John Adams to Isaac Smith Sr.
May 26th. 1780
I must intreat You to write me, and persuade others to write by every Vessel to Spain and Holland.
We have just received Clinton’s Letter.1 A Spanish Armament, 12. Ships of the Line, 5 Frigates &c. &c., 12,000 men sailed 28th. April. The Brest Armament of 8 Ships and 6000 Men sailed 2d. May. Walsingham and Graves are still in Port, for any thing We have heard. The maritime Powers have all acceded to the Russian proposal for an armed Neutrality. Our hopes are flattered at present with something this Campaign more favourable than the last, but the Events of War are always uncertain.
The American Trade certainly spreads.
The House of Commons had cleared their Galleries by the last Accounts, devising nothing honest I fear.
Some new plan of delusion perhaps for themselves and Us. They still think they can detach Us from our Alliance with France. They might as well think of our surrendering our Sovereignty. They say America is distressed—the Consequence they draw from it is, that America will distress infinitely more by going to War, with France and Spain.
LbC in John Thaxter’s hand (Adams Papers).
1. A purported confidential letter (“Private No. 15”) addressed by Sir Henry Clinton at Savannah to Lord George Germain, 30 Jan. 1780. It recited in great detail the difficulties under which the British labored in holding New York City against threats of combined American and French land and naval forces, painted the gloomiest prospects for Clinton’s southern campaign, where “a train of Incidents peculiar, and beyond human Foresight have set in, against the Arms of my royal master,” and held out no hope of an American collapse as a result of the current monetary crisis. Whatever its actual origin, this letter reached Paris with assurances that it had been captured at sea and published in Philadelphia in April with the authority of Congress. Both JA and Franklin gave it credence and circulated copies for publication in European journals. But it was very soon exposed as a forgery—“a mere Jeu d’Esprit,” JA later heard, and conceded, “written by an Officer in the [Continental] Army, upon the North river,” and yet a most ingenious and plausible piece of fictionizing, quite in character with Clinton. Since Lincoln had surrendered Charleston to Clinton on 12 May, this was one instance of JA’s activities as a propagandist that seriously backfired, and he was much embarrassed by it.
See JA to Arthur Lee, 25 May (Adams Papers; JA, Works description begins The Works of John Adams, Second President of the United States: with a Life of the Author, ed. Charles Francis Adams, Boston, 1850–1856; 10 vols. description ends , 7:178–179); Edmund Jenings to JA, 27 May (Adams Papers); JA to Jenings, 30 May, enclosing a copy of the spurious letter, to be communicated to “the English Papers” (Adams Papers); C. W. F. Dumas to JA, without date (Adams Papers, under date of [ante 30 May 1780]); William Lee to JA, 31 May, 8 July(both in Adams Papers, the latter printed in JA, Works description begins The Works of John Adams, Second President of the United States: with a Life of the Author, ed. Charles Francis Adams, Boston, 1850–1856; 10 vols. description ends , 7:215–216); Franklin to Dumas, 5 June (Franklin, Writings, ed. Smyth description begins The Writings of Benjamin Franklin, ed. Albert Henry Smyth, New York and London, 1905–1907; 10 vols. description ends , 8:82–83); JA to Dumas, 6 June (MHi:Hoar Autograph Coll.; 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 , 3:771– 772); Dumas to JA, 6 June (Adams Papers); JA to Jenings, 4 July (Adams Papers); JA to William Lee, 20 July (LbC, Adams Papers; JA, Works description begins The Works of John Adams, Second President of the United States: with a Life of the Author, ed. Charles Francis Adams, Boston, 1850–1856; 10 vols. description ends , 7: 231). A French text of the forgery will be found in the so-called Gazette de Leide (Nouvelles extraordinaires de divers endroits), No. 43 (30 May), suppl., and No. 44 (2 June), suppl.