Adams Papers

From John Adams to Robert R. Livingston, 13 August 1783

To Robert R. Livingston

Paris August 13. 1783.


The Question before the French Cabinet, whether they shall involve themselves in a War against two Christian Empires, in order to support a Turkish one is of a Serious Nature on many Accounts—If the Turks should be driven out of Europe, France would lose some of the Levant Trade and some of the coasting Trade of Italy: and these commercial and Naval Considerations are reinforced by others which lie deeper in the human heart, the ancient Rivalry between the great Houses of Bourbon and Austria, and between the vast Countries of Germany and France, and between all the lesser Powers which depend upon them. To these Considerations is to be added, that an Austrian Princess is now upon the Throne of France, to whom it is no doubt a melancholy Consideration, that there is Danger of a War, between an Husband & a Brother.

The City Politicians are looking out for Alliances with Prussia, Holland, and even England but can find none—It cannot be expected that either will engage. Yet the French Minister has gone far towards compromising his Master, by augmenting the Army to a War establishment, and by threat’ning to shut up the Mediterranean Sea. In this Posture of Affairs it is not surprising that there should be a Fermentation at Versailles and since my return to Paris, I find it is the general Topick of Conversation. Monsieur de Breteuil, late Embassador at the Court of Vienna, who is supposed to be esteemed by the Queen and connected with her Friends, is lately, about a Fortnight ago, called to the Kings Council and the Marshall de Castries who is in the same Interest, is said to be new modelling the subordinate offices in his Department.1

From these, and many other Considerations it is generally concluded that Mr: de Vergennes’s Continuance in the Ministry is precarious. Mr: Hartley last night, and to Day, began Conversation with me upon the Subject, and is very Sanguine that this Minister will continue in Place but a very short time, and assures me that the Duke of Manchester is of the same Opinion. I pretend to form no Opinion, because I have ever carefully avoided Conversations and Connections which might be misinterpreted into an Attachment to Persons or Parties in this Kingdom. I know that for the last Nine Months many sensible People have thought this Minister in a tottering Situation. Others think he will weather out the storm, which all Parties agree is preparing for him. Time will discover. One Thing is agreed on all hands, that he is not in favour with the Queen, and as he has taken up the Cause in a pretty high Tone against the Emperor and Empress, if he should now be displaced, Congress I think may infer from it, that France will not take a Part in the War. On the Contrary if he remains it is probable she will.

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

John Adams.2

RC in JQA’s hand (PCC, No. 84, V, f. 165–166); internal address: “R. R. Livingstone Esqr: / Secretary of foreign Affairs.” LbC (Adams Papers); APM Reel 108.

1Here and in his 15 Aug. letter to Robert R. Livingston, below, JA refers to the intrigue roiling the French court over whether France should support Austria in its alliance with Russia against the Ottoman Empire, for which see JA’s 2 Aug. letter to Livingston, and note 1, above. Favoring Austria were the queen, Marie Antoinette; the former ambassador to Austria and current administrator of the department of Paris, the Baron de Breteuil; and the minister of marine, the Marquis de Castries. On the other side was the foreign minister, the Comte de Vergennes, and it was he who ultimately prevailed. The conflict between the pro- and anti-Austrian factions would intensify in October when Joseph II renewed his effort to force the Dutch to open the Scheldt River with the expectation that he would receive French support, for which see C. W. F. Dumas’ 12 Dec. letter, and note 1, below. JA had previously raised the issue of Vergennes’ continuance as foreign minister in letters to James Warren of 21 March and to Livingston of 25 May (vol. 14:350–351, 495), but see JA’s 15 Aug. letter to Livingston, note 2, below.

2Closing and signature in JA’s hand.

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