Adams Papers

From John Adams to Thomas Digges, 14 October 1780

To Thomas Digges

<Amsterdam> Octr. 14. 1780


Yours of 6 and 10 are received. Upon what Principle is it, that they confine Mr. L. as a Prisoner of State? After So many Precedents as have been set. Sullivan, Sterling, Lee, Lovel, and many others have been exchanged as Prisoners of War.1

Mr. L. was in England when Hostilities commenced, I believe. He came into public, in America after the Declaration of Independence, after the Extinction of all civil Authority under the Crown, and after the Formation of compleat New Governments in every State. To treat a Citizen of a state thus compleatly in Possession of sovereignty de Facto, is very extraordinary. Do they mean to exasperate America and drive them to Retaliation? Are these People governed by Reason at all, or by any Principle, or do they conduct according to any system; or do they deliver themselves up entirely to the Government of their Passions, and their Caprice? I Saw so many Contradictions in the Papers, about Mr. L. that I hoped your first Account was a Mistake, but your Letter of the 10, makes me think the first Account, right.

Pray inform me constantly, of every Thing relative to him, and let me know if any Thing can be done for him, by Way of France, or any other.

Cornwallis’s and Tarletons Gasconade2 serves to Passions, and making them throw off the Mask. I dont believe that his Advantage is half so great, nor the Americans Loss half so much as they represent. Time you know is the Mother of Truth. Audi alteram Partem,3 and wait the Consequences. Fighting is the Thing—Fighting will do the Business. Defeats, will pave the Way to Victories. Patience! Patience! Il y en a beaucoup, en Amerique.

LbC (Adams Papers); directed to: “W. S. C.”

1The principal difference between the case of Henry Laurens, and those of James Lovell and Gens. John Sullivan, William Alexander (Lord Stirling), and Charles Lee, was that while the four latter had been captured and exchanged between 1775 and 1778, each had been taken in America, with the disposition of their cases left to the local commander (DAB description begins Allen Johnson and Dumas Malone, eds., Dictionary of American Biography, New York, 1928–1936; 20 vols. plus index and supplements. description ends ). In contrast, Laurens, who had been president of Congress, was captured at sea in the character of United States minister to the Netherlands, possessed a large number of incriminating documents, and was sent directly to England. The British desire to avoid recognizing either the de facto, mentioned by JA in the next paragraph, or the de jure sovereignty of the United States had led them to refuse negotiations with Benjamin Franklin over a prisoner exchange in Europe (to Thomas Digges, 14 March, note 1, above). To have treated the Laurens case differently would have undermined that policy.

2JA probably refers to Cornwallis’ letter to Lord George Germain of 21 Aug., as printed in the London Gazette of 9 Oct., a clipping of which Digges had enclosed in his letter of 10 Oct. (note 3, above). In his letter, Cornwallis devoted considerable space to the exploits of Lt. Col. Banastre Tarleton at the Battle of Camden and elsewhere.

3That is, hear the other side.

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