Adams Papers

From John Adams to Boston Patriot, 29 September 1809

Quincy, September 29, 1809.


1781, February 1st—wrote to Congress: “One of the most brilliant events which has yet been produced by the American revolution, is the following


Concluded at Copenhagen, the 28th of June, 1780, Old Style, between her Majesty the Empress of Russia, and his Majesty the King of Denmark and of Norway, for the maintenance of the liberty of neutral mercantile navigation, and in which his Majesty the King of Sweden, as well as their High Mightinesses the States General of the United Provinces have taken part and acceded, and which has been signed respectively at St. Petersburg, the 21st of July, 1780, and the 5th of January, 1781.

As by the war by sea, which has actually broken out, between Great Britain on one side, and France and Spain on the other, the commerce and the navigation of neutral powers suffer considerable damages, her Majesty the Empress of Russia and his Majesty the King of Denmark and of Norway, in consequence of their assiduous attention, to unite their proper dignities and their cares for the safety and well being of their subjects; and from the regard that they have so often testified for the rights of nations in general; have found it necessary, in the present circumstances, to determine their conduct according to these sentiments.

Her Majesty the Empress of Russia has, by her declaration dated the 28th of February, 1780, to the belligerent powers, exposed to light, in the face of all Europe, the fundamental principles which spring from the original law of nations, which she claims and which she adopts, as a rule of her conduct in the present war. As this attention of the Empress to watch over the reciprocal rights of nations, has united the suffrages of all the neutral powers, so she has engaged herself in it, as an affair which concerns the most essential of her interests, and she has carried it to that length, that we may seriously consider it as a subject worthy of the times present and to come; considering that it is to bring into one system and establish permanently the rights, prerogatives and engagements of neutrality. His Majesty the King of Denmark and Norway, convinced of these principles, has likewise established and demanded them, in the declaration of the 8th of July, 1780, which he has caused to be presented, as well as that of Russia, to the belligerent powers; and to give them support, he has caused to be equipped a part of his fleet.—From hence has arisen the harmony and unanimity with which her Majesty the Empress of Russia, and his Majesty the King of Denmark and Norway, have judged it necessary, by a reciprocal friendship and confidence, and conformably to the interests of their subjects, to confirm these common engagements, to be concluded by a formal convention. In this view, their said Imperial and Royal Majesties have chosen and named for their plenipotentiaries, viz. her Majesty the Empress of Russia, Mr. Charles Van Osten, named Saken, present counsellor of state, knight of the order of St. Anne, minister plenipotentiary of her said Majesty at the court of Denmark, &c. &c. and his Majesty the King of Denmark and Norway, Mr. Otton Comte De Thott, privy counsellor, knight of the order of the Elephant, &c. Mr. Joachim Otton de Schack Revent Law, privy counsellor, knight of the order of the Elephant, &c. Mr. Jean Henry d’Eichstedt, privy counsellor, governor of his Royal Highness the Hereditary Prince, knight of the order of the Elephant, &c. and Mr. Andre Pierre, Comte de Bernsdorff, privy counsellor, secretary of state in the department of foreign affairs, director of the Royal German Chancery, and knight of the order of the Elephant, &c. who, after having exchanged their full powers, which are found in good and due form, have agreed and resolved on the articles following.

Article 1. That their said Majesties have sincerely resolved to maintain constantly the most perfect friendship and concord with the powers actually engaged in the war, and to observe the most scrupulous neutrality; that they declare, in consequence, to hold themselves exactly to this, that the prohibition to carry on any commerce of contrabande, with the powers actually at war, or with those who may in the sequel be engaged in it, shall be strictly observed by their subjects.

2. To avoid all error and misunderstanding, concerning the subject of the name of contrabande, her Majesty the Empress of Russia, and his Majesty the King of Denmark and Norway, declare, that they acknowledge only, as effects of contrabande, those which are comprehended in the treaties subsisting between the said courts and one or other of the belligerent powers.—Her majesty the Empress of Russia conforms herself entirely to the tenth and eleventh articles of her treaty of commerce with Great Britain; and extends also the engagements of this treaty, which are entirely founded upon natural law, to the crowns of France and Spain, which at the date of the present convention, have no treaty of commerce with her empire. His majesty the King of Denmark and Norway conforms himself, on his part, principally to the second article of his treaty of commerce with Great Britain; and to the 26th and 27th articles of his treaty of commerce with France; and extends also the engagements of this latter to Spain, considering that he has not with his last crown any treaty which determines any conditions on this subject.

3. As by this means the contrabande is determined and fixed, conformably to special treaties and conventions subsiding between the high contracting parties, and the belligerent powers; and principally in the treaty between Russia and Great Britain, of the 20th of June, 1766; as well as by that between Denmark and Great Britain, dated the 11th of July, 1670; and by that concluded between Denmark, and France, the 23d of August, 1742; the will and intention of her Russian Imperial Majesty and his Majesty the King of Denmark and Norway, are, that all other commerce shall be and remain free. Already their Majesties, in their declarations presented to the belligerent powers, have grounded themselves upon the general principles of the law of nature, from whence are derived the liberty of commerce and of navigation, the rights of neutral nations; and have resolved to depend no longer upon the arbitrary interpretations that partial advantages and momentary interests may dictate; in this view they have agreed upon the following articles.

Article 1. That it shall be lawful for every vessel to navigate from one port to another, and upon the coasts of the belligerent powers.

Article 2. That the effects belonging to the subjects of the belligerent powers, shall be free, upon neutral vessels, except merchandizes of contrabande.

Article 3. That to determine what ought to be held a port blockaded: That alone can be considered as such, in which the vessels which would enter shall be exposed to an evident danger, by the force which with this view attacks it, and by its vessels, which shall have taken a station sufficiently near.

Article 4. That neutral vessels may only be stopped for just causes, and upon evident proofs; that, without loss of time, right shall be done them, and the proceedures shall be always uniform, prompt and according to the laws; and that, every time, besides reparation to those who shall have suffered without cause, there shall also be given a complete satisfaction for the insult committed against the flag of their majesties.

To the end to protect the general commerce of their subjects, supported by the fundamental rules above laid down, her majesty the Empress of all the Russias, and his majesty the King of Denmark and Norway, have thought fit, each one in particular, in order to obtain these ends, to equip a proportional number of vessels of war and frigates. The squadron of each one of these respective powers shall be stationed in a certain latitude, and shall be employed in convoys, according to the exigency of the case, in which the commerce and the navigation of each nation may be.

Article 5. If the merchant ships of one of the contracting powers, shall be in a part of the sea where the ships of war of their own nation are not stationed, aud for this reason cannot enjoy their protection; in that case, the commander of the vessels of war of the other power, being thereto required, shall grant them with good faith and sincerity, the necessary assistance. And in this case, the vessels of war and frigates of one of the two powers, shall protect and support the merchant vessels of the other; provided nevertheless, that under the shelter of the protection demanded, there be not exercised any prohibited commerce, contrary to the laws adopted by the neutrality.

Article 6. The present convention cannot be retroactive, and by consequence we cannot take part in differences which have arisen before its conclusion; at least if these affairs do not concern violences which continue still, and which tend to oppress all the neutral nations of Europe.

Article 7. If, in spite of the vigilant and friendly care of the two powers, and the exact observation of the neutrality on their part, the Russian or Danish merchant vessels are insulted or taken by the vessels of war or privateers of one or the other of the belligerent powers; in that case, the minister of the party offended shall make representations to the court whose vessels of war or privateers shall have been guilty of this act; shall demand restitution of the vessel taken, and shall insist upon a suitable reparation, without ever losing sight of the satisfaction for the insult done to the flag. The minister of the other contracting party shall second efficaciously and seriously these representations, and shall thus continue them conjointly and unanimously: But if they refuse or put off from time to time, to do right touching such grievances; in this case, their majesties shall make reprisals against the power which refuses to do them right, and shall unite themselves forthwith, in the most efficacious measures for this just reprisal.

Article 8. If one or the other of the contracting powers, or both together, in virtue of this convention, or any other which may be made, which may have relation to it, are disturbed, molested, or attacked, it is agreed that the two powers shall act in concert to defend themselves reciprocally, and to procure themselves, by united efforts, an entire and satisfactory reparation, both for the insult done to the flag, and for the loss caused to their subjects.

Article 9. This convention is resolved and fixed for all the time that the present war shall continue, and shall serve as the basis of all the engagements which may be contracted in the sequel, according to the circumstances of the times, and upon occasion of new wars at sea, which may unfortunately trouble the repose of Europe; besides which, these conditions shall be regarded as subsisting, and shall have a legal validity in the affairs both of commerce and of navigation, and in the determination of the rights of neutral nations.

Article 10. As the end and the principal motive of this convention is to assure the general liberty of commerce and of navigation, her majesty the Empress of Russia, and his majesty the King of Denmark and of Norway agree and engage before hand to permit, that other neutral powers accede to this convention, and by taking cognizance of these principles, to partake also of the obligations and advantages of the said convention.

Article 11. To the end that the belligerent powers may not pretend a cause of ignorance of these said engagements, between the said courts, the high contracting parties will communicate in a manner the most friendly, to all the belligerent powers, these measures in which they have united; which measures are so much the less hostile, as they are not hurtful to any other power, but have solely for their object, the safety of the commerce and of the navigation of their respective subjects.

Article 12. The present convention shall be ratified by the two contracting parties, and the ratifications shall be exchanged in good form, in the term of six weeks, to be computed from the signatures, or even sooner, if it may be. In faith of which, we have, in virtue of our full powers, signed the present, and sealed it with our seals.Done at Copenhagen, the 19th of July, 1780.

(L.S.) Charles Van Osten, named Saken.

(L.S.) I. Schack Rathlaw.

(L.S.) A. P. Comte De bernsdorf.

(L.S.) O. Thott.

(L.S.) H. Eickstedt.

The ratifications of this convention were exchanged at Copenhagen, the 5-16 of September, [1780], by the same ministers plenipotentiary who signed it; and as to this end, the ministers plenipotentiary named to this purpose, viz. on the part of her Imperial Majesty, Mr. Le Comte Nikia Panin, actually privy counsellor, senator, chamberlain in exercise, and knight of the orders of St. Andrew, St. Alexander Newsky and St. Ann, and Mr. Le Comte John Osterman, vice chancellor, privy counsellor, and knight of the orders of St. Alexander Newsky and St. Ann; and on the part of his majesty the King of Sweden, Mr. Le Baron Frederick Van Nolken, envoy extraordinary of his Swedish Majesty at the court of her Imperial Majesty, chamberlain, commandant of the order of the Polar Star, knight of the orders of the Sword and of St. John, have signed, the 21st of July, 1780, at St. Petersburg, a similar convention, conceived in the same form, and word for word of the same tenor with that signed at Copenhagen, except the second article, in which the stipulations of contrabande being resolved and ratified, to which they are to adhere, in consequence of treaties subsisting between the crown of Sweden and the other powers, we have to this purpose, to avoid the repetition of what has been already said, added here literally the second article.

We ought further to recollect that the two Kings, who have joined in this affair to her Imperial Majesty, have acceded as principal contracting parties to the treaties concluded between her Imperial Majesty and the said courts, and have signed with their own hands upon this subject, on one part and on the other, an act which has been exchanged at St. Petersburg, by the ministry of her Imperial Russian Majesty.

Here follows the second article of the treaty concluded and signed at St. Petersburg, the 21st of July, 1780, between her Imperial Majesty, and his Majesty the King of Sweden.

Article 2. To avoid all error and misunderstanding, on the subject of the name of contrabande, her Imperial Majesty of Russia and his Majesty the King-of Sweden, declare, that they acknowledge only, as effects of contrabande, those which are contained in the treaties subsisting between the said courts and one or other of the belligerent powers. Her Majesty the Empress of Russia conforms herself in this entirely to the 10th and 11th articles of her treaty of commerce with Great Britain, and extends also the engagements of this treaty, which are founded entirely on the law of nature, to the crowns of France and Spain, which at the date of this convention have no treaty of commerce with her empire. His Majesty the King of Sweden refers himself principally on his part to the 11th article of his treaty of commerce with Great Britain, and to the tenor of the preliminary treaty of commerce, concluded in the year 1747, between the crown of Sweden and France; although in this last the contents of contrabande are not expressly determined, but that as the two powers have therein understood to consider one another as Gentes Amicissimæ, and that as Sweden has therein reserved the same advantages which the Hanseatic cities enjoy in France, from the most remote times to the present; the advantages which are comprehended in the treaty of Utrecht being confirmed, the King has not found any thing necessary to be added. With regard to Spain, the King finds himself in the same case as the Empress, and after her example, he extends to this crown the engagements of the said treaties, wholly founded on natural law. Their High Mightinesses the States General of the United Provinces of the Low Countries, have acceded, the 20th of November, 1780, upon the same footing, to the said convention; and it has been signed, the 5th of January, 1781, at St. Petersburg, only with the addition of a

13th Article, which, with relation to command, in case of rencounter or combination of the squadrons and the vessels of war of the two parties, there shall be observed, what has been the usage, between crowned heads and the republic.

Amsterdam, February 2d, 1781—wrote to Mr. Dumas, at the Hague: “Nalla dies, sine Limeâ,[] said a great geometrician; and you are so good an American, that you will agree with me, that we ought to let no day or hour pass, in which we can do any service to our country, without embracing the opportunity. Such an occasion is the present, when the popular affections, and even the sentiments of men in power seem to be turning towards America. When I landed in Spain, I was told by the Vice Roy of Gallicia, that he had received orders from the court of Madrid, to treat all Americans who should arrive within his government, as the best friends of Spain. Would it not be wisdom and policy, as well as humanity, for their High Mightinesses to imitate this example; and to publish some permission to Dutch men of war, privateers, letters of marque, and even merchantmen, to carry their prizes and cargoes into American ports, and to trade with that country? And also some permission to American privateers and other vessels, to come freely into the ports of this republic; bring in their prizes, sell them, and even have them condemned in the courts of Admiralty? What reasonable objection or argument can there be against this?—What damage can it do the republic? Cannot we contrive to have this suggested to all the northern courts?

By the 10th article of the treaty of alliance with France, the Most Christian King and the United States agree to invite or admit other powers, who may have received injuries from England, to make common cause with them, and to accede to that alliance, under such conditions as shall be freely agreed to and settled between all the parties. Is not this a proper opportunity for Congress to propose to the King of France to join in such an invitation to all the neutral powers, as we yet call them, though it seems they are all within a hair’s breadth of being belligerent powers?

1781, February 2d—wrote to Messieurs John De Neufville and Son: “Having adjusted the form of the obligations to be given in the proposed loan, nothing remains but to agree upon the other terms, respecting the commission to be allowed to your house, for receiving the money from the lenders, and finally paying off and discharging the obligations. I have had much conversation upon this subject with several gentlemen of character and experience; and am advised that one per cent for paying of the interest, and one per cent for paying off the principal finally to the lenders, is a just and reasonable allowance. This I am willing to allow. There is the affair of brokerage, also, which will require some explanation between us. I should be glad if you would inform me how much you expect to be allowed for brokerage, when you engage and employ the broker? But there is one point that I beg leave to reserve to myself and to any other minister or agent, who may be sent here in my stead: it is this, that I, while I stay, and my successor after me, shall have a right to employ any broker that I or he may choose, and whenever one or the other may think proper to dispose of the obligations, or as many of them as one or the other may see fit, and allow what brokerage we shall find necessary: the money, however, received upon them, to be paid into the hands of your house. I should be glad of your answer as soon as may be; and in the mean time, I have no further objection to your getting the form of the obligations and coupons translated into Dutch, and printed with all expedition.”

In this place, a few words in explanation are necessary. Such was the dejection and despondency of the whole nation, that I was candidly told by all the gentlemen in whom I had any confidence, that a loan was desperate, except Mr. De Neufville, who was very confident that he could obtain a considerable sum, and was extremely importunate with me to open a loan in his house. That gentleman’s politeness and hospitality drew all Americans to his house, & he had made them believe that he could do much, if I would authorise him. I had spies enough upon me, from England, France, and America too, very ready to impute blame to me. Congress were constantly drawing upon me, and there was the utmost danger that their bills would be protested. If this event should happen, I knew that representations in private letters would go to America and to France, that this fatal calamity was wholly owing to my negligence and obstinacy in refusing to open a loan in Mr. De Neufville’s house. I thought it my duty, therefore, to try the experiment. It could do no harm, for we had certainly at that moment no credit to lose. The loan was opened, and all the industry, enterprise and credit of Mr. De Neufville, never disposed of more than five obligations, amounting to five thousand guilders, three thousand of which were lent by Mr. John Luzac, who had previously promised me to advance that sum whenever my loan should be opened, though it should be in the house of Mr. De Neufville. I was not disappointed, however, in the result, because I had absolutely no expectations.

Amsterdam, February 4, 1781—wrote to Mr. Searle, at Paris: “I had the honor of your favor of the 24th of Jan. only yesterday. F. is indeed arrived here; but I cannot learn that R. R. is. I have not been honored with a visit, as yet, nor have I seen him.

There is a courier arrived from Petersburg, who carried the news of Sir Joseph Yorke’s leaving the Hague. All’s well in the north.

The spirit here waxes warmer. A new play is brought upon the stage, called De Ruiter, in which the English are treated as you would wish them, and every line in which they are so, is applauded a tout rompre, that is, in plain English, to make all split. I will observe your recommendation concerning Mr. Bromfield, who is still here. I wish I were at Paris with you. It is more agreeable there than here, at present, as well as more healthy.

If the Neutral Confederation should become belligerent, would it not be a proper time for France and America to join in proposing to the nations that compose it, to acknowledge American independence?—There is an article in our treaty to this purpose. Dr. Franklin has authority to treat with any power in Europe, at least the commissioners had, and I suppose the dissolution of that commission has not anulled the authority. I wish you would converse with the Doctor upon the subject. If he thinks he has not power, would it not be proper to write to congress upon the subject if something of this kind is not done, the northern powers may settle their war and leave us still to fight it out. The article I refer to is the tenth of the Treaty of Alliance.—“The Most Christian King and the United States agree to invite or admit other powers, who may have received injuries from England to make common cause with them, and to accede to that alliance under such conditions as shall be freely agreed to and settled between all the parties.” Pray talk about this with Mr. Dana. There never can be a more inviting opportunity than the present, to execute this article of the treaty.

Amsterdam, Feb. 6, 1781—wrote to Mr. Dumas at the Hague: “I have received your favours of the 3dd and 5th, with their inclosures, all in good order. I have but one copy of the treaty of alliance, otherwise I would send you one with pleasure. I am of your opinion, that no propositions should be yet made to the States General as a body: but hints and ideas may be suggested to individuals, in order to prepare men’s minds, by familiarizing them with such speculations. There are critical moments, after which things go of themselves; but it is necessary to prepare things for a crisis, that every thing may be ready when it arrives. The art of the midwife often assists the birth and avoids fatal dangers in constitutions by nature the most vigorous; and the whole corps diplomatic, with all their superb pomp, are but a company of Grannies.

Mr. Searle declares that congress gave me a commission of Minister Plenipotentiary at the same time that they gave Mr. Laurens his. But if Mr. Searle is not mistaken, which I rather believe, the full powers to me, were omitted to be sent me, by some neglect. For I tell you candidly I have no other powers but a commission to borrow money. As to Mr. Franklin’s power, the matter stands thus. The three commissioners, at the court of Versailles, Dr. Franklin, Mr. Arthur Lee and myself, had full power by a resolution of congress, to treat and make a treaty of commerce with any power in Europe. Whether the dissolution of that commission, anulls that full power, may be a question. But the subsequent appointment of Mr. Laurens, with full power to treat with the republic (if Mr. Searle is right, and congress ever did give Mr. Laurens such a power) would, I suspect, be legally or diplomatically considered as a supersedeas of that authority here. So that considering things candidly, I am afraid there is nobody now in Europe, fully authorized to treat with this republic, unless it be Mr. Laurens. The accessions of the nations which compose the neutral confederacy, to the treaty of alliance, would, however, be an event so splendid and decisive for America that there is not a doubt to be made, that congress would joyfully ratify it, in the first moment, whether it was made by Dr. Franklin or me, or even if it were made by the King of France, without consulting either of us, provided it were made upon equitable conditions.

I find the people are alike in some particulars, in every part of the world. This nation now flatters itself with hopes of peace. They think that when England sees the neutral confederation ready to go to war with her, she will retract, beg pardon, change the ministry, make peace, rise in arms against the ministry, &c. &c. &c.—Alas! there will be no such thing. Great numbers of cannon balls must fly before any thing of this kind happens. I should have thought this cool, penetrating nation more intimately acquainted with the English heart. The pride of that people is infinite. Nine in ten of them fully and firmly believe themselves able to fight and beat all the maritime powers of the world. Their imaginations are all on fire. They think of nothing but drowning Holland, sinking the whole Russian, Danish and Swedish fleets, exhausting the finances of France and Spain; and above all, they flatter themselves that the Americans love, admire and adore them so much, that they will very soon very humbly implore their King to take them under his Majesty’s most gracious protection without even making a condition.—No, Sir! National combinations, political arrangements, and magnificent parade will not overawe the English in their present state of intoxication. Nothing but hard blows, taking their fleets of merchant ships, and taking, sinking and burning their men of war will bring them to reason. Nor this neither, until it is carried to such a length, as to deprive such numbers of people of their subsistence as to make them rise in outrages against the government. I am sorry that things must go to such an extremity, but I have not the least doubt that they will.

John Adams.

Printed Source--Boston Patriot.

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