November 10 1814: Negotiations at Ghent

On November 10 1814,  American delegates in Ghent finally agree on a draft a note and treaty language tor provide to the British. John Quincy Adams records in his diary the discussion:

10th. VI. 30. A second day belated. On examining the drafts for the note with the amendments of Messrs. Clay, Bayard, and Russell, I found more than three-fourths of what I had written erased. There was only one paragraph to which I attached importance, but that was struck out with the rest. It was the proposal to conclude the peace on the footing of the state before the war, applied to all the subjects of dispute between the two countries, leaving all the rest for future and pacific negotiation. I abandoned everything else that was objected to in my draft, but wrote over that paragraph again, to propose its insertion in the note. I had gone through my examination of the papers at breakfast-time, and Mr. Gallatin took them. At eleven o’clock we had the meeting of the mission. Everything in the note, as amended, was agreed to without difficulty, excepting my proposed paragraph. Mr. Clay objected strongly against it, because we are forbidden by our instructions from renewing the article of the Treaty of 1794, allowing the British to trade with our Indians. Mr. Gallatin, who strenuously supported my proposition, thought it did not necessarily include the renewal of that article of the Treaty of 1794, because it only offers the state before the war with regard to the objects in dispute. The Indian trade never had been in dispute. He admitted, however, that if the British Government should accept the principle and propose the renewal of the treaties, we could not after this offer refuse it. I stated in candor that I considered my proposal as going that full length; that I was aware it would be a departure from our instructions as prepared in April, 1813. But the Government, for the purpose of obtaining peace, had revoked our instructions of that date upon a point much more important in its estimation, the very object of the war; and I have no doubt would have revoked them on the other point, had it occurred to them that they would prove an obstacle to the conclusion of peace. I felt so sure that they would now gladly take the state before the war as the general basis of the peace, that I was prepared to take on me the responsibility of trespassing upon their instructions thus far. Not only so, but I would at this moment cheerfully give my life for a peace on this basis. If peace was possible, it would be on no other. I had, indeed, no hope that the proposal would be accepted. But on the rupture, it would make the strongest case possible in our favor, for the world both in Europe and America. It would put the continuance of the war entirely at the door of England, and force out her objects in continuing it. Mr. Clay then said, if the proposal was to be made at all, now was not the time for making it. If our projet should be rejected, and we should hereafter find peace unattainable upon other terms, we might offer it as a last resource; but that it was not proper at present. As to the Indians, he had gone as far in concession upon that subject as was possible; he would concede no more; and if we wanted peace, Great Britain wanted it quite as much. He saw no reason to believe that she would continue the war merely for the Indian trade. I said it was for the British Government, not for me, to consider how far peace might be necessary for them. I believed they were not sufficiently convinced of its necessity. If my proposal was to be made at all, now was precisely the best time for making it, because it would take off whatever there might appear to be of exorbitancy in our demands, and would not, as it might hereafter, have the appearance of shrinking from our own grounds. Mr. Gallatin dwelt upon the same argument, and urged that several of our articles very much needed some such softener. Mr. Bayard thought now the most favorable time for making the proposal, as the state of the war is now much more favorable to us than we have reason to expect it will be in one or two months. Mr. Russell wavered; he asked how the proposal offered more than the projet itself. I told him that the projet offered all the knots of the negotiation for solution now; and the proposal was to make peace first, and leave them to be solved hereafter. Mr. Clay finally said that he would agree to the insertion of my proposal in the note, but reserving to himself the right of refusing to sign the treaty if the offer should be accepted and the principle extended beyond his approbation. The draft was then taken by Mr. Hughes to be copied out fair, and Mr. Gallatin, Mr. Russell, and myself remained to compare the residue of the articles as they were prepared. A concluding article, providing for the ratifications and their exchange, was prepared by Mr. Gallatin and me; after which I went out and walked about an hour. Mr. Hughes was prepared with the note at his rooms, at the back of our house. I took the projet to him, and he copied on it the concluding article. They were then brought back to our dining-room, and we signed the note—Mr. Clay still manifesting signs of reluctance. He objected to the formal concluding article, and thought it ridiculous, and he recurred again to the paragraph proposing the state before the war as the general basis of the treaty. He said the British Plenipotentiaries would laugh at us for it. They would say, Ay, ay! pretty fellows you, to think of getting out of the war as well as you got into it!I think it very probable this commentary will be made on our proposal; but what would be the commentary on our refusing peace on those terms? Mr. Russell dined with us about five o’clock, and immediately after dinner Mr. Hughes took our note and projet to the British Plenipotentiaries. 24th. At eight in the evening we went to the first redoute at the Hotel de Ville. The company was not very numerous. We met there the British Plenipotentiaries. I told Lord Gambier of the publication by our Government of our dispatches and instructions. He expressed some astonishment that they should have been published before the negotiation was ended. I told him that the nature of our Government and the character of the war had made it absolutely necessary, and that the American Government, from the nature of the propositions made in the first British note to us, had every reason to suppose the negotiation was ended. We had, at the time when that note was sent to us, been fully convinced that it would have been ended in a very few days. His Lordship would recollect that his own impressions, and those of his colleagues, had been the same. I had entertained then not the least expectation of being yet here on the first of September, but I hoped we were now much nearer to terms upon which we could agree. He said there was but one article upon which he thought there would be difficulty, and that was the question as to the cession of territory. I told him I hoped we should not hear a word more of that. He said they had received no reply from England to our last note, which they had immediately forwarded, but they expected a messenger to-morrow. While we were at the redoute, Mr. Gallatin told me that our landlord, Mr. Ducobie, had sent him word that Mr. Shaler had arrived from Paris with dispatches for us. At ten o’clock we came home, and sent immediately to Mr. Shaler for the dispatches. Mr. Clay and Mr. Russell had walked there from the redoute, and opened them. They were sent to us by Mr. Gallatin’s black servant, Peter, and were open. Mr. Shaler sent us word that he would call upon us to-morrow morning. There were three dispatches from the Secretary of State, one from the new Secretary of the Treasury, Mr. Dallas, and letters from Mr. Crawford. The last dispatch from the Secretary of State is dated 19th October, after the receipt of ours by the John Adams. It declares the President’s entire approbation of our determination to reject the first proposals of the British Government, and it expressly authorizes us, if the negotiation should not be broken off, to conclude the peace on the basis of the status ante bellum—precisely the offer which we have made in our last note, and of which I found it so difficult to obtain the insertion.

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