Adams Papers

From John Adams to Boston Patriot, 3 August 1809

Quincy, August 3, 1809.


ON the 12th of September, 1780, wrote to Mr. Dana, at Paris. “This will be delivered you by Mr. Samuel Hartley, who is recommended to me by Mr. Diggs and Mr. David Hartley. I should be obliged to you for any civilities you may show him. Mr. Diggs recommends him as an open friend to the American cause. There is no news here but what you will see in the Leyden Gazette, which is my vehicle for conveying the news.

Same day, wrote to Mr. David Hartley. “You were not misinformed when you heard that the object of my appointment was peace, nor do I differ from your opinion, that this appointment is honorable: altho’ I see no prospect at all of ever acting in virtue of it. Peace will never come but in company with faith and honor. When these can be allowed to live together, let friendship join the amiable and venerable choir. Peace, however, seems to be flying away. The new Parliament may divide her to the distance of seven years. And every year of the continuance of war, will add some new humiliation to the demands upon a certain country. So the fates seem to have ordained, and we mortals must submit.

The words underscored alluded to some insinuations of Mr. Hartley, concerning a separate peace between us and England, which I considered as an infamous perfidy.

September 16, 1780, wrote to Congress. “I have the honor to send by this opportunity, a few pamphlets and papers, which relate to subjects interesting to the United States, and therefore ought to be communicated to Congress for their consideration.

The attention of mankind is now turned, next to the Congress of America, to that of Petersburg. The last letters from London say, they have information that one of the first measures of this confederation will be an acknowledgment of American independence. Whether this is true or not, I am not able to say: The councils of the sovereigns of Europe are not easily penetrated: but it is our duty to attend to them, and throw into view such information as may be in our power, that they may take no measures inconsistent with their and our interests, for want of light—a misfortune that may easily happen. With this view I could wish that the United States had a minister at each of the maritime courts. I say this upon supposition that Congress can devise means of defraying the expense, which to be sure would amount to a large sum.

I have heard that Mr. Searle has arrived at Brest, but am not informed of his destination, nor whether he has dispatches for me. I am anxious to learn from Congress what their intentions may be respecting me. I have as yet received no authority to draw upon any fund whatsoever for my subsistence, nor to borrow money for that or any other purpose. I see no prospect of my commissions being of any utility. Although many persons here think that peace will be made in the course of the ensuing winter or spring, yet I must acknowledge I am of a different opinion. The idea that France will dictate the conditions of peace, if it is made now, cannot be borne by Englishmen as yet. They are not yet sufficiently humbled, although probably every year will add some fresh humiliation to the demands upon their country.

The English privateers have taken some Russian vessels, loaded with hemp and iron, which must bring the question to a legal decision. The admiralty will probably discharge them: and it is thought the ministry, provided the Dutch agree with the Northern powers, will give up the point of free ships, free goods. They will not venture upon a war with all the world at once. Besides the military force which they could not resist, they would not be able to obtain any stores for their navy.

But the great question now is, whether the Dutch will agree. Their ambassadors are instructed to insist upon a warranty of their East and West India dominions.—Whether the Northern powers will agree to this condition, is a question. The States General, however, are sitting, and will wait for dispatches from Petersburgh, and will probably be much governed by events.—What has happened in the West Indies and in North America, we shall soon learn. Digby has sailed with a part of Geary’s late fleet, whether for another expedition to Gibraltar, or whether for the West Indies or for North America, is unknown. The success of these operations will probably influence much the deliberations, both at Petersburgh & the Hague. This, time only can discover. It is said, however, that Mr. Le Texier will be exempted by the States General from the payment of duties upon his masts, hemp, iron and other naval stores, that he is sending over land, to the French marine.

The capture of fifty five ships at once: so much wealth: so many seamen and soldiers: and such quantities of stores, is a severe stroke to the English, and cannot but have the most excellent effects for us, both in the West Indies and North America. The right vein is now opened, and I hope that the courts of France and Spain will now be in earnest, in convoying their own commerce, and in cruising for that of their enemies. This is a short, easy and infallible method of humbling the English, preventing the effusion of an ocean of blood, and bringing the war to a conclusion. In this policy, I hope our countrymen will join with the utmost alacrity. Privateering is as well understood by them as by any people whatsoever. And it is by cutting off supplies, not by attacks, sieges, or assaults, that I expect deliverance from our enemies. I should be wanting in my duty, if I did not warn them against any relaxation of their exertions by sea or land, from a fond expectation of peace. They will deceive themselves, if they depend upon it—Never will the English make peace, while they have an army in North America.

September 17, 1780, wrote to Mr. William Churchill Houston, member of Congress from New-Jersey. “Last night Mr. Dana arrived here from Paris, and brought me your favor of the 11th of July. You cannot imagine, sir, how much pleasure this letter gave me. I shall make a good use of this and every other authentic information, in order to prevent the unfavorable impressions, you are aware of. It has been my greatest affliction since I have been in Europe, that I have had so seldom letters from my friends, or intelligence from America of any kind. That business which is every body’s, is never done. Most of the letters I receive, tell me, “you will be so fully informed, both officially and by your other friends, that I shall not trouble you with public affairs.” And thus it is that I learn nothing. My friend Lovell, indeed, remembers me, now and then: and considering his indefatigable labors in other things, is very good. Heaven reward him for his virtues, sufferings and exertions, and earth too.

General Green’s report of Kniphausen’s exploit, is much admired in Europe. Yet I am almost wicked enough to wish that my friend Green had been beaten, because his defeat would have insured the captivity of Kniphausen and all his banditti.

The late accounts from America, from all quarters, have had a good effect in Europe. The capture of fifty five ships at once by the combined fleet of France and Spain, with the capture of Don Barcelo and the Quebec fleet, have cast down the English cause to such a degree as to put them upon the compassionate list, even with some who detest their tyranny. You will not mistake this for a promise or a hope of peace. This cannot be. The heads of a king and ministers are at stake, in the negociation for peace: at least they suspect so. The new parliament will not alter the system, unless to make it more insidious. As to money, I can promise nothing but my utmost exertions to procure it. It is lucky that I had been here four or five weeks before my commission arrived, because I have had an opportunity to reconnoitre the country.

September 19, 1780, wrote to Congress, “The day before yesterday Mr. Dana arrived here from Paris, with the dispatches from Congress which came by Mr. Searle.

I am very sensible of the honor that is done me by this appointment, (the provisional commission to negociate a loan of money, in case Mr. Laurens should not arrive, which has been before printed in these letters,) and yesterday I set myself very seriously about discharging the duties of it: and this day I have been some leagues into the country upon the same service. There are good reasons for concealing the names of the gentlemen to whom I have applied for advice and assistance; but they are such as Congress would have approved if they had themselves been here.

I was told very candidly that I might possibly be much mistaken in my information: I might think that money was plentier here than it is: that America has more friends here than she has: and that the difficulty of negociating a loan here was less than it is. That it was mysterious that Congress should empower any gentleman to negociate a loan, without at the same time empowering the same or some other, to negociate a political treaty of alliance and commerce, consistent with the treaties already made with other powers. That a Minister Plenipotentiary, here would be advised to apply directly to the Prince and the States General. That he would not be affronted or ill treated by either: and whether received publicly or not, would be courted by many respectable individuals, and would greatly facilitate a loan. I was however encouraged to hope, that I might have some small success: and was advised to a particular course, in order to obtain it, that cannot as yet be communicated.

I must however apprize congress, that there are many delicate questions which it becomes my duty to determine in a short time, and perhaps there is none of greater difficulty, than “what house shall be employed?” I have no affections or aversions to influence me in the choice: and shall not depend upon my own judgment alone, without the advice of such persons as Congress will one day know to be respectable. But let the choice fall upon whom it may, offence will be taken by several other houses, that have pretensions and undoubted merit. As this may occasion censure and complaints, I only ask of Congress, not to judge of such complaints without hearing my reasons: and this request I presume I need not have made.

I have only to add, that the moment Mr. Laurens shall arrive, or any other gentleman vested with a like commission, I will render him every service in my power, and communicate to him every information I may possess. But I ought not to conclude, without giving my opinion, that it is absolutely necessary, that Mr. Laurens, or whoever comes in his place, should have a commission of a minister plenipotentiary. If that gentleman were now here, with such a commission, it would have more influence than perhaps any body in America can imagine, upon the conduct of this republic; upon the Congress at Petersburg; and upon the success of Mr. Jay at Madrid."

Although when the foregoing letter was written, there were decisive reasons for concealing names, there are none at present. I consulted many, but the gentleman here intended was Mr. Bicker, a nephew of the two famous Bickers who defended Amsterdam more than a century before, against a Prince of orange. He was of one of the most ancient, oppulent, and respectable families in that city. This gentleman had been dismissed from the regency in 1748, and had applied himself to commerce in a mercantile house of more than an hundred years standing, by which he had accumulated a clear fortune of several millions.—A patriot without alloy of French or English influence. One of the most sensible and well informed men: and the most intimate confidential friend of Mr. Vanberckel. He was to me a sincere friend and faithful counsellor, from first to last. He advised me to enquire and consider, what houses were too much connected with the British ministry? These must not be chosen. But he assured me I must ask other questions, such as, What houses had other connections, that would be equally likely to hinder or defeat the loan? He soon afterwards explained himself to mean, houses too much connected with the French ministry, and other houses whose solidity and credit were not sufficiently established; and he cautioned me in confidence particularly with regard to Mr. John De Neuville. He recommended the Vollenhovens, as a house of unquestionable solidity, wholly Dutch, biassed neither by France nor England:—But these were too rich to hazard so dangerous an experiment. They declined upon my application to them at that time:—and have repented since, as I believe, for they have endeavored to retrieve their error, and have succeeded, though not to so great advantage as they might have reaped if they had accepted my offer. He recommended too, a particular Broker, who was so little of French or English that he understood not a word of either language. I found from his predictions and by subsequent experience, that emulation produces the same passions and effects among capitalists and mercantile houses, as it does between admirals, generals, ministers of state, & rival nations.

September 20, 1780, wrote to Mr. Samuel Adams, among other things: "I am very happy to learn from your letter, that the people of Massachusetts have accepted the Constitution. May they be wise in the choice of their rulers and happy under them. The constitution and the address to the people have much respect shewn them in Europe. The accounts from various parts of the activity and ardor of the people, are very pleasing and promise good success. The accounts of embargoes distress me, because they discourage trade and privateering, and I expect more benefit from them, than from your exertions at land. Nothing will be done to effect until the allied powers apply their attention to the destruction of the British commerce, transports and marine.

I hope soon to see Mr. Laurens, with a commission of minister plenipotentiary to their high mightinesses.—This would be a great political stroke and have great effects many ways. The English are now all intoxicated. The run of elections, indicate a continuance of war, and the most desperate obstinacy.

Sept. 20. wrote to Dr. Rush, "Your account of the resurrection of the spirit of 1765 and 1766, is very refreshing. The ladies having undertaken to support American independence, settles the point.—Surely no gentleman will ever dispute it against so many of the fair. The ill bred mortals at St. James’s will continue to wrangle about it, but we knew long ago that they had no politeness of manners. If Mrs. Rush reproaches you with lukewarmness, I am sure there must be zeal enough in the country: for it is impossible that you should be wanting in the necessary proportion of that quality. My best respects to Mrs. Rush, and desire her to move in the assemblies of the ladies, that their influence may be exerted to promote privateering.—This and trade are the only way so lay the foundation of a navy, which alone can afford a solid protection to every part of our country. If I could have my will, there should not be the least obstruction to navigation, commerce or privateering; because I firmly believe that one sailor will do us more good than two soldiers.

Keppel is thrown out at Windsor, Burke and Cruzer at Bristol, and your friend Sawbridge in the city. It is necessary in England for a man to be an enemy to his country, in order to be popular. Where this is the case, all is lost.

September 20, wrote to Mr. Lovel. "I hope you will send Mr. Laurens here minister plenipotentiary. We have not shown so much attention and respect to this republic as it deserves, or as their interest or ours requires. A minister here would be able to do a great deal of good. He would have a great influence upon the public opinion of several nations. If Mr. Laurens declines, which I hope he will not, pray send some other gentleman. We daily expect news from Petersburgh, which, if it should be unfavorable, I shall forever think it owing to our neglect in not having a minister at the Hague.

September 20, wrote to President Huntington. “I thank you, sir, for introducing Mr. Searle to me: and shall on all future occasions be obliged to you for recommending to me, such persons coming to Europe as you shall think proper.

The current of popular hopes and fears has been lately much turned by the favorable news from America. But the public opinion is of no consequence at this time. A bloody minded and desperate administration in England, holds the public opinion in contempt and derision, and will pursue their fatal system to the utter destruction of their country. Their emissaries now give out, that the new Parliament will turn their thoughts to peace. But this is permitted by the most malicious and deliberate deception, merely to influence elections in some places, keep up the stocks, and amuse their enemies while they prepare some sly expedition against them, like that of Rodney to Gibraltar, and that of Clinton to Charlestown.

Sept. 20, wrote to Dr. Cooper. “Am happy to find by your letter so agreeable an intercourse of good offices between the people and the French gentlemen in America.

The final accomplishment of the great work of a civil constitution, I hope soon to hear is followed by a wise and satisfactory choice of officers to administer the blessings of it. If the people are not happy under this government, I shall despair of their finding happiness under any: for none was ever formed by any people with so much deliberation, or I believe with more integrity. None existing in the world is more esteemed by such as ought to be good judges. It may truly be said to be the admiration and the envy of the most enlightened part of mankind.

We are in daily expectation of great news from North America, the West Indies, and from the Northern Congress.—But if all these should be unfavorable to England, she will not nevertheless yet make peace.

September 20, wrote to Mr. Luzac, “I take the freedom to enclose four letters which I lately received. Adams and Houston are members of Congress; Rush has been so; and Cooper is a celebrated clergyman of Boston. All are men of the first reputation in that country. If you think proper to publish them, they are at your disposal—only you will not mention names.

These letters were accordingly published and were very favorable to my views.

John Adams

Printed Source--Boston Patriot.

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