James Smith to the American Commissioners4
ALS: American Philosophical Society; copy: National Archives
<[after November 17, 1778]:5 I have received your very extraordinary letter of Nov. 17 and thank you for presenting my case to the count de Vergennes.
You say that if I subscribe to the declaration and take the oath of allegiance to the United States you will give me the customary passport to Calais. Unless this passport will remove all impediments to my going to Dover I cannot guess your meaning. Taking the oath before going to England could be fatal to my liberty and even my life. Nowhere do I find that the acts of Congress require imposing the oath upon any person going to England. Did vou tender it to Dr. Bancroft, Mr. Austin, and Mr. Williams, with whose connections to the British ministry you were acquainted?6 Without disparaging their characters, why am I to be more suspect than the others? When I expressed willingness to give the most solemn assurances of my affection and duty I meant such assurances as would be binding on a man of honor, not those that would subject me to arrest. The powers you hold were not given to endanger the lives and liberties of your countrymen. Please explain yourselves. I beg you to reach a decision quickly, as my affairs are suffering by my absence.>
4. Published in Taylor, Adams Papers, VII, 240–2.
5. Dated from the letter it answers.
6. The final phrase is puzzling. It could be interpreted as referring to Williams alone, or to all three men. This Mr. Williams is JW’s uncle, who seems to have become involved with the British ministry after returning to England: XXIV, 476–7; XXVI, 387–8n, 574–5. Jonathan Loring Austin and Edward Bancroft had been in England within the last year (XXV, 235n; Stevens, Facsimiles, II, nos. 226, 228, 234), but, as far as we know, the former was not suspected of anything, and the latter, who actually was a British agent, was suspected only of stockjobbing: XXVII, 229–33; Wharton, Diplomatic Correspondence, II, 679–80.