I think they had best be exchanged or sold for those necessary pieces of Plate. I am yours & etc. E. Boudinot.”
There is no record in the letters of the delegates of a response from Morris to President Boudinot but the president’s steward, Richard Phillips, drew a warrant for $1,600. The US Treasurer on November 28th records that money was “for the purchase of a Coach with Harness compleat, One pair of Horses, One Pipe of Madeira Wine and Two Hogsheads of Claret for the use of the said Presidents family.”
On November 27th, Elias Boudinot responded to George Washington’s kind letter commending him on the election to the Presidency. He also included a resolve for Washington to apprehend Luke Knowlton and Samuel Wells of the New Hampshire because they were reported to have been “in a dangerous correspondence and intercourse with the enemy” by the deposition of Christopher Osgood of Rhode Island. Osgood’s testimony was also the mechanism that generated a December 5th Congressional resolve directing that the executives of New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Connecticut, and New York be furnished with a copy of “Osgood’s declaration, in order that they may have due information of the treasonable practices with which some of their subjects are charged.” New York City was in control of the British and the “dangerous correspondence” was alleged to be with the Royal Attorney General, William Smith. In full the President writes:
“Your Excellency’s several favours of the 30th October, 1st & 19th Instt. which have come to hand since I had the honor of filling the Presidents Chair, have been duly laid before Congress. You will believe me Sir, when I assure you, that the Correspondence & Communication which my office necessarily opens with your Excellency, are among the few special Advantages & agreeable Engagements, which I promise myself, during my continuance in so arduous a Station. I feel myself greatly honored by your Congratulations, and rank them among the few that have given me real Pleasure.
Altho’ the present State of our Affairs, do not raise my Expectations of being able to give your Excellency any Intelligence worthy your attention, yet be assured Sir, as far as it shall be in my Power, I shall most freely communicate from time to time,what-ever may promise the least information or amusement; hoping for a like return, however it may prove more advantageous or entertaining to me. Congress having come to a Resolution relative to the several Matters in Osgoods deposition, your Excellency will receive a Copy thereof by this Post. It was generally thought necessary to communicate the reasons of this Proceeding to the Persons exercising the executive Power in that district, but least a proper secrecy should not have been observed, previous to the arresting of the Delinquents, the time & manner of such Communication, is altogether left to your discretion.”
On November 30th the President wrote Washington again giving him some hope for an eminent British evacuation of Charleston, South Carolina:
“I had the honor of writing your Excellency by the last Post, since which a Captain Reed, late of one of our Frigates, arrived from Charles-Town, where he had been carried a Prisoner. He informs me that he left that Town on the 4th instant. Two divisions of Transports had sailed, one for St. Augustine, the other for Halifax, with Stores and foreign Troops–That everything looked like a speedy evacuation of the Town. All their Artillery, except three or four, were gone and on board–The baggage of the Officers all packed and ready for embarkation–All sales forbid and the shops shut up–The transports were expected every moment from Augustine, which were to take off the last division. The Citizens of Carolina were admitted to come into the Town with flags and to search the Transports and other vessels for their Negroes. The Officers did very little duty, there being only a small guard kept up at the gates. The Captain of the Frigate in the harbour informed Capt. Reed, that they were to be all gone by the 25th instant. Thus we are yet in uncertainty as to the final evacuation of the City, tho’ under the highest probable expectation of that event. A Frigate arrived in the harbour from New-York just before Capt. Reed left it.
On December 11th Boudinot informs Washington that by “a letter from General Greene of the 11th of November”, we are informed, “that the evacuation of Charles Town will not take place till the 20th or 21st. The enemy are in readiness to embark and have got Transports sufficient to carry them off; but it is said they are waiting for Admiral Pigot to convoy them to the West Indies.”
On Christmas Eve, which historically was a very active day for the United States Confederation Government, the Congress amended the Post Office ordinance to extend franking privilege:
“Be it ordained by the United States in Congress assembled, and it is hereby ordained by authority of the same, that the privilege of franking letters be, and the same is hereby, extended to the inspector general, the adjutant general, the judge abvocate the director of the hospitals, the quartermaster general, the commissary of prisoners, and the paymaster general of the army of the United States; and that the same privilege be, and the same is hereby, extended to the officers at the heads of the like departments in any separate army and to the commissary of marine prisoners; all letters to and from whom, on public business, shall pass free of postage; and in order to prevent the multiplicity of franks becoming too burthensome to the public,
Be it ordained, and it is hereby ordained by the authority aforesaid, that the allowance, not exceeding twenty per cent. on what would be the postage of free letters if they were charged, be discontinued, and that the public be charged with no farther commissions on free letters, though they contain enclosures, than the officers of the Post Office would be entitled to on the postage of the same number of single letters coming the same distance.”
On Christmas Day Elias Boudinot took some time from his family and presiding over the judicial proceedings to write George Washington the following letter:
“I was honored by your Excellency’s letter of the 16th instant, which I laid before Congress. It is with great pleasure that I congratulate your Excellency and the Army, on the admission of our Independency and national Character by the Court of Great Britain, in the issuing a Commission under the Great Seal to Mr. Oswald, now at the Court of Versailles, for treating with any Commissioner or Commissioners of the Thirteen United States of North America; a copy of which I do myself the honor to enclose for your Excellency’s information. There was a prior commission to the same person to treat with the Thirteen Colonies &c. but our Commissioners refused to negotiate under it, which produced this more explicit power.
Although there is great doubt yet, whether a peace will ensue, yet in case of a continuance of the War this admission must have beneficial consequences. The following Extracts contain the residue of our public intelligence. ‘From several Asiatic accounts there is great probability that Madrass has been taken by the French Troops, which have landed at Porto Neuvo, and the Army of Hyder Ally, with whom they have made a junction; but no official account has come to hand, and this intelligence cannot be given as a certainty.”
We have at length the consent of all the Cities and Provinces, and have adjusted and agreed upon every article, word, syllable, letter and point in the Treaty of Commerce, and Clerks are employed in making out fair copies for signature, which will be done this week. Amidst the innumerable Crouds of Loans which are opened in this country, many of which have little success, I was much afraid that our’s would have failed. I have however the pleasure to inform you that I am at last One Million and an half of Florins, or Three Millions of Livres, in Cash, which will aid the operations of our Financier.’ Some of the foreign letters to Gentlemen of consequence here mention a belief at the Court of France, that both Charles Town and New-York would be evacuated this Fall. Your Excellency’s private favour of the 14th instant, also came safe to hand by Colo. Tilghman. The benevolent subscription of twenty Guineas with which your Excellency honored the attempts to raise a provision for the truly unhappy Family of the late Revd. Mr. Caldwell, was of special service to those destitute Orphans by so excellent an example. I have hitherto had the sole care of these helpless Children, and whenever it will perfectly coincide with your other affairs, I will gratefully accept this instance of your generous attention in their behalf. Genl. du Portail is arrived in the Frigate that brought our dispatches referred to above.Mrs. Boudinot and Miss Susan join me in the most affectionate compliments of the Season to Mrs. Washington and your Excellency. I have the honor to be, with very great respect and esteem, Your Excellency’s Obedt. & very humb. Servt. Elias Boudinot.”
On January 16th, Boudinot finally received word of Britain’s withdrawal from Charleston. He immediately sent George Washington the good news from General Greene writing “Enclosed is a copy of the official letter of Genl. G announcing the evacuation of Charles Town. On important event I most sincerely cong Excellency and the Army, as it must be most happy consequences to the com” On the following day Congress enacted the following resolution of thanks:
“Resolved, That General Greene be desired to present the thanks of the United States in Congress assembled, to the officers and private soldiers under his command, who, in all the vicissitudes of season, under the numerous inconveniences of long and rapid marches in a country plundered and desolated by an enemy greatly superior in force, have surmounted every difficulty and danger, and manifested such bravery, perseverance and fortitude, as to do honor to themselves and to the cause they have so zealously and successfully supported.”
On January 23, 1783, a committee chaired by James Madison submitted a list of approximately 1300 books to the United States in Congress Assembled. Described as “proper for the use of Congress,” the books were collected by Madison who was assisted by Thomas Jefferson. Madison urged that “it was indispensable that congress should have at all times at command” authorities on public law whose expertise ” would render . . . their proceedings conformable to propriety; and it was observed that the want of this information was manifest in several important acts of Congress.” Madison’s proposal was defeated because of “the inconveniency of advancing even a few hundred pounds at this crisis.”
The lack of capital to pay the Delegates or even reimburse them for their most meager expenses became crucial in the winter of 1783. Once again, in February, Congress found itself under represented by the States. On February 24th the President sent the following circular to all the states:
“I have the honor to enclose a Resolution of Congress founded on reasons of the utmost importance to the United States. I need not add arguments to enforce a measure, which must appear, on the first blush, of absolute necessity, especially when, from the critical state of our Affairs, all the wisdom of the States is required.”
The resolution enclosed by President Boudinot was dated February 21 and it “recommended to the States of Delaware, Maryland and Georgia, to send Delegates immediately to Congress, and to each State in the Union, to keep up a constant representation.”
As President, Boudinot and Congress expended a great deal of time and consideration to ending the war favorably with the Treaty of Peace with England. Thankfully his fellow conservative John Jay persuaded Benjamin Franklin and John Adams to ignore the United States in Congress Assembled’s earlier resolution and instructions to include France in the negotiations of The Treaty of Paris which consequently ended the war with Great Britain. The violation of these instructions displeased a large majority of the Confederation Congress but President Boudinot, once realizing the outcome, sided with John Jay. Mr. Madison, who had voted for the instruction, wrote:
“In this business Jay has taken the lead, and proceeded to a length of which you can form little idea. Adams has followed with cordiality. Franklin has been dragged into it.”
Mr. Sparks, in his “Life of Franklin,” contended that the violation of their instructions by the American commissioners in concluding and signing their treaty without the concurrence of the French government was “unjustifiable.”
On March 12th Elias Boudinot finally received the Preliminary Treaty of Peace which was agreed upon by the commissioner on November 30th, 1782. Boudinot immediately writes George Washington:
“The arrival of Captain Barney this morning creates so great a field for the circulation of reports agreeably to the complexion of the Reporter, that I have thought it not amiss to inform your Excellency of the substance of his dispatches, tho’ you may perhaps receive it from other hands. He left L’Orient the 17th of January last. His latest dispatches are dated the 25th December. The Preliminaries between America and Great Britain were signed the 30th of November and contain nine articles, in substance as follows:
1st. The acknowledgment of our Independence and the relinquishment of all rights,
Claims & etc. over us.
2dly. The Boundaries of the United States very Consonant to our Claim.
3rd. A full and free right to the fisheries, with liberty to take fish on the several shores &c.
4. Creditors, on either side, to recover their just debts.
5. Congress to recommend the restoration of confiscated estates to British subjects, who have not born arms, and all others to be suffered to endeavour to prevail on the States to restore their property on their paying the bona fide purchase money paid by the Possessor. This indulgence to last 12 Months.
6th. No future prosecution for any past crimes and all present prosecutions to cease.
7. A firm peace, and hostilities to cease, on signing the Treaty. No plundering on the evacuation of Posts. All American Artillery to be left. All Prisoners of War to be set at liberty. All Archives, Deeds and papers taken by British Officers to be returned.
8. Navigation of Mississippi to be left open for both Nations.
9. Any place conquered by either party after the Articles shall arrive in America to bereturned. As I have sketched out the substance of these Articles from hearing them read amidst a variety of papers and while attending to the duty of my office in Congress, your Excellency will see the impropriety of depending greatly on their accuracy or suffering them to be made public. The preliminaries are to take place on the Treaty between France and Great Britain being perfected, the principal articles of which were agreed on, and the negotiation was going on when Capt. Barney left France, but not finished; and the Minister writes, that he rather thinks they will be soon finished.
I have the honor to inclose a letter from the Marquis de la Fayette, which came under cover to me, requesting it to be sent by an Officer. Your Excellency will be so kind as to excuse the extreme haste of this Scrawl, as the time obliges me to the greatest hurry.
I have the honor to be, with the highest respect and esteem, Your Excellency’s Most obedt. & very humb. Servt, Elias Boudinot
P.S. Capt. Barney came under the protection of a British Passport.”
The Preliminary Articles of Peace between Great Britain and the United States placed the United States in a strong position to exert their independence. The commissioners John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, John Jay, and Henry Laurens negotiated national boundaries which included the fertile and extensive countries on both sides of the Ohio, and on the east side of the Mississippi that could be sold to settlers upon settlement of Native American treaties. The boundaries were actually more extensive than the States had claimed when they were colonies. Franklin’s positioning the initial negotiations to include all of Canada won the interior land as a compromise as it had little or no use to Great Britain. This land had upwards of twenty nations of Native Americans. Additionally, the five most eastern nations had long been the friends and allies the colonies. An unlimited right of fishery on the banks of Newfoundland were also won but an expensive price was to be exacted by the British Parliament. Great Britain believed that everything ceded to the United States required an equivalent. These equivalent demands, if accepted, would require the repayment of public and private debt owed by Americans to Britain and the loyalists.
The demands Britain exacted out of the Commissioners, points 4 and 5 in Boudinot’s letter, included the large sums of money owed to British Merchants. The United States and their people were obliged to make land and monetary restitution under the terms of the Treaty. In conformity to the letter and spirit of the preliminary treaty, Congress urged in strong terms the propriety of making restitution to the merchants and British loyalists. Imposing the necessary taxes to fund the repayment of debt to Great Britain was, however, beyond the power of United States in Congress Assembled. The little foreign money the Confederation could borrow to satisfy British claims in non-American specie placed a great strain on the National Treasury and the only true means of ever repaying the debt was the public sale of lands in what would be known as the Northwest Territory.
In addition to this monetary setback the new U.S. Mint legislation that Robert Morris, the Superintendent of Finance, proposed was never enacted. The Confederation Congress had made .U.S. and state paper notes legal tender by law but paper currency had depreciated drastically and had almost no value overseas. This, along with the Treaty’s requirement to make good on any pre and actual citizen war debt, had dire consequences on U.S. merchants and investors. Citizen payments to each other were made in this depreciating paper. U.S. Citizens, who received payment by Congress with “Continental Currency”, were unable to satisfy their foreign debts as Europeans, in many cases, flat out refused the U.S. currency.
U.S. currency despite being “good” in the States monthly devaluation almost made saving money out of the question. Additionally, if U.S. citizens invested the currency in public securities, the shortage of public funds and the government’s inability to pay mounting debts insured a loosing financial portfolio for even the most skillful investor. Land seemed like the only real U.S. investment option but it was widely believed the real estate would certainly decrease in value due to the impending superabundance of territory ceded in the Great Britain/U.S. Treaty. In addition to these monetary challenges many British merchants were materially injured by non-payment of legitimate debt for many years during the war. They were in no frame of mind to accept a delay in payment any longer and sought, through agents, to legally collect collateral with threats of debtors’ prison. Americans were now treaty bound to make payments in foreign specie of all their bona fide debts due not only in Great Britain but to the loyalists still residing in the States. The financial situation became desperate in the United States for the States, the federal government and thanks to the treaty to its people.