Adams Papers

1779 March 3.
[from the Diary of John Adams]

1779 March 3.

Went to Versailles, in order to take Leave of the Ministry. Had a long Conversation, with the Comte De Vergennes, in french, which I found I could talk as fast as I pleased.

I asked him what Effect the Peace of Germany would have upon our War. He said he believed none, because neither the Emperor nor King of Prussia were maritime Powers.

I asked him, whether he thought that England would be able to procure any Ally among the northern Powers. That Congress would be anxious to know this.

He said I might depend upon it and assure Congress that in his Opinion England would not be able to procure any. That on the Contrary the northern Powers were arming, not indeed to war against England, but to protect their Commerce.

Quant a L’Espagne, Monsieur?—Ah! Je ne puis pas dire.

Called on Mr. De Sartine who was not at home. Called on Mr. Genet. Mr. Genets son went with me and my son to see the Menagerie.1

1The elder Genet was Edmé Jacques (1715–1781), publicist, chief clerk for many years of the bureau of interpreters in the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and an expert on England, where he had traveled and lived. His role at this time might be described as that of chief of the French information service (using that term in its modern meaning of propaganda). From early 1776 to late 1779 he edited the Affaires de l’Angleterre et de l’Amérique. This journal, the bibliography of which is unbelievably complex, bore an imprint “A Anvers” but was actually prepared in the French foreign office, with substantial help from Franklin and his circle and, after his arrival in France, from JA. A complete set consists of fifteen volumes bound in seventeen, though since each volume contains numerous imperfect and confusing paginations, references must be to the eighty-two “cahiers” or numbers as originally issued at irregular intervals. Even such references may sometimes prove baffling. A very summary collation of the work was provided by Paul L. Ford in PMHB description begins Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography. description ends , 13:222–226 (July 1889), and in his Franklin Bibliography, Brooklyn, 1889, p. 153–154, Ford listed a number of pieces known or believed to have been contributed by Franklin to the Affaires. Ford did not know who the real editor was, but Minnigerode (see further on in this note) mentioned Genet as editor, and Gilbert Chinard supplied further information in a valuable but tantalizingly brief analysis of the Affaires in the Newberry Library Bulletin, 2d ser., No. 8 (March 1952), p. 225–236. Mr. Chinard shows that the documents selected for publication and the commentary on them reflect the mind of Vergennes and the windings of French policy respecting Great Britain and America in a most revealing way.

It is clear from extensive surviving correspondence between JA and Edmé Jacques Genet that JA became an active contributor to the Affaires de l’Angleterre et de l’Amérique during his first mission in France, 1778–1779. Some of his contributions are readily recognizable; others, drawn from letters and papers he received from America or elsewhere and then handed on to Genet, will not be identified until a very careful comparison can be made between JA’s files and the contents of the Affaires.

Quite unintentionally JA threw students off the trail by remarking in a warm tribute to Genet’s work in behalf of the American cause written thirty years later that Genet “conducted the Mercure de France, in which he published many little speculations for me” (JA, Corr. in the Boston Patriot description begins Correspondence of the Late President Adams. Originally Published in the Boston Patriot. In a Series of Letters, Boston, 1809[–1810]; 10 pts. description ends , p. 347). CFA repeated this statement without the explanation or amplification it requires (JA, Works description begins The Works of John Adams, Second President of the United States: with a Life of the Author, ed. Charles Francis Adams, Boston, 1850–1856; 10 vols. description ends , 7:59, note). JA’s contributions to the political section of the Mercure de France belong to his second, or “peace,” mission in Europe, beginning in 1780, after the Affaires had ceased publication. See note on entry of 5 Feb. 1780, below.

The younger Genet, Edmond Charles (1763–1834), precociously succeeded his father in the French foreign office and enjoyed a distinguished diplomatic career before coming to America as the first minister of the French Republic, 1793, and there achieving a great deal more notoriety than he desired.

On both Genets see a study by Meade Minnigerode with the curious title Jefferson, Friend of France: The Career of Edmond Charles Genet, N.Y. and London, 1928. This is based on family papers then still in the possession of descendants, but it says little about the elder Genet’s work as a publicist.

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