Adams Papers

From John Adams to Boston Patriot, 18 August 1809

Quincy, August 18, 1809.


Amsterdam, November 17, 1780—wrote to Congress: “From the time of the arrival of my commission, I have been constantly employed in forming acquaintances, making enquiries, and asking advice; but am sorry to be obliged to say, that hitherto I see no certain prospect of borrowing any money at all.

For some years past, all the information I could obtain from this country, led me to think that America had many friends in it, and that a considerable sum of money might be borrowed here, provided application was made to Dutch houses, of old families and numerous connections. And after my arrival here, I had the opinion of persons, who, I had every reason to believe, knew it best, that if proper powers should arrive from the thirteen United States, money might be had. But now, when all agree that full powers have arrived, I do not find the same encouragement. This nation has been so long in the habit of admiring the English, and disliking the French; so familiarized to call the English the natural ally, and France the natural enemy of the republic, that, though the circumstances are greatly altered, it must be a work of time to eradicate these prejudices. Add to this, the little decision and success which has appeared in the conduct of the affairs of America and her allies, and the series of small successes which the English have had for the last twelve months: the suspense and uncertainty in which men’s minds have been held respecting the accession of the Dutch to the armed neutrality: and at last the publication of some papers taken with Mr. Laurens: the part the Stadtholder has acted, and the angry memorial of sir Joseph York concerning them: all these things together have thrown this nation into a state of astonishment, confusion and uncertainty, to such a degree, that no house to which I have yet thought it prudent to apply, dares to undertake the trust.

The times are critical indeed. The question will be decided in a few days, whether the republic shall join the northern confederation or not. Four Provinces have voted for it. Two others have voted in such a manner, that their deputies may agree to it: and most men say it will be decided by a plurality. The King of England demands a disavowal of the Amsterdam project, and the punishment of the Regency. They will not be punished, nor their conduct disavowed. The King of England, therefore, must take such measures as he shall think his dignity and the essential interests of his people require. What these will be, time alone can discover. Many think he will declare war. But more are of a different opinion. Congress who have been long used to contemplate the characters and the policy of this king and his ministers, will see that they are now pursuing towards this republic, the same maxims which have always governed them. Their measures in America, for many yean, were calculated to divide the many from the few, in the towns of Boston, New-York, Philadelphia and Charleston: next, to divide the provinces from their capitals: and then to divide the rest of the continent from those provinces which took, the earliest, a decided part. Their plan now, is to divide the people of Amsterdam from their Burgomasters, and to single out Mr. Van Berckel for the fate of Barneveldt, Grotius, or De Witt: to divide the other cities of Holland from Amsterdam: and the other provinces of the republic from Holland. But they will succeed no better in this country, than in America: and their conduct bids fair to make Mr. Van Berckel the most respected and esteemed of all the citizens.

In the present critical state of things, a commission of a minister plenipotentiary would be useful here. It would not be acknowledged. Perhaps not produced publicly, except in case of war. But if peace should continue, it would secure its possessor the external respect of all. It would give him a right to claim and demand the prerogatives and privileges of a minister plenipotentiary, in case any thing should occur that might require it: it would make him considered as the centre of American affairs, and it would assist, if any thing can assist a loan. I ought not to conclude without observing, that it would not be safe for Congress to draw for money here, until they shall receive certain information that their bills can be honored. There are bills arrived, which, if Mr. Franklin cannot answer them, must be protested.

1780, November 18th—“Mr. Adams’s presents compliments to Mr. Ceresier; thanks him for his obliging letter, and the Translation of General Howe. Will answer the letter soon. Encloses him two pamphlets, the largest of which Mr. Adams is sorry to be obliged to aft. Mr. Cerisier to return, as he has no other copy. Enclosed are also some papers, which were written in great haste. If Mr. Cerisier can make any use of any part of them, without mentioning names, they are at his service. Mr. Adams, however, requests the return of them, as he has no copies.”

1780, November 18th—wrote again to Mr. Cerisier: “I have received the letter you were so good as to write me, on the 15th of this month. The translation of the Narrative of General Howe cannot fail to have a good effect, at this critical moment. The final independence of America is as certain as a decree of the destinies. The only question is, how much blood shall be shed, and how long mankind shall be unnecessarily embroiled in the quarrel, and how many nations shall be injured and insulted by one? It is plain that General Howe studiously avoids giving any information to the rest of mankind, which can shew the weakness of his country, and the strength and unanimity of America, but such as was absolutely necessary for his own vindication. Yet, enough appears to shew his opinion, and to convince any impartial reader. It is astonishing, that any sensible man should still be of opinion, that there is either light or integrity in the British ministry. The whole history of the Court of St. James’s, for these twenty years, proves that they have had the narrowest views, and been actuated by the meanest passions. They have betrayed a total ignorance of the temper, character, principles and views of America, France, Spain, Holland, Russia, Sweden and Denmark. They have discovered a constant contempt of truth, justice, liberty and humanity. In short, they have shewn themselves ignorant of every thing that statesmen ought to know, except the character of their master, and the degree to which corruption may be carried in their nation; and this last knowledge has been, or will be the ruin of themselves, their master and nation altogether.

Your advertisement, and your observations on American credit, I shall expect with impatience, as they will undoubtedly throw much light upon our affairs. You may depend upon me, sir, for any little assistance I may be able to afford you, in your virtuous labors in the cause of mankind. I have written for General Burgoyne’s Narrative, but have not yet received it. As soon as it comes, it shall be sent to you.

This republic will very soon have its eyes opened upon its interest and duty. I have had too long and too painful experience of the British cabinet, and their conduct, not to know, that when they use a language like that of sir Joseph Yorke’s memorial, they mean a great deal. It will not long be in the power of any man, to think so favorably as some do, or pretend to do.

1780, November 19—wrote to London: “The bundle by Mr. B. I received, and one or two parcels since. Yesterday I received the newspapers, and yours of the 14th. I wish to know how sir Joseph Yorke’s memorial is considered among you. Will they declare this republic in rebellion? or not?—Whenever my Lord Hillsborough has charged faction and cabal, it has been followed by outlawry, charges of rebellion, and declarations of war. Poor Arnold! Where are his laurels? So much for attempting to convert the tory ladies! I wonder not, that there is no exultation.—A poor crippled piece of frail mortality, hobbling on crutches, can no longer be an active soldier. Will he go out again? If he does, he will meet riflemen and hunters. This defection is not so shocking as the example of the son of the Count of Egmont, who delivered up to the Spaniards, that very Brussells, where the citizens had formerly dipped their handkerchiefs in his father’s blood, in order to preserve the precious drops. It must have been a bargain to march a body of men into some position to be surrendered up. As to a body of three thousand men, or their officers being corrupted! I know better.

Can you discover whether Mr. Laurens had a commission as plenipotentiary? or only to negociate a loan? This is a material question.”

1780, November 19th—wrote to Mr. William Lee, at Brussells: “I am honored with your’s of the 15th. The relaxation of Mr. Laurens’s confinement is owing entirely to the ministry getting information, that the opposition intended to make a motion about him. This would have made so much noise, and excited so many speculations, that they had reason to dread it. Ten thousand men, if to be found, will not repair the waste made by sickness and the sword, in North America and the West Indies, last year. But they will not obtain half the number.

There cannot be three greater absurdities, than the three systems you mention: As to the last, I believe you are mistaken. I never suspected any such system: I am sure the conduct was not calculated upon any such principle.

A zeal for the union of the thirteen States, is, in my opinion, one of the first duties of every American citizen. For although I am of opinion, that all the thirteen, if they were rent into two or three divisions, would still maintain their independence; yet there would be too much hazard of Britain prevailing over some of the weakest; and if she should not prevail over any, yet the different divisions of the continent would soon be at war with each other.

The resolves of the associations (in England) merit attention; but I scarcely think the debates worth reading. Even the idol Fox is as crude, indigested, and little to be depended on in American affairs, as the ministry. Nothing in England merits the attention of an honest American, or a lover of liberty, but the committees: yet so many ignorant and unprincipled men get credit there, that I see no prospect of their doing any thing well. Sir Joseph Yorke’s memorial is a curiosity; it is a masterpiece! We shall see how this measure will end. Whether this republic will join the maritime confederacy, I know not. If they do not, it will be wholly owing to this memorial; and the British ministry will have answered one of their ends. But this will not content them. The King of England having declared war against Mr. Van Berckel and the Burgomasters of Amsterdam, must go on and support the dignity of his character. If any man, or men, whom he has charged with faction, cabal, sacrificing general interests to private views, violations of the law of nations, disturbance of the peace, &c. are ever forgiven, I shall be mistaken.

Is not Arnold an acquisition? A cripple, hobbling on two crutches? charged with peculation? reprimanded at the head of the army? and likely to be prosecuted at common law? flying from justice and vengeance? Nothing can be a fuller proof of weakness, than such miserable shifts of bribery and treachery. The meanness of it will make them despised by all men.”

1780, Nov. 20th—wrote to Mr. Luzac: “I have received your obliging letter, and a dozen copies of ‘the Pensees,’ (i.e. the Abridgment of Pownal’s Memorial.) I am much obliged to you for these copies, and for an excellent preface, which is worth more than the book. I should be glad to pay for a couple of dozen more of these pamphlets. They come out in the critical moment, to do good, if ever. If the impression they make now should not be deep, it will sink deeper e’relong—for I see plainly, by a certain memorial, that the King of England and his ministers, have in their hearts, war against this republic. Join or not join the armed neutrality, it will come, if after a long experience those characters, I have not mistaken them. They do not charge faction, cabal, &c. &c. but in earnest.”

1780, November 20th—wrote to the Baron Van Der Capellen: “I have the honor to enclose a small pamphlet, lately published, which in this critical moment, may do some good. The hour draws nigh when this republic is to determine whether it will acceed to the armed neutrality; but let their determination of that question be as it will, if they do not disavow the conduct of Amsterdam, and punish Mr. Van Berckel and the Burgomasters, the King of Great Britain has threatened, and if I am not deceived by his past conduct, he will attempt to carry his threat into execution. If he declares war, or, which is more probable, commences hostilities, without a declaration, it will be on pretence of an insult and an injury, committed by beginning a correspondence and a treaty with his subjects in rebellion: although they were at that time as completely in possession of an independence and a sovereignty, as England or Holland were. I hope for the honor of your answer to the proposal I made you, by the time limited, and am with the utmost respect, &c.”

1780, November 24—wrote to Dr. Franklin: “The letter which your excellency did me the honor to write me, on the 13th, is received, and I have accordingly accepted the bills, and shall draw upon your excellency about the time they become payable, for money to enable me to discharge them, provided I should not succeed in my endeavors to borrow it here. I have hitherto no prospect at all. When I first arrived here, I had such informations as made me believe that a sum of money might be had upon the credit of the United States. But the news from Carolina and New-York, and the West-Indies, but above all the affair of the Burgomasters and Sir Joseph Yorke’s memorial, have struck a panic, which must have time to wear off. At present, I meet with only one gentleman who thinks that any thing can be done, and I fear that he (Mr. De Neufville) deceives himself.

1780, Nov. 25th—wrote to Congress: “It is now certain, that the States General have, by a plurality of five provinces, determined to accede to the maritime confederation. Zealand and Guilderland have agreed to it too, but upon condition of a warranty of the possessions of the republic. If the intention of Sir Joseph Yorke was to intimidate their High Mightinesses from this measure, he has missed his aim. Nor will the conduct of the Burgomasters of Amsterdam be disavowed, nor Mr. Van Berckel nor his accomplices be punished. We shall see how the British ministry will disentangle themselves from this perplexity. All these things, however, so far from aiding our affairs in this country, seem to have put an entire stop to them for the present. The nation is trembling for their commerce, their money in the British funds, and their East and West India possessions; and no man dares engage in a measure that may in some degree increase the alarm. The bills upon Mr. Laurens, those of them at least that have arrived, I have accepted, upon an assurance of Dr. Franklin, that in case I should not be able to borrow the money by the time they become payable, I may draw upon him for it. I think Congress will perceive the danger of drawing any more, until they shall receive intelligence from me, that the money is ready. The choice of a house is a point of so much importance, that I could not justify making it, without the most mature investigation and reflection. Not only the success of the negociation will depend upon it, but the political consequences of it will be important. I have made every enquiry, and several proposals; but all have been politely declined. There are two houses which I believe would accept it: but these, although respectable, are so far from the first order, that I should be sorry to fix upon either, if I could see a prospect of gaining one of an higher rank. I am told, that opening the loan now would injure us exceedingly. But I know not what to judge. I have found so many opinions mistaken, that in this country I cannot judge which are well founded. Fear is the second passion in minds governed by avarice. As long, therefore, as the English misrepresentations can make people here believe, that there is a possibility of conquering America, or of our returning to the government of England, so long we shall find little credit here.”

1780, November 25th—wrote again to Congress by another opportunity: “The Prince was ill advised when he undertook what he was not obliged to do, in producing Mr. Laurens’s papers; which he did too in a manner justly offensive to the United States. It was the part of sir Joseph Yorke to have produced them, not to the Prince, but to their High Mightinesses. His Serene Highness, therefore, in this work of superrogation, gave himself the air of an instrument of Sir Joseph, which has not at all recommended him to the Dutch nation. But Sir Joseph, or his master, have committed a greater mistake, in presenting that intemperate memorial. It is said, that he pleads positive orders; but many believe, that if he had such positive orders, he procured them from his court, and that the memorial was prepared at the Hague, and adjusted to the state of parties and politics in the republic. Be this as it may, both the Prince and the ambassador have missed their aim; and the publication of Mr. Laurens’s papers has had a contrary effect from what they expected and intended. The republic, however, is in an embarrassed situation. The prince has a decided inclination for England. He has the command of armies and navies, and the gift of so many offices, that his influence is astonishing, even among the nobility and all the higher families. Besides this, the clergy are very generally devoted to him, and their influence among the populace is very great; so that there is great danger, that the republic will not be able to exert its real strength, even in case England should continue their hostilities. I say continue, because it is certain, that by repeated violations of territory, as well as by innumerable captures of innocent vessels, hostilities have been long since began.

It is the opinion of many here, that without the discovery of Mr. Laurens’s papers, the republic would not have acceded to the armed neutrality. As this great confederation is now determined, we shall see what will be its effects. The Empress of Russia is not of a character to be trifled with. Yet I think the English will not respect the new arrangement. They will violate the principles of it, at least towards the Dutch, and risque a war with all the maritime powers of the world at once, rather than relinquish America, and agree to the principle of free ships, free goods.[]

1780, November 27—wrote to London: “I have received yours of the 14th and 23d, with their enclosures, and thank you for both. Things are coming to an extremity that philanthropy would wish to avoid. But thus it ever was in similar cases. A free nation corrupted becomes a society of ——. Angels fallen retain nothing but immortal hate. Come out of her, my people, says a good book.

“This republic has determined to acceed to the armed neutrality; but most of the Provinces, and indeed most of the cities of Holland, will disavow the negociation of Amsterdam; but they cannot punish Van Berckel and his accomplices, because they are a limb of the sovereignty. Singling him out, will make him the most conspicuous and most respected of the citizens. But this is the ministerial method of making great men. In this way, Wilkes, Hancock and Adams were made very famous.—What will government do with the armed neutrality? Will they charge Russia, Sweden and Denmark, with faction, sedition, cabal and rebellion? Why do they not demand, that count Panin and his accomplices should be punished?”

1780, November 30—wrote to Mr. Luzac: “Your kind favor of the 24th, with the two elegant copies of the ‘Penees,’ I have received with gratitude. This republic appears to be at this time in a violent crisis. It is to be hoped, that the effect of the fermentation will be salutary. If it is indeed true, that the republic has acceeded to the armed neutrality, and the nations engaged in that confederation are in earnest to make a common cause, the commercial interest of this country will be protected; because England will not venture to take ships which will be redemanded by such a formidable combination. Reprisals ordered by four nations, or perhaps five or six, in addition to three with whom England is already at war, would be too dangerous for her; or if she should be desperate enough to hazard all, the confederated powers would easily obtain compensation; for it may, I think, be depended on, that she is not, as she seems to think herself, omnipotent nor infallible. She owes the existence of her maritime power at this moment, to the inactivity, whether accidental or political, of her present enemies. Such inactivity may not always continue. Perhaps it has been studied, on purpose to accomplish the armed neutrality. The councils of France and Spain might think it prudent to give time to the neutral nations, to complete their confederation. If delays were necessary to complete the neutral system, I should rejoice in those delays, because I esteem that an excellent effect for the good of mankind, springing out of the American revolution.

“The English, in the conduct of the American war, are degenerating into greater and greater degrees of cruelty and barbarism. But there is a kind of consolation in seeing that they pursue the same maxims towards other nations which they adopted first towards us. When all nations shall see that they have become tyrants to them, they will at length believe they have been such in America.

“The honorable Francis Dana, Esq. formerly a member of Congress, now a secretary to one of their Legations, will do me the favor to deliver this. He has an inclination to see Leyden, and I shall esteem myself under particular obligations to you, if you can give him an opportunity of seeing in your city, whatever is worthy the attention of a traveller.”

1780, Nov. 30—wrote to Dr. Franklin: “I have already accepted bills drawn upon Mr. Laurens, to the mount of thirty four thousand three hundred and fifty eight guilders. How many more will arrive, I know not. I shall inform your excellency, from time to time, as they appear, and I accept them. This republic is in a violent crisis. If a certain party prevails, we shall raise no money here: If they do not, very little. Patience and delay is recommended to me, in hopes of a turn of affairs. I am advised to do nothing; to attempt nothing; not even to choose a house at present. I am vexed and grieved beyond measure, at the fate of poor Trumbull and Tyler. It will, however, have one good effect. It will be a warning. It will break up a weak communication the common discretion ought to have prevented long ago.”

1780, November 30—wrote again to Dr. Franklin: “I was duly honored with your excellency’s letter of the 8th of October, by Mr. Searle. I thank you, sir, for enclosing the resolution of Congress respecting my salary and Mr. Dana’s. I wish I could see a prospect of relieving you from this burthen, as well as that of the bills of exchange drawn upon Mr. Laurens; but at present there is not a prospect of obtaining a shilling. What turn affairs may take, it is impossible to foresee. Some gentlemen tell me, that a few months, or indeed a few weeks, may produce events which will open the purses to me. But I think that our want of credit here is owing to causes that are more permanent. I never had any just idea of this country until I came here; if indeed I have now. I have received money of the house of Horneca Titzeau and Grand, on account of Mr. Ferdinand Grand, of Paris, for my subsistence, and if you have no objection, I will continue in this way.—Mr. Searle’s conversation is a cordial to me. He gives a charming, sanguine representation of our affairs; such as I am very well disposed to believe; and such as I should give myself, if examined upon interrogatories, according to the best of my knowledge. But we have an hard conflict to sustain yet.

The correspondence you mention, between his excellency the Count de Vergennes and me, I transmitted regularly to Congress, in the season of it, from Paris; and other copies, since my arrival in Amsterdam; both, without any comments.

The letter I mentioned, I believe, was from your excellency, (in the name of the commissioners) to Mr. Dumas, who informed me that there has been none to the Grand Pensionary, but the one written when I first arrived at Passy, in April, 1788, which I remember very well.

The republic, it is said, for it is hard to come at the truth, has, on the one hand, acceded to the armed neutrality, and, on the other, disavowed the conduct of Amsterdam. This, it is hoped, will appease all nations for the present; and it may, for what I know. We shall see. I should be less surprised at Great Britain’s treating the United Provinces like an English colony, if I did not every day hear the language and sentiments of English colonists. But if she treats all her colonies with equal tyranny, it may make them all in time equally independent. A gentleman here has received a commission from England to hire as many ships as he possibly can, to carry troops to America. Of this I have certain information. It is also given out, that sir Joseph Yorke has demanded and obtained permission of the States to do it; but this, I believe, is an English report. It is also said, that the Burgomasters have signified abroad, that it would be disagreeable if any body should charter the ships. But this too may be only bruit. The commission, however, shews the English want of shipping; their intention to send troops; and their cunning to get away from this nation, both their ships and seamen.”

The lines in Italics, Messieurs Printers, in the foregoing letter, would require one of your proposed numbers of forty pages to explain them. The late chief justice Dana is the only man living, besides myself, who can explain them; and I hope he will at least give to posterity his explanation of them. The Count de Vergennes, who had courted and forced me into conferences and correspondence with him, on the abolition of paper money, of the 13th of March, 1780, and had insisted that Congress should discriminate Frenchmen from all other nations, and even from their own citizens, by paying them for the bills they possessed, in silver and gold, at their full nominal value. I had demonstrated the injustice and impracticability of this project, though with perfect civility and decency, in so clear a light, that the Count was pleased to take offence, and wrote to me in much such a style of sarcasm as Mr. Canning uses with our ministers. I was offended in my turn, and returned him irony for irony, and sarcasm for sarcasm, determined to put an end to such a style of negociation with me, or put an end to my existence as an ambassador. I transmitted immediately to Congress copies of this correspondence, and they were so well satisfied with my reasoning, that, as I have stated before, they passed an unanimous vote of thanks for my industrious attention to the interest and honor of the United States, especially in that correspondence with the Count de Vergennes.

The count however, finding that I would not, or could not say at his bidding that two and two made five, determined to ruin me at home: and try if he could not get some other person appointed in the commission for peace, who could be more complaisant. To this end he sent copies of the correspondence to the Chevalier de la Luzerne and Mr. Marbois to be by them communicated to members of congress publicly or privately, that they might judge whether Mr. Adams was a person fit to be trusted with so important a commission as that for peace. To the same end he sent copies to Dr. Franklin and desired him to communicate them to congress publicly or privately, with the same view. Franklin wrote me an account of this formidable complaint against me, and although congress had already pledged themselves, by their vote of thanks to me yet I knew that such were the terrible apprehensions in that body of displeasing the court of France, that I expected to be recalled. Vergennes was so miffed, that he gave out he would never write to me again, nor have any thing to do with me. He was obliged however to recant. For instead of my recal, he soon found himself obliged to invite me to Versailles and both confer and correspond with me concerning the mediation of the two imperial courts and the congress at Vienna, as I have before related, while I was yet alone in the commission for peace. And afterwards when I returned to Paris, after my success in Holland, to the final negociation of the peace, he thought it prudent so entirely to change his conduct towards me, that no expression of his complaisance was thought too much. One extraordinary instance of which I recorded in my journal, that journal which Hamilton has made so famous, and which he has so scandalously misrepresented in his pamphlet. Of this journal and that pamphlet, if I live, and can move a pen, you shall hear more hereafter.

John Adams.

Printed Source--Boston Patriot.

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