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John Adams to the Marquis of Carmarthen

27 Jul. 1785

My Lord. Grosvenor Square. 27th. July 1785.—

Since the letter which I did myself the honor to write to your Lordship, relative to the Construction of the Armistice, I have received further information from America, which I beg leave to communicate to your Lordship.

The first judgement rendered on a mistaken Interpretation of the Armistice appears to have been at N York; where all American Vessells, taken within the second Month, were condemned as lawfull Prizes by the Judge of Admiralty. The fame of these decrees having reached Connecticut & Rhode Island it is said that similar decrees, were rendered by the inferior Courts of Admiralty there, against British Vessells. There is, my Lord, a Court of Admiralty in each of the United States; but by our Constitution an Appeal lies from all of them to a Court, appointed by the United States in Congress assembled, for receiving & determining finally Appeals in all Cases of Capture. If the Parties interested in the decrees in Connecticut & Rhode Island had appealed to the supreme Court, those Decrees would certainly have been reversed; because every cause which ever came before that Court, upon the point in question, has been decided in favour of the British Owner of the Vessell. and should a declaration be now made of the true Intention of the contracting Parties, the British Owners, against whom the decrees were rendered in Connecticut & Rhode Island may still appeal and have justice, if the time limited is not passed; if it is by an application to the Legislatures of those States, there is no doubt to be made that an Appeal would be granted under the present Circumstances, notwithstanding the lapse of time.—The Decisions in the Court of Admiralty of the Massachusetts & all the other States have been conformable to the Judgement of the Supreme Court of Appeals: that is to say conformable to the true Intention of the Armistice: and it is with pleasure that I add that the Judgements of His Majesty’s Court of Admiralty at Halifax have been the same way.

The Words of the Armistice are supposed to be the same which have been constantly used in every Treaty of Peace for the last hundred years: and it is not known that there ever was before any doubt or difference of opinion concerning the construction of them.

In order to establish the Confidence between the two Countries, my Lord, it is necessary there should be a mutual Confidence in each others Tribunals of Justice, which can hardly exist while such various interpretations are given of so plain a point, by different Courts in each Nation.—

In order to settle all disputes upon this subject upon one principle, I have the honour to propose to your Lordship that a Declaration should be made, in the form inclosed, or to the same effect in any other form which to your Lordship may appear more proper.—

With great respect I have the honor to be, my Lord, / Yr. Lordship’s Most Obedt / humle. servt.

John Adams.

PCC, No. 84, V.
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