Paris 20 May 17821
We are told here of a chace there has been for sometime in holland and that the name wanted to be run down is our old staunch friend de Nefville;2 in which base pursuit in the whole groupe of motley hounds, the mongrel Adams distinguish’d himself in such a manner that all here regretted he was not near to be rewarded as joculer by spitting in his mouth and patting his breech with their foot; which he well deserves by heading the pack of turqs and rascals who doubtless will be grateful for it as for other favors, and can do no less than second his attempts at wispering away by inuendos the Characters of every one of those to whom he owes so much of his rise and Consequces.
Blush at thy Conduct for its being worse than a dogs to want for thy Country and thyself that gratitude due to those men that have been the steps to thy elevation. Suppress that envy which merits either cause them to sicken at or raises that malignant rancour so Visible in thy countenance. Study politicks particularly that wanted in a Minister which thou mistakes in supposing it to have any affinity to the tricks or chicannery of a pettifogging Attorney our Agent Mr. Demasse3 is best able to teach thee that thou most wants if thou will but divest thyself of that insolent vanity and conceit which blinds thee into a belief of thy designs being impenetrable tho experience teaches thee daily the contrary, even by the miscarriages of one of thy latest schemes, thou must thyself see the flimsiness of the veil over them, and how little the mask men puts on disguises thee and still less to thy Colleagues tis hoped for thy credit the report of the Courier de basse rin is true that thy late fever has fixed on thy brain impaired thy faculties4—if so phaps Congress is already apprized of it, or that thou will avail thyself of the first lucid interval to guard thyself from doing the like prejudice to the credit of America thou hast lately done by calling in the aid of other ministers who understand business, for in matters of that kind, thou must not trust it will be done to thy hand, as in that of the independence, where the people of holland or the leaders in that affair wanted only an Automaton to personate an Amcan. Minister,5 and which would sometimes have answerd their purpose far better as they would not have been in fear of having their business spoiled as is sometimes happen’d and advise6 thee again take advice, for whatever opinion the world may entertain of thy abilities as a lawyer they all know and agree thou art a most wretched politician,7 nor can all thy puffs and self written panegirick &c.8 persuade the contrary.
RC (Adams Papers); addressed: “His excellency Mr John Adams Hague”; endorsed: “Anonimous Letter to me, dated Paris. 20 May 1782”; postmarked: “BRUXELLES.”
1. The author of this letter remains unidentified but may be the same person who wrote to JA on 7 April 1781, signing himself “Boston” (vol. 11:250–252). In content and tone this letter is similar to anonymous letters sent to Benjamin Franklin on 31 Jan. and 8 May 1782 (Franklin, Papers description begins The Papers of Benjamin Franklin, ed. Leonard W. Labaree, William B. Willcox, Claude A. Lopez, Barbara B. Oberg, Ellen R. Cohn, and others, New Haven, Conn., 1959–?. description ends , 36:499–501; 37:289–291) and to Edward Bridgen on 3 May for transmission to Henry Laurens. At some point JA learned of the letters to Franklin, for there are copies of both in the Adams Papers; JA received the letter to Bridgen as an enclosure in Edmund Jenings’ letter of 6 June, below. For a discussion of the 31 Jan. letter to Franklin, see JA’s letter of 14 Jan. to the president of Congress, note 1 (vol. 12:190–191).
The four letters criticize JA’s efforts in the Netherlands and seem calculated to drive a wedge between him and his colleagues Benjamin Franklin and Henry Laurens. While the letters failed to achieve that objective, they did ignite a prolonged and bitter dispute between Henry Laurens and Edmund Jenings. And one of the principal reasons was that this letter of 20 May and those to Franklin of 31 Jan. and 8 May were all postmarked “Bruxelles,” where Edmund Jenings lived, leading Laurens to conclude that Jenings was the author. An analysis of the handwriting, however, indicates that Jenings did not write the letters, for which the originals still exist for those of 31 Jan. and 8 and 20 May. In fact, there were two writers: the first wrote the letter of 31 Jan. and the second the letters of 8 and 20 May and probably, owing to its content, that of 3 May as well.
The principal difference between this letter and those to Franklin and Bridgen is the author’s effort to disguise his identity. This is clear from the writer’s use of the pronouns thy, thee, and thou, but the letter also differs in its awkward sentence structure and repeated misspellings. It may be inferred from this, particularly if the author also wrote to JA on 7 April 1781 and signed himself “Boston,” that JA had met the writer, probably in Amsterdam. This inference is supported by JA’s letter of 7 June 1782 to Edmund Jenings, below.
2. The reference to de Neufville here, and to the controversy over John Hodshon’s participation in the loan in the 8 May letter to Benjamin Franklin, gives substance to JA’s assertion that the letters originated with someone unhappy at not being included in the loan. For warnings to JA against using the de Neufville firm, see his letter to Jean de Neufville & Fils, 11 March 1781, note 1 (vol. 11:195). For the controversy over John Hodshon’s participation, see Hodshon’s letter of 20 April 1782, note 2, and John Thaxter’s letter of 22 April, and note 2 (vol. 12:434–435, 449–450).
3. Probably a misspelling of Dumas.
4. The letters to Benjamin Franklin of 31 Jan. and 8 May both refer to JA’s 1781 illness as having impaired his faculties.
5. The letter to Franklin of 8 May 1782 emphasized that the main credit for Dutch recognition of the United States should go to Joan Derk van der Capellen tot den Pol.
6. The remainder of the letter from this point is written vertically in the left-hand margin.
7. The letters of 3 and 8 May to Bridgen and Franklin, respectively, all refer to JA the lawyer. The 3 May letter reads, “however great his abilities as a lawyer—they are the reverse as a Minister” (see Jenings to JA, 6 June, below), while the 8 May letter states that “as a legislator and lawyer in his lucid Intervals, his abilities may be still great—but he Wants most of those requisite for a Minister” (Franklin, Papers description begins The Papers of Benjamin Franklin, ed. Leonard W. Labaree, William B. Willcox, Claude A. Lopez, Barbara B. Oberg, Ellen R. Cohn, and others, New Haven, Conn., 1959–?. description ends , 37:290).
8. This is presumably a reference to the pieces in Le politique hollandais done either at JA’s instigation or on Antoine Marie Cerisier’s own volition to enhance JA’s standing in the Netherlands. The letters of 31 Jan. and 8 May to Franklin and 3 May to Bridgen all refer directly or indirectly to JA’s efforts in this regard.