Papers of John Adams, volume 10

To the President of Congress, No. 33, 28 December 1780 JA President of Congress Huntington, Samuel To the President of Congress, No. 33, 28 December 1780 Adams, John President of Congress Huntington, Samuel
To the President of Congress, No. 33
Duplicate Sir Amsterdam December 28th 17801

The Dutch say that the English are acting the part of the Sailor, having quarrelled with three others as stout as himself, and got his Bones broke and his Eyes beat out in the Squabble, challenged four more to fight him at the same time, that he might have it in his Power to make it up with all seven, with Honour.

If the English are not actuated by the same blind and vindictive Passions, which have governed them so many Years, it is impossible to see through their Policy. I think it is impossible they should be ignorant of the Articles of Confederation of the Neutral Powers: these Articles, as I am informed, warrant to all the Neutral Powers their Treaties with England, and stipulate that if either is attacked after the twentieth of November last it shall be made a Common Cause.

If the English should issue Letters of Marque against the Dutch, the States General will not immediately issue Letters of Marque in return; but will represent the Facts to the Congress at Petersbourg and demand the benefit of the Treaty of Armed Neutrality, and all the Powers who are Parties to that Confederation will join in demanding of England Restitution, and, in Case of Refusal, will jointly issue Letters of Marque and Reprisal.2

The political Machine, that is now in Motion, is so vast, and comprehends so many Nations, whose Interests are not easy to adjust, that it is perhaps impossible for the human Understanding to foresee what Events may occur to disturb it. But at present there is no unfavourable appearance from any Quarter. We are in hourly Expectation of interesting News from the English, French and Spanish Fleets, from Petersbourg, from London and the Hague, and especially from North America. Every Wheel and Spring in the whole political System of Europe, would have its Motions rapidly accelerated by certain News from America of any decisive Advantage obtained over Cornwallis in South Carolina, so true it is that America is the very Centre and Axis of the whole.

The Death of the Empress Queen,3 it is generally thought, will make no Alteration in the System of Europe: yet it is possible that 443after some time there may be Changes—none, however, which can be hurtfull to Us.

I have the Honour to be, with the greatest Respect, Sir, your most obedient and most humble Servant

John Adams

Dupl in John Thaxter's hand (PCC, No. 84, II, f. 349–351); docketed: “Letter Decr. 28. 1780 John Adams Read Novr. 19. 1781.”


The original of this letter was intercepted and printed in the New York Mercury extraordinary of 19 April 1781, and then was reprinted in other papers, including the Pennsylvania Gazette of 2 May and the Boston Gazette of 28 May 1781. For AA's comments on this letter as printed in the Boston Gazette, see her letter of 28 May to JA ( Adams Family Correspondence , 4:141–142).


JA's hope, expressed in this and the preceding paragraph, that the threat of sanctions by the League of Armed Neutrality would be sufficient to preserve Dutch neutrality had already been overtaken by events. With its Manifesto of 20 Dec., Britain had declared war. While it blamed the outbreak of hostilities on Amsterdam's negotiation of the Lee-Neufville treaty, the war directly resulted from the Dutch decision of 20 Nov. to accede to the armed neutrality. With regard to reprisals, JA states the general sense of the conventions establishing the armed neutrality that Russia had already concluded with Denmark and Sweden. But it was one thing for the Dutch to appeal for assistance as a neutral, and quite another to do so as a belligerent, even a reluctant one. After 20 Dec. any concerted effort by the neutral powers—Sweden and Denmark, but most importantly, Russia—to use their naval forces to protect Dutch commerce against British depredations under the terms of the armed neutrality would result in a naval war with Britain. That was an outcome for which those powers were not prepared (De Madariaga, Armed Neutrality of 1780 , p. 289–293, 307–312; but see also JA's letter to the president of Congress, 25 Nov., No. 22, and note 2; and from Thomas Digges, 22 Dec., and note 2, both above).


Maria Theresa of Austria had died on 29 Nov. (Hoefer, Nouv. biog. générale ).

From Edmund Jenings, 28 December 1780 Jenings, Edmund JA From Edmund Jenings, 28 December 1780 Jenings, Edmund Adams, John
From Edmund Jenings
Sir Brussels Decr. 28th. 1780

I Had written to your Excellency a long Letter on the State of Affairs, which the Attention, I had the pleasure of paying to Mr. Dana, who staid here four or five days, prevented me Sending, and which is now Swallowed up by what has I am told, passed between the Courts of London and the Hague.

Never surely did a Nation seek for the Enmity of Mankind with more eagerness, than the English do at this Time. Have they not Ennemies enough, that they shoud seek for more? How can we Account for their proceedings? I saw with Astonishment the Memorial of the 12th Instant. I saw in it a Conduct, that Confounded me, but it is plain, that orders have been long since sent to Act offencively Against the Dutch in the East and West, and that the present procedure is meant to warrant that Violence. One would Imagine, that England well Knew what She was About in this business, if we did not See, that She had been long Acting Contrary to all Knowledge 444for many years in every Transaction with Us. Does She mean to Confound her Ennemies by the Boldness of her Conduct as I have read is Sometimes a good Rule of Policy? But Surely she ought rather to Confound her former Ennemies by direct Attacks on them, rather than Create new ones, which will take off Her force from the first, to be exerted against the last. This Conduct will certainly not Astonish, but please her former Ennemies. Is she induced to war with the Dutch by the Hopes of Plunder, which the Easy Capture of the Dutch Ships may Afford? Does She propose to take the Cape of Good Hope and Conquer Batavia, what can be her Object? Is Holland insulted and attacked on the Same Principle, that America was, i.e., that it is Easy to Subdue—I am weary of Conjectures, But Dutch Fury is Equal to American Bravery and this Measure may be productive of the greatest Evil to Her. However a Dutch War and the Armed Neutrallity, if it Comes to any thing, may require that France Should Keep a greater Number of Ships in Europe, than is Consistent with the Essential Object of our War. It may be difficult perhaps to Convince the Dutch, that the Independancy of America is particularly their Interest, as it will for Ever prevent their Rival from treating them with Insult and Insolence in future, or that at least, America being freed from her present Embarrassements by the Expulsion of the Ennemy, will Act with Astonishing Vigor against the Common Foe; France at least ought to see it, and make the proper Efforts. Nothing ought to prevent Her from sending a decided Superiority of Naval Force to the States of America. That Measure alone will secure Europe from future Insult.

Does your Excellency think that England has any Dependance on the Emperor? He has got his Brother Maximilian declared Coadjuter of the Bishoprick of Munster and Cologne, which effects Holland on one Side, while the Low Countries border on the other. He has an Eye on the Bishoprick of Liege and it is said, that Matter is settled to his wish. This cannot but be alarming to the Dutch should He take a part against them. It is likewise alarming to France, nor Can the King of Prussia be Easy at such an increase of Influence and Power in the Emperor.1 There is much Appearance of the War becoming general. The Fear of it however may make a Peace, which I pray to God may be to the Honour and Advantage of our Country.

I cannot express to your Excellency the Pleasure, that I have had in Mr. Danas Company. I wish our Country had many such.

I have received from London a Pamphlet intitled, a Short View of the Lord High Admirals Jurisdiction and of the several Acts for 445regulating and restraining the Trade of the british Plantations and of the Commissions of Vice Admiralty Courts there, together with the Heads of a Bill for the better regulating the same, printed 1775. This is, I believe, the Book your Excellency wanted, if so, I will send it by the first Opportunity.2

I have read Lord Howes Narrative and Galloways Answer, they are both Excellent for Us. They ought to be read Universally.

I wish your Excellency and the Young Gentlemen Many happy Years.

I am Sir your Excellencys Most Faithful & Obedient Humble Servant

Edm: Jenings

RC (Adams Papers); endorsed: “Mr Jennings. ansd. 31. Decr. 1780.”


Joseph II's appointment of his brother Maximilian as coadjutor significantly increased the Hapsburg influence in the Imperial Diet. Its net effect, however, was to cause the minor German princes to gravitate toward Frederick II and Prussia and, in 1785, join together in the Fürstenbund, which effectively blocked Joseph's aspirations for the domination of Germany ( Cambridge Modern Hist. , 8:313).


JA had first asked Jenings to procure him a work on admiralty law in his letter of 26 April (above). As JA indicates in his reply of 31 Dec. (below), however, this volume, published in London and for which Jenings gives the exact title, was not the one he wanted.