Papers of John Adams, volume 11

To the President of Congress

From the Committee for Foreign Affairs


It is not known how JA learned of this proposal. He received full confirmation of it several months later via Francis Dana in St. Petersburg. Dana provided copies of letters he had received from the Marquis de Verac dated 2 and 12 Sept. regarding the general peace conference (LbC's in French, Adams Papers; English translations, Wharton, ed., Dipl. Corr. Amer. Rev. , 4:684–685, 705–707).

Count Panin, Catherine II's chancellor, first posed the idea of inviting American state delegates during preliminary discussions concerning a Russian mediation of the Anglo-French war in 1780. Prince Kaunitz, the Austrian chancellor, raised the plan again in April 1781 in talks with the French ambassador at Vienna concerning the Austro-Russian mediation. Both men believed that Britain was more likely to negotiate with the individual states than with Congress because it would have the opportunity to split the rebellious colonies and retain a portion of its American empire. Moreover, this plan would allow Britain to avoid 434recognizing the U.S. as sovereign and independent.

Vergennes favored the proposal. In a memorandum to Louis XVI of Feb. 1781, the foreign minister reasoned that the only means to end the war might be for the U.S. to accept a long truce based on uti posseditis. France would guarantee American independence during the term of the truce, but if Britain negotiated with the separate states the likely effect would be the partition of the U.S.

Whether due to JA's forthright representations or to the improving military situation in the U.S., Vergennes' reply to the mediators in August rejected their intervention principally because of uncertainty over the status of Congress' negotiator at any peace conference (De Madariaga, Armed Neutrality of 1780 , p. 245, 328; Morris, Peacemakers , p. 169–171, 179– 183, 208–210).

In 1809, when he published this letter in the Boston Patriot, JA credited his letters to Vergennes for the defeat of the mediation. There he wrote: “The answer to the articles relative to America, proposed by the two imperial courts, and the letters to the Comte de Vergennes, ... I have the satisfaction to believe, defeated the profound and magnificent project of a Congress at Vienna, for the purpose of chicaning the United States out of their independence.

“It moreover established the principle, that American Ministers Plenipotentiary were not to appear without their public titles and characters, nor to negociate but with their equals after an exchange of full powers” (JA, Corr. in the Boston Patriot , p. 133).