Was John Adams at risk of arrest for treason when he went to Great Britain as ambassador?

Were the signers of the US Declaration of Independence ever formally pardoned by the King? Did they need to be?

I ask because I wonder whether after the Revolutionary War there was any concern that US statesmen entering Great Britain might be arrested and tried for treason? I assume this possibility had been explicitly addressed before Adams went to GB as Ambassador (accompanied, no doubt, by other ‘traitors’) or maybe it wasn’t even considered worthy of discussion. Was a pardon included as part of the Treaty of Paris? Just an ‘understanding’?


Parliament passed the Diplomatic Privileges Act in 1708. The Treaty of Paris recognized US existence as sovereign and independent states. Simply ignoring their own law, or drafting an after the fact exception, for a sovereign state just because they were pissed at that state would have undercut the notion of diplomatic immunity that they were building and benefited from.

The French, Spanish and Dutch who supported American independence might have been especially upset about the sudden change. They had what were effectively hostages if that system broke down.

One way to answer that question is to look at the Treaty itself.

Note that Adams himself was a signatory to the Treaty.

Thank you both.

Wikipedia wasn’t enough? :o

Wikipedia often does quite a good job of summarizing stuff like this, but in this case they did a particularly bad job with Article 6. The Wiki summary says:

It’s true that Article 6 mandates this, but as you can see from the text itself, the article does a lot more than that; it obliges both sides (not just the United States) to refrain from confiscations and prosecutions of people who participated in the war.

As I recall (from long-ago history classes), one of the causes of the 1812 war between the US & GB was that the US claimed that GB was violating this Treaty provision, by having their navy stop American ships and seize sailors who were former British subjects.

Doubtful that sailors in 1812 would have been participants in a war that ended 30 years before.

At the very least, there wouldn’t be many.

I don’t think I’ve ever heard the Treaty of Paris cited as the root of American dissatisfaction with British impressment. That was more a general concern about the violation of American national sovereignty on the high seas.

The justification for impressing American sailors was not that they had participated in any act of treason or rebellion, but simply that they had been born British subjects and had not lost that status by being naturalised as American citizens, and so were as liable to impressment as any other British subject.

You were only [supposed to be] impressed if you were a British subject, or serving on a British ship. So a natural US citizen, who had never been a British subject, and who was not serving on a British vessel, should have been immune from impressment. (Not that the rules were always applied with scrupulous rigour.)

US policy in that era was more or less sign citizenship papers for any Tom, Dick or Harry who showed up to the US Consul’s and swore he intended to immigrate.

Any white Tom, Dick, or Harry.

Was there a lot of attempted non-white immigration in colonial days that was being turned away, ore are you trying to make some sort of point here?

Well first, he was not talking about “colonial days.” (Hint: the adjective “colonial” comes from the idea of colonies). The Colonial Era of US history ended with the Revolution and Independence, and the former British colonies became the states of the new nation.

Secondly, I’m guessing that he was, in fact, trying to make a point about the issue of race and ethnicity in the United States. Leaving the original inhabitants themselves (the Native Americans) out of the equation, the vast majority of non-whites in the United States during the early national period were enslaved people of African descent. There was also, among white Americans, a general sense that the United States itself was, and should be, a white, Protestant Christian nation.

Here’s a magazine article from 1851 talking about the connections between American democracy, race, and sex.

You can see this attitude as America moved west. After defeating Mexico in the US-Mexican War (1846-48), the United States was committed to taking some Mexican territory as a result. The debate over exactly how much territory to take often turned on exactly how many Mexicans would be part of the deal. Here’s one newspaper opining on the matter during the negotiations over the Treaty of Guadalupe-Hidalgo, which was the treaty that brought the war to a close:

Of course, the 19th century also saw a lot of anti-immigrant or nativist sentiment against people that we would identify as white, particularly Catholics from countries like Ireland and Germany. This fits into the fact that the default and proper American culture was perceived not only as white, but as Protestant by most Americans. But white was key, and white Catholics found it easier to conform and adapt and become accepted into that white culture over time, although it often took decades.

When non-white immigrants DID start to arrive in significant numbers, they were often treated differently than white Americans. During the gold rush, California passed a Foreign Miners Tax that ostensibly applied to all non-Americans who arrived in the mines, but that, according to historical research, was enforced disproportionately against Chinese and Mexicans. The importance of whiteness was reinforced by post-Civil War measures like the Chinese Exclusion Act, first passed in 1882 and then renewed multiple times over subsequent decades. Citizenship was denied to Asian immigrants by law, and Alien Land Laws in places like California forbade land ownership by people ineligible for citizenship, denying groups like Japanese immigrants the possibility of owning their own farms. Terrorist violence and Jim Crow laws in the South, as well as general anti-black prejudice in the North, meant that the former slaves were not accepted into the full benefits of American citizenship and society, despite advances like the passing of the 13th, 14th, and 15th amendments. And white, Anglo-Saxon, Protestant civilization was the driving force behind American efforts to exert its influence and control on other parts of the world (Cuba, Guam, the Philippines, etc.) in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

Were you unaware of the extent to which ideas of white superiority informed American politics and society and culture, or are you trying to make some sort of point here?

Until your post, the latest date mentioned was 1812. So maybe not colonial days, but not very far off. Certainly not post Mexican-American War.

My point was that in 1812 or before, there probably was precious little non-white immigration to speak of, and most of the really egregious stuff like your example and the 1870 Naturalization Act were far later in the same century.

And most pertinent, the whiteness or lack thereof of the sailors wasn’t relevant to whether or not the Treaty of Paris was being violated by the British in 1812, while citizenship was, so I’m not sure why he brought it up at all.

Slaves and Native Americans were here in some quantity - and didn’t count as citizens.

They weren’t immigrants either.

When he presented his credentials to the King, Adams made a short speech, to which the King responded:

That was a pretty clear indication of the policy of the British government.

Interesting little article here: “Encounter: John Adams’ Bow to King George III”

Nice link, thanks!

In fact, the link touches on what motivated me to read a bit about Adams and King George in the first place when it quotes Adams saying “the old good nature and the old good humor between people, who, though separated by an ocean, and under different governments, have the same language, a similar religion, and kindred blood”.

Thinking about Brexit, I had been wondering where the bond between Great Britain and the US came from given the hostilities of the 1770s, and what had then sustained it over the years, and assumed the deep ties had materialized naturally on account of their shared language and god (and, of course, colour).

Why does the treaty’s opening paragraph say George III was also king of France?

Probably a better subject for a new thread.

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English kings claimed the throne of France during the Hundred Years War. They gave up the claim during the French Revolution.