Adams Papers

From John Adams to Jonathan Jackson, 8 November 1782

To Jonathan Jackson

Paris November 8. 17821


In one of your Letters you Suppose that I have an open avowed Contempt of all Rank, give me leave to say you are much mistaken in my sentiments.—2 There are Times, and I have seen many Such when a Man’s Duty to his Country demands of him the Sacrifice of his Rank, as well as his Fortune and his Life, but this must be an Epocha, and for an Object worthy of the Sacrifice.— In ordinary Times the same Duty to his Country obliges him to contend for his Rank, as the only means indeed sometimes, by which he can do Service, and the Sacrifice would injure his Country more than himself.— When the World Sees a Man reduced to the Necessity of giving up his Rank merely to serve the Publick they will respect him and his Opinions will have the more Weight for it, but when the Same World sees a Man yeild his Rank for the sake of holding a Place, he becomes ridiculous.— This you may depend upon it will not be my Case—

Rank and Titles and Ettiquette, and every Species of Punctilios even down to the Visits of Cards, are of infinitely more Importance in Europe than in America, and therefore Congress cannot be too tender of disgracing their Ministers abroad in any of these Things, nor too determined not to disgrace themselves.

Congress will Sooner or later find it necessary, to adjust the Ranks of all their Servants, with Relation to one another, as well as to the Magistrates and officers of the separate Governments.

For Example, if, when Congress abolished my Commission to the King of Great Britain and my Commission for Peace, and issued a new Commission for Peace in which they associated four other Gentlemen with me, they had placed any other at the Head of the Commission they would have thrown a Disgrace and Ridicule upon me in Europe, that I could not have withstood.— It would have injured me in the Minds of Friends and Ennemies, the French and Dutch as well as the English—

It is the Same Thing with States.— If Mr Jay and I, had yeilded the Punctilio of Rank and taken the advice of C. de Vergennes and Dr F. by treating with the English or Spaniards, before We were put upon the equal Footing that our Rank demanded, We should have Sunk in the Minds of the English French Spaniards Dutch and all the Neutral Powers. The C. de Vergennes certainly knows this. if he does not, he is not even an European statesman, if he knows it, what Inference can We draw but that he means to keep us down if he can.— to keep his Hand under our Chin, to prevent Us, from drowning, but not to lift our Heads out of Water.

The Injunctions upon Us to communicate, and to follow the Advice that is given Us, Seem to be too strong and too universal.— understood with reasonable Limitations and Restrictions they may do, very well.

For Example. I wrote a Speculation and caused it to be printed in the Courier du Bas Rhin, Shewing the Interest Policy and Humanity of the Neutral Confederation acknowledging American Independence and admitting the United states to subscribe to the Principles of their marine Treaty.3 This was reprinted in the Gazette of Leyden, the Politique Hollandois, the Courier de L’Europe, and all the Dutch Gazettes. at the Same Time I caused to be transmitted to England some Pieces upon the Same subject, and further shewing the Probability that the Neutral Powers might adopt this Measure, and the Impolicy of Great Britain in permitting all the Powers of Europe to get the start of her, and having more merit with America than she by acknowledging her Independence first. These Pieces were printed in the English Papers, in the form of Letters to the Earl of shelburne, and can never be controverted because they are in Writing and in Print with their Dates.4 These Fears thus excited Added to our Refusal to treat on an unequal Footing, probably produced his Lordships Resolution to Advise the King to issue the Commission under the Great Seal to Mr Oswald, by which Great Britain has got the start and gone to windward of the other European Powers. No Man living but my self knew that all these Speculations, in various Parts of Europe came from me.— Would it do for me to communicate all this to the French Ministers? Is it possible for me to communicate all these Things to Congress. Believe me it is not. and give me Leave to Say, it will not do to communicate them to my Friend the Chevalier de la Luzzerne nor my Friend Mr Marbois.— if they should be, long Letters will lay all open to the C. de Vergennes, who I assure you I dont believe will assist me or any body else in such Methods of serving our Country. When the French Ministers in America or Europe communicate every Thing to Us, We may venture to be equally communicative with them.5 But when every Thing is concealed from Us more cautiously I believe than it is from England, We shall do ourselves Injustice if We are not upon our Guard.—

If We conduct ourselves with Caution, Prudence, Moderation and Firmness We shall Succeed in every great Point, but if Congress, or their Ministers abroad Suffer themselves to be intimidated, by Threats, slanders or Insinuations, We Shall be duped out of the Fishery the Missisippi much of the Western Lands, Compensation to the Tories and Penobscot at least if not to Kennebeck.— This is my solemn Opinion, and I will never be answerable to my Country Posterity or my own Mind, for the Consequences that might happen from concealing it.

It is for the determinate Purpose of carrying these Points that one Man, who is submission itself, is pressed up to the Top of Jacobs Ladder in the Clouds, and every other Man depressed to the Bottom of it in the Dust. this is my Opinion.— if it is a Crime to hold this Opinion let me be punished for it, for assuredly I am guilty.

With great Respect and Esteem I have the Honour to be sir your most obedient & humble / servant

J. Adams.

This was intended for another But I send it to you, as I do the Translation wh I have from Mr Jay who has sent two Copies of it before to Congress,6

RC and enclosure (MHi:Misc. Bound Coll.); internal address: “Secretary Livingston.” LbC (Adams Papers); APM Reel 108.

1JA wrote this letter, had Charles Storer copy it into his Letterbook, and then, before the letter was sent off, decided it should go to Jonathan Jackson rather than Robert R. Livingston. This is indicated by the Letterbook copy’s uncanceled internal address. At some point JA also sent a copy of this letter to Francis Dana (MHi:Dana Family Papers), adding a notation below the signature that “N.B. This letter was intended for the Secretary of Foreign Affairs, Mr: Livingston, but sent to another Member of Congress, for particular reasons.” The letter’s tone and content may explain why JA decided not to send it to Livingston, but they shed little light on JA’s “particular reasons” for sending it at all, or to Jonathan Jackson rather than Livingston.

On 17 Nov. JA wrote to Jackson in a similar vein. That letter, below, clearly was meant for Jackson from the beginning and apparently intended as the means by which he would receive at least a portion of JA’s “Peace Journal,” the nature and significance of which are discussed in note 6 to that letter, as well as in the Introduction, Part 1, above. However, JA’s later explanation of his motives for sending the “Journal” to Jackson provides at least a partial explanation of his reasons for directing his letter of 8 Nov. to Jackson rather than Livingston. JA wrote that Jackson was related to AA—he was a cousin through the Quincy family—and that he had known Jackson’s family for many years. Moreover, while many of Jackson’s friends had been loyalists who sought to convert him to their cause, Jackson himself had remained “steadfast and immoveable in the principles of his country.” Therefore, “to this gentleman Mr. Adams determined to inclose his journal that Mr. Jackson might make a confidential use of it among confidential friends for the public good” (Boston Patriot, 7 Sept. 1811; Sibley’s Harvard Graduates description begins John Langdon Sibley, Clifford K. Shipton, Conrad Edick Wright, Edward W. Hanson, and others, Biographical Sketches of Graduates of Harvard University, in Cambridge, Massachusetts, Cambridge and Boston, 1873–. description ends , 15:56).

JA’s principal concern in this letter and that of 17 Nov. was the commissioners’ decision to violate their instructions and the nature of the influence that produced instructions necessitating such a decision. By 8 Nov. JA was reasonably confident that an Anglo-American peace treaty would be concluded, but he feared that Congress would repudiate its commissioners for not having governed themselves by French advice during the negotiations. With some justification he believed that such a repudiation would be owing to the continuing influence of La Luzerne and Barbé-Marbois, the French minister and his secretary, over Congress in general and Livingston in particular. Thus JA needed a person whom he could trust, in this case Jackson, to show his letters to like-minded people in order to fundamentally change the apparent drift of American foreign policy into the French orbit.

Nor would this be the last time that JA would seek to go over the head of the secretary for foreign affairs and independently influence Congress. Early in April 1783, JA learned that Massachusetts had elected James Warren as one of its members of Congress. Mistakenly believing that Warren would take up his seat, JA wrote four letters to Warren dated 9, 12, 13, and 16 April to which he added two more—those of 20 and 21 March—that, like this one to Jackson, were originally intended for Livingston, all below. Those letters were unstinting in their criticism of the influence exercised by Franklin, Vergennes, and French agents in Europe and America over the conduct of foreign policy and the consequences that such influence would have on the survival of the United States. Fortunately for JA’s diplomatic career, neither Jackson nor Warren was in Congress when the letters arrived, and they were forwarded to the two men in Massachusetts. For an additional example of JA’s efforts to influence Congress at the expense of Livingston, see his 5 Feb. 1783 letter addressed to the president of Congress, below.

2Livingston’s comment was in his letter of 5 March, to which JA had already replied at length in letters of 4 and 6 Sept. (12:297; 13:415–426, 430–437).

4These are JA’s twelve “Letters from a Distinguished American.” Ten were published in Parker’s General Advertiser and Morning Intelligencer between 23 Aug. and 26 Dec. 1782. JA wrote the letters in the summer of 1780 and they are printed under the date of [ante 14–22 July] (vol. 9:531–588).

5At least in JA’s mind little had changed since his service in the 1st joint commission in 1778 and 1779. Compare his statement here with his observation about the French government’s “Diffidence” and “Reserve” with regard to communicating intelligence in a letter of 5 Dec. 1778 to Elbridge Gerry (vol. 7:248–251).

6The enclosure is a copy of François de Barbé-Marbois’ 13 March 1782 letter to the Comte de Vergennes. In the letter Barbé-Marbois strongly opposed American claims to the Newfoundland fisheries and offered Vergennes arguments that might prove useful in opposing the American pretensions. It was intercepted by the British and supplied by them to John Jay, who enclosed a translation with his letter to Robert R. Livingston of 18 Sept. (Morris, Peacemakers description begins Richard B. Morris, The Peacemakers: The Great Powers and American Independence, New York, 1965. description ends , p. 324–325; Wharton, Dipl. Corr. Amer. Rev. description begins The Revolutionary Diplomatic Correspondence of the United States, ed. Francis Wharton, Washington, 1889; 6 vols. description ends , 5:238–241, 740). Henry Laurens’ account of a conversation with JA on 19 Dec., below, indicates that JA received a translation of the Barbé-Marbois letter from Jay.

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