To Benjamin Franklin
Amsterdam April 16. 1782
Yesterday noon, Mr William Vaughan of London, came to my House, with Mr Laurens, the son of the President,1 and brought me a Line from the latter, and told me, that the President was at Harlem, and desired to see me. I went out to Haerlem and found, my old Friend at the golden Lyon.
He told me that he was come partly for his Health and the Pleasure of seeing me and partly, to converse with me and see if he had at present just Ideas and Views of Things, at least to see if We agreed in Sentiment, and having been desired by Several of the new Ministry to do so.2
I asked him if he was at Liberty? He said no, that he was still under Palole but at Liberty to say what he pleased to me.
I told him that I could not communicate to him, being a Prisoner even his own Instructions, nor enter into any Consultation with him as one of our Colleagues in the Commission for Peace. That all I should Say to him would be as one private Citizen conversing with another. But that upon all such occasions I Should reserve a right to communicate whatever Should pass to our Colleagues and allies.
He Said that Lord shelburne and others of the new Ministers, were anxious to know whether, there was any authority to treat of a Seperate Peace, and whether there could be an accommodation, upon any Terms short of Independance. That he had ever answrd them, that nothing short of an express or tacit Acknowledgement of our Independence, in his opinion would ever be accepted, and that no Treaty ever would or could be made Seperate from France. He asked me if his answers had been right? I told him I was fully of that opinion.
He Said that the new Ministers had received Digges Report, but his Character was such that they did not choose to depend upon it. That a Person, by the Name of oswald I think set off for Paris to see you, about the same time, that he came away to see me.3
I desired him, between him and me to consider, without Saying any thing of it to the Ministry whether We could ever have a real Peace with Canada or Nova Scotia in the Hands of the English? and whether, We ought not to insist, at least upon a Stipulation that they should keep no standing army or regular Troops, nor erect any fortifications, upon the frontiers of either. That at present I saw no Motive that We had to be anxious for a Peace, and if this nation was not ripe for it, upon proper terms, We might wait patiently till they should be so.
I found the old Gentleman, perfectly sound in his system of Politiques. He has a very poor opinion both of the Integrity and abilities of the new Ministry as well as the old. He thinks they know not what they are about. That they are Spoiled by the same Insincerity, Duplicity Falshood, and Corruption, with the former. Ld shelburne still flatters the King with Ideas of Conciliation and seperate Peace &c. Yet the Nation and the best Men in it, are for an universal Peace and an express Acknowledgment of American Independence, and many of the best are for giving up Canada and Nova scotia.
His Design seemed to be, solely, to know how far Diggs’s Report was true. After an hour or two of Conversation, I returned to Amsterdam and left him to return to London.4
These are all but Artifices to raise the Stocks, and if you think of any Method to put a stop to them, I will chearfully concur with you. They now know sufficiently, that our Commission is to treat of a general Peace, and with Persons vested with equal Powers. And if you agree to it, I will never to see another Messenger that is not a Plenipotentiary.
It is expected that the Seventh Province, Guelderland will this day Acknowledge American Independence. I think, We are in such a Situation now that We ought not, upon any Consideration to think of a Truce, or any Thing short of an express Acknowledgement of the Souvereignty of the United States. I should be glad however to know your sentiments upon this Point.
I have the Honour to be
LbC (Adams Papers).
1. Henry Laurens Jr.
3. Laurens sailed from Margate to Ostend in company with Richard Oswald. Upon landing, Oswald proceeded to Paris to meet with Franklin (Laurens, Papers description begins The Papers of Henry Laurens, ed. Philip M. Hamer, George C. Rogers Jr., and David R. Chesnutt (from vol. 5), David R. Chesnutt and C. James Taylor (from vol. 11), and others, Columbia, S.C., 1968–2003; 16 vols. description ends , 15:401–402, 478–479).
4. JA’s comments on his discussion with Henry Laurens on 15 April and his meeting with Thomas Digges on 21 March are crucial to understanding his position in the spring of 1782 regarding Anglo-American peace negotiations. Compare JA’s account of the meeting at Haarlem, with Laurens’ memorandum, , below. For JA’s conversation with Thomas Digges, see JA to Franklin, 26 March, and Digges to JA, 2 April, note 1, both above.
In the Boston Patriot of 20 April 1811, in the midst of publishing many of his letters written in the spring and summer of 1782, JA decided to include “a few miscellaneous anecdotes omitted in their order, because I cannot ascertain their precise dates.” There he wrote that
“after Diggs’ visit and Mr. Laurens’ visit, a third was sent over to me, in the person of Mr. S. Hartley, a respectable character, brother of Mr. D. Hartley. He brought me a letter from the latter couched in a mysterious kind of language with which that of the former concurred. The sense of both, as far as I could comprehend or conjecture, was to find out whether there was any hopes of obtaining a separate peace with America and whether we could be induced to wave our treaty with France. I was very explicit with Mr. Samuel Hartley and declared to him from first to last, that the United States would never be guilty of such a breach of faith and violation of honor; and that as far as my vote and voice could go, I would advise perpetual war, rather than stain our character with any such foul imputation. Mr. David Hartley’s letter I answered only in these words—‘Peace can never come but in company with Faith and Honor; when these three can unite, let Friendship join the amiable and venerable choir.’ Mr. D. Hartley wrote me in answer, ‘that the sentiments in my letter were eternal and unchangeable,’ and when I afterwards met him at Paris, he told me that he never meant that we should break our faith with France, but hoped that France would consent to wave her treaty with us, and that we should treat separately from her. This convinced me that Mr. Hartley knew little of the policy of France or America.”
JA’s conversation with Samuel Hartley in fact occurred in Sept. 1780, not in the wake of the visits by Digges and Laurens as JA suggests, and the discussions were centered on David Hartley’s letter of 14 Aug. 1780, which Samuel carried and to which JA responded, using almost the same words as here, on 12 Sept. (vol. 10:74, 143–144). Hartley’s reply, from which JA also quotes, is dated 19 Feb. 1782, above. Since JA presumably quoted from the Letterbook copy of his letter to Hartley and from the recipient’s copy of Hartley’s letter to him, both of which are clearly dated, it is unclear why he chose to set his meeting with Samuel Hartley in 1782.