To the President of Congress
Amsterdam May 16th. 1781
There has been much said in the public Papers concerning Conferences for Peace, concerning the Mediation of the Emperor of Germany and the Empress of Russia &c. &c. &c.
I have never troubled Congress with these Reports, because I have never recieved any official Information or Intimation of any such Negotiation, either from England or France, or any other way. If any such Negotiation has been going on, it has been carefully concealed from me. Perhaps something has been expected from the United States, which was not expected from me.1
For my own part, I know from so long Experience at the first Glance of Reflection, the real designs of the English Government, that it is no Vanity to say they cannot decieve me, if they can, the Cabinets of Europe. I have fully known that all their Pretensions about Peace were insidious, and therefore have paid no other Attention to them than to pity the Nations of Europe, who, having not yet Experience enough of British Manoeuvre, are still imposed on to their own danger, disgrace and damage.
The British Ministry are exhausting all the Resources of their Subtilty, if not of their Treasures, to excite Jealousies and Divisions among the neutral as well as belligerent Powers. The same Arts precisely that they have practised so many Years to subdue, decieve and divide America, they are now exerting among the Powers of Europe: but the Voice of God and Man are too decidedly against them to permit them much Success.
As to a Loan of Money in this Republick, after having tried every expedient and made every proposition, that I could be justified or excused for making, I am in absolute despair of obtaining any, until the States General shall have acknowledged our Independence. The Bills already accepted by me are paying off as they become due, by the Orders of his Excellency Mr. Franklin: but he desires me to represent to Congress the danger and inconvenience of drawing before Congress have information that their Bills can be honoured.2 I must intreat Congress not to draw upon me, until they know I have money. At present I have none, not even for my Subsistance, but what I derive from Paris.
The true Cause of the Obstruction of our Credit here is Fear, which can never be removed but by the States General acknowledging our Independence, which, perhaps in the Course of twelve months they may do, but I don’t expect it sooner.
This Country is indeed in a melancholy Situation—sunk in Ease— devoted to the Pursuits of Gain—overshadowed on all sides by more powerful Neighbours—unanimated by a Love of military Glory, or any aspiring Spirit; feeling little Enthusiasm for the Public; terrified at the loss of an old Friend, and equally terrified at the prospect of being obliged to form Connections with a new one: encumbered with a complicated and perplexed Constitution, divided among themselves in Interest and Sentiment, they seem afraid of every thing. Success on the Part of France, Spain and especially of America raises their Spirits, and advances the good Cause somewhat: but Reverses seem to sink them much more.
The War has occasioned such a Stagnation of Business, and thrown such Numbers of People out of Employment, that I think it is impossible things should remain long in the present insipid State. One System or another will be pursued: one Party or another will prevail—much will depend on the Events of the War. We have one Security, and I fear but one, and that is the domineering Character of the English, who will make Peace with the Republick upon no other Terms, than her joining them against all their Enemies in the War, and this I think it is impossible She ever should do.
I have the Honour to be, with the greatest Respect, Sir, your most obedient and most humble Servant.
RC in John Thaxter’s hand (PCC, No. 84, III, f. 137–140); endorsed: “Amsterdam Letter 16 May 1781 J Adams Read Oct 3. —no real Intention in Gr: Br: to negotiate —despair of getting Money till the Dutch Governmt. acknowledges our Indep. —Dutch not animated at present.” LbC (Adams Papers); notation in John Thaxter’s hand: “one Copy delivered Capt. Newman and another sent to Mr. Joshua Johnson at Nantes.” For letters JA sent with Capt. Joseph Newman of the Gates, see Adams Family Correspondence description begins Adams Family Correspondence, ed. L. H. Butterfield and others, Cambridge, 1963– . description ends , 4:index; for that sent to Joshua Johnson, see JA to Johnson, 24 May, below.
1. For the origins of the proposed Austro-Russian mediation of the Anglo-French war, see Francis Dana’s letter of 25 Feb., note 3, above. The French government had been considering the proposal since January and had given its approval, which it conditioned on Congress’ consent and American independence being non-negotiable. JA correctly assumed that the Comte de Vergennes did not wish to deal with him, but with Congress. In a letter of 9 March Vergennes ordered the Chevalier de La Luzerne to obtain Congress’ approval of the mediation. More importantly, La Luzerne was to convince the Congress that it should circumscribe JA’s activities as minister plenipotentiary to negotiate Anglo-American peace and commercial treaties by ordering him, in the execution of his powers, “to receive his directions from the Count de Vergennes” (JCC description begins Worthington C. Ford and others, eds., Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774– 1789, Washington, 1904–1937; 34 vols. description ends , 20:562–569). On 28 May, La Luzerne met with a congressional committee. The results of that meeting were Congress’ adoption on 15 June of the Joint Commission to Accept the Mediation of Russia and Austria; Joint Commission to Negotiate a Peace Treaty; and Instructions to the Joint Commission to Negotiate a Peace Treaty, all below.
Vergennes’ determination to avoid dealing with JA regarding the mediation is evident from his conversation with Benjamin Franklin on 10 March. There he informed Franklin of the mediation and asked him to seek Congress’ concurrence. Franklin apparently was surprised by this request, for he told the foreign minister that he supposed that JA “was already furnished with Instructions relating to any Treaty of Peace that might be proposed” (Franklin, Papers description begins The Papers of Benjamin Franklin, ed. Leonard W. Labaree, William B. Willcox (from vol. 15), Claude A. Lopez (vol. 27), Barbara B. Oberg (from vol. 28), Ellen R. Cohn (from vol. 36), and others, New Haven, 1959– . description ends , 34:445–446).
Almost three months passed until JA received any communication from the French government regarding the mediation. See Laurent Bérenger’s letter of 5 June and JA’s correspondence with Vergennes in July, all below.