James Lovell to Abigail Adams
June 26. 1781
The Alliance may have brought you Letters: neither that nor the Franklin have given us any from Mr. Adams. Mr. Dana on the 4th of April resolved to go from Paris to Holland on the Sunday following.1 He mentions nothing of Mr. A but I send you a Scrap from the Hague2 which proves the Health of him and his, in a good Degree, March 4th. Any Thing to the contrary would have been mentioned by Mr. Dumas.
There is surely nothing of the Gallant, nothing which need hurt the fine toned Instrument, in this Solicitude of mine to administer even the smallest Degree of Satisfaction to a Mind very susceptible of Anxiety, and, a little prone, I fear, to see Harm where Harm is not.
His Excellency J. Adams favored me, Yesterday, both with his Visit and with a Sight of his late Dispatches from your Excellency of December last. I have promised him, in Consequence, what I repeatedly had promised him before; vizt. to assist him with all my Heart and Powers, and I am as sure to have already convinced him of my Zeal in doing so, as in good hope that Things will ripen and our Endeavors be blessed.
There have been some Proceedings nearly affecting Mr. A’s public Character. Lest you should be uneasy at Hints catched here and there, I think proper to tell you that a Change of Circumstances in Europe has made it necessary according to the major Opinion, to be liberal in discretionary powers and it hath been made Part of the Plan to colleague the Business in Consequence. I do not think upon the Whole that the latter Circumstance will be the most unpleasing to our Friend; the real Truth being that our allies are to rule the roast so that the Benefit of the latter Provision will be that the insignificance will be in shares. This is my poor angry Opinion of the Business.4
Now Woman be secret.5
Y m o m d h St.,
Mr. S[amuel] A[dams] will have told you of the two Peices of Business which led to the two Resolves inclosed.
RC (Adams Papers). The enclosed “two Resolves” mentioned in the postscript are not now with the letter. One was the resolution of 10 Jan., forwarded to JA in a letter from Pres. Huntington of that date, approving Vergennes’ position on JA’s not communicating his powers to the British government (JCC description begins Worthington C. Ford and others, eds., Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789, Washington, 1904–1937; 34 vols. description ends , 19:42; 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 , 4:229). The other enclosure must have related to the actions in Congress in early June modifying JA’s instructions as peace minister and joining him in a commission with four others to negotiate peace; see note 4. Four brief passages that appear in cipher in Lovell’s letter have here been deciphered between double verticals. In the original, the ciphered passages are marked “A” through “D”; these are Richard Cranch’s marks for his decipherment, made at AA’s request and surviving as an undated scrap of paper among the Adams Papers. On Lovell’s cipher generally, see Appendix to this volume.
1. See Dana to the President of Congress, 4 April 1781, 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 , 4:349–351.
2. Incorporated in the text below.
3. This caption is a marginal gloss in Lovell’s letter. The full text of Dumas’ letter to the President of Congress of 5 March is printed 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 , 4:273–274.
4. Lovell here touches in a very gingerly way on recent actions of Congress that were to have a profound effect on JA’s diplomatic career and to embitter him permanently toward those who, in the course of a brief but intense struggle in Congress, had brought them about. These were, of course, the alterations in his instructions of 1779 as sole minister for peace, whereby he was now empowered to accept a truce under the proffered mediation of Russia and Austria; was ordered “ultimately to govern” himself in everything by the “advice and opinion” of the French court: and, to top off these (to JA at least) degrading instructions, was deprived of his exclusive powers as peace minister by being joined in a commission with four others, namely Jay, Franklin, Laurens, and Jefferson. These and sundry other modifications of the 1779 instructions debated and voted in the first half of June 1781 were the product of a diplomatic strategem that had been initiated months earlier in the French foreign office and was effected by La Luzerne in Philadelphia through his influence with certain members of Congress who, for varying reasons, held pro-French views and/or distrusted JA’s independent views and conduct (his “Stiffness and Tenaciousness of Temper,” as John Witherspoon phrased it; Burnett, Letters of Members description begins Edmund C. Burnett, ed., Letters of Members of the Continental Congress, Washington, 1921–1936; 8 vols. description ends , 7:116). Among them were John Sullivan, James Madison, and John Witherspoon. The circumstances of this maneuver and its sequels are repeatedly touched on in JA’s Diary and Autobiography description begins Diary and Autobiography of John Adams, ed. L. H. Butterfield and others, Cambridge, 1961; 4 vols. description ends ; see text and notes in that work at 3:3–4, 104–105; 4:252–253; see also above, vol. 3:231–232. The long series of motions and votes in Congress, as recorded in its Secret Journal, 6–15 June, are given in convenient sequence 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 , 4:471–481; the drafts and notes of Madison relating to these proceedings are printed in his Papers, ed. Hutchinson description begins The Papers of James Madison, eds. William T. Hutchinson and William M. E. Rachal, Chicago, 1962– . description ends , 3:133–134, 147–155, with valuable editorial commentary. John Witherspoon’s remarkable speech in Congress on 11 (or possibly 9) June should also be consulted (Burnett, ed., Letters of Members description begins Edmund C. Burnett, ed., Letters of Members of the Continental Congress, Washington, 1921–1936; 8 vols. description ends , 6:115–118); it appears unexceptionably fair-minded toward all the parties in question or contention, including JA. However, later statements by Witherspoon throw a different and possibly sinister light on his and his supporters’ motives. William C. Stinchcombe in The American Revolution and the French Alliance, Syracuse, 1969, p. 166–168, has discussed this difficult question acutely. Irving Brant, in his Madison, vol. 2, ch. 10 (“Clipping Diplomatic Wings”) has furnished a lucid and detailed narrative account of what happened in Congress respecting peace policy at this time. But he proceeds on the assumption that nothing Madison did could be wrong, and Stinchcombe’s point of view throughout his chapter dealing with this subject is more objective. Another recent account, based on French as well as American sources, is in Morris, Peacemakers description begins Richard B. Morris, The Peacemakers: The Great Powers and American Independence, New York, 1965. description ends , p. 210–217. Morris observes that the “stakes” of Vergennes’ moves at this time “were nothing less than the control of America’s foreign policy.... Lacking all the facts and relying upon the assurances of La Luzerne, the innocent and the corrupted together marched meekly to the slaughter” (p. 210, 213). See also below, Lovell to AA, 13 July, and note 7 there.
5. This injunction is written lengthwise in the margin beside the preceding paragraph.