John Adams to Abigail Adams
Philadelphia April 3. 1777
As you seem so inquisitive about Politicks, I will indulge you so far (indulge, I say, observe that Word indulge! I suppose you will say it ought to have been oblige) as to send you a little more News from abroad. As foreign Affairs are now become more interesting to Us than ever, I dare say your political Curiosity has extended itself e’er this all over Europe.1
The Agent of the King of Prussia, has often made Proposals of a commercial Nature, to our Agents in France, and expressed a Desire that some American would go to Berlin, at the Instance of his sovereign, who wishes to have a clear Idea of the Nature of our Commerce. You must know, that this Prince has been several Years, dreaming of making his Port of Embden, an Amsterdam.
We cannot as yet, depend that the Dutch Merchants will venture to trade directly to America, at their own Risque. The States2 however have declared, in Answer to a fresh Remonstrance of General York,3 that their Ports are open to all Nations, and that their Trade, to and from their own Colonies, shall be unmolested, their subjects complying with the ordinances issued by their high Mightynesses. Their Prohibition of exporting Warlike stores extends to all British subjects.
Without a very material and apparent success of the British Arms in America, a Loan would be very slowly negotiated for England in Amsterdam. Nothing hinders them now from selling out of the English Funds, but their not knowing what to do with their Money. For that Country may be called the Treasury of Europe, and its Stock of Specie is more or less, according to the Necessities of the different Princes in Europe.
The Credit of France has been very low of late. The Mismanagement of the Finances in the late Kings Reign: The Character of the late Comptroller General, Mr. De Olugny,4 had reduced it so low, that it was impossible to borrow any Thing considerable, on perpetual Funds. By Life Rents, something might be done. Perhaps a Financier, in whose Probity the World have a Confidence, may restore their Credit. The French Stocks rise on the Appointment of Mr. Taboureau. That it is possible for France to borrow, is certain, for at the Time when Mr. Turgot was removed, he was negotiating a Loan, and was likely to succeed, for Sixty Millions of Guilders. The Credit of Spain is extreamly good: That Kingdom may have what Money it will, and on the best Terms. The Emperors Credit is also good, not as Emperor but from his hereditary Dominions. Sweeden and Denmark have good Credit. The first the best. They have Money at four Per Cent, and it is not long since the King of Sweeden borrowed Three Millions of Guilders, at that Interest, to pay off old debts at five Per Cent.—his Interest is paid punctually. Prussia has no Credit but his Treasury is full, by squeezing the last Farthing from his People, and now and then he draws a little Money from Holland, by reviving obsolete Claims. The Credit of the Empress of Russia, is very good, for she has punctually paid the Interest of Twelve Millions of Guilders, which she borrowed in her War with the Turks, and has lately paid off, one Million and an half of the Principal. These are the strongest Recommendations to a mercantile People. As to America, in the present state of Affairs, it is not probable, that a Loan is practicable, but should it appear evident, that We are likely to support our Independency, or should either France or Spain acknowledge it: in either of these Cases We might have Money. And when it shall be seen that We are punctual in our first Payments of the Interest, We should have as much as We pleased.
RC and LbC (Adams Papers).
1. The remainder of this letter (though JA nowhere says so) is partly quoted and partly paraphrased from a long letter written by William Carmichael from Amsterdam to the Committee of Secret Correspondence, 2 Nov. 1776, the original of which is in PCC, No. 88, 1, and a printed text in Wharton, ed., Dipl. Corr. Amer. Rev. description begins Francis Wharton, ed., The Revolutionary Diplomatic Correspondence of the United States, Washington, 1889; 6 vols. description ends , 2:184–190. Carmichael, whose name and somewhat shadowy figure will be frequently encountered in JA’s later correspondence, was acting strictly as a volunteer in forwarding his information and speculations to Congress from Europe. Born in Maryland, he had been living the life of a well-to-do expatriate in London when the Revolution broke out; then, according to the letter JA abstracted here, he started for Nantes to find passage home but was detained by illness in Paris and “livd with Mr. Deane since his first arrival at Paris” in 1776; he was currently, with Deane’s blessing, on his way to Berlin to explore possibilities of developing commercial relations between Prussia and the United States, but had stopped in Amsterdam to see if an American loan could be obtained there. Carmichael spent the rest of 1777 in a similarly busy manner and played a material part in Lafayette’s coming to America. On 28 Nov. he was appointed by Congress “secretary to the commissioners at the Court of France” (JCC description begins Worthington C. Ford and others, eds., Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789, Washington, 1904–1937; 34 vols. description ends , 9:975), but before he learned of this appointment he sailed for home, just as JA sailed the other direction to replace Carmichael’s patron Deane in Paris. Arthur and William Lee strongly suspected Carmichael’s patriotism, and JA was given to believe that Carmichael had “contributed much to the Animosities and Exasperations among the Americans at Paris and Passi” Diary and Autobiography description begins Diary and Autobiography of John Adams, ed. L. H. Butterfield and others, Cambridge, 1961; 4 vols. description ends , 2:304; 4:76–77). Nevertheless, Carmichael was soon elected to the Continental Congress and in 1779 was named secretary of legation to John Jay’s mission to Spain, where he served (in later years as chargé d’affaires) until his death in 1795. See DAB description begins Allen Johnson and Dumas Malone, eds., Dictionary of American Biography, New York, 1928–1936; 20 vols. plus index and supplements. description ends and references there.
The special interest attaching to the present letter from JA to AA is its indication at so early a date of JA’s deep interest in international banking arrangements and the question how the resources of the great Dutch banking houses might possibly be tapped by the United States—an anticipation of his own protracted but successful effort a few years later to do what Carmichael here suggests.
2. The States General of the United Provinces of the Netherlands.
3. Sir Joseph Yorke (1724–1792), veteran British ambassador at The Hague (DNB description begins Leslie Stephen and Sidney Lee, eds., The Dictionary of National Biography, New York and London, 1885–1900; 63 vols. plus supplements. description ends ).
4. That is, de Clugny—a copying error by JA; Carmichael’s “C” looks like an “O” in the letter he sent to the Secret Committee.