To Edmund Jenings
Paris April 2. 1780
After Settling a Point or two here, I now think myself at Liberty to inform you, that I have indeed the Honour, to be a Minister plenipotentiary from the United States of America, “vested with full Powers and Instructions to confer, treat, agree and conclude with the Ambassadors or Plenipotentiaries of his most christian Majesty and of his Britannic Majesty, and those of any other Princes or states, whom it may concern, vested with equal Powers, relating to the Reestablishment of Peace and Friendship, and whatever shall be so agreed and concluded to Sign, and make a Treaty or Treaties and to transact every Thing that may be necessary for compleating, the great Work of Pacification.”1 This you may affirm, without making Use of my Name as your Authority, at present unless to particular Friends.
My Mission was not the Effect of any sudden Joy or Sorrow, Hope or fear arising from any Event of War prosperous or Adverse: but a measure more than a year under Consideration of Congress, and it was thought very proper to have a Minister residing in Europe, Solely for the Purpose of attending to Propositions for Peace. Their Deliberations were long upon the Commission and Instructions, which were at last concluded, and the Choice to my utter astonishment fell upon me, by the Votes of Eleven states, twelve only being present.
This Unanimity, after all the Struggles and Divisions about our foreign Affairs, and the Certainty of still greater Divisions, which I was assured would be the Consequence of my Refusal, determined Me, to put myself once more to sea from a quiet and an happy Harbour. It is a situation that is and will be envyed. And I have Seen enough of what there is in human Bosoms to know that Envy is a formidable Ennemy. It is however more justly to be dreaded than envyed. I assure you it appalls me, when I reflect upon it. The Immensity of the Trust, is too great for every Thing but an honest Heart, and for that too, without a sounder Understanding, and profounder, sublimer and more extended Views, than I have any Pretentions too.
I should esteem it as a favour if you would take Measures, to have Some Paragraphs inserted in the English Newspapers, announcing the Purport of my Mission. The Nature of them I shall leave to your Discretion. I am with much affection yours,
RC (Adams Papers.)
1. Although set off by quotation marks (closing supplied), the passage is an accurate paraphrase of a portion of JA’s commission of 29 Sept. 1779 to negotiate a peace treaty (calendar entry, vol. 8:185; JA, Diary and Autobiography description begins Diary and Autobiography of John Adams, ed. L. H. Butterfield and others, Cambridge, 1961; 4 vols. description ends , 4:178–179). With minor stylistic changes and the addition of some introductory material, this passage formed the basis for the announcements of JA’s mission that appeared in various London newspapers, including the General Advertiser and Morning Intelligencer and The Morning Post and Daily Advertiser of 12 April and the London Chronicle of 11–13 April. The notice appearing in the General Advertiser was copied by John Thaxter and forms one entry in a twelve page document that JA endorsed: “Paragraphs <
in> Public Prints”; and which contains items from various British and continental newspapers for the period from 5 April to 4 July. Immediately following the piece from the General Advertiser of 12 April, Thaxter copied another that appeared on 13 April in the same paper. “We can venture to assure the Public from respectable Authority, that Mr. Adams, the Minister Plenipotentiary from the United States of America to the Court of France, is not arrived in Europe for the purpose of offering Terms to Great Britain; and that he has only recieved Instructions to listen, conjunctively with France, to the Overtures of the King of England and his Ministers for Peace.” On 18 April the General Advertiser again commented on JA’s mission in an article copied by Thaxter and of which a clipping is in the Adams Papers (Microfilms, Reel No. 604). There, after noting that the declining position of Great Britain vis-à-vis the European powers made peace a necessity, the author stated that “we have the fullest authority to declare, that the paragraph in the public prints, mentioning the powers with which Mr. Adams, the Minister from the United States to the Court of France, is absolutely invested, ought to be relied on as a certain fact. Time will soon discover, whether it be the inclination of those who govern us to put a period to the national calamities, or to increase them beyond the hope of remedy.” For a possible explanation for these additional statements regarding JA’s status, see Edmund Jenings’ letter of 24 April, note 3 (below).