Adams Papers

To John Adams from Robert R. Livingston, 29 May 1782

From Robert R. Livingston

No 7

Philadelphia 29th May 17821

Dear Sir

It is with equal Surprize and concern that I find not the least attention paid to the several Letters I have written you since I have had the honor to be in Office. I attributed this to their not having reached you, till I saw an extract of a letter which I had written to Mr Dumas, and which went by the Same conveyance with one to you published in the Courier de l’Europe, from which circumstance I conclude it must have been received.2 It would give me pleasure to learn that I had been deceived in this particular—Because the punctuality with which your correspondence with Congress has hitherto been maintained would otherwise lead me to conclude that you were not satisfied with the present arrangement of the department for foreign affairs—a reflection which would be painful to me in proportion to the value I put upon your esteem. I have seen your letter of the 26th: of March to Doctor Franklin, in which you speak of the application you have had on the score of your powers to treat of a truce.3 This together with similar applications to Doctor Franklin, and the proposals made to the Court of Versailles convince me that it is their wish to endeavour to detach us from each other. What an insult it is to our intellects to suppose that we can be catched by this cobweb System of politicks. I entertain hopes that your answer together with that of the Count de Vergennes will teach them to think more honorably of us. Our expectations with respect to the success of your mission are considerably raised, as well by your Letter, as by other circumstances that we have learned thro’ different channels, by this time I hope you are in full possession of your diplomatic rights.

I wrote to you three days ago, since which we have nothing that deserves your attention except what you will learn by reading the enclosed to Mr Dana, sent you under a flying seal.4 It may be well to take some notice of this affair in the Leyden Gazette, as I doubt not, if Asgill is executed, that it will make some noise in Europe.5 We are distracted here by various relations of a battle fought between the fleets in the West Indies on the 12th of April.6 The Antigua and New York account is that the British have been victorious—that the Ville de Paris and six other ships were taken or destroyed. The French account that Rodney was defeated, and that Count de Grasse had gone to Leeward with his transports. Tho’ it is now six weeks since the action, we have nothing that can be depended upon.

I am sir, with great respect & esteem Your most obedt. humble servt

Robt R Livingston

Dupl (MHi: John Adams, Embassy MSS); endorsed: “Secy. Livingston 29 May ansd 6. Sept. 1782 no 7.” Although JA wrote a detailed reply to this letter on 6 Sept., he acknowledged its arrival in the form of a duplicate in his letter of 4 Sept., both below.

1This letter bears the date on which it was dispatched (from Livingston, 30 May, below), but Livingston may have drafted it as early as 25 May, for which see note 4.

2The Courier de l’Europe of 26 Feb. contained a French translation of the final two paragraphs of Livingston’s letter to Dumas of 28 Nov. 1781 (Wharton, Dipl. Corr. Amer. Rev. description begins The Revolutionary Diplomatic Correspondence of the United States, ed. Francis Wharton, Washington, D.C., 1889; 6 vols. description ends , 5:30–32). The extract from the letter to Dumas formed the first third of a longer passage entitled “Extrait d’une Lettre d’un Américain à son Correspondant en Hollande.” The source of the remainder of the text is unknown, but it contained references that appear in other letters written by Livingston in late November.

3JA’s letter to Franklin had reached Livingston as an enclosure in Benjamin Franklin’s letter of 30 March 1782 to the secretary for foreign affairs, for which see note 3 to JA’s letter of 26 March (vol. 12:352).

4Since there is no extant letter from Livingston to JA of 26 May, he may be referring to his letter of 22 May, above. That would suggest that this letter of the 29th, and the letter to Francis Dana bearing the same date (Wharton, Dipl. Corr. Amer. Rev. description begins The Revolutionary Diplomatic Correspondence of the United States, ed. Francis Wharton, Washington, D.C., 1889; 6 vols. description ends , 5:446–447), may have been drafted on or about 25 May.

5The letter to Francis Dana of the 29th contained a detailed account of the case of Capt. Charles Asgill of the 1st Foot Guards. Captured at Yorktown, Asgill was selected for execution in retaliation for the murder of an American prisoner, Capt. Josiah Huddy, by a loyalist officer, Capt. Richard Lippincott. George Washington demanded that Lippincott be turned over to the Americans for trial. General Clinton condemned the actions of the loyalists, but he refused Washington’s request, ordering instead that Lippincott be court-martialed. This led to Asgill’s selection to be executed in Lippincott’s stead. For a variety of reasons, including an appeal by his mother through the French government, Captain Asgill was released and returned to England on parole (DNB description begins Leslie Stephen and Sidney Lee, eds., The Dictionary of National Biography, repr. edn., New York and London, 1959–1960; 22 vols. description ends ; Mackesy, War for America description begins Piers Mackesy, The War for America, 1775–1783, Cambridge, 1964. description ends , p. 490–491; JCC description begins Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789, ed. Worthington C. Ford and others, Washington, D.C., 1904–1937; 34 vols. description ends , 23:845–846). In his reply of 6 Sept., below, JA indicates that Dumas translated the portion of Livingston’s letter to Dana pertaining to Asgill. It appeared in the Gazette d’Amsterdam of 13 September.

6This is the first mention in any letter to or from JA of Rodney’s victory over the French fleet commanded by the Comte de Grasse at the Battle of the Saints on 12 April. News of the battle, which resulted in de Grasse’s capture and the loss of seven French ships of the line, reached London on 18 May (London Gazette, 14–18 May; Mackesy, War for America description begins Piers Mackesy, The War for America, 1775–1783, Cambridge, 1964. description ends , p. 456–459). For JA’s first comment on the battle, see his brief note of 5 June to Edmund Jenings, below.

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