Adams Papers

From John Adams to the President of Congress, 14 December 1783

To the President of Congress

London December 14. 1783.1


Permit me to congratulate you, on your Election to the Chair, and to wish you and the Members of Congress in general much Satisfaction at Anapolis.2

on the Fifth of this Month, Captn Jones arrived at my Lodgings in Piccadilly, with Dispatches from the late President Mr Boudinot.— The Letters addressed to “the Ministers Plenipotentiary of the United States” I opened, And found a Set of Instructions but no Commission. Probably there is a Commission, under Cover to Dr Franklin.— Captain Jones went on to Paris the Same night.

on the Eleventh, Mr Boudinot arrived, with other Dispatches of an older date; but these were in the Same Situation with the former. Those Letters addressed to “The Ministers[”] contained nothing but duplicates of Information recd long ago respecting the Mutiny at Philadelphia3 Wereas a larger Packet addressed to Dr Franklin, leaves room to Suppose that it contains a Commission or other Papers for Us all.— Upon Several former Occasions, Papers of Great Importance, which belonged to all “the Ministers for Peace” have been inclosed to the Address of Dr Franklin alone, and Several Inconveniences have happened in Consequence of this Irregularity, upon former Occasions. Upon this there is reason to fear, that a greater Evil may be caused by it.— I would therefore request that in future, Papers intended for “the Ministers” may be addressed to them, that when they Arrive to the Hands of one, he may open them, peruse the Contents and Send them forward to his Colleagues or go and carry them as the Circumstances may require. I shall Send off, by a private Hand the last Dispatch to Dr Franklin this day.— But must wait the return of Post, or a Courier to know the Contents. Mr Jay is at Bath waiting also returns from Paris. The Anxiety caused by this Suspence is not the worst Thing.— much prescious Time in very critical moments is lost by it.

I rejoice that I ventured over to this Island, for many Reasons— I have recovered my Health, gratified my Curiosity, and resolved Several Doubts.— I wish I could give an Account, of what I see, and hear, which would be more pleasing to my own Feelings, and more Satisfactory to Congress.— But I can find no Traces, of that Principle which was professed by Mr Oswald very Sincerely I beleive, and by the Ministry who imployed him in making Peace.— the Principle I allude to was to cede to America every Thing she could reasonably wish, in order to obliterate past Unkindnesses, and restore mutual Friendship.— Mr Fox and Mr Burke have quite as little good will to America as my Lord North or my Lord Mansfield.— And all Parties still listen to the Same kind of Councillers which has misled this deluded and devoted Kingdom these twenty Years.— A Galloway a Deane an Arnold, are not to this moment without an Influence, and I need not Say to Congress what is the Tendency of their Councils.

Mr Fox has leave to bring in a Bill, to Support another Proclamation like that which has already done So much Mischief to their own West India Islands, and Things will not be put on a better Footing, uless by Treaty. if a Commission has arrived in either of the Packets to Dr Franklin We shall soon see. But if not, and it is expected that We treat by Virtue of the Instructions We shall be disappointed, for that will not be received as a Commission, not having any seal.

There are Rumours of a Change of Ministry. The K. is Said to be dissatisfied with the East India Bills. Tomorrow, when one of the Bills is to have a Second Reading in the House of Peers, the matter will he decided. if it fails, there will be a Change of Ministry and a dissolution perhaps of Parliament. But I think the Ministry So Strong, that unless the King is determined against it they will carry it by a great Majority.—4 In this Case, I look upon the Rubicon to be past against the East Indies as much as it ever was against America: and France & Spain have nothing to do but whet their Scissars for the favourable Moment to clip the other Wing.— if Oppression and Extorsion, Rapacity and Violence are lessened, by taking that immense Country into the Hands of Ministers, I am much mistaken. it is natural, that the King Should be allarmed. his Ministers for twenty Years, have proved So unsuccessfull and therefore so unskillfull, in conducting the Administration of his Dominions abroad, that it is no Wonder he should be afraid of this new Experiment.

LbC (Adams Papers); APM Reel 107.

1The absence of a copy of this letter in the PCC and its abrupt end in the Letterbook make it unlikely that it was sent.

2Thomas Mifflin. The previous president, Elias Boudinot, had indicated in a 3 Nov. postscript to his 27 Oct. letter to the commissioners, above, that Mifflin had been chosen president that morning.

3This is Elias Boudinot’s younger brother, Lewis. But the younger Boudinot had already, on 29 Sept., sent Benjamin Franklin the 15 July letter from the president of Congress to the commissioners in which the events of the mutiny were recounted, for which see note 12 to that letter, above. JA’s comment seems to indicate that Boudinot brought another copy of the 15 July letter.

4JQA and presumably JA attended at least a portion of the 15 Dec. debate in the House of Lords on the India Bill—one of two bills drafted by paymaster Edmund Burke and introduced by foreign secretary Charles James Fox in a controversial effort to reform the administration of India (JQA to Peter Jay Munro, 19 Dec., NNMus). The India Bill proposed a reorganization of the East India Company. It called for the appointment of seven commissioners, initially named by Parliament but subsequently chosen by the king, to oversee the company’s political activities. It also provided for the appointment of nine assistant commissioners to supervise the company’s commercial ventures.

The India Bill aroused resistance in and out of Parliament. The opposition in both houses denounced the bill for violating the charter of the company and infringing the prerogatives of the crown. They charged that Fox only wanted patronage and that he intended to seize India for his own ends. The shareholders of the company objected to the bill as an expropriation of their property, while the directors insisted that the company’s financial difficulties had been overstated. Newspapers disseminated and enlarged the arguments and accusations. Caricaturists, too, played a significant role in the attack.

The controversy generated in response to the India Bill presented an opportunity not only to defeat the legislation but to topple the governing coalition led by Fox and home secretary Frederick, Lord North. In the House of Commons, where the coalition had a substantial majority, the bill passed by a comfortable margin on 3 December. But in the House of Lords, where passage normally would have been a foregone conclusion, the bill failed in a narrow though stunning upset. Resentful of Fox for his efforts to increase ministerial authority at the expense of royal prerogatives, George III conspired with the opposition to kill the India Bill and unseat the coalition ministry. In an extraordinary maneuver, the king acted to influence the debate in the Lords by making it known, through Lord Temple, that “whoever voted for the India Bill were not only not his friends, but he should consider them as his enemies.” The king’s intervention proved decisive, swaying in particular several bishops. When on 16 Dec. the opposition moved to cut off debate on the bill and adjourn, the measure carried by eight votes, sealing the fate of the Fox-North coalition. A day later the bill itself was rejected by nineteen votes. Having made it appear that the coalition ministry could no longer command the support of Parliament, George III brought the intrigue to a close on the 18th, serenely requiring Fox and North to surrender their seals of office. A new ministry headed by William Pitt took over the next day (Cannon, Fox-North Coalition description begins John Cannon, The Fox-North Coalition: Crisis of the Constitution, 1782–4, London, 1969. description ends , p. 106–145). For a caricature that helped to foment resistance to the India Bill, see Descriptive List of Illustrations, No. 9, above.

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