Adams Papers

From John Adams to C. W. F. Dumas, 21 May 1780

To C. W. F. Dumas

Paris, Hotel de Valois Ruë de Richelieu May 21st 1780


His Excellency, Dr. Franklin, lent me the inclosed Letter from Sir Henry Clinton to Lord George Germain,1 upon Condition, that I would send a copy of it to you.2 A privateer from Boston had the good Fortune to take the Packet bound to London, and the Mail, in which among others this letter was found. It was sent from Boston to Philadelphia and there published in a Newspaper of the 8th of April. One of these papers arrived, within a few days, at L’Orient in a Vessel from Philadelphia.

It is a pity, but it should be published in every News paper in the World, in an opposite Column to a late Speech of Lord George Germain,3 in the House of Commons, as his Document in Support of his Assertions.

I have the Honor to be, with great Respect, Sir, your most obedient & humble Servant.

LbC in John Thaxter’s hand (Adams Papers). The recipient’s copy has not been located, but the enclosure (see note 1), in both JA’s and Thaxter’s hand and endorsed by Dumas: “Savànah 30e. Janvr. 1780 Prétendue Lettre du Genl. Clinton au Lord G. Germaine,” is at the Algemeen Rijksarchief, The Hague, Eerste Afdeling, Dumas Coll., Inventaris 3, f. 87–94.

1Dated 30 Jan. at Savannah and labeled “Private, No. 15.,” this letter was a forgery. JA’s enthusiasm is understandable, for the letter painted a dismal picture of British prospects. It emphasized the inadequacy of the British forces ranged against a rebel army that was growing in strength and determination, making the continued occupation of New York difficult and an assault on Charleston a doubtful undertaking at best. Even the Continental currency’s collapse was deemed of little significance, since the rebels could be expected to continue the war despite it. The letter first appeared in the Pennsylvania Packet of 8 April, probably the Philadelphia paper from which it reportedly was copied and sent to Benjamin Franklin by Samuel Wharton, likely as an enclosure in his letter of 15 May from Lorient (to William Lee, 20 July, below; Cal. Franklin Papers, A.P.S. description begins I. Minis Hays, comp., Calendar of the Papers of Benjamin Franklin in the Library of the American Philosophical Society, Philadelphia, 1908; 5 vols. description ends , 2:249). Dumas had the letter serially published in the Gazette de Leyde of 30 May, 2 June, and 6 June, but expressed doubts about the letter’s authenticity in his reply of [ante 30 May] (below). Not until early July would JA admit that the letter was a fraud, indicating then that he had been told that the letter was the work of a “General Howe,” probably Maj. Gen. Robert Howe of North Carolina (to Edmund Jenings, 4 July, and note 1, below).

Dumas was not alone in receiving a copy of the letter from JA. He sent one to Edmund Jenings, William Lee, and Alice De Lancey Izard at Brussels—as “an article of Entertainment” (note of 22 May, Adams Papers, enclosure not found); and enclosed another, for publication in the British newspapers, in a letter of 30 May to Edmund Jenings (RC and enclosure, Adams Papers). The publication of the forged dispatch in London, however, was probably not the work of Jenings for it appeared in, among others, the London Courant of 31 May and the London Chronicle of 30 May – 1 June. While the London Courant printed the letter without comment, the London Chronicle placed a disclaimer at the end stating that “there is little doubt that this Letter has been fabricated by the Congress,” because for the dispatch to be number fifteen, it “must have been written above two years ago.” The most recent of Clinton’s dispatches published in the London papers, and about which there could be no doubt, was No. 84, dated 9 March (London Chronicle, 29 April – 2 May). For additional comments on the forged dispatch, see JA’s correspondence with Dumas, Jenings, Arthur Lee, and William Lee (below).

2Although Dumas exchanged numerous letters with the American Commissioners during JA’s tenure in 1778 and 1779 (see vols. 6 and 8:indexes), this is the first letter known to have been written to Dumas by JA alone. The correspondence between the two men developed into one of the most extensive in the Adams Papers, totaling over 300 letters by 1795, the great majority from 1781 to 1783.

3For JA’s comments on Lord George Germain’s speech of 5 May, see his letter of 28 May to Edmé Jacques Genet (below).

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