Papers of John Adams, volume 8

To Edmund Jenings, 4 May 1779 JA Jenings, Edmund To Edmund Jenings, 4 May 1779 Adams, John Jenings, Edmund
To Edmund Jenings
Dear Sir Minden May 4. 1779

Yesterday your favour of 25 of April came to Hand, but my dear sir you flatter me too much when you tell me that the Part I have taken gives me a right to influence and direct. I claim no other Right than that of being heard and having what I have to say considered: but According to present Appearances, even this is not like to be conceded to me. Content, in Gods name, if Persons of greater Abilities, more firmness, more Experience, and more Merit are, to be found in such Plenty, by the united states, either at home or abroad, let them be employed. But I can serve no Cause or Country, with Dishonour. It is not the Constitution of my Mind, if it had been I should never have been here, nor at Paris, nor at Congress.

As to the great Work of Peace, sir, you may depend upon this (if I know any Thing of Congress or the united states, a Point which I begin to doubt) no Peace will ever be made without clear, and positive Instructions from Congress. This is a subject, which in my Apprehension they will reserve to themselves and no Man or Body of Men besides will ever be able to content the People of America, with any 55Peace. The satisfaction of America, and the Preservation of their Union is the great Point, We have to attend to, in making Peace, and I cannot but think it forward, and presumptuous, in any in public Characters, without Commission, or Instructions for this Purpose, to negociate or even confer about it, any farther than to receive Propositions and transmit them to Congress. Private Gentlemen perhaps may indulge themselves in speculations with less danger.

I do not draw the Same Conclusion, with you, from the Resolution of Congress respecting the Cargoes of the Amphitrite &c. They say they have Evidence that those Cargoes were not presents which is true, because an Agent arrived in America before I left it to demand Payment of Congress for the whole

But I have not Time to enlarge at present. My Thoughts have been wholly occupied, of late upon Objects of much less Magnitude, than the Peace of Nations.

I have had enough to do, to make Peace on Board the Alliance, get the Prisoners exchanged and the ship to sea, and the Moment the Business was accomplished, and the Prospect opened before me of sailing, in the pleasantest Month in the Year and the finest frigate in the World, directly home, a positive order arrives, which disarrayes all my schemes.

I dined at Brest on Board the St. Esprit, at the Invitation of her Commander Mr. Hamilton,1 who treated me with perfect Politeness, and there I found an officer, who was constantly humming Tunes to himself and making pathetic Ejaculations to the God of Love. Mr. Hamilton explained me his Case.

This officer two or three Years ago, was married in the East Indies, to a Young Lady of thirteen upon Condition that she should remain in a Convent untill his Return from Europe. This Spring the Annibal on board of which Vessell this officer was had orders to sail for India,—but when every Thing was ready for the Fleet to sail, orders came from Court for the officers and Equipage of the Annibal to shift on Board the St. Esprit, a ship destined to remain in Brest Harbour for the Channel service.

I find myself, since my Disappointment, more disposed to pity this officer, and to chant as he did Oh Dieu des Amours &c.

You may depend upon it, how much soever a Man may pant for Glory, the Prospect of a Battle with Admiral Keppell, or of Captivity in British Prisons is not quite so comfortable to human Nature as that of the Embraces of an agreable family.

Adieu John Adams

RC (Adams Papers); docketed: “Mr. Adams May 4th 1779.”


The Saint Esprit was an 80-gun ship of the line and its captain was a former British naval officer (Dull, French Navy and Amer. Independence , p. 351, 138).

From William Gordon, 8 May 1779 Gordon, William JA From William Gordon, 8 May 1779 Gordon, William Adams, John
From William Gordon
My dear Sir Jamaica Plain May. 8. 17791

We are just returned from visiting your good Lady at Braintree, where I had a complaint exhibited against me for not writing to you, which I mean to answer totidem verbis.2 But before I proceed further must mention, in brief, that news which will be the most important and agreeable of all you will meet with in the letter, viz, that Mrs. Adams and children are well and as chearful as can be expected while you are at such a distance from them. We spent the evening and lay at your villa, and returned immediately after breakfast, having to attend in the afternoon the funeral of Dr. Winthrop, who deceased the last Monday, to the great loss of the College, State and Continent.3 The late General Court died the same day with Dr. Winthrop. Some of their last acts I think are not the most honourable or equitable. I have my eye particularly to that which confiscates the estates real and personal of all absentees that withdrew, without leave, after the 19th. of Apl. 1775 into any parts and places under the acknowledged authority of the king of G B, or into any parts and places within the limits of the united States being in the actual possession of the fleets or armies of the said king; or who before the 19th of Apr. after the arrival of Thos. Gage Esqr. withdrew from their usual places of habitation into the town of Boston with an intention of obtaining his protection and have not returned and been received as subjects of the United States.4 To confiscate the estates of all such absentees without distinction or exception I must deem till I have more light—cruel—cruel—superlative cruel. Besides there is a gross absurdity in the act for the preamble sets forth as the reason for the confiscation, their withdrawing when it had become their indispensible duty to unite in defence of their common freedom, in consequence of the kings having declared the people of the United States to be out of his protection, and levying war against them. Now the king did not declare the people of the United States out of his protection nor levy war against them, till long after the 19th. of Apr. 1775.5 It might have sufficed to have confiscated where absentees had been in arms or had subscribed towards raising wherewithal to subdue us, or had withdrawn after the declaration of Independence. But the State wants money; and individuals who have made a great 57deal of paper money during the war want to buy estates, and turn their nominal riches into real, ere they expire in their possession.

Monday morning May 10

I could get no further on the saturday, and am now in a great hurry, having a journey to Providence before me, in order to pay Genl. Gates a visit. Our currency is our greatest difficulty for the present; and what it will soon come to is hard to say. I wish it was all burnt to ashes, never to rise again. It will not be the true policy of France to attempt dividing the fishery with G B to the exclusion of the Americans.6 Such a manoeuvre will disgust the New Englanders to that degree, that if G B is not downright folly she may take the advantage of such disgust and make it turn much to her own account and equally so to the damage of France. I have wrote you several letters,7 and have received not one from you, while I have heard once and again from Dr. Franklin; but while I consider the interruption to which the present correspondence is liable, and how few letters Your Lady hath received out of the many You have wrote, I suspend all censure. The man 8 whom you thought would be governor, I apprehend never will be. He sinks daily; and the world begins to know a little more of him. Would time permit you should have more words; but I am straitened, tho' I got up before I could see to read. Believe me to be with much esteem, Your sincere friend & very humble servant

William Gordon

It is pritty well over with Deane; he and his colleagues outwitted themselves. Paine hath done or will do for them; for he will tell the truth. I could write you more about them, but it might not be safe.

RC (Adams Papers); docketed by John Thaxter: “Dr Gordon May 8.” The bottom of the page has been cut off, resulting in the loss of a portion of the docketing.


The date and the docketing in Thaxter's hand are indications that JA did not receive this letter until his return to France in 1780.


In so many words.


Professor John Winthrop, JA's former teacher and friend, died on 3 May. In AA's letter to JA of 8 June, she paid tribute to his memory ( Adams Family Correspondence , 3:200–201).


“An Act for Confiscating the Estates of Certain Persons Commonly Called Absentees” was adopted on 30 April. The sentence largely follows the text of the first section of the act (Mass., Province Laws , 5:968–971; Mass., House Jour. , 1778–1779, 2d sess., p. 203).


Presumably Gordon is referring to the king's proclamation for “Supressing Rebellion and Sedition” of 23 Aug. 1775.


Gordon is alluding to the debate then going on in the congress over the American peace ultimata, in which the question of American access to the Newfoundland fisheries was a major issue. He was not alone in his concern about the possibility of an Anglo-French division of the fisheries, for James Lovell wrote Gen. Horatio Gates on 5 April that “two European Powers have fancied that they could claim the Fishery of the Banks and Gulphs of America not only against their european Nations but against all weaker People ever bordering on their Sease” 58(Burnett, ed., Letters of Members , 4:142). For a more detailed treatment of the fisheries issue and its implications for JA's appointment to negotiate treaties of peace and commerce with Great Britain, see James Lovell to JA, 27 Sept., note 2 (below).


No letters from Gordon since JA's departure from America in Feb. 1778 have been found.


Probably a reference to John Hancock. In letters to James Warren on 7 July and to Elbridge Gerry of 9 Dec. 1777, JA had indicated his belief that Hancock sought the governorship (vol. 5:242–243, 352–353).