Adams Papers

From John Adams to Boston Patriot, 16 September 1809

Quincy, September 16, 1809.


Amsterdam, January 14th, 1781—wrote to Congress: “In an excursion which I have lately made through the principal cities of this province, that is, Haerlem, Leyden, the Hague, Delph and Rotterdam, I have had an opportunity of perceiving, that there is a spirit of resentment against the English, very general among the people—Notwithstanding this, every thing is so artfully retarded; The Manifesto, the Letters of Marque, and above all the decision of the Court of Justice of Holland is so studiously delayed, while the English are making such vast depredations upon the defenceless merchant vessels of the Dutch, that I cannot yet be sure that war is decided. The Councils of the Prince, united with those of the proprietors of the British funds, and the distresses of merchants, may yet induce the republic against the general sense of the nation, to sue for a dishonorable peace.

I have, however, since my return, received a letter from the Hague of last Friday, from Mr. Dumas, which informs me, that a letter is received from the Plenipotentiaries at Petersburg, dated the 19th of December, announcing, that the Empress of Russia was well satisfied with all that had passed; that she had seen the two last memorials presented by Sir Joseph Yorke to their High Mightinesses; and that she had more indignation than surprise at the sight of them. It may be doubted, however, whether this is not a mistake, as the memorial was dated the 12th, and the letter of the ministers the 19th; that the signature was to be on the 23d—after which, those ministers were to display the characters of ambassadors extraordinary; that they would forthwith dispatch another express with the convention signed. This express is now expected every moment; and as soon as it arrives their High Mightinesses will publish their manifesto. This little delay is said to be a pure formality. In the mean time they resolved on the 12th of this month to distribute Letters of Marque to privateers, and orders to the ships of state, to seize every thing they can belonging to the English.”

Notwithstanding this, there are no privateers ready; and I fear there are fewer ships of war ready than there ought to be. It will be long before the Dutch can do any great things, and they must suffer very severely. Such are the effects of blind and mistaken policy. (This might have been better expressed, by saying, Such are the effects of depending on the protection of the British navy.)

War, is so new and so terrible a thing to this people; they are so divided in sentiments; their minds are so agitated with uncertainty, irresolution and apprehension, that there is as yet no possibility of borrowing any money. I must, therefore, repeat the request, that congress would not think of drawing for any more, until they receive certain advices from me that there is some in hand.

January 15, 1781—wrote to Congress: “The Prince on the 26th of December, made a proposition to the States General, in substance, That his Most Serene Highness had already communicated the last year to the respective provinces his advice to equip fifty or sixty vessels of war, and to augment the land forces to fifty or sixty thousand men; to put the frontier places in a good state of defence; and to provide necessary magazines of warlike stores, to the end, to be in a condition to defend the lawful rights of the republic—That his Most Serene Highness had seen with satisfaction, that as far as respected the marine it has been made better in some degree; and that he flattered himself that the states of all the provinces would reinforce it for the ensuing year, with redoubled zeal, since they could not be too much upon their guard in the present conjuncture; that it was equally necessary to put the republic in a convenient state of defence on the land side; and that he hoped they would at this day think seriously of it; that they would augment the fortifications, and supply the magazines, since if they failed in this, his Most Serene Highness would not be responsible for the events, &c.

The States General, after having thanked the Stadtholder for his assiduous zeal, and solicitude to maintain the republic in the engagement of its liberty and independence, resolved, ‘That the proposition of his Most Serene Highness should be communicated to the respective provinces; and that it should be represented to them, that his Most Serene Highness, animated with the purest love of his country, insists, with reason, at this day, when the danger is immediate, and war appears inevitable, upon the necessity of making unanimous efforts to the end to resist this danger, and to preserve the republic by joining courage to prudence, that the maritime forces of the republic are not yet sufficient to protect the commerce, the source of the well being of the public, in all its branches; and to ensure from all invasion the possessions of the republic, both in the East and West-Indies; that therefore, their High Mightinesses, think themselves under obligation to pray the members of the union, in a manner the most friendly and the most pressing, to fix their attention as soon as possible upon these objects, and to accomplish them with vigour, since the storm which approaches at sea, may easily, by a sudden revolution, discharge itself upon the continent; so that an augmentation of land forces is as indispensably necessary as the armament by sea—That from these motives, their High Mightinesses assure themselves, that since there no longer remains for the republic a choice between peace and war, the respective members of the union will endeavour, as far as possible to defend their country, and all that is dear to them, by acting with unanimity, courage and candour.[’”]

1781, January 15th—wrote to Congress: “The following is the declaration of the States General of their accession to the armed neutrality.


Their High Mightinesses, the States General of the United Provinces of the low countries, having had nothing more at heart since the commencement of the present war; and having desired nothing more earnestly, than to observe invariably, the most strict, and the most perfect neutrality, between the belligerent powers, and to fulfil at the same time their essential and indispensable obligations, by granting a convenient protection to the commerce and the navigation of their subjects, and by maintaining and defending the rights and liberties of their neutral flag, have learned with the highest satisfaction, that her Majesty, the Empress of all the Russias, constantly animated with noble and generous sentiments, which must transmit to the latest posterity the immortal lustre and renown of her glorious reign, has thought fit to declare to the belligerent powers, “That being in the intention to observe, during the present war, the most exact impartiality, she is determined to maintain, by all the means the most efficacious, the honour of the Russian flag, as well as the safety of the commerce and the navigation of her subjects, and not to suffer any of the belligerent powers to give them any interruption. The sentiments and views of their High Mightinesses answer perfectly, and are entirely conformable to the principles which make the basis of the declaration of her Imperial Majesty; and they consequently do not hesitate to lay open, after her example to the belligerent powers, the same principles which they are determined to follow, and to maintain in concert with her Imperial Majesty—to wit:

1. That neutral vessels may freely navigate from port to port, and upon the coasts of the powers at war.

2. That the effects, belonging to subjects of the powers at war, shall be free upon neutral vessels, excepting only merchandizes of contraband.

3. That, with regard to contraband, their High Mightinesses adhere to what is stipulated by the treaties concluded between them and the belligerent powers; and more expressly by the sixth article of the treaty of Marine, with the Crown of Spain, of the 17th of December, 1650—the third article of the treaty of Marine with the Crown of England of the first of December, 1674—and the 16th article of the treaty of commerce and navigation, and of marine with the Crown of France, of the first of December, 1739, for twenty-five years—The dispositions and determinations, of which treaties in their full extent, relative to merchandizes of contraband, their High Mightinesses consider as entirely founded in natural equity and the law of nations.

4. That no place shall be adjudged blockaded, but when ships of war stationed in the neighbourhood shall hinder, that no vessel can enter without an evident danger.

5. That these principles shall serve as rules to judge of the lawfulness or unlawfulness of prizes.

As these principles form and constitute the universal rights of neutral powers; and as they are moreover confirmed by treaties which can never be lawfully annulled or altered, or suspended by a common act and reciprocal consent of the contracting parties, their High Mightinesses flatter themselves, that the belligerent powers will acknowledge and respect the justice of them, by giving no obstruction to the commerce of the subjects of their High Mightinesses, and by not troubling them, in the free enjoyment of rights, the propriety of which cannot be contested to the flag of neutral and independent power.

1781, January 15th—wrote to Congress: “Zealand is still endeavouring to divert the republic from its interest and its duty; to embarrass its operations, and involve it in disgrace and ruin.

The directors of the company of Commerce, that of Insurance, and a great number of merchants, established at Middleburg in Zealand, have presented a petition to the States General, to supplicate their High Mightinesses, to try again the way of negociation—to endeavor to prevent by this means the damages with which the subjects of the republic are still threatened by a war with England; and to come to a friendly accommodation. This petition has been supported by a resolution of the states of Zealand, transmitted to the assembly of the States General: But it is said, that this petition has been rendered commissorial, and will not be taken into consideration, unless the English should make some propositions of peace.

The state of the marine of this republic, during the year 1781, as it has been proposed by the petition of the council of state, is of two vessels of 70 guns, and 550 men; nine of 60 guns and 450 men; fifteen of 50 guns and 300 men; two of forty guns and 270 men; one of forty guns and 250 men; fourteen of thirty-six guns and 230 men; thirteen of twenty guns and 150 men; five sloops; one hospital ship; four packet boats; twelve large armed vessels; sixteen smaller—making in the whole ninety-four ships and 18490 men.[]

1781, January 15—wrote again to Congress: []Congress will not expect me to write of peace at this time, when the flames of war are spreading far and wide with more rapidity than ever: and I have no comfortable tidings on the subject of money. In the first place I believe there is not so much money here as the world imagines; and in the next place those who have what there is, have now no confidence in any nation or individual. All credit seems at a stand—The republic will want a loan; the northern neutral powers will want loans; and even a loan will be wanted to support the credit of a number of houses in the mercantile way which are affected by the violent and sudden revolution of the times, and by the piratical depredations of the English.—I hope therefore, that Congress will not venture to draw here, until they have certain information that they may draw with safety.[]

Amsterdam, January 16, 1781—wrote to the board of war of the Massachusetts: “There are three persons in the mercantile way, Mr. Sigourney, Mr. Ingraham, and Mr. Bromfield, who are now in this city, and propose to reside and establish a mercantile house here. These gentlemen are very well known in the Massachusetts: and therefore it is unnecessary for me to say any thing concerning their characters. They have travelled a good deal in Europe, and I believe have been constantly in pursuit of business and useful information in the commercial line. Their design of residing here, as it is well approved, may be very useful both to this country and to ours, by facilitating a communication and commerce advantageous to both. Perhaps they may execute any commission from the Honorable Board more to their satisfaction than a stranger. I cannot therefore, especially as these are the first who have conceived such a design here, but recommend them to the favourable attention of the Board.[]

Amsterdam, January 18th, 1781—wrote to Mr. Dana, at Paris: “Yesterday I had the pleasure of your’s of the 7th.—Both the packets came safe, and in good order. As to “a secret address,” you may direct, under cover, A Madame La Veuve du Monsier Henry Schorn, op de Agterburgwall by de Hoogstraat Amsterdam.

It is not possible to suppress all suspicions after the conversation you heard; but your own coolness and judgment will be sufficient without any hint from me, to be cautious of mentioning those suspicions, until evidence shall appear. The newspapers, for a year from the time of subscription, which was in the spring, are all paid for. It is not worth while to subscribe anew for the Gazette de France, nor for more than one foreign Gazette. As I take the English papers here, at a most horrid expense, I wish you would pay Mr. Genet, and let me know the amount. My most cordial respects to that gentleman, for whom I have the highest esteem. I think you may depend on his friendship and sincerity. My respects also to Dr. Folke, and thanks for the newspapers. I have conceived a great esteem for that young gentleman. Mr. Edwards is gone to France. I shall get published the contents of his newspapers.

This nation can hardly yet believe that the English are, or will be, at war with them: instead of depending upon themselves, they now look up to Russia and the northern powers: if these should fail them, which I think, however, they cannot, I know not what would be the consequence. But I shall never get a single ducat, until it is decided whether the neutral union will support the republic. Every party and almost every man is afraid to do the least thing, of which England can complain, or about which she can make a noise, lest the blame of involving the country in war should be thrown upon them. What I shall do, I know not. Congress draws upon me; but I shall have no resource to pay a farthing but from Dr. Franklin. If that fails me, I am undone. I wish our countrymen would assume courage enough to augment the taxes upon themselves, and reduce the needless expenses, so as to do without succors which are unattainable.—At least, I think nothing will ever be done here, until a treaty is concluded between the two republics. There are a million jealousies about the Scheld; about trade with the Emperor’s dominions; about the succession of the empire; or rather about another election in the house of Austria, &c. &c. &c. Individuals dare nothing in this country, nor indeed in any other part of Europe, until the countenance of government is given. A treaty with this country is so great a work, that it would require time, and this is said not to be the proper time to talk about it.”

I have transcribed this letter to Mr. Dana at full length, for several reasons.

1. For the sake of explaining a very frivolous circumstance which has been dignified by an insertion and misrepresentation in history, I mean my first private lodgings after I left the City Hotel, in Amsterdam.

On my journey from Paris to Nantes, in order to embark for America in the frigate Alliance, in the spring of 1779, I met upon the road a gentleman in a post chaise, whose dress, air and countenance indicated an American: He stopped his own postillion and mine, and stepping out of his carriage, asked me, very politely apologizing for his freedom, whether my name was Adams? Upon my answer in the affirmative, he said he was very glad to see me, though he was very sorry I was leaving Paris, for he had letters for me, and had depended very much upon me for assistance in his enterprize. He produced me several letters, particularly one from Mr. Edward Rutledge, and another from Mr. Arthur Middleton, of South-Carolina. I had served in Congress, for years, with both these gentlemen: the former had been with Dr. Franklin and me, to meet lord Howe, in 1776, on Staten Island, and was afterwards Governor of South-Carolina: the latter was the son of Mr. Middleton, whom we chose for President of Congress, in 1774, after President Randolph retired to his chair of Speaker of the House of Burgesses in Virginia. Both these gentlemen were among the most respectable characters in the state of South-Carolina, and both in their letters recommended Commodore Gillon to me, in the warmest terms, as a gentleman of talents and address, in whom they had the most perfect confidence, and requesting me to assist him with my advice and countenance in his business, which they explained to me to be to purchase and equip a fleet of frigates for the state of South Carolina. When I returned to Paris, in 1780, the Commodore came often to visit me, but returned to Holland some months before I made my journey to that country. When I arrived at Amsterdam, I went to the Hotel de Ville, the city tavern, and there resided some time; but finding it the resort of all nations and languages, and among the rest, of many Englishmen, I wrote to Commodore Gillon, who knew the city, to procure me convenient apartments in some respectable private house, where I might be more removed from the observation of spies. Gillon consulted his friends, and particularly Burgomaster Hooft, the most respectable friend of America in the city, who advised him to the house of Madame Schorn, a relation of the Burgomaster, represented as a worthy but unfortunate woman, of sixty or seventy years of age.—Gillon was pleased with this, because the house was next door to his own lodgings, and he wished to have me near him as much as I wished to have him near me, that I might avail myself of his society, which was very agreeable, and especially of his knowledge of the language, the people, the city, and the country. I found my apartments decent and convenient for my little family, which consisted of myself, my two little sons, and a single servant. My accommodations were very good, my table well served, and we were treated by all the family with great respect & attention. I was visited there by Burgomaster Hooft, Mr. Van Berckel, Mr. Visher, another pensionary, the Messieurs Crommelines, the Van Stapherts, Mr. De Neufville, Mr. Bicker, Mr. Hodgshon, and many others of the wealthiest and most respectable people of the place. I understood the lady to be a widow, and it was a long time before I learned that she had a husband, who had been a merchant in good business and credit, but had failed, and became intemperate. He had, however, some employment which kept him from home, except in the night, so that I never saw him. He fell sick, was brought home, and died in a few days, and was buried, without my ever seeing him. It was but a very little time before I left these lodgings that I ever heard a lisp of any objection to them. Then I was told that there were some remarks among the Dutch, and some whisperings among the Americans in town, that Mr. Adams was in too obscure lodgings. As I had reason to believe that this notion had been put in circulation by the English spies, I cared not for their nonsensical tittle tattle, and would not quit my quarters till some time afterwards, I removed to Leyden for the sake of the education of my children.

2. For the sake of explaining the character of Mr. Genet. This gentleman was Premier Commis in the office of Interpreters, under the Count de Vergennes, or in English phrase, an under Secretary of State in the office of foreign affairs. He spoke the English language with great propriety and facility; was a man of letters, and an excellent writer; a zealous advocate for America, and very friendly to all Americans. He conducted the Mercure de France, in which he published many little speculations for me; and indeed himself and his whole family were always very civil and friendly to me. He was the father to Mr. Genet, the minister plenipotentiary from the French republic to the United States, who has been so much celebrated in this country, has married into one of our most illustrious families, and still resides here.

1781, January 18—wrote to Dr. Franklin: “I am much obliged to you for the news; but as I think with you, there are circumstances in it which are very suspicious, I shall not dare to make use of it.—There is, however, authentic intelligence which is very comfortable. I take the handbill, &c. to be sheer fabrication, for the purpose of frightening Clinton, Cornwallis and Leslie. I am sorry that our countrymen imitate their enemies in this dirty trick of lying. It is ever considered as a proof of weakness, and never answers a good end. In this instance indeed it might do good, if it should give a hint to our allies to adopt such a measure.

The States General resolved, last Friday, to grant letters of marque, and yesterday they were given out. The manifesto waits for the courier from Petersburg. The Dutch look up to Russia, or rather to the neutral union, more than they ought; for though I hope they will be supported by the maritime powers, yet they are able, and I wish they were willing to depend more upon themselves.

When shall we see the unravelling of this great plot? It will be a spectacle indeed, if nine or ten nations should be at war at once, with one. At present I do not see how it can be avoided. The English have been so decided, as usual, and have committed the dignity of the crown, and the pride of the nation, so far, that I do not see how they can rescind, and the neutral confederacy are on the other hand so far pledged, that there is no retreat. If the power of Great Britain can rise superior to all this, her pretended omnipotence will no longer be thought an hyperbole.”

1781, January 18—wrote to Mr. Arnold Henry Dohrman, at Lisbon: “I have the honor to transmit you a letter from the honorable the committee of Congress for foreign affairs, with a resolution of Congress of the 21st of June last, appointing you Agent for the United States of America, in the kingdom of Portugal, for the transaction of such affairs of the United States as may be committed to your direction. As, by the misfortunes of Mr. Laurens, I am at present fixed in this place, I shall be particularly happy in your correspondence.”

John Adams.

Printed Source--Boston Patriot.

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