An Important Diplomatic Communique Written and Signed by John Quincy Adams, as well as Henry Clay, Albert Gallatin, Jonathan Russell, and James Bayard

The Age of the Great American Diplomat: All the American Ghent Treaty Negotiators, In a Confidential Diplomatic Communiqué to the US Ambassador in Paris, Instruct the Ambassador That the Negotiations Progress and Efforts to Bring French Troops into the War Should be Suspended

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On August 8, 1814, talks began at Ghent, Belgium, that would ultimately result in a treaty ending the War of 1812. The head of the American negotiating team was John Quincy Adams, the U.S.’s most experienced diplomat. The four men who served with him were carefully selected by President Madison to reflect...

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  1. The Great American Diplomat - A remarkable combination of signatures: Adams, Clay, Russell, Bayard, Gallatin, and Russell
  2. Ghent - From the seat of negotiations, just as negotiators were approaching success
  3. Crawford - The recipient was the ambassador to the Court of Napoleon and the senior US diplomat in Europe
  4. Quincy Adams - This is not only a communique - it is a letter entirely in the distinctive handwriting of John Quincy Adams

An Important Diplomatic Communique Written and Signed by John Quincy Adams, as well as Henry Clay, Albert Gallatin, Jonathan Russell, and James Bayard

The Age of the Great American Diplomat: All the American Ghent Treaty Negotiators, In a Confidential Diplomatic Communiqué to the US Ambassador in Paris, Instruct the Ambassador That the Negotiations Progress and Efforts to Bring French Troops into the War Should be Suspended

On August 8, 1814, talks began at Ghent, Belgium, that would ultimately result in a treaty ending the War of 1812. The head of the American negotiating team was John Quincy Adams, the U.S.’s most experienced diplomat. The four men who served with him were carefully selected by President Madison to reflect the varieties of political sentiment in the United States. Foremost among them was Henry Clay, Speaker of the House of Representatives, and a noted War Hawk. Albert Gallatin had served as Secretary of the Treasury for both Thomas Jefferson and James Madison. James Bayard was a U.S. Senator belonging to the Federalist Party who had been an opponent of the war, and was one of the 13 Senators to vote against declaring it. However, once the war began he supported the war effort. Jonathan Russell was acting U.S. ambassador to Britain when war was declared. Sent to Ghent as a negotiator, he was also serving as ambassador to Sweden and Norway. He proved instrumental in achieving the final peace terms.

William H. Crawford was U.S. ambassador to France during the negotiations, and was responsible for superintending the American consuls in Europe and keeping them informed of developments. More than that, he was an advisor to the President on the happenings on the Continent. As Ambassador to the Court of one of the two major adversaries in the conflicts in Europe, he was also actively involved in the Ghent negotiation process, advising the negotiators and responding to their confidential communiqués.  He would later serve as Secretary of War and Secretary of the Treasury under Presidents Madison and Monroe.

At the start, the U.S. negotiators had their instructions: “the impressment of seamen and illegal blockades were the principal cause of the war,” which would “cease as soon as these rights are respected.” British cruisers must not be allowed to stop and search U.S. vessels, which practice “withholds the respect due our flag…It is expected that all American seamen who have been impressed will be discharged.” Another major object of the negotiations was to end the British blockades. “We also need to be assured that no further interference with our commerce” will take place. Next the instructions took up the question of the British arming and supplying the Indians. The article in the Treaty of 1794 allowing “British traders from Canada and the North to trade with the Indian Tribes in the U.S., must not be renewed.” Nor must Britain continue to use native forces against “our Western States and Territories.” Thus, the U.S. negotiators must insist on an end to impressment, and ship seizures, and a stop to aiding the Indians in the American west.

In late June, Secretary of State James Monroe had written Crawford, “If the war goes on, some skillful French officers…may be useful. This is merely a hint…”

On October 14, pursuant to Monroe’s instructions, Crawford wrote to the Commissioners in code of a secret offer that had been made by the French, to the effect that experienced French troops would come to the US side to fight against the English in America.  “It is my duty to communicate to you certain propositions which have been made and which it is believed have been made with a sincere desire to fulfil them. It is also believed that engagements of the same kind may be offered to a considerable extent and that the demand for advances [of cash from the U.S.] may be greatly diminished…In the latter event I cannot see any objection which can be offered to it on our part. The difficulty of executing these engagements excludes the idea that they can be very extensive but the advantages which they offer even upon a contracted scale ought not to be overlooked.”  Faced with more stalling from the British, U.S. delegation sent George Boyd, a messenger and secretary, to meet with Crawford in Paris and give a short but optimistic response to the French offer.  John Quincy Adams describes this incident in some detail in his Memoirs.

Meanwhile, the British were giving the American negotiators mixed signals, not really backing off of uti possidetis, but in the same note expressly stating that they had been instructed to conclude a peace on the principle of both parties restoring whatever territory they might have taken. The Americans absolutely insisted on an acceptance of status antebellum; and although the British were not giving in on that point yet, they were clearly edging towards it.

Towards the end of October the American delegation updated Crawford on the negotiations with the British, and their attitude on French involvement.  In a letter of October 25, they wrote,  “…The tenor of the last communication received from [the British Commissioners] confirms us in the opinion which we then gave you, with regard to the proposal on which you had consulted us.”  In other words, pursue the option.

As November changed to December however, the tone of the negotiations changed.  On December 2, Jonathan Russell wrote, “there can be little doubt that we shall now have peace.”

With this in mind, the negotiators sought to halt, at least for the moment, any effort to bring in French officers and troops.

Autograph letter signed, in Adams’s hand and signed by all the commissioners, December 2, 1814. “We duly received your favor of the 22nd ult by Mr. Shaler, who now returns to Paris with the dispatches from the Department of State for you, which have been received by us. Most of them were brought by the Ajax, which arrived on the 21st ult at the Texel from Boston.  

“Under the present circumstances of the negotiation at this place we think it expedient to revoke the opinion which we had given you in our letters by Mr. Boyd and Mr. Shaler on the subject concerning which you had consulted us.  It may be advisable to suspend for the present all further proceedings of the kind which we had recommended.”

This is a remarkable document, signed by all the Ghent negotiators, in the hand of John Quincy Adams, seeking to draw France further into the conflict on the side of the Americans.  It was acquired directly from the Crawford descendants and has not been offered for sale before

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