John Jay Papers

To John Jay from James Smith, 12 September 1780

From James Smith

[Bruxelles] Sepr: 12. 1780.—

Dear Sir.

I am now at Bruxelles where I propose to reside untill I can have a convenient opportunity to remove my self and Family to America.1 In the mean time I think it a duty I owe my Country to contribute every assistance in my Power to aid you in the exicution of that great and important Bussiness in which you are employed and I trust my present situation and connections will afford many opportunities of rendering essential service to my Country. I have with this view setled a secret correspondence in England to give me the most early intelligence of the Sailing and destination of their Fleets that you may imbrace the most favorable opportunities of directing the Naval Armaments of our powerful Allies to their proper objects.

My long residence in England has put me in a condition of intimately knowing the political situation of that Country and can with truth aver by means of some connections with men formerly in power that I have as it were been behind the Curtain and seen the wheels & Pullies of the Machinery of its Government through every stage of this extraordinary and Glorious revolution by which I have not been able to find among the Great except Lord Camden2 one thorough friend to America who sees her Independence absolutely essential to the preservation of the liberties of England. Among the body of the people there are many hundred thousands of the same complection and who most ardently wait for the first favorable opportunity to sacrifice on the same Altars of Liberty by a speedy removal to that Country. I have often lamented that bad health prevented me from giving more unequivocal proofs of my attachment to that Cause in which you have so honourably distinguished yourself. Not withstanding which I trust it will appear that your friends in England have not been altogether useless and must have equally suffered in their persons and properties had The Tyrant ultimately prevailed against us. Availing myself of my situation it has been my constant and unwearied endeavour through all the Conduits of public information to impede the progress of their arms by dividing the people from the Government and weakening their Strength by making proselites to the Cause of America. With this view I projected the plan and carried into exicution the numerous Debating Societies not only in the Metropolis but in most of the capital Cities in England. In these places the First Nobility as well as the body of the people attended every evening in immense numbers. It was here the measures of Government were freely discussed and their iniquitous Conduct ^toward America^ exposed to the minds of the populace who had been lulled into a fatal unsuspicious acquiescence in the measures of their System for want of properly understanding the true grounds of the controversy and ultimate tendancy to enslave both Countries. By these means the flames of discontent spread to such a degree that administration after having endeavored to take me off in vain by personal contests and public abuse at length gave orders to seize me as a Traitor under the plausible pretext of my being employed by Congress at a Sallery of a thousand a year to sow sedition among the people. Af^ter^ every artifice to ensnare me had proved abortive a favorable opportunity at length happened to Gratify their Mallice. Accordingly taking advantage of the impression made by the late riots in their favor, and ^I beleive^ secretly encouraged for the purpose of throwing an odium on the measures of Opposition and the spirit of Association. An Order of the privy council was issued to apprehend me as the Cataline of the conspirecy and secret Agent of Doctor Franklin to Burn the City.3 Various rumors were propuga^ted^ to colour these proceedings and justify their Conduct. Fortunately I was at a friends house when the Kings Messengers arrived to take me into Custody. Concluding I had taken Refuge under the jurisdiction of the City, Mr Wilks4 as a Majestrate in that district was applied to for to grant a warrent upon information who not only refused to comply with the request but sent Alderman Town^h^sand to advise ^me^ of my danger. By the advice of my freinds I took refuge in the Country but as from the suspension of the Habeas Corpus I could not avail my^self^ of that Palladium of British Liberty to demand a Trial and apprehending least some of my letters to Congress5 might have been intercepted which would have been brought in evidence against me as corresponding with Rebells. After wandering a month upon the Sea Coasts of Suffolk and Norfolk I at last by means of my agents ^was^ secretly was conveyed by a private ship to Holland and from thence to this City.

Many have been the conjectures concerning the Origin and foundation of the late riots. The Trial of Lord George Gordon ^will throw light on the subject.^6 I should not be surprised that it should appear to be an after game of Lord Bute7 to over set opposition and ^that^ that Nobleman was in the Secret. Many signed the Protestant association from very different motives. The apprehension of danger to the cause of the protestant Religion from the late indulgences given to the Catholics brought many to sign the petition. But the more judicious part of the associators consider^ing^ the late act in favor of the papists as a second arrow out of the same quiver with the Quebec Bill8 to strenghten the Court party by Bringing over those people to their interest, opposed the late acts from principles of policy. This you may be assured of that unless the System of affairs is speedily changed the whole of the business may be considered as the harbinger of another revolution. In short the mulitude who never reason but from ^their^ feelings begin to see through the Machiavelian Tricks of the Court, the Incapacity of their Rulers, and the Wickedness of their adherents. They are convinced of their danger from the avowed prostitution of Parliament and the effects of a rotten constitution which they are determined to remedy by the most salutary innovations. The reduced value of all the landed Estates, Immense encrease of Taxes, deminished revenue, together with a hopeless American War has seriously allarmed the Country Gentleman. The decay of Trade and manufactures, Prostitution of honours and offices, together with the loss of public Liberty from the acknowledged increasing influence of the Crown and prospect of National Bankruptcy has at last raked away the Ashes of ^from^ the dying Embers of the antient spirit of the people and opened their eyes to the conviction of those Solemn truths which they formerly held in contempt and derision. This sudden Change in the minds of the body of the Nation has been succeded by correspondent consequences. The Bedford faction9 willing to make a merit of necessity have ceceded from the junto upon ^as they say^ principles of Honour and Concience and tho’ first wavering have at last joined opposition. The most opulent families in the Kingdom and popular Whigs without doors have (immitating the example of America) formed themselves into County associations, Committees, and a Congress of Deputies, who meet under the very nose of parliament and publish their resolves in which they have expressed their abhorrence of the men and measures of the present System and amoung many other things the absolute Necessity of making peace with America upon her own terms to prevent impending ruin. This perminent Systematic Opposition joined to the democratical assendency of the armed Associations in Ireland10 together with the Conduct and declerations of the Northern Maritime powers11 have seriously Alarmed the Tyrant and Shook the obstinacy of Administration. The severe blow given to their commerce by the late Captures joined to the daily expectation of more important Calamities from the superiority of the Fleets of our allies in the West Indies and armiments in North America has brought on a speedy dissolution of Parliament least the farther disgrace of their Arms operating upon the minds and influencing the Choice of the Electors should work such a change upon the democratical Branch of the Constitution as to restore the power of impeachment and the punishment of Ministers. Whether Administration will by this manouvre be able to obtain a majority in their favor I will not venture to affirm but from the temper and complection of the people when I left England I should imagine a very considerable alteration would be made in the house of Commons from a conciousness of the evil tendency of trusting their Liberties and properties a second time into the hands of the late profligate members. If this is not accomplished I am sure the Godess of Liberty will forever take her flight from her once favorite Isle and prove what Rome experienced long before that the Form of a free and the Ends of an Arbitrary Government are not incompatible with each other when the People have lost those principles and Manners which make them ^great^ and Free.— But while we thus contemplate the fall of Britain an aweful monument of heavens vengence upon an oppressing people let us assiduously attend to the most speedy means of Elevating the Glory and securing the independancy of our own Country.— Every days experience proves that the most effectual method to humble Britain into a compliance with our demands would be by directing the forces of the Allied powers to the intercepting of her Trade. By the capture of her seamen she will be unable to man her fleets and her Superiority being thus lost both at home and abroad her dependances must fall to the more numerous armies of our Allies in every quarter of the Globe. This might be easily accomplished if proper means were established for carrying on a secret correspondence by the way of Holland and Flanders with our American friends in England and conveying speedy intelligence to the American Ministers in France and Spain. Such Vigilance would raise their credit with those respective Courts and make them more dependant upon their councils than I fear they have hitherto been in the prosecution of this War. A few such strokes as the late captures would disenable the merchants from Lending the Supplies and the landed Interest already too much burdened would abandon the Ministers in the continuance of the War. Had the Brest Squadron slipt out into the Chops of the Channel when the British fleet retired into their ports to refit the Lisbon Oporto and homeward bound Winward Island Trade would have fallen into their hands. So fortunate an event added to their other losses would not only ^have^ ruined the merchants but disenabled the Government from manning an additional number of Empty Ships to their grand fleet by which neglect a decided majority in favor of the house of Burbon may be lost in the most critical period of the War. Is it not astonishing that so evident a piece of policy should not have engaged the attention of the french Court? Occasio Celeris.12 Too many of these opportunities have been lost during the course of the Struggle which had they been embraced would have convinced our Enemies long before this time of their incapacity to contend with success and put a period to the War. The house of Burbon would do wise to consider that her Enemy is annually growing stronger in her Navy. The vast sums granted by parliament for its support was expended by a profligate Minister upon the American War. It was by these means Her Dock Yards were ill supplied, her Ships Rotted in her harbours and She Lost the Empire of the Seas. Impressed with a sense of her danger she is straining every nerve to retrieve her past errors by building a great number of ships and she will Ship her trade to man them untill she recovers the dominion she has lost. But if the plan I have the honour to suggest is vigorously persued these efforts will prove in vain. Destitute of Seamen her navy would be confined to her Docks. You would cut up her power by the roots. Wounded in her most tender Vital ^and accessable^ parts she would Stand immured within her own Isle and for want of a free circulation a mortification in her extremities would insue; America would no longer hear the Thunder of her Navy and her Armies destitute of sustinence and supplies must molder or perish by ^pestilence^ famine or the Sword— I submit it to your consideration whether the Southern Coasts of Ireland and the whole Tract of the East and West India ^fleets^ are not the places to which you should direct the operations of your combined fleets. While the Enemy might be amused with an appearance of invasion of their Coasts they would be obliged to keep a fleet ^in the Channel^ of sufficient Strenght to meet yours. In the mean time yours properly stationed would answer the double purpose of securing the safe convoy of your own trade and Carrying theirs into your ports before the plan could be known. To what purpose did the House of Burbon wave their Banners in Triumph in the Channel last year. Even that event if properly managed would contribute to this design. By discovering your intentions then it would throw them off their Guard and prevent them from discovering where you meant to [Strick?] the Blow. If your Superior Combined fleets should once more [ent]er the Channel what good consequence will it produce. If they are not Strong enough to meet you there they will retire and defend themselves by Batteries under cover of their Guns— While you are wasting ^your^ revenues and exposing your Seamen to sickness and all the dangers of the Sea— An imbargo upon their outward bound Ships will secure their trade at home, while that which was returning from abroad would find a safe retreat into the Irish Sea ports. But I conceive it may be said having secured a safe passage to their Coast We will transport our Troops and attack them on their Shores. Would to God the Law of retribution might take place and that an Abandoned Nation might in her turn experience all the horrors of that uncivillized War which to the disgrace of humanity she has been practising upon us. But if Invasion is your plan, I am very much affraid the favorable opportunity is irritrevably lost. Last summer it could be done with effect. Her dock yards might have been distroyed and a period put to the War. But experience has made even fools Wise. The conduct of America has given them lessons of instruction and taught them upon such an immergency how to act. Should the attempt be made I am convinced it would ^not only^ be attended with our disgrace but Strengthen the enemy by rousing the Martial spirit of the Nation and unite all contending parties into one a considerable source of their weakness and our Strength. With an army of French and Spainyards raging in the bowels of their Country party spirit would give way to National antipathy.— Bewildred Councils would no longer prevail.— The resentment of Ireland might subside. Compasionating her Sister Island and dreading her own safety with Eighty thousand Citizens armed in defence of their liberties she might give her effectual aid. A Gallant Nation thus driven to dispair by the extremity of distress would grow vigorous in her turn. The Weakness Inconsistancy and want of expedition in public measures would be succeded by a Wise administration and a frenzy of Military prowess very difficult to subdue might procrastinate the War. On the other hand lett any one take into contemplation the extent situation of the Sea Coasts of France and Spain and they ^will^ be convinced of the practicabily of this Scheme. A Blow may [be] struck by expeditions from the Spanish ports before any intelligence of the design can arrive in England time enough to prevent the exicution of the plan.— You will excuse the freedom I have taken in urging this matter so strenuously and flatter my self from the well known candor of your disposition that you will do me the justice to beleive that it proceeds from the strongest Conviction I have of its being the most Speedy method of finally obtaining the Independancy of our Country and a Glorious conclusion to the War which is the most fervent Wish and earnest desire of Your Excellencies Most Obedient Most Devoted Humble Servant

James Smith13

ALS, NNC (EJ: 7150). Endorsed: “Doctr Jams Smith / 12 Septr. 1780 / Rcd. 2 Do / ans. 5 Do”.

1Dr. James Smith (1738–1812) was the younger brother of William Smith Jr., the noted New York Loyalist and chief justice during the British military occupation. James graduated from the College of New Jersey in 1757, earned an M.D. degree at Leyden in 1764, and in 1767 became one of the two original members of the King’s College faculty of medicine, serving as professor of chemistry and materia medica until 1770. Having married a wealthy widow from Jamaica, he resigned his position and settled in the Caribbean. He later moved to London, “from whence he carried on a constant correspondence with the rebels in America . . . advising them never to submit, but to contend to the last; and upon every occasion haranguing the mobs in London in favor of the ‘rights of mankind’ and the ‘liberties of the people.’ “ He traveled to Paris in 1778, intending to return to America, and contacted the American commissioners for assistance with transporting his goods without paying French duties. They considered him a possible spy. After he returned briefly to England in 1780, British officials suspected him of helping to instigate anti-Catholic riots in June 1780, causing him to leave England. He spent the rest of the war in Brussels, then returned to New York in 1785. When he briefly became part owner of a newspaper, the Time Piece, which attacked the policies of President John Adams, Smith was arrested in 1798 on charges of sedition. Jones, History of N.Y. during the Rev. War description begins Thomas Jones, History of New York during the Revolutionary War, ed. Edward F. De Lancey (2 vols.; New York, 1879) description ends , 1: 20–21; Koke, Accomplice in Treason description begins Richard J. Koke, Accomplice in Treason: Joshua Hett Smith and the Arnold Conspiracy (New York, 1973) description ends , 6, 8, 13–14, 223–24, 233–34, 287n12; Milton H. Thomas, Columbia University Officers and Alumni, 1754–1857 (New York, 1936), 31; PBF description begins William B. Willcox et al., eds., The Papers of Benjamin Franklin (39 vols. to date; New Haven, Conn., 1959–) description ends , 26: 387 and n; 27: 292–93 and n, 311–12, 455, 461, 564; James McLachlan, Princetonians, 1748–1768: A Biographical Dictionary (Princeton, N.J., 1976), 209–13; David A. Wilson, United Irishmen, United States: Immigrant Radicals in the Early Republic (Ithaca, N.Y., 1998), 49–50.

2Charles Pratt, Earl of Camden (1714–94).

3The Political Magazine described Dr. Smith as “an intimate of Silas Deane and of John the Painter, who set fire to the Dock Yard at Portsmouth, for which he was executed; . . . he was known in all the debating clubs for arguing against Great Britain and in favor of America.” Quoted in Jones, History of N.Y. during the Rev. War description begins Thomas Jones, History of New York during the Revolutionary War, ed. Edward F. De Lancey (2 vols.; New York, 1879) description ends , 1: 20. For the strange case of John the Painter (James Aitken), allegedly paid by American agents to set fire to a number of English dockyards, see Annual Register 1777, 28–31, 246–47; Jessica Warner, John the Painter: Terrorist of the American Revolution (New York, 2004).

4John Wilkes (1727–97), the famous politician and champion of “the rights of Englishmen.”

5No letters from Smith to Congress have been located prior to his letter to the president of Congress of 11 Apr. 1781, forwarding copies of pro-American polemics he had penned. DNA: PCC, item 78, 21: 257.

6Lord George Gordon (1751–93), a Scot, led a Protestant association in the presentation of a petition to Parliament, 2 June 1780, protesting Savile’s Roman Catholic Relief Act. The ensuing London riots, along with Gordon’s trial for high treason, are described in Peacemakers description begins Richard B. Morris, The Peacemakers: The Great Powers and American Independence (New York, 1965) description ends , 67–87.

7John Stuart, Earl of Bute (1713–92), the former prime minister, had lost all influence over public affairs in 1765.

8The Quebec Act, 20 May 1774, extended Canada’s boundaries to the Ohio River, thereby invalidating the charter claims in the area asserted by Connecticut, Massachusetts, and Virginia, as well as the New York claims based on Indian treaties, while at the same time granting freedom of worship to French Catholics.

9The Bedford faction, led by John Russell, fourth Duke of Bedford (1710–71), stood for commerce with all countries on an equal basis. Peacemakers description begins Richard B. Morris, The Peacemakers: The Great Powers and American Independence (New York, 1965) description ends , 145.

10In the course of the American Revolution, the patriotic and republican fervor of the colonists infected, among others, the Irish. Such groups as the Hearts of Oak Boys and the Hearts of Steel Boys had organizations both in America and in Ireland. Others, such as the Society of Free Citizens in Dublin and the Volunteers of Ireland, were indigenous to that country. The issues upon which such groups were founded were both economic and political, with the Irish patriots identifying their plight with that of the American colonists, just as, in the 1790s, Irish and English radical societies identified themselves with the revolutionaries in France. On the Irish clubs, see Michael Kraus, “America and the Irish Revolutionary Movement in the Eighteenth Century,” in The Era of the American Revolution, ed. Richard B. Morris (New York, 1939), 332–48.

11On Spain’s recent capture of a British fleet bound for Jamaica and on its impact on Spanish policy, see JJ to Francis Dana, 19 Aug., above. For Floridablanca’s interest in attacking Britain’s East India trade, see the editorial note “John Jay’s Conference with Floridablanca” on p. 95.

12“The occasion is fleeting.” Hippocrates, Aphorisms 1.1.

13JJ’s reply to Smith has not been located.

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