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John Adams autobiography, part 3, "Peace," 1779-1780
sheet 17 of 18, 15 - 24 February 1780

Peace France Feb. 1780.
I request the Reader, to read attentively the foregoing Letter from the Count de Vergennes and make his own Observation upon it, before he reads mine, and then say whether I had reasons for the following Reflections which presented themselves irresistably to mind at that time, and which I have ever since thought and still think well founded.
1. The Instructions of  [illegible a Sovereign to his Ambassador, are a Secret, and a confidential Communication between them: a sacred Deposit, committed by the Master to the Servant, which the latter is under the strongest tyes of honour, fidelity and Conscience to preserve inviolate, untill he has express Permission or Injunction to reveal it.
2. The Count De Vergennes had been employed in several Embassies, and he had sent and in the Name of his Master instructed many Ambassadors. In short his Life had been spent in Diplomatic Courses. He could not therefore be ignorant of the sacred Nature of Instructions, or the Obligations of Ambassadors to keep them to themselves.
3. The Count de Vergennes had been so long in the habit of Intrigues to obtain the Instructions from foreign Courts to their Ambassadors, and probably paying for them very dear, that he had forgotten that the Practice was not lawfull.
4. The Count De Vergennes had probably instructed Mr. Gerard, by some means or other to penetrate into the Secrets of Congress and obtain from some of the Members or some of the Secretaries or Clerks, Copies of the most confidential Communications between Congress and their Ministers.
5. The Count De Vergennes expected that Mr. Gerard had succeeded, and would soon arrive with the Trophies of his Success. Of this Success, however, I have doubts. Mr. Jay with whom Mr. Gerard went to Europe in the same Ship can tell the World, if he will, as he has told me, the Arts and Importunities even to rudeness and ill manners, which he employed with Mr. Jay to obtain his Instructions. If he had been successfull in Pensilvania in obtaining Instructions he would not have been so zealous to procure a duplicate Copy from Mr. Jay.
6. The Count De Vergennes might imagine that I was so little read in the Law of Nations and the Negotiations of Ambassadors, and had so little Experience in the World, or to Use one of his own Expressions on another Occasion, so much Bonhommie, that upon the Intimation in his Letter, I would in all Simplicity and Naivete, send him a Copy of my Instructions.

7. Some allarming Ideas were excited by the Consideration that my Sovereign was an Assembly of more than fifty members, and fifty incorruptible Men all capable of containing a Secret, was not always to be expected. For the honor of that Congress however it is but justice to say that I believe their Secrets were as well kept as Secrets ever were by any Government in the World.
8. The Nature of my Instructions, with which I was not at all satisfied and was consequently more determined to keep from the French as well as English and other Courts. The Articles of my Instructions relative to the Boundaries of the United States and to the Fisheries were by no means agreable to me, and I had already reasons enough to suspect and indeed to believe, that the French Court, at least that the Count De Vergence, would wish me to go to the utmost Extent of my Instructions in relinquishing the Fisheries and in contracting the Boundaries of the United States; whereas on the contrary it was my unalterable Determination to insist on the Fisheries and on an ample Extention of our Boundaries, as long as my Instructions would justify me: I foresaw that if these Instructions were communicated to the French, they would have it in their Power, in case of a negotiation to the Br impart them to the British Ambassador and encourage him to insist on his part on terms that would greatly embarrass me and ultimately injure my Country in very essential Points.
The order of Dates would have required the Insertion of the following Letters, before.
Paris Feb. 13. 1780
Sir It was not, untill my Arrival at Passy, that I had the honor of your Excellencys Letter of the thirty first of December last.
I have received the Letter, which you did me, the honour to write me, on the sixth of October last.
I was well persuaded that Mr. De Chavagne would endeavour, to procure for you, on board his Ship, every gratification in his Power. In this respect he has complied with the communications I made to him of the Intentions of the King.
It is with pleasure that I have learned, that having been charged by Con

with an important Mission, you have been able to take Advantage, a second time of the Frigate the Sensible, to return to France.
I have the Honour to be, with the most perfect Consideration, Sir, your most humble and most obedient Servant.
De Sartine
Mr. John Adams.


It was not, untill my Arrival at Passy, that I had the honor of your Excellencys Letter of the thirty first of December last.
When his Majestys Intentions of granting me a Passage to America were communicated to me, I had little expectation of returning in the same Frigate: But The Congress having honoured me, with a fresh Mission to Europe, Their Excellencies the late and present Ministers from his Majesty to the United States, concurred in a Proposal to Congress and a requisition to the Commander of the Frigate to afford me a Passage, in her Voyage home, to which Captain Chavagne agreed, with particular marks of Politeness to me, Mr. Dana and the others who accompanied me.
I have again the pleasure to express to your Excellency, the Obligations I am under to the Captain and all the Officers of the Sensible, for their goodness to me and mine. But it is more particularly my Duty to express again my Thanks to his Majesty for this fresh favour; to Mr. Gerard and the Chevalier De La Luzerne who procured it for me; and to your Excellency for your Apprehension Approbation of it. I have the honour to be, with the greatest respect, your Excellencys most obedient and most humble Servant
John Adams
His Excellency Mr. De Sartine

Addition to Sheet 17

Dear Sir

Since my Arrival at Paris, I had the pleasure of your Letter of the first of this month. I thank you, Sir, for your kind Congratulations on my Arrival, and am glad to learn that the Letters I forwarded to you went safe.
When I left Boston, which was on the thirteenth of November, our public Affairs [in the military Line] wore a very favourable Aspect. The News of General Lincoln's being in possession of Georgia, by the Aid of the Count D'Estaing, was expected every moment, and great preparations were making by General Washington to cooperate with that great Officer in the Reduction of New York. You are sufficiently informed of the Reverses, which have taken place, since. But by Letters I have since received from Boston, the Misfortune of Georgia, seems not to have made any great Sensation. The People of America are so habituated to disappointment in the Events of War, that they have learned Philosophy enough to bear them very steadily.
In the civil Way, the Settlement of foreign Affairs, which had given the People the greatest Anxiety, seemed to give general Satisfaction: how long it will last will depend upon Contingencies.
I was told by a Member of Congress from New Hampshire, that your Accounts had been received by Congress, but I did not learn that they had been decided on.
Mr. Johnson, to whom and Family please to present my respects, is appointed to examine and certify his Opinion, of all public Accounts in France .3 The Award of your Arbitrators, I should be glad to see, and shall ask a Sight of it, the first leisure Opportunity.
Your Resolution to harbour no Enmity, and to be of no Party is amiable. Parties, in some degree or other, are common to all Countries, Nations and Governments: and although they may not be more real or more inveterate in free Governments than in others, yet they are more open, more public and make more noise. I fear it must be confessed that there has been a virulence of Party Spirit, in the foreign Affairs of the United States, which has injured worthy Characters on both Sides, and done Us much harm. I think therefore that it is the Duty of every good American to take up the same resolution with you, to be concerned in no personal disputes, or Party Animosities, at least any farther than they mix themselves unavoidably with the public Cause and Interest, from which they sometimes make themselves inseperable. I shall be pleased with the continuance of the same agreable Acquaintance, which has ever subsisted between Us, and wish you to believe me, with esteem your Friend and humble Servant
John Adams.
Jonathan Williams Esqr. at Nantes.

Dear Sir

I have the pleasure to inclose to you, two Letters, from your Friends at Boston, who are all well except Mr. Gray your Brother, who is not probably now living, as he was supposed to be in the last Stage of a Consumption. I shall be glad of an Opportunity of sending Letters from you to your Family, or from them to you, and to hear of your Welfare.
Your humble Servant
John Adams
Revd. Isaac Smith


I have the pleasure of inclosing two Letters from your Friends at Braintree to you, and one from Mr. Cranch to a Relation of his. It gave me pleasure to hear of your safe Arrival in Europe, And I shall be happy in an Opportunity of conveying any Letters to your Friends. I am, Sir, your most obedient Servant
John Adams
Mr. Joseph Palmer.
Whether it was consistent with the Character of a great or an honourable States man or not, to give me, so early and so just cause of jealousy of his Intentions,  [illegible those of the Count De Vergennes were too manifest to be mistaken in his Letter of the 15th of February. His Aim was plainly to obtain from me Copies not only of my Commissions but of my most secret and confidential Instructions. I was determined to express however no Surprize, but to comply with his Wishes as far as I could with honour and Safety and no farther. I wrote him the following Letter.


I have received the Letter which your Excellency did me the honour to write me, on the fifteenth of this month, and least I should not have explained sufficiently, in my Letter of the twelfth, the Nature and Extent of my Commissions, I have now the Honour to inclose, attested Copies of both, as well as of that to Mr. Dana.

With regard to my Instructions, I presume your Excellency will not judge it proper, that I should communicate them, any further than to assure you as I do in the fullest manner, that they contain nothing, inconsistent with the Letter or Spirit of the Treaties between his Majesty and The United States, or the most perfect friendship between France and America, but on the contrary the clearest orders to cultivate both.
I have hitherto conducted, according to your Advice, having never communicated to any Person, since my Arrival in Europe, the nature of my Mission, excepting to your Excellency and Dr. Franklin, to whom it was indeed communicated by a Resolution of Congress, and to him in confidence.
I shall continue to conceal, as far as may depend upon me, my actual Character: but I ought to observe to your Excellency, that my Appointment was as notorious in America as that of Mr. Jay or Dr. Franklin before my departure, so that it is probably already known to the Court of London, although they have not regular Evidence of it. I mention this least some Persons might charge me with publishing, what I certainly did not publish.
I thank your Excellency for the Assurances, of his Majestys Protection and of your Confidence, which it shall be my Study and Endeavour at all times to deserve. I have the honour to be, with the greatest respect, your Excellencys most obedient and most humble Servant
John Adams
His Excellency the Comte De Vergennes.
To this Letter I received an Answer of which the following is a litteral Translation.
I have received, Sir, the Letter which you did me the honor to write me on the nineteenth of this month. Your Full Powers, of which you have been so good as to send me a Copy, are perfectly conformable to the Account which Mr. Gerard had written me of them, and they leave Us nothing to desire, either in their form or Substance. I think there is no inconvenience, in informing the Public of the principal Object of your Mission, I mean to speak of the future Pacification. It will be, indeed announced in the Gazette of France, when that shall make mention of your Presentation to the King and Royal Family: And it will depend upon you to give to your eventual Character, a greater Publicity, by causing it to be inserted in the public Papers of Holland.

Cite web page as: John Adams autobiography, part 3, "Peace," 1779-1780, sheet 17 of 18 [electronic edition]. Adams Family Papers: An Electronic Archive. Massachusetts Historical Society. http://www.masshist.org/digitaladams/
Original manuscript: Adams, John. John Adams autobiography, part 3, "Peace," 1777-1778. Part 3 is comprised of 18 sheets and 1 insertion; 72 pages total. Original manuscript from the Adams Family Papers, Massachusetts Historical Society.
Source of transcription: Butterfield, L.H., ed. Diary and Autobiography of John Adams. Vol. 4. Cambridge, Mass. : Harvard University Press, 1961.
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