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To John Adams from Francis Dana, 18 April 1781

From Francis Dana

Leyden1April 18th. 1781

I feel myself happy that Congress have made it my duty to consult your Excellency upon the Mission with which they have charged me for the Court of Petersburgh. To this end I have already laid before you, all the papers which I have received from Congress, any way relating to it, and also my correspondence with his Excellency the Comte De Vergennes, and Dr. Franklin upon the same subject, as well as my letters to the President of Congress from the time I received this Commission.2 From all these your Excellency will be fully instructed in the several matters on which I wish to have your advice; but to bring some of them more immediately under your view, I beg leave to state the following questions.

Whether, all circumstances considered, your Excellency thinks it expedient for me to proceed to Petersburgh in the character of a private Citizen of the United States only, and to wait there for a favourable moment to announce my publick Character?

Or, Whether, previous to my going in such a character, you judge it expedient for me to communicate my design to Prince Gallitzin, the Russian Ambassador at the Hague (secreting from him at the same time, my publick Character) and to take his opinion thereon; according to the intimation given to me by the Comte De Vergennes, at our conference?3

Whether it is adviseable to communicate my real Character to the Court of Petersburgh, and to ask their permission before I undertake the journey?

Whether, in case you think it adviseable for me to proceed to Petersburgh, in a private character only, without further communications to any one, You conceive it to be the Intention of Congress, that I shou’d present their resolutions relative to the rights of Neutral Vessels, to the Court of Petersburgh on my arrival there, or whether this is left to my discretion, to be regulated by the then State of Affairs at that Court?

Your Excellency will readily perceive the propriety of my writing to you on this business, altho’ we have already had a conference upon it, and of my requesting your sentiments in writing also.

I shall be happy to make a more particular Communication of my own sentiments and views, in further conversation, if you think it needful, before you give me yours.

I am with the greatest Respect and Esteem your Excellency, most obedient and most humble Servant

FRA DANA

RC (Adams Papers); endorsed: “Mr Dana ansd.”; by CFA: “April 18th 1781.”

1Francis Dana left Paris on the morning of 8 April (Franklin, Papers description begins The Papers of Benjamin Franklin, ed. Leonard W. Labaree, William B. Willcox (from vol. 15), Claude A. Lopez (vol. 27), Barbara B. Oberg (from vol. 28), Ellen R. Cohn (from vol. 36), and others, New Haven, 1959– . description ends , 34:515).

2Dana received his commission, instructions, and letter of credence as minister to Russia from John Laurens on 15 March. His instructions required him to consult with Benjamin Franklin and JA regarding his mission and recommended that he also confer with the French government. The letters referred to here, which describe in considerable detail Dana’s conversations with Franklin and Vergennes, are those to Congress of 24, 28, and 31 March, and 2 and 4 April; to Vergennes of 31 March and 2 April; and to Franklin of 6 April; as well as letters of 1 April from Vergennes and 7 April from Franklin (JCC description begins Worthington C. Ford and others, eds., Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774– 1789, Washington, 1904–1937; 34 vols. description ends , 18:1166–1173; Wharton, ed., Dipl. Corr. Amer. Rev. description begins Francis Wharton, ed., The Revolutionary Diplomatic Correspondence of the United States, Washington, 1889; 6 vols. description ends , 4:325–327, 333–334, 344, 349–351, 343–344, 348, 352–353, 348, 353–354; Franklin, Papers description begins The Papers of Benjamin Franklin, ed. Leonard W. Labaree, William B. Willcox (from vol. 15), Claude A. Lopez (vol. 27), Barbara B. Oberg (from vol. 28), Ellen R. Cohn (from vol. 36), and others, New Haven, 1959– . description ends , 34:514–519).

3Franklin first raised the issue of whether Dana should inform the Russian government of his mission before departing for St. Petersburg. He believed that Dana should ask the Comte de Vergennes whether such a course was advisable. Dana disagreed. He feared that Vergennes would recommend it and that to do so would force the Russian government to take official cognizance of Dana and, perhaps, prohibit him from going to St. Petersburg. Franklin reconsidered and decided it necessary only to inform the French government of the intended mission. When Dana met with Vergennes on 4 April, the foreign minister recommended only that he inform Prince Gallitzin at The Hague of his intention to go to Russia as a private citizen (Wharton, ed., Dipl. Corr. Amer. Rev. description begins Francis Wharton, ed., The Revolutionary Diplomatic Correspondence of the United States, Washington, 1889; 6 vols. description ends , 4:325–327, 333–334, 349–351; Franklin, Papers description begins The Papers of Benjamin Franklin, ed. Leonard W. Labaree, William B. Willcox (from vol. 15), Claude A. Lopez (vol. 27), Barbara B. Oberg (from vol. 28), Ellen R. Cohn (from vol. 36), and others, New Haven, 1959– . description ends , 34:517–519). For JA’s answers to this question and the others Dana posed, see his reply that immediately follows.

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