Adams Papers

Henry Laurens to John Adams, 3 February 1784

From Henry Laurens

No 18 Fludyer Street Westminster 3d Febry 1784.


The Packet accompanying this, was put into my hands by Mr. Reid formerly President of Pennsylvania, with a request that it might be forwarded by my Son who is going to France.1

After you had left Bath, two or three Letters or small Packets under your direction were presented to me by the Post Man, these I advised should be sent to you at Mr. Stockdale’s, to one of them I added the necessary address, in every case disdaining a Reprisal which your example would have warranted.2

Upon this occasion I cannot forbear, & if an apology is necessary, I must appeal to your own feelings, once more demanding those two Letters of mine, which you thought proper to open. I have already received three promises from you to put them into my possession, but hitherto without effect. the first Act was in every view indelicate & unjustifiable, in one, unmanly & cruel; but the long neglect, amounting to a refusal, to deliver them, is a high aggravation containing an insufferable degree of contempt. Possibly Sir, the patience extended on my part under this & other injurios treatment on yours, may have led you to mistake forbearance for tameness which you might play with; nor can I in any other manner reconcile your conduct with the hazard attending it.

It is long since I declared to a friend, I will submit to this behavior of Mr. Adams, in preference to a resentment which, tho’ strongly provoked, might interrupt public business, but our connexion as Servants to the United States of America being now at an end, ’tis incumbent upon me to do myself Justice, at least to attempt it, trusting that upon recollection your own good sense & knowledge of propriety will save further trouble to / Sir / Your humble servant

Henry Laurens,3

RC (Adams Papers); internal addresses: “John Adams Esquire.” and “His Excellency / John Adams Esquire / Minister Plenipotentiary from / the United States of America / a Hague.”; endorsed: “Mr Laurens— 3. of Feb. / ansd. 11. 1784.”

1Henry Laurens Jr. carried his father’s letter to JA and the packet that presumably consisted of Joseph Reed’s letter of 30 Jan. and Elbridge Gerry’s letter of 23 Nov. 1783, which Reed had carried to England to be forwarded to JA (vol. 15:369–376, 472–473). See also JA’s reply to Reed of 11 Feb. 1784, below.

2The letters or packets that Laurens sent to John Stockdale to be forwarded to JA have not been identified. JA visited Bath in late Dec. 1783, but he left there for London on the 27th to begin his arduous journey to the Netherlands in order to deal with the crisis that had erupted over the Dutch-American loan and the lack of funds to pay Robert Morris’ bills of exchange (vol. 15:416).

3This is Henry Laurens’ final letter to JA, and JA’s reply of 11 Feb. 1784, below, is his last letter to Laurens. It is unclear what “injurios treatment,” beyond the unreturned letters mentioned in the second paragraph, provoked Laurens’ anger. In his reply JA wrote that he was unaware of anything he had done to injure Laurens. One can only speculate that Laurens’ outrage may have stemmed from JA’s assumption of Laurens’ position as minister to the Netherlands while the South Carolinian was jailed in the Tower of London and his refusal to relinquish it upon Laurens’ release; JA’s continued friendship for Edmund Jenings despite Laurens’ bitter and public dispute with Jenings over several anonymous letters; or Laurens’ absence from the 3 Sept. 1783 signing of the definitive treaty, a slight he later blamed on JA, “the malicious contriver” (Laurens, Papers, description begins The Papers of Henry Laurens, ed. Philip M. Hamer, George C. Rogers Jr., David R. Chesnutt, C. James Taylor, and others, Columbia, S.C., 1968–2003; 16 vols. description ends 15:403). See also Laurens’ account of a conversation he had with JA on 19 Dec. 1782 in which he indicates some dissatisfaction with his colleague, vol. 14:140–142.

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