Adams Papers

From John Adams to Benjamin Franklin, 13 April 1779

To Benjamin Franklin

Nants April 13. 1779


I had Yesterday the Honour of yours of the third of this Month.

C. Landais had So much diffidence in some of his Crew, that he could not think of carrying home any of the most culpable of the Conspirators, especially as he was so weak handed.

The naval Code of the united States, has great Occasion for Amendments in many Particulars, without which there will be little Discipline subordination, or Obedience.1

I am happy that you approve of cloathing the petty officers and thank you for the Confidence you have put in me in desiring that I would give Directions in your Behalf for what I may judge for the good of the service, Funds and Circumstances considered. A Trust however, that will involve me in difficulties, because I fear the Demands of officers and Men will be greater than I could wish. Obedience, on Board is So imperfect, that I do not expect the ship can possibly be got to sea, without some Money to the Officers and Men.

I expect the Ship here every day, and I hope in 15 days to be at sea, if you have any Letters should be glad to carry them.

Am much pleased with your Reception at Court in the new Character and I do not doubt that your opinion of the good Will of this Court to the United States is just. This Benevolence is the Result of so much Wisdom and is founded in such Solid Principles that, I have the Utmost Confidence in its Perseverance to the End.

Spain, too, must sooner or later see her true Interest, and declare in favour of the same generous Cause. I wish, and hope with you that it will be soon.2 If it is not, there is great Reason to fear a very unnecessary and profuse Effusion of human Blood: for the English derive such Spirits from their Captures at sea and other little successes, and War is everlastingly So popular among them, when there is the least Appear­ance of success however deceitful that, they will go on, at whatever Expence and Hazard.

Master Johnny, whom you have honoured with an affectionate Remembrance, and who Acts at present in the quadruple Capacity of Interpreter, secretary, Companion and Domestick to his Pappa desires me to present you his dutiful Respects.

My Regards if you please to Mr. Franklin and Mr. Gellée, and the young Fry.3

I have the Honour to be with great Respect, your most obedient servant4

John Adams

RC (PPAmP: Franklin Papers); docketed: “Jonh Adams Nantes 13 avril 1779.”

1In the left margin, opposite the first word of this paragraph, is an “X.”

2JA’s hope had already been realized. On the previous day France and Spain had signed the Convention of Aranjuez, which obligated Spain to enter the war if Great Britain rejected its latest mediation offer of 3 April. Spain’s proposal, in the form of an ultimatum and phrased to insure its rejection, marked the end of a long series of Spanish offers, beginning in April 1778, to mediate Anglo-French differences. In view of the “Family Compact” existing between the Bourbon rulers of France and Spain, the sincerity of the Spanish offers was always suspect, but the object of Spain’s mediation and the consequence if it was not achieved were clear. Spain sought to have Britain purchase its neutrality by ceding Gibraltar and when that price proved too high, determined to take its objective by force (see, for example, JA’s speculations regarding Gibraltar in his letter to Francis Dana of 25 Dec. 1778, above). After the expected British rejection of the ultimatum, the Spanish Ambassador delivered a manifesto to Lord Weymouth on 16 June that amounted to a declaration of war. It was followed on the 18th by the British order for reprisals (Bemis, Diplomacy of the Amer. Revolution description begins Samuel Flagg Bemis, The Diplomacy of the American Revolution: The Foundations of American Diplomacy, 1775–1823, New York and London, 1935. description ends , p. 78–87; Sir Francis Piggott and G. W. T. Omond, Documentary History of the Armed Neutralities of 1780 and 1800, London, 1919, p. 112–116, 119–122). It was not until after he was at sea on his return to America that JA learned of the final rupture between Britain and Spain from the new French minister to the United States, La Luzerne (JA, Diary and Autobiography description begins Diary and Autobiography of John Adams, ed. L. H. Butterfield and others, Cambridge, 1961; 4 vols. description ends , 2:387–389).

3The “young Fry” were JQA’s schoolmates and included Benjamin Franklin Bache, Franklin’s grandson, and Jesse Deane, son of Silas Deane.

4Benjamin Franklin answered this and JA’s second letter of this date (below) on 21 April (Adams Papers; 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 , 7:92). There Franklin asked JA to see to the needs of the returned American prisoners to the extent that the available funds permitted. He also noted the reports appearing in the English papers concerning British apprehensions about Spain entering the war and hoped that they “had some Foundation.”

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