The Duc de La Vauguyon to John Adams: A Translation
The Hague, 17 April 1781
I received your letter, sir, informing me that the Congress of the United States of North America has bestowed upon you the character of minister plenipotentiary to the States General of the United Provinces. I do not know if you propose to present your credentials to their High Mightinesses at this moment, but if it is your intention to do so, I would like to speak with you about it and tell you my views regarding the common cause.1
Please be persuaded, sir, of the sincerity of my inviolable sentiments of distinguished consideration, with which I have the honor to be your very humble and very obedient servant
Le duc de La Vauguyon
RC (Adams Papers); endorsed by John Thaxter: “Mr. Le Duc de la Vauguyon 17th. April 1781.”
1. On the 19th, JA journeyed to The Hague, took lodgings at the Parliament d’Angleterre, and announced his arrival to La Vauguyon (JA, Corr. in the Boston Patriot description begins Correspondence of the Late President Adams. Originally Published in the Boston Patriot. In a Series of Letters, Boston, 1809[–1810]; 10 pts. description ends , p. 432). The ambassador responded, requesting JA to meet with him that evening between six and seven o’clock (Adams Papers). JA described his meetings with La Vauguyon on 19 and 20 April in a letter of 21 Feb. 1782 to the Secretary for Foreign Affairs, Robert R. Livingston (Wharton, ed., Dipl. Corr. Amer. Rev. description begins Francis Wharton, ed., The Revolutionary Diplomatic Correspondence of the United States, Washington, 1889; 6 vols. description ends , 5:192–199), but the most detailed account of the conferences is found in his 1809 letters to the Boston Patriot.
“I went immediately to the Hague, and made my visit to the hotel de France. The duke entered at once into conversation with me to dissuade me from presenting my credentials. He detained me two hours. I answered all his questions, and replied to all his arguments. But as is usual, neither was convinced, and I took my leave with as full a determination as ever to pursue my plan. The next morning at eight o’clock, the duke appeared at my lodgings ... and renewed his efforts to divert me from my purpose. He went over all the ground we had trod the day before, and ran about all Europe, especially the northern maritime confederation, to find arguments against the step I proposed to take. Although his topics appeared to me extremely frivolous, I listened to them with all the respect which was due to the ambassador of France, and to the personal character of the duke which I sincerely esteemed. It is but justice to say, that in all my intercourse with the duke de la Vaguion, I was uniformly treated by him, his duchess, their children and domestics, with the utmost politeness, and indeed with the freedom and familiarity of friendship.
“In this transaction I committed two faults: 1. In not insisting that these discussions should be in writing. 2. In not committing them to writing when they were fresh in my mind. The only excuse that can be made for both is, that I had not time. Too many objects pressed upon me at once. At the distance of eight and twenty years, it would be in vain to attempt a recollection of them by memory, and they must be lost forever, unless some future Dalrymple or Fox, after a century or two, should find access to the diplomatic archieves of France, and there find some account of them in the duke’s dispatches to his court.
“The duke detained me between four and five hours at this second interview, urging all the time his objections and reasons against my going to the states. There was no solidity in them; I knew them to be mere pretexts.
“At last, when he found I was not convinced, he desired me to postpone my visit to the president of their high mightinesses, until he could write to the count de Vergennes and have his opinion. I answered, by no means: Why? Because I know beforehand the count’s opinion will be point blank against me; and I had rather proceed against his judgment without officially knowing his opinion, than with it, as I am determined in all events to go. The duke had one resource still left. It was to persuade me to join him or let him alone, in writing a request to the king of France, that he would order his ambassador to unite with me, in my endeavors to obtain an acknowledgment of my public character. I answered again, by no means: Why? Because monsieur le duke, if I must speak out in plain English, or plain French, I know the decision of the king’s council will be directly and decidedly against me; and I am decidedly determined to go to the president, though I had a resolution of the king in council against me, and before my eyes. Besides, the moments are critical, and there is no time to be lost—whereas, the correspondence and negociations you propose may be spun out for years. Moreover, I think that neither the king nor his ministers ought to commit themselves in this business. What! said the duke? Will you take the responsibility of it upon yourself? Indeed, monsieur le duke, I will; and I think I alone ought to be responsible; and that no other ambassador, minister, council or court, ought to be answerable for any thing concerning it. ’Are you willing to be responsible then?’ Indeed I am, and upon my head may all the consequences of it rest. ’Are you then determined?’ Determined, and unalterably determined I am.
“The duke upon hearing this, changed his countenance and the tone of his voice, and said very pleasantly—well I can say no more. If you are determined, and actually go to the states general, though it will be against my opinion and advice, and although I can give you no assistance in my official capacity, yet as a man and an individual, I will give you all the countenance in my power. I thanked his excellency for his declaration, which I received in the most friendly manner; and assured him it was all the aid I expected or desired, as I fully agreed with him that neither his public character or the conduct of his court ought in any manner or degree to be compromised in the affair”
La Vauguyon’s letters of 11 and 15 May 1781 to the Comte de Vergennes largely substantiate JA’s recollections. The ambassador thanked Vergennes for approving his effort to dissuade JA from presenting the memorials and assumed that Vergennes was not surprised by JA’s refusal to take his advice. La Vauguyon also described his efforts to avoid any misunderstanding with the Dutch government, indicating that he had made it absolutely clear to its leading members that JA acted without the support or approval of France and that he, personally, had received no communication or instructions from Paris on the subject (F. J. L. Krämer, ed., Archives ou correspondance inédite de la maison d’Orange-Nassau, 5th ser., 3 vols., Leyden, 1910–1917, 2:468–469, 478).
It seems clear that JA would not have discussed his memorials with La Vauguyon if Dumas had not written on 14 April, above, regarding the indispensable necessity of informing the ambassador. Commenting further on his decision to present the memorials to the States General and William V, JA wrote: “I had been very busily and confidentially employed in consultations with my Dutch friends, many of whom were members of the sovereignty, and among the best characters and most respectable men in the nation. I had not taken a step without their advice and full approbation. They were unanimously of my opinion that our American negociations both for a political and commercial connection, and for a loan of money, should be kept as distinct as possible from all French influence” (JA, Corr. in the Boston Patriot description begins Correspondence of the Late President Adams. Originally Published in the Boston Patriot. In a Series of Letters, Boston, 1809[–1810]; 10 pts. description ends , p. 438). This seems to explain both JA’s initial decision not to consult with the French ambassador concerning the memorials and his later declaration that he would take full responsibility for the initiative and neither desired nor expected the official approbation or assistance of France.