Adams Papers

From John Adams to C. W. F. Dumas, 4 October 1780

To C. W. F. Dumas

Amsterdam Octr. 4. 1780


I have just received your Favour of the 3d,1 and thank you for the early Information of the arrival of the Courier from the Plenipotentiaries of this Republick at Petersbourg. I hope that this Republick, will agree, without delay to the armed Neutrality: but I Should be glad to See a Copy of the dispatches if possible, or at least as exact an Account of their Substance as may be. I should be glad also to learn whether the Object of the Congress is Simply to form a Plan for Supporting each other and making a Common Cause in defence of those Principles only which the three northern Powers have already adopted, or whether they have in Contemplation a more extensive Regulation of maritime Affairs.2

I dont See, how this Congress can have a Peace between the belligerent Powers, for its Object, when the Parties who comprise it have already so possitively declared for a Neutrality. I wish with all my Heart, that another Republick3 had a Minister at the Congress, or at least at the Court of Petersbourg. Neither the Cause, nor the Country of America are understood in any Part of Europe, which gives Opportunity to the English to represent Things as they choose—onesta è sempre la causa di colui che parla solo.4

I do not expect Peace So soon as next Spring. And I should dread the Interposition of the Congress at Petersbourg in the Business. They understand not the subject. It is impossible they should. America is not represented there, and cannot be heard. If they should take into Consideration, the Affair of Peace I should be apprehensive, of Some Recommendations to save the Pride, or what they would call the Dignity of England which would be more dangerous and pernicious to America than a Continuance of the War. I do not dread a Continuance of War. I should dread a Truce ten times more.

If all the Powers at the Congress at Petersbourg, would agree together to acknowledge American Independency, or agree to open a free Commerce with America and Admit her Merchant ships And Vessells of war into their Ports, like those of the other belligerent Powers this I think would be just, indeed I think that perfect Neutrality which they profess requires it. Refusing Admittance to the American Flag, while they admit that of England, is so far from a Neutrality, that it is taking a decided Part in favour of England, and against one of the belligerent Powers, a Power too which in Point of Numbers, Wealth, Industry, Capacity, military and naval Power, as well as Commerce, is quite as respectable, as several of those which are or will be represented in the Congress at Petersbourg. I have the Honour to be with great Esteem, sir your humble sert

John Adams

I am very Sorry I did not give Mr. Guild a Letter to you. He is an American of Merit and a Gentleman of Letters, Taste and sense.

RC (DLC): C. W. F. Dumas Papers; endorsed: “Amst. 4e. Octobr. 1780 Mr. J. Adams.”

1Dumas’ letter of 3 Oct. (Adams Papers) noted the arrival of dispatches from St. Petersburg. He gave a more detailed account of their content in his letter of 3 Oct. to Benjamin Franklin (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 , 4:76–77 [English translation]; 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 , 2:299). In that letter Dumas indicated that most of his information came from “our friend,” Engelbert van Berckel, Grand Pensionary of Amsterdam (vol. 6:51). Van Berckel had informed him that the States General had received dispatches from its plenipotentiaries at St. Petersburg, containing a convention concluded with Cathene II. The convention was based on those already concluded by Russia, Sweden, and Denmark, but had three additional articles: the first provided for the restoration of captured vessels, the second provided that if the Netherlands was attacked, the other nations would make a common cause for its defense, while the third declared that the ultimate purpose of the armed neutrality was to bring about a general peace. The dispatches also reported that Great Britain had informed Russia that it would respect the armed neutrality if the Netherlands was excluded. According to van Berckel, there was no longer any doubt that Prussia, Austria, and Portugal would join the armed neutrality. Finally, Dumas stated that he had it on good authority that Catherine II remained determined to establish the principles of the armed neutrality as part of the law of nations. With a resolution of 20 Nov., the States General formally acceded to the armed neutrality and there indicated that the dispatches had been dated 15 Sept. and received on 2 Oct. (James Brown Scott, ed., The Armed Neutralities of 1780 and 1800, N.Y., 1918, p. 325–328).

2See Dumas’ letter of 1 Nov. (below).

3The United States.

4JA took this quotation, meaning essentially that an honest man is a lonely man, directly from Philip Mazzei’s letter of 19 Aug. (and note 3, above), and used it in the same sense as Mazzei did there.

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