Benjamin Franklin Papers

To Benjamin Franklin from John Adams, 16 December 1781

From John Adams

LS:4 American Philosophical Society; AL (draft): Massachusetts Historical Society

Amsterdam Decr. 16th. 1781.


I have at last recieved Letters from Mr. Dana. Mr. Sayer arrived in town yesterday with Letters to me, and dispatches for Congress, which I shall transmit by the best opportunity.5 Three days before I had recieved a Letter which came by Sea, but had been almost four Months upon the passage.6

Mr. Dana appears to be in good Spirits. He has communicated himself to the Marquis de Verac, and has been very candidly as well as politely treated by that Minister. He had not communicated to the Russian Ministry his Mission, on the 4th of October the date of his Letter.7 But he finds friends there, and is in a Way to procure very important Information concerning the Politicks of all the Northern Courts. His opinion of Dutch Policy is not raised by his Journey to the North. But he speaks with great Respect of the Dutch Minister at Petersbourg,8 as a Patriot in the only good and true system in these times. He speaks prudently of the Prince de Potemkin, the Comte de Panin and the Comte D’Osterman.9 The Comte de Panin is in the Privy Council, but has not yet reassumed his Office, as Chief Minister of foreign Affairs, altho’ he has returned to Court. The Court has recieved the Answers of Versailles and Madrid to the Articles,1 and he hopes soon to know the Reply of that Court. Can’t We obtain a Copy of the Answer of Versailles?

Is not the last Speech of the King of England and his Answers to the Addresses especially that of the Commons, rather inflammatory?2 This King’s Ministers and Governors, some ten or fifteen Years ago, used to charge me with making “inflammatory Harrangues.” I think I have now a good Right to recriminate upon their Master. He seems to be a very Boutefeu.3 But it must be confessed that his Ministers manage Holland and some of the Northern Powers with a great deal of Art and Address. The Answer of Lord Stormont to Mr. Simolin accepting the Mediation of Russia, between England and Holland is a Master piece.4 Its supream Excellence consists in its matchless Effrontery, which is certainly not to be imitated by any other Court or People under Heaven. Such extraordinary things sometimes have an effect directly contrary to what one would naturally expect, and therefore it is possible this may succeed. It will not however most certainly, if a certain Proposition, which I am instructed to make, should be made in time, as I hope it will.

I have the honor to be most respectfully, Sir your most obedient and most humble Servant

J. Adams.

His Excellency Benjamin Franklin Esqr

Notation: J. Adams Dec 16. 1781.

[Note numbering follows the Franklin Papers source.]

4In Thaxter’s hand, except for the last ten words of the complimentary close, which are in JA’s hand.

5Dana wrote JA on Oct. 11/22 (the former date being that of the Old Style Russian calendar) that Sayre was leaving the following day: John R. Alden, Stephen Sayre: American Revolutionary Adventurer (Baton Rouge and London, 1983), pp. 129–30; W. P. Cresson, Francis Dana: a Puritan Diplomat at the Court of Catherine the Great (New York and Toronto, 1930), pp. 180–2. Sayre also brought JA an Oct. 12/23 letter from his son John Quincy: Adams Correspondence, IV, 234–5, 264. The dispatches for Congress undoubtedly included Dana’s letter of Sept. 15: Wharton, Diplomatic Correspondence, IV, 710–14.

6Probably his Aug. 28 / Sept. 8 letter reporting his arrival in St. Petersburg on Aug. 16/27: Wharton, Diplomatic Correspondence, IV, 679–81; Giunta, Emerging Nation, I, 232–4.

7For the exchange of letters between Dana and Charles Olivier de Saint-Georges, marquis de Vérac, the French minister plenipotentiary to the Russian court, see Wharton, Diplomatic Correspondence, IV, 681, 683–5, 695–9, 705–7. We have no record of Dana’s Oct. 4 letter to JA.

8Johan Isaac de Swart.

9Prince Grigorii Aleksandrovich Potemkin (1739–1791), close adviser to the Empress and member of the State Council, Count Nikita Ivanovich Panin (1718–1783), first minister of the College of Foreign Affairs, and Count Ivan Andreevich Osterman (1715–1811), vice chancellor of Russia: Nina N. Bashkina et al., eds., The United States and Russia: the Beginning of Relations, 1765–1815 (Washington, D.C., [1980]), pp. 1136–7. Panin’s powers recently had been circumscribed, partly due to the intrigues of his rival Potemkin: Madariaga, Harris’s Mission, pp. 343–4.

1The articles in the peace terms proposed to France and Spain by Austria and Russia as mediators. They were rejected on Aug. 16: Madariaga, Harris’s Mission, p. 328.

2The King’s Nov. 27 speech upon opening the second session of the Fifteenth Parliament claimed that the American “spirit of rebellion” was fomented and maintained by Britain’s enemies on the European continent: Cobbett, Parliamentary History, XXII, 634–7. His answer to the House of Commons’ address of thanks praised their spirit and firmness: ibid., 751.


4BF’s old antagonist David Murray, Viscount Stormont, now was British Secretary of State for the Northern Department: H. M. Scott, British Foreign Policy in the Age of the American Revolution (Oxford, 1990), p. 293. Ivan Matveevich Simolin (1726–1799) was the Russian minister at the British court: Bashkina, The United States and Russia, p. 1138. Stormont’s letter to Simolin accepting Empress Catherine II’s offer to mediate the war between Britain and the Netherlands is printed in The Annual Register … for the Year 1781 (London, 1782), pp. 315–17.

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