Adams Papers

From John Adams to Boston Patriot, 16 August 1809

Quincy, August 16th, 1809.


1780, November—wrote to Mr. Jennings: “I have received yours of the first. Will you be so good as to explain to me what is meant by ‘Instructions to endeavor to inspire American agents at Madrid, with distrust and jealousy of one another, at present employed in Europe?’

Let me remark here, Mr. Carmichael and Mr. Littlepage are no more. Mr. Jay and Judge Livingston live. It may be in their power to understand this enigma.—Cumberland was at Madrid.

What the armed neutrality will come to, I know not. I believe it would have been much easier to have negociated all the maritime powers of Europe into an acknowledgment of American independence, and even into a war in support of it, than it will be to accomplish the armed neutrality.—Who the real author of that idea was, I know not; but he did the English a favor by it; for all that have agreed to the armed neutrality, might have been as easily persuaded to take a decided part against England: and even Holland and Portugal would have joined them in that measure, at least as soon as in this. At present, they have pledged themselves to a neutrality, so that they cannot decide with honor. I wish, however, that Congress had a minister at Petersburg, at least to try if any thing could be done, or any discoveries made. The bruits of a treaty between the United Provinces and the United States, are as true as most of the bruits.

November 8—“This moment your favor of the 6th was brought to me. I am very much obliged to you for the sight of Mr. Arthur Lee’s letter. His arrival in America will have considerable consequences, and upon the whole will do much good, both to himself and his country. He wanted to see his countrymen face to face, and make his observations upon the spot. I am very glad to find his reflections so philosophical. I had not learned before your letter, that General Green had left the army. Green is my friend, and I am his: I have had a long correspondence with him, and never one unfriendly word or look. Notwithstanding this, the time has been in Congress, when I would have given my vote for his dismission from the service. And if it is true, that he lately wrote to Congress such a letter as I have heard of, I hope Congress have dismissed him.—There is at times a turbulence in some of the officers of the army, that must be suppressed. It does no harm to dismiss them, when there is cause. The country and its cause are strengthened by it. They go home, converse with their neighbors, learn better principles, get into a better temper, are obliged to march out with the militia, and are chosen into offices at home. De Guichen returning with 22 ships!"

1780, November 9th—wrote to Mr. Dumas: “I have the honor of yours of the 7th. Enclosed are a few more extracts concerning the treatment of Mr. Laurens. You will publish such parts as you judge proper. This event will have more serious and lasting consequences than are imagined. It is therefore proper that the facts should be preserved. It may be prudent to observe a delicacy concerning White Eyes: but Europe in general is much mistaken in that character. It is a pity that he should be believed to be so amiable. The truth is far otherwise. Nerone neronior is nearer the truth."

1780, November 12th—wrote to Commodore Gillon. “I have received the letter you did me the honor to write me on the 12th of this month. It would give me great pleasure, to do any thing in my power, consistent with the duty I owe to my constituents, to assist you; but the advices you allude to, are as great an obstruction to me as to you. I have left no measure unattempted, that prudence could justify; but have neither procured any money, nor obtained the least hope of any. I have heretofore entertained hopes of acquiring something; but these hopes are all at an end. There are bills of exchange already here, that must I fear be protested, and others on their way, that must share the same fate; as Mr. Franklin cannot accept them, and no one else has any prospect.—In this situation, I should be criminal to comply with the request in your letter. Indeed if there were money of the United States here, at my disposal, and more than enough to answer the bills drawn, and to be drawn, I could not, without express instructions, justify lending it to any particular state. There are commissioners now in Europe, from Virginia, Pennsylvania, and the Massachusetts, who would have similar reasons for requesting my aid. But a precedent of this sort, should never be set, without the highest authority for it. If there could be any State for which I should hazard such an irregularity, it would be South Carolina, on account of her suffering situation.”

1780, November 13—wrote to Mr. Jonathan Loring Austin, at Nantes: “I have received your letter and am very sorry you have found so little success in your affair, for the Massachusetts. You have this consolation however, that you have had as good luck as any one else. The series of events for the last twelve months, which the English represent so favourable to them, and so unfortunate for us, seems to have extinguished the little remains of credit that we had before; and I must confess myself as much in despair as you are, of obtaining any thing considerable. Our countrymen will build upon sandy foundations, if they depend upon any thing but their own industry and resources. I cannot advise you whether to return in the Mars, or stay longer. I see no prospect of advantage from remaining in Europe. We have no reason to expect any news this year that will make any considerable change in our credit. Even the Burgoining Cornwallis would not. The obstinacy of Great Britain terrifies Europe, though it will make a contrary impression on Americans. I am persuaded you have done as much as any one could have done. I have seen your industry and been made acquainted with many of your proceedings, and I know not what further or better could have been done. The best way is to explain the whole to your constituents, with the utmost frankness and sincerity.”

1780, November 16—wrote to congress: “On the tenth of this month, sir Joseph York presented to the States General, the following memorial.

High and Mighty Lords,

The King my master has discovered, during the whole course of his reign, the most sincere desire to maintain the union which has subsisted for more than a century between his crown and this republic. This unison rests upon the immoveable basis of reciprocal interest, and as it has contributed much to the prosperity of the two nations, the natural enemy of both, employs all the resources of his policy to destroy it. For some time past, this enemy has not labored but with too much success; being supported by a faction which seeks to govern the republic, and which is always ready to sacrifice the general interest to private views. The king has seen with as much surprize as regret, the little effect which has been produced, by his repeated demands of the succors stipulated by the treaties, and the representations of his ambassador, concerning the daily violations of engagements the most solemn.

The moderation of the king has induced him to attribute this conduct of your High Mightinesses to the intrigues of an overbearing cabal, and His Majesty would still persuade himself that your justice and your intelligence, will determine you to fulfil your engagements towards him, and to prove by all your proceedings, your resolution to put in vigor, the system formed by the wisdom of your ancestors, and the only one which can insure the safety and glory of the republic. The answer of your High Mightinesses to this declaration, which the subscriber makes by the express order of his court, will be the touchstone of your sentiments and intentions towards the king. His Majesty has had for some time, indications without number, of the dangerous designs of an unbridled cabal; but the papers of Mr. Laurens, who calls himself a President of a pretended Congress, have made a discovery of a conspiracy, without example in the annals of the republic. It appears by these papers, that the gentlemen of Amsterdam have commenced a clandestine correspondence with the rebels of America, from the month of August, 1778, and that there were instructions and full powers given by them, relative to the conclusion of an indissoluble treaty of amity with these rebels, subjects of a sovereign to whom the republic is bound by engagements the most strict. The authors of this conspiracy pretend not to deny it—On the contrary, they avow it, and endeavor in vain to justify it. It is in these circumstances, that his Majesty, depending on the equity of your High Mightinesses, demands a formal disavowal of a conduct so irregular, not less contrary to your engagements the most sacred, than to the fundamental laws of the Batavian constitution. The king demands also a prompt satisfaction, proportioned to the offence, and an exemplary punishment of the pensionary Van Berckel, and of his accomplices, as disturbers of the public peace, and violators of the law of nations. His Majesty persuades himself, that the answer of your High Mightinesses will be prompt and satisfactory, in all respects: but if the contrary should happen; if your High Mightinesses refuse a demand so just, or endeavor to evade it by silence, which will be considered as a refusal; in that case, the king will not be able to consider the republic itself, but as approving of misdemeanors which it refuses to disavow and to punish. And after such a conduct, His Majesty will see himself in the necessity of taking such measures as the maintenance of his dignity and the essential interests of his people demand. Done at the Hague, the 10th November, 1780.

Signed Le Chevalier Yorke.

Whether Sir Joseph Yorke, after twenty years residence in this republic, is ignorant of its constitution; or whether, knowing it, he treats it in this manner, on purpose the more palpably to insult it, I know not. The sovereignty resides in the States General.—But who are the States General? Not their High Mightinesses, who assemble at the Hague to deliberate. These are only deputies of the States General. The States General are the Regencies of the cities, and the bodies of nobles in the several Provinces. The Burgomasters of Amsterdam, who are called the Regency, are therefore one integral branch of the sovereignty of the Seven United Provinces, and the most material branch of all, because the city of Amsterdam is more than one quarter of the whole republic, at least in taxes. What would be said in England, if the Count de Welderon, ambassador at the court of London, had presented a memorial to the king, in which he had charged any integral part of their sovereignty, as the whole House of Lords, or the whole House of Commons, with conspiracies, factions, cabals, sacrificing general interests to private views, and demanding exemplary punishment upon them? The cases are in their nature precisely parallel, although there are only the branches of the sovereignty in England, and there are more than three in Holland. This memorial is so like the language of my lord Hillsborough and governor Bernard, that I could scarcely forbear substituting Boston for Amsterdam, and Otis, Adams, and Hancock, for Van Berckel, as I read it. I should not wonder, if the next memorial should charge the republic with rebellion, and except two or three from pardon. There are strong symptoms of resentment in Amsterdam, against this outrageous memorial.—But whether the whole will not evaporate, I know not. Many persons, however, are of opinion that a war is inevitable, and insurance cannot be had even to St. Eustatia, since this memorial was made public, under twenty or twenty-five per cent.

Here ends my letter to congress: but let me add, that if the prince’s denunciation had spread a great alarm, the thunder of sir Joseph Yorke, when it had time to reach the ears of the whole nation, excited shudderings and amazement, like that of Mount Sinai, among the camp of the Hebrews. The Nation had scarcely known a war, for three quarters of a century, and a near prospect of it, though only probable, was very terrible to them all.

John Adams.

Printed Source--Boston Patriot.

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