From William Lee
Bruxelles Jan. 28. 1781
I have received your favor of the 20th. instant which disappointed me a good deal, for I had received much pleasure from being told by Mr. Searle that you were fully vested with the same powers that Mr. Laurens had, which occasion’d my writing what I did in my last.1 I must confess that I can’t be perfectly easy, however favorable things may appear, while the War continues and the Independence of America is not acknowleged by more than one power in Europe. After open War is raging, I can’t see what greater mischeif any of the powers of Europe can apprehend from the resentment of G. Britain.
The general prospect of Affairs in Ama. is favorable, from the last advices, and promise more important intelligence soon; The principal embarrassment of Congress seems to be the want of money, which cou’d be easily supply’d where you are, if there are powers to borrow and they are willing to lend. I send you a Crisis which perhaps you may think worth being translated and published in Holland.2
The Dutch must use more activity than they have hitherto done and depend more on their own strength and exertions, than on that of their neighbors; or they will certainly suffer a great deal; for I conceive, the guarantie of every power in Europe will hardly make them amends for the immense loss their Commerce may sustain, and the plunder &c. of their Asiatic and W. India possessions; all which, they may easily prevent, by a timely and proper exertion of their own strength.
You have no doubt seen the Treaty of the armed neutrality, are the contracting powers bound by it to enter into a War with England in favor of Holland?3
There is no reason that I know of, for apprehending the Emperors interference in favor of England, yet it will be certainly wise and prudent in the Dutch to pay every attention to him and to watch narrowly every thing that passes in that quarter, which is the only one that has not, or will not declare openly against G. B.
The winds have for some days been fair and yet we have no English Mail here since that of the 12th.
I have the Honor to be with great Esteem Dr. Sir Your most Obliged &c. Adieu.
RC (Adams Papers); endorsed by John Thaxter: “Mr. W. Lee 28th. Jany. 1781.”
1. JA’s reply of 20 Jan. to Lee’s letter of the 17th Jan., above, has not been found. JA’s commission as minister to the Netherlands authorizing him to conclude a treaty of amity and commerce did not arrive until mid-March (to the president of Congress, 19 March, below).
2. Probably Thomas Paine’s The Crisis Extraordinary, which was published in Philadelphia in Oct. 1780 (Evans description begins Charles Evans and others, comps., American Bibliography: A Chronological Dictionary of All Books, Pamphlets and Periodical Publications Printed in the United States of America [1639–1800], Chicago and Worcester, 1903–1959; 14 vols. description ends , No. 16918). JA sent the copy he received from Lee to John Thaxter who, in a letter of 1 Feb., indicated that he had submitted it to Jean Luzac for publication (Adams Family Correspondence description begins Adams Family Correspondence, ed. L. H. Butterfield and others, Cambridge, 1963– . description ends , 4:73); see also Thaxter’s letter of 7 Feb., below. No Dutch or French translation published in the Netherlands has been found.
3. That, of course, was the crux of the problem facing the Netherlands. The armed neutrality, to which it formally acceded by virtue of the convention signed at St. Petersburg on 4 Jan., provided for reprisals in the event of belligerent depredations on the commerce of the neutral nations comprising the League of Armed Neutrality. By the date of its accession, however, the Netherlands was no longer a neutral power, but rather a belligerent, and for Russia, Sweden, or Denmark to go to its aid meant war with England, something that none of those powers was willing to risk. For JA’s comments on the armed neutrality and the implications of the Dutch accession to it, see his letters of 25 Nov., 25 Dec. and 28 Dec. 1780 to the president of Congress (vol. 10:371–372, 433–435, 442–443).