Adams Papers

From John Adams to Edmé Jacques Genet, 28 May 1780

To Edmé Jacques Genet

[Paris May 28. 1780] 1


When a great Minister, of an ancient [and powerful nation, which has been renowned] for its Wisdom and Virtue, as well as Power,2 arises, in a popu[lar assembly, which] is the most conspicuous Theater in the World, and declares, a[s it were in the] face of the Universe, and with an Air of Reflection, of delibera[tion, and of so]lemnity, that, Such and Such, are his own opinions of the Trut[h of Facts and] the Probability of future Events, one cannot call in question, his go[od faith,] although We may know his Information to be false, and Judgm[ent errone]ous.

Lord George Germaine, in the debate in the house of Commons, on the Sixth [of this] month, declar’d that “he flattered himself, the completion of the chief [Wish of] his Heart, Peace with America, on what he thought, good and honourable [Terms] for Great Britain, was not far off. That he verily believed, and his Belief [was not] merely Speculative, but founded, on recent Information, that the moment of con[ciliation] was near. His Lordship described the misery, which the Americans felt at this [time,] and Stated, that the greatest majority of the People there, were ready, and desi[rous to] return to their Allegiance, but that they were prevented by the Tyranny of th[ose who] had got the power of Government into their hands. He did not believe, the Co[ngress] would ever treat for peace: but from the Condition of Affairs, in America; fr[om the] depreciation of their paper currency; from the poverty, and distress of the Coun[try] from the great debt, it groaned under; from the dissatisfaction which all Rank[s of] people expressed at the Alliance with France; from the little benefit America h[ad de]rived from that Alliance; from all these considerations, he did believe, that the [people] of America, the Assemblies of America, would Soon come to terms.”3

In the Phrase “good and honourable Terms for great Britain,” there may be some [am]biguity: but there can be no reasonable doubt, that his Lordship meant, either to [return] to their allegiance to Great Britain, or at least, to make a Peace with her separ[ate] from France.

Whether the Americans ever will agree to Such Terms, or not, being a question con[cern]ing a future Event, cannot be decided by Witnesses, nor in any other Way, than by p[ro]bable Arguments. There is one Argument, which his Lordship does not appear to h[ave] considered. It is of some Weight. It is this. That in order to return to their A[lle]giance, to the King of England, or make a Peace with him; Separate from France[,] they must involve themselves, in a certain War, with France and Spain, at least[,] and, indeed, according to present appearances, with Russia, Sweeden, Denmark[, and H]olland and Portugal; for every one of these appears to be as decided, against [the Claims, Pretensions and Usurpations of Great Britain, upon the Seas as France and Spain, are. There is not an American Merchant, Yeoman Tradesman, or Seaman, but what knows this or will know it very soon. Ameri]cans must therefore be des[titute of that common share of Reason which God] has given to Men, to exchange the Friendship [of all the nations of the Wor]ld for their Enmity, merely for the Sake of returning to a Con[nection with Great Britain, which] could not protect them, and which they have the best reasons [to dread as the g]reatest Evil that could befal them, from the unheard of Tyrannies [and Cruelties] they have already experienced from her. His Lordship is desired to co[nsider this,] and to ask himself, if he was an American, whether he would wish to [run un]der the broken, falling Fragments, of an Empire that is dashed to [Pieces, li]ke a China Vase,4 and commence a fresh War,5 against a Combination [of all the] nations of the World, who now discover a degree of Esteem and regard [for Am]erica?

[If the A]mericans are as miserable as his Lordship represents them, will they be likely [to incre]ase that misery, and make it indefinite or perpetual,6 by espousing the [Cause of] a ruined Empire, and going to War, with half a dozen, that are not [ruined]?

[If We] believe the Testimonies of Witnesses, who come from all parts of America, We sha[ll be con]vinced7 that his Lordship deceives himself. Every Man from that country [who kn]ows, the Principles and opinions of the People, declares, that they are, with an [Unani]mity that is unexampled in any other Revolution, firmly determined, to ma[intain t]heir Sovereignty, and their Alliances, and that there is nobody in America [that] whispers a Wish of returning to the Government of Great Britain, or of m[aking] a Seperate Peace. But if his Lordship was a candid Enquirer after Truth, [and] had a mind Sufficiently enlightened to discover the means that are in the [Power] of all men, of obtaining it, he might detect<ed> his Error. There are certain [Mar]ks, by which the opinions, Inclinations, and Wishes of a People may, with [infa]llible Certainty be discovered, without recurring to Witnesses, or to remote [arg]uments.

[Th]e Press; the Towns; the Juries; and the Assemblies, to mention, no more [are] four Sources, from whence an unerring demonstration of the true Sen[ti]ments of the People of America, may be drawn.

[Th]ere is not in any nation of the World, So unlimited a Freedom of the Press, as is now established in every State of America, both by Law and Practice. Every Man in Europe, who reads their Newspapers, must See it. There is nothing, that the People dislike, that they dont attack. They attack Governors and Magistrates of every denomination, officers and Generals of the Army of every Rank, assemblies and Councils, Members of Congress and Congress itself, whenever they dislike their Conduct. But I appeal to every Newspaper, upon the Continent, whether one Paragraph, one Wish,8 or one H[int of] returning to the Government of Great Britain, or making a Seperate Peace, has ever ap[peared. The Towns, in America, are small districts of Territory, on an Average, perhaps Six miles Square by the ancient Laws of the Country, which are Still in force, any Seven Inhabitants] of one of these Towns [have a right to demand of the Magistrates a public] assembly, of all. There are necessarily, [several of these Townmeetings, ev]ery year—and generally, a great number of them. In th[ese assemblies every] Man, high and low; every Yeoman, Tradesman, and even [day Labourer, as well] as every Gentleman and public magistrate,9 has a right to vo[te] and [to speak his senti]ments of public Affairs; to propose measures; to instruct their Repr[esentatives in the] Legislature &c. This right was constantly, and frequently, used, under [the former] Government, and is now, much more frequently used, under the new. T[he World has] Seen some hundreds of Sets of these Instructions to Representatives, under the [former Gov]ernment, wherein they enjoined, an open Opposition to Judges, Governors, [Acts of Parlia]ment, King, Lords and Commons of Great Britain. What is there now, to [prevent] them from opposing Congress? Nothing. Has a Single Vote of one of these T[owns been] read, or one Speech heard, proposing, or uttering a Wish to return to the Go[vernment] of Great Britain? Not one. Is not this then a demonstration of the Sen[timents] of the People?

Juries, in America, were formerly, another organ, by which the Sentiments [of the] People were conveyed to the Public. Both grand Juries and petit Juries, have ex[pressed] themselves, in Language, Sufficiently bold and free, against Acts of Parliament[, and] the Conduct of Great Britain: but has any one ever uttered a Word against Co[ngress,] or the Assemblies, or the Judges under their new Governments, or a Wish to [return] to the Obedience of England? Not one.

But it is said, that the Paper money, embarrasses Congress. What then? Does [this] tend to make them dissolve their Union? to violate their Alliances? Would [the] Paper Money embarrass Congress, less, if they had a War to maintain aga[inst] France and Spain, than it does now? Would not the Embarrassment be much [greater.] Does the Paper money, prevent the Increase and the Population of the States? [No.] Does the War prevent it? No. Both the Population and the Property, have [increased,] every Year, Since the War began. And all the Efforts of Great Britain, cannot pr[event] it. On the Contrary, has the Wealth and Population of Great Britain increas[ed?] has her Commerce increased? has the political Weight of the nation in the Sc[ales] of Europe10 increased? Let a melancholly Briton tell.

His Lordship talks about the Misery, of the People, in America. Let him look at home and then Say, where is Misery—11 where the hideous Prospect of an internal civil War, is added to a War with all the World? The Truth is that Agriculture and Manuf[actures,] not of Luxuries but of Necessaries, have been so much increased, by this War, in America that it is much to be doubted whether they ever fed and cloathed themselves more easi[ly or] more comfortably. But besides this, the immense depredations they have made up[on the British Trade, have introduced vast quantities, of british Merchandizes of every Sort—and in Spight of all the Exertions of the British fleet, their Trade is opening and extending with various Countries] every year, and [Britain herself is forced to aid it, and will be more and] more, a recent Proof of which, is the [Permission to import American Tob]acco into the Kingdom, from any Part of the World in [Neutral Bottoms. The great debt is also] mentioned. Do the Americans pay an Interest for this debt? Is [. . .] necessary of Life12 taxed to Perpetuity to pay this Interest? Is the [whole debt, equal] in Proportion to their Abilities, to the Debt of England? Would the debt [be rendered] less, by joining Great Britain against France and Spain? Would the War [against] France and Spain be shorter? less bloody? or less expensive than the War [against] England? By returning to England, would not their debt, be ten times more [burdenso]me? This Debt, is as nothing to America, give her Peace. Let the Americans[, trade fre]ely with one another, and with all other nations, and this debt, would be [but a f]eather. Let them come under Great Britain again, and have the Co[mmunica]tion between one Colony and another obstructed as heretofore, and their Tra[de confined] to Great Britain as heretofore, and this Debt would be an heavier Mi[lstone] about their Necks, than that of England is about hers.

[A gener]al Repugnance to the Alliance with France is mentioned. A greater Mist[ake was ne]ver made. On the contrary, every Step of Congress, every Proceeding of every [assem]bly upon the Continent; every Speculation in the Newspapers, demonstrates [the h]igh Sense they have of the Importance of this Alliance. It is said that this [allianc]e has been of little Utility. Has it not employed the British Army? has it not [cut ou]t work enough for the British navy? has it not wasted for England her [annu]al twenty millions? has it not prevented all these from being employed [agains]t America? has it not given Scope to American Privateers? has it not [protec]ted American Trade? has it not hurt13 that of Great Britain? has it not [enga]ged Russia, Holland, Sweeden, Denmark and Portugal, at least to a Neutralit[y, at] least has it not contributed much to these vast Advantages to America?14 has it not taken away from Great Britain the Dominion of the Sea?15 It is true the alliance might have been of more Utility,16 with the Same Expence, if France [and] Spain had sooner adopted the Policy, of sending more of their Forces to America. [But] they are now so well convinced of it, that unless Miracles are wrought to prevent it <the World> America and great Britain too will see more of the Effects [of] this Alliance. Let Britain tremble for the Consequences of her own Folly and her own [Crimes].

[His]17 Lordship Says that the People, would return to their Allegiance, if they were not prevented by the [Ty]ranny of those, who have seized upon Power. This is only proper to raise a Smile. What [Po]wer have they seized? in a Country, where every Man between Sixteen and Sixty Years of Age [be]longs to a legal established Militia, and has Arms in his Hands. Where this Militia is go[ver]ned Only by Men that this very Militia choose every Year. Where the Assemblies [Sen]ates and Governors are chosen every Year, by this very Militia. Where the Congress18[is also elected every year by these asemblies and can be removed by them at any time, holding only such power as is granted it by that militia? It is said that the Congress is maintained in its power by the army, but his Lordship in his wisdom] represents the Continent[al Army as too weak to match the British] army? What would become of it then, [if a major part of the militia were] to join the British army? With or without the British [if the militia we]re to turn their arms against the Continental Army, they could [crush their opponent bes]ides the Continental Army, only occupies, a few Spots of two or thr[ee states and is devoted to restricting t]he British Army to their Fortresses and to the Protection of their [men of war and can have] no Influence upon 9 or 10 whole states, which have none of [their troops.]

[Hi]s Lordship concludes with a distinction, if possible less founded than his asser[tions. H]e says that Congress will never treat, but the assemblies will. Where does his Lordship find [the Ground of] the Difference, between the Congress and the Assemblies? Are not the members of [Congress] made of the same Clay? Are they not themselves, Members of the Assemblies? Are [they not] the Creatures of the assemblies? Are they not annually created? Are they not dep[endent ev]ery moment upon the Assemblies for their Existence? have not the Assemblies a [ri]ght to recall them, when they please and appoint others?19 have not the Asse[mblies a C]onstitutional Right to instruct them, how to act? if they do not obey these [Instructions, c]annot the Assemblies displace them, and appoint others, who will be more obe[dient? if] the Assemblies desired a Reconciliation, with Great Britain, could they not [appoint a] Congress who desired it, too?20 if the People desired such a Reconciliation cou[ld not th]ey appoint Assemblies that would endeavour to effect it?

But I have been too long. His Lordship betrays such21 Misinformation of Facts; [such an] Inattention to those obvious Marks of the Feelings of a People, which are infallib[le Ind]ications of their designs; and such a Want of knowledge of the Laws and Co[nstitu]tions of the united States of America; as excite Astonishment in an im[partial Exa]miner, and a real Commisseration for the unhappy nation, which Seems devo[ted to] destruction from his Errors and Delusions.22

I have the Honour to be, with great Regard, sir, your most obedient and most humble servant

John Adams

RC (DLC: Genet Papers); addressed: “A Monsieur Genet Premier Commis des Affaires etrangeres A Versailles”; note immediately below the address: “The Papers, which have Duplicates Mr. Genet is requested, if he thinks proper to send to Holland—the rest he may keep. John Adams.” LbC (Adams Papers). The top, left, and right margins of all five pages of this letter have been damaged by fire, with the loss of the dateline, salutation, and other text. The missing text has been supplied in brackets from the Letterbook copy except in the case of the fourth paragraph from the end, which does not appear in the Letterbook. There the text has been reconstructed from the French translation that appeared in the Mercure de France (see notes 1, 17, and 18). Substantive differences between the Letterbook and recipient’s copies are described in the notes.

1In his brief reply of 31 May (Adams Papers), Genet thanked JA for his letter, as well as for the newspapers enclosed with it, and stated that he believed that Vergennes would want to see the letter printed in the Mercure de France. The letter, except for the greeting, date line, and closing, was translated and printed as part of the “Journal Politique de Bruxelles” in the Mercure of 17 June (p. 116–125). JA copied the text of the letter as it appeared in the Mercure into Lb/JA/12 (Adams Papers, Microfilms, Reel 100), between his letters to the president of Congress of 29 June (No. 88, below) and 6 July (No. 89, calendared, below). For other printings of JA’s analysis of Germain’s speech, in Great Britain and the United States, see JA’s first letter of 2 June to the president of Congress (No. 77, calendared, below) and Edmund Jenings’ letter of 9 July, and note 2 (below).

2The preceding four words do not appear in the Letterbook.

3Lord George Germain’s speech formed part of the debate over Gen. Henry Seymour Conway’s motion for reconciliation that occurred on 5 May and was reported in the London newspapers of the 6th. For Conway’s motion and JA’s analysis of it, see his letter to Edmé Jacques Genet of 17 May (above). JA’s source for this quotation has not been identified, but the account of the speech given here is very close to that in the Parliamentary Reg. description begins Parliamentary Register, ed. John Almon, London, 1774–1780; 17 vols. description ends , 17:661. Like his reply to Conway’s speech, JA’s response to Germain shows the impact of his reading of Thomas Pownall’s Memorial, Most Humbly Addressed to the Sovereigns of Europe (A Translation of Thomas Pownall’s Memorial, 19 April – [ca. 14 July], above) and the arguments made in it point toward those used in JA’s “Letters from a Distinguished American” (“Letters from a Distinguished American,” [ante 14–22 July], below). Unlike the rejoinder to Conway, which sought to remove the delusions of the supposed friends of America that reconciliation could take place short of Britain acknowledging American independence, JA’s answer to Germain was intended to dampen any confidence that the ministry or its supporters might have that military victory was close at hand or that Americans would ever agree to the restoration of the Anglo-American relationship that existed before the war.

4In the Letterbook the preceding four words were interlined.

5In the Letterbook the preceding five words were interlined to replace “for Shelter.”

6The Letterbook reads “increase that misery ten fold, and make it perpetual.”

7The passage in the Letterbook from the previous comma reads “We shall believe.”

8In the Letterbook the next two words were “one Sigh.”

9In the Letterbook the preceding eight words were interlined.

10In the Letterbook the preceding five words do not appear. “Scales” is supplied from JA’s letter of 2 June to the president of Congress (No. 77, calendared, below). In the Mercure this was translated as “balance du pouvoir.”

11In the Letterbook the remainder of this sentence was interlined.

12In the Letterbook this sentence begins “Is every necessary and Convenience of Life.”

13In the Letterbook “hurt” was inserted to replace “almost ruined.”

14In the Letterbook there follows a canceled passage: “Has not France in her Turn received benefits from this alliance with Europe.”

15In the Letterbook this question was interlined, and the remainder of the paragraph is crowded into the available space indicating that it may have been an afterthought.

16In the Letterbook “Utility” is followed by “to all the allies.”

17This paragraph does not appear in the Letterbook. In the recipient’s copy it begins at the bottom of the fourth page and continues at the top of the fifth. Some portions of words were lost due to damage to the left and right margins of page four; the missing material has been restored here through consideration of the context of the word, except in the case of “[Sen]ates,” which is taken from the translation in Mercure. Damage at the top of page five resulted in the loss of a considerable amount of material. The text of this paragraph as printed has been reconstructed by consulting the French translation in the Mercure, but because it is a translation the reconstruction can be only conjectural and thus the French text provided in note 18 should be consulted. It should also be noted that in the reconstruction, allowance has been made for the space available in the manuscript to accommodate the reconstructed text. The reconstruction should also be compared with the text of corresponding paragraphs, the third and fourth from the end, that is provided with the calendar of JA’s letter of 2 June to the president of Congress (No. 77, calendared, below). A comparison of the two versions seems to indicate that when JA composed the letter to Congress he used the Letterbook copy of the Genet letter and thus at this point was forced to draft the paragraph anew.

18From this point the remainder of the translated paragraph in the Mercure reads “où le Congrès est pareillement élu tous les ans par les assemblées et peut étre révoqué par elles au premier moment, aucun corps peut-il s’emparer d’un pouvoir quelconque qui lui soit conféré par cette malice? Dira-t-on que le Congrès se soutient par l’armée Continentale. Mais, selon the Lord G., cette armée est si foible qu’il lui est impossible de se mesurer avec l’armée Britannique. Que deviendroitelle donc si la majeure partie de la malice, qui n’est autre chose que la Peuple, se joignoit á l’armée Britannique? Mais, sans cette réunion, la malice suffit seule pour écraser l’armée Continentale. D’ailleurs cette armée n’occupe que quelques espaces de terreins très-bornés dans deux ou trois états pour cerner l’armée Britannique dans les points qu’elle y occupe, et pour protéger les vaisseaux de guerre Américains, et il lui est impossible d’avoir la moindre influence sur neuf ou dix grands Etats qui n’ont pas dans leur territoire une seule compagnie de l’armée Continentale.”

19In the Letterbook this sentence ends as follows: “by Law and the Constitution?”

20The remainder of this paragraph does not appear in the Letterbook. Instead JA wrote “But I have been too long—it is tedious to expose Things that are so plain. So many Views of such a subject present themselves, that it is difficult to be concise.”

21In the Letterbook this was followed by “a total.”

22The Letterbook copy ends at this point.

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