John Adams to James McHenry, Timothy Pickering,
Oliver Wolcott, Junior, and Charles Lee1
Philad. Jany 24 1798
The President of the U S. requests the Secy of State, the Secy of the treasury, the Secy of War and the Atty. general to take into consideration the state of the nation and its foreign relations especially with France. These indeed may be so connected with these, with England Spain Holland and others that perhaps the former cannot be well weighed without the other.
1. They may all repair to Holland, or 2d. two of them may return home, leaving one abroad 3. all of them may return to America.
In the first case will it be prudent to call them all home and in the second to recall the one?
In any of the three cases what will be necessary or expedient for the Executive authority of the government to do here?
In what manner should the first intelligence be announced to Congress by message or speech?
What measures should be recommended to Congress?
Shall an immediate declaration of war be recommended or suggested? If not what other system shall be recommended more than a repetition of the recommendations heretofore repeatedly made to both houses?
Will it in any case and in what cases be adviseable to recommend an embargo?
What measures will be proper to take with Spain? What with Holland? What with Portugal? but above all what will policy dictate to be said to England? And how shall it be said? By Mr King?4 or to Mr Liston?5 And how shall it be conveyed to Mr. King? By packet? By an ordinary conveyance? or by some special trusty and confidential messenger?
Will it not be the soundest policy even in case of a declaration of war on both sides between France and the U. S. for us to be totally silent to England and wait for her overtures? Will it not be imprudent in us to connect ourselves with Britain in any manner, that may impede us in embracing the first favourable moment or opportunity to make a seperate peace? What aids or benefits can we expect from England, by any stipulations with her, which her interest will not impel her to extend to us without any? On the brink of the dangerous precipice on which she stands will not shaking hands with her, necessitate us, to fall with her, if she falls? On the other hand, what aid could we stipulate to afford her, which our own interest would not oblige us to give without any other obligation? In case of a revolution in England, a wild democracy, will probably prevail, for as long a time as it did in France; in such case will not the danger of reviving and extending that delerium in America, be increased in proportion to the intimacy of our connection with that nation?
ALS, Hamilton Papers, Library of Congress; ADf, James McHenry Papers, Library of Congress.
1. Copy, in the handwriting of McHenry, Hamilton Papers, Library of Congress.
2. On May 31, 1797, Adams had sent the following message to the Senate: “I nominate General Charles Cotesworth Pinckney, of South Carolina, Francis Dana, Chief Justice of the State of Massachusetts, and General John Marshall, of Virginia, to be jointly and severally Envoys Extraordinary and Ministers Plenipotentiary to the French Republic.
“After mature deliberation on the critical situation of our relations with France, which have long engaged my most serious attention, I have determined on these nominations of persons to negotiate with the French Republic, to dissipate umbrages, to remove prejudices, to rectify errors, and adjust all differences, by a treaty between the two powers.
“It is, in the present critical and singular circumstances, of great importance to engage the confidence of the great portions of the Union, in the characters employed, and the measures which may be adopted: I have therefore thought it expedient to nominate persons of talents and integrity, long known and intrusted in the three great divisions of the Union; and, at the same time, to provide against the cases of death, absence, indisposition, or other impediment, to invest any one or more of them with full powers.” (Executive Journal, I description begins Journal of the Executive Proceedings of the Senate (Washington, 1828), I. description ends , 241–42.) On June 5, 1797, the Senate consented to the President’s nominations (Executive Journal, I description begins Journal of the Executive Proceedings of the Senate (Washington, 1828), I. description ends , 243–44).
On June 20, 1797, Adams sent the following message to the Senate: “I nominate the honorable Elbridge Gerry, Esq., of Massachusetts, to be Envoy Extraordinary and Minister Plenipotentiary to the French Republic, jointly and severally with Charles Cotesworth Pinckney and John Marshall, in the place of Francis Dana, who has declined his appointment on account of the precarious state of his health” (Executive Journal, I description begins Journal of the Executive Proceedings of the Senate (Washington, 1828), I. description ends , 244). The Senate confirmed Gerry’s nomination on June 22, 1797 (Executive Journal, I description begins Journal of the Executive Proceedings of the Senate (Washington, 1828), I. description ends , 245).
For the instructions to Pinckney, Marshall, and Gerry, see ASP description begins American State Papers, Documents, Legislative and Executive, of the Congress of the United States (Washington, 1832–1861). description ends , Foreign Relations, II, 153–57.
3. Although in this and the following sentences Adams appears to know what had actually happened in the so-called XYZ affair, this was not the case. The first dispatches from the three commissioners describing their experiences in France did not reach Philadelphia until March 4, 1798. See Adams’s message to Congress, March 5, 1798, in ASP description begins American State Papers, Documents, Legislative and Executive, of the Congress of the United States (Washington, 1832–1861). description ends , Foreign Relations, II, 150.
4. Rufus King was the United States Minister Plenipotentiary to Great Britain.
5. Robert Liston was the British Envoy Extraordinary and Minister Plenipotentiary to the United States.