Adams Papers

From John Adams to Boston Patriot, 18 July 1809

Quincy, July 18, 1809.


Project of an answer to the three Belligerent Courts.

Answer Mutatis Mutandis.

THE courts of Versailles and of Madrid, having caused to be transmitted to the two Imperial Courts, their respective answers to the articles to serve as a basis to the negotiation which had been communicated to them, as the court of London had communicated her answer to them on the 15th of June last, they think they ought not to delay to communicate them reciprocally to the three courts respectively, as necessary for their mutual directions. And they have consequently charged their ambassadors and ministers to the said courts, to present copies of them to their ministries.

Their Imperial Majesties have perceived, with great satisfaction, in that which his Most Christian Majesty has transmitted to them, the assurance of the gratitude and zeal with which he had received the said articles; but they could not but be so much the more afflicted (peinées) at the exposition of the reasons which have appeared to his Majesty, to oppose themselves to their acceptation.

It appears to them convenient, in the present state of things, to refer to other times and other circumstances, the observations of which they are susceptible, and which it would probably be useless to disclose at this moment; but that which is not (useless) neither for the present nor for the future, is that the belligerent powers may contemplate in a true point of view, the articles which have been proposed to them, and consequently appreciate them at their just value.

The mediating powers ought not to allow themselves, either any of those propositions which have wounded the dignity or the delicacy of one or the other of the parties; nor any of those which might antecedently have drawn after them, explicitly or implicitly, decisions which can only be the result of consent, obtained by the way of negociations.

They ought, consequently, to confine themselves, to seek and to find some means proper to place the belligerent powers in a situation to be able to assemble their respective plenipotentiaries at the place of the congress, there to labor, under the mediation of the two Imperial Courts, for the amicable arrangement of all the differences which are the causes of the present war; and to the end, that, once assembled and furnished with instructions for all possible events, they may be there continually ready and authorised to seize one or another of those happy moments, which circumstances sometimes present, and which frequently are lost forever, or at least for a long time, when men have not been vested with power to take advantage of them. They have not perceived in this plan any other inconvenience possible, than perhaps that of the progress of a negociation not altogether so rapid as it would no doubt be desirable that it should be. The idea of a suspension of arms and the fixation of a statu quo, in itself independent of the rest of the propositions, may be adopted or not adopted, at pleasure. And as it has consequently appeared to them, on weighing with the greatest impartiality the possible advantages and the inconveniences of the acceptation of their propositions, that nothing was more convenient to the respective interests of the belligerent parties, as well as to their general and particular circumstances; they persist in this opinion, and by this means, from the sincere interest which they take in the circumstances of all the belligerent parties, they cannot but wish that they may still admit among themselves, with the modifications which they wish to subjoin, the articles which have been proposed to them; which, as is very justly observed by his Most Christian Majesty, are not, in fact, preliminary articles, as by the nature of things they could not be, but are not, the less a measure which may cause to succeed, in some moment or other, not only an arrangement of preliminaries, but perhaps even an accomplishment of peace, the most prompt possible return of which is for so many reasons so desirable.

The two Imperial Courts have thought it due to the confidence with which his Most Christian Majesty has yet explained himself in regard to them, in his answer, to manifest that with which they expose to him in return, the manner in which they consider the measure of their proposition of the articles, which they have caused to be communicated to him; as well as the wishes which they persist to entertain, provided the belligerent parties can still adopt those which have been proposed to them, or at least if that cannot be done, communicate to them some other idea proper to produce the same effects, or still happier effects, if that be possible.

His Most Christian Majesty may be assured before hand, that in this case, with all possible zeal, they will exert themselves to make such use of it, as shall appear to them may be the most useful and the most convenient; nothing being more certain than the sincerity of those sentiments, with which they will take care to justify, on all occasions, the confidence which has been reposed in them by the high belligerent parties, by accepting their mediation.

Answer of His Most Christian Majesty to the reply of the two Imperial Courts.

January, 1782.

The King has received, with equal sensibility and gratitude, the answer of the two mediating courts. His Majesty regards it as a new proof of their amity for him; of the justice they render to his confidence in their impartiality, and in the genuine interest they take in the prompt re-establishment of peace.

The King has not wavered, nor will he vary in his desire to second views so salutary, and the two high mediators may be assured, that nothing will be wanting in any thing which concerns his majesty, to place them in a situation to give a free course to their beneficent zeal.

But the court of London deprives the king of all means and of all hope, in this respect, by her invariable resolution, to regard and to treat the Americans as her subjects. Such a resolution renders useless every attempt that can be made to accomplish a peace. It destroys from the foundation, the plan of the two mediators, since it prejudges in the most peremptory manner, the question which makes the subject of the quarrel, and the direct or indirect decision of which ought to be the preliminary basis of the future pacification.

In this situation of things, the king judges that the conferences proposed by the two mediating courts, would be at this moment without an object, and that the assembly of the respective plenipotentiaries would only be a vain phantom (simulaire) which would neither diminish nor abridge the horrors of war, and which might compromise the dignity of their Imperial Majesties.

The king is really afflicted to see that things have taken a turn so contrary to his wishes, and to the expectations of their Imperial Majesties; and if it were in his power to change it, he would do it with a zeal which would demonstrate to them the purity of his intentions.—But his Majesty thinks he ought to observe, that he has allies, with whom he has inviolable engagements; that he would betray them by abandoning the American cause; and that he would abandon it if he should consent to negociate a separate peace, independently of the United States. The high mediators have perceived the impossibility of this procedure, since they have themselves proposed to cause to march with an equal step, the negotiations of the king and that of the United States.

But on the supposition that the king could make an abstraction of the affairs of America; that he could prevail upon himself to transact his own personal interests alone and leave to the Americans the care of accomodating with their ancient metropolis, what would result from this conduct? It would result, that the peace would be illusory; that it would be a figment of imagination;’ in fact, if, as is most evident, the Americans would persist in their refusal to return under their obedience to the British crown, the war would continue between England and her ancient colonies; the king would be obliged in that case, as he is at present to assist them; the king of Spain, on his part would be in the case, to assist his majesty, so that France and Spain would find themselves, after the signature of their particular treaties, in the same state in which they are at present.

These considerations appear to the king to be of the greatest weight, and his majesty does too much justice to the information and penetration of the two high mediators, not to be convinced beforehand, that they will perceive them in the same point of view and that they will give their entire approbation to the reserved conduct which they compel him to pursue.

The king ardently wishes to find himself in a situation to change it; and it is in consequence of this sentiment that he invites the high mediators to employ all their influence with the court of London to engage her to manifest dispositions proper to convince, that she is, finally resolved to give her hand in good faith to a prompt and equitable peace.

The king believes he ought to inform the high mediators that his Ambassador at Vienna, is from this time authorized to hear all the overtures and all the expedients tending to this end, whether they come from the court of London, or are proposed by their imperial majesties. And he is even authorised to connect the negotiation, if they present to him sufficient foundations, for conducting it surely to a happy conclusion, under the auspices of their imperial majesties.

It is certain that if the king of France had given me a commission and full power to conduct the negotiation in behalf of his majesty, I could not have composed any thing more conformable to the sentiments I had expressed in my answer to the articles, and letter to the Comte De Vergennes, than is expressed in these answers, and replies of the Court of France to the two imperial courts. Nor could I have expressed my own sentiments so much to my own satisfaction. Yet all these papers were carefully concealed, not only from me but from Dr. Franklin, and Mr. Jay. I know not that Dr. Franklin ever knew them, or that Mr. Jay knows them to this hour. I knew nothing of them till after the peace was concluded. If I had known them in season, I should have sent them to Dr. Franklin and Mr. Jay, when the question arose whether we should treat with Mr. Oswald before commissions were exchanged, and they would undoubtedly have united Dr. Franklin in opinion with me and Mr. Jay. But of this, more hereafter.

Finding no prospect of any illucidations from the Comte De Vergennes, I returned to Holland, where I was persuaded that more might be done to accelerate peace, than in France. Anxiety concerning the state of my affairs in Holland, and zeal to be doing something to obtain a loan and a treaty with that republic, excited me to presume too much upon my strength, and I rode day and night. The unwholesome damps of the night and the excessive fatigue, threw me into a nervous bilious fever, which brought me as near to death as any man ever approached without being grasped in his arms. At least this was the opinion of one of the ablest physicians in that country Doctor Osterdyke, professor of medicine in the University of Utrecht, and of all my friends who attended me.—This fever shook my constitution to the centre, and left me in the situation of Lord Chesterfield, who in one of his letters describes himself aster such a sickness in the same country. I did not, however, cure myself by brine from the salters, but by obstinate perseverance in walking.

The maxim "Si velis Pacem, para bellum," which I believe is as ancient as national politics or war, induced me to think that a loan of money and a political connection with Holland and the maritime confederacy of Europe, would accelerate peace more than mediations of any other kind.—The principal hopes of England were founded on our want of pecuniary resources.

John Adams.

Printed Source--Boston Patriot.

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