The David Hartley papers contain approximately 200 letters and documents bound into 5 volumes and spanning April 10, 1783-January 25, 1785. The materials are primarily contemporary copies of Hartley's incoming and outgoing correspondence related to various aspects of the negotiations of the Treaty of Paris, including international commerce, territory disputes, and the rights of American Loyalists. Nearly half of the correspondence is to or from Charles James Fox, who served as British secretary of state for foreign affairs from April to December 1783. Other frequent correspondents include Fox's successor, Lord Carmarthen, as well as Benjamin Franklin.
The collection opens with instructions from King George III for Hartley to go to Paris tp begin negotiations with the American plenipotentiaries and to conclude "a definitive Treaty of Peace" (Volume 1: pp. 1-2). Many of the earliest letters, primarily between Hartley and Fox, concern issues with wording and provide suggestions of potential revisions to several articles of the treaty. In one letter, Hartley proposed possible changes to Article I about the acknowledgement of the sovereignty of the United States and the relinquishment of British claims (Volume 1: p. 24). Fox responded with hope "that the 1st article was meant in a less extensive sense than the words of it seem to convey" (Volume 1: p. 55). Other letters focus particularly on Article V (Volume 1: p. 9) and mention proposals relating to Articles II through VII (Volume 2: pp. 54-56).
Additional letters in the collection refer more generally to the issues at stake in the negotiations. Of particular interest are the many discussions of international commerce and the policies regulating trade between North America, Europe, and the West Indies.
- Fox's commentary on the importance of British exports to America: "the admission of our Manufactures into America is an object of great importance & equally productive of advantage to both Countries while on the other hand the Introduction of American Manufactures into Great Britain can be of no Service to either, & may be productive of innumerable frauds…" (Volume 1: pp. 3-6)
- Fox's discussion of policies concerning American ships in British ports (Volume 1: pp. 45-47)
- Hartley's comments on the strong American desire for trade with the British and the viability of the alliance between the Americans and French (Volume 1: 80-84)
- Discussion of trade between North America and the West Indies by Hartley (Volume 2: p. 9)
The American perspective on commerce is also represented in the collection, in letters to Hartley by Benjamin Franklin, American plenipotentiary and Hartley's longtime friend. In a brief reflection entitled "Thoughts concerning the Sugar Colonies," Franklin stressed the burdensome expense of defending sugar-producing areas in the western hemisphere and recommended that "the Nations now possessing Sugar Colonies…give up their Claim to them, let them govern themselves and put them under the Protection of all the Powers of Europe as neutral Countries open to the Commerce of all" (Volume 2: pp. 63-64). In two other writings, Franklin argued against privateering, claiming that it damaged the countries that authorized it, and urging the British to ban the practice voluntarily (Volume 2: pp. 57-58; Volume 2: 61-62). Also included is an unattributed "Proposed Temporary Convention of Commerce" for September 1783 (Volume 4: pp. 32-33).
Letters in the collection also address questions of territory and of the status and entitlements of American Loyalists. In a particularly revealing letter to Fox, Hartley claimed of the Americans, "Canada has always been in their thoughts. I can shew you letters from Dr Franklin to me upon this subject before the French Treaty…." Hartley went on to state that the Americans "would give any thing" to acquire Canada and "make their own situation complete" (Volume 1: pp. 95-96). Several additional letters pertain to the grievances of those who suffered losses during the war on both sides of the conflict. These include a copy of a letter by Thomas Walker of Philadelphia, expressing indignation at the difficulty of reclaiming slaves taken by the British (Volume 2: pp. 75-76), as well as a letter from Franklin to Richard Oswald, advising against his requests for reparations to the American Loyalists. Franklin noted that British insistence upon redress would "recall to View" scenes that "must inflame instead of conciliating and tend to perpetuate an Enmity" (Volume 3: pp. 44-45).
Other letters and documents in the collection provide details concerning the progress of the treaty negotiations and the ratification process. These include an exchange of the ratifications of provisional articles (Volume 3: pp. 67-68), Hartley and Fox's agreement that no negotiation of any points between the British and Americans "should be conducted under the eye of a French Minister" (Volume 3: 69-72), and several letters concerning the place of the treaty signing. One of these Hartley wrote to Franklin, informing him that the signing would take place at the Hotel d'York and expressing hope that it would not be an "inconvenience" for him (Volume 3: p. 82). An additional item is a notification that the signed treaty had arrived in Paris from across the Atlantic, after delays caused by the severe winter in North America (Volume 4: p. 78).
Hartley wrote many of the later letters in the collection to Fox's successor, Francis Osborne, 5th Duke of Leeds, who was styled "Lord Carmarthen" until 1789. Copies of some of Carmarthen's outgoing letters to Hartley are also present. A significant part of the correspondence relates to Hartley's return to England, requested by Carmarthen in August 1784 (Volume 5: p. 15), to which Hartley initially objected (Volume 5: p. 16-18). Of particular interest is a lengthy report by Hartley urging the British government to form a trade alliance with the United States and cautioning them against driving the Americans into a commercial pact with France. In this document, he also noted America's vast potential for wealth and the magnitude of the western territories (Volume 5: pp. 31-61). Along with the report, he enclosed a copy of a map by Thomas Jefferson showing Jefferson's preliminary thinking about the division of the newly acquired western lands.