To Edmund Jenings
Nantes Ap. 29. 1779
There is a fatal spell set upon, all Intelligence between This Country and Ours. Two Vessells have arrived, from Virginia one at L’orient the other <
from> at Morlaix, and no News.
I have seen four or five News Papers which came by the latter, one of which is a Virginia Paper as late as 12 March.
No News, excepting a Letter from G.W. to Congress containing a Letter from G.M.1 to him concerning the Affair of Elisabeth Town, by which it appears that the English were obliged to take themselves away in great Haste or they would have been burgoined, leaving the Horses, and Cattle they had taken by surprise.
The speculations continue, concerning Paper Money, General Arnold—the Constitution of Pensilvania,—and Our Mightinesses the Commissioners.2
I fancy, they expect me home—but their Expectation as well as mine I fear is cut off, by the Intelligence I had Yesterday that I am not to go home in the Alliance.
You may well imagine that I am suffering Tortures. But I learned, an heathen Prayer in a heathens Translation in my early Youth, which has often in the Course of Life been of service to me.
Parent of Nature! Master of the World
Wher’eer thy Providence directs, behold
My steps with chearfull Resignation turn
Fate leads the willing, drags the backward on.
Why should I grieve, when grieving I must bear
and take with Guilt, what guiltless I <
must> might share?
Mr. Johnson tells me, and so does Mr. Blodget, that there is a Packet for me from you, in the Diligence which I may expect tomorrow. The Tongue, has no Bridle here, by all that I can learn—Slander is unchained. Guarded before me,—it is a great Political Problem which side I am of. I could tell them the secret, at once I am of neither, and another secret too, vizt. that it would be of little Importance which side I was of—indeed they seem to be sensible enough of this, that without taking a side a Man is of no Consequence.
They may possibly live to see, However, that Rashness Rancour, and Tearing one another to Pieces, is not the Way to do any good at all to their Country, nor any lasting Honour or Benefit to themselves.
RC (Adams Papers); docketed: “His Excellency John Adams Aug. 29 1779.” Jenings’ dating of this letter in August, rather than April, was apparently accidental.
2. During this period, the Philadelphia papers were filled with “speculations” concerning paper money, because of its continued depreciation, and Pennsylvania’s Constitution of 1776, because of the Assembly’s call for a convention to make revisions. Both issues provoked sharp factional controversy. Benedict Arnold’s actions as commander of Continental troops in Philadelphia also provoked controversy. Feeling against Arnold, who was charged with misusing his powers for private gain, was heightened by his arrogance and his close relationship with loyalist elements in the city. His marriage to Margaret Shippen, daughter of Edward Shippen, a neutral with loyalist sympathies, merely confirmed popular fears of his Tory connections. The campaign against Arnold ended in his court-martial in Dec. 1779, which directed that he receive an official reprimand from Washington (Robert L. Brunhouse, The Counter-Revolution in Pennsylvania, 1776–1790, Harrisburg, 1942, p. 64–68). The Pennsylvania Packet of 2 March contained a piece by “T G,” attacking Arnold’s command of troops in Philadelphia and calling for his removal. Arnold’s defense appeared in the issue of 4 March.
“Our Mightinesses the Commissioners” probably refers to the Carlisle Commission and, in particular, to George Johnstone’s attempt to bribe Joseph Reed through Mrs. Elizabeth Ferguson. On 24 Feb. and 3 March the Pennsylvania Gazette contained long letters by Reed and William Smith, Provost of the College of Philadelphia, concerning Mrs. Ferguson’s role in the affair. See also Carl Van Doren, Secret History of the American Revolution, N.Y., 1941, p. 100–104).
4. JA’s reference may be to the Virginia Gazette (Purdie, Clarkson, and Davis) for which no issue of 12 March has been found. The issue of 12 March of the other Virginia Gazette (Dixon and Nicolson) makes no mention of JA being superseded.