Papers of John Adams, volume 8

To Edmund Jenings, 8 June 1779 JA Jenings, Edmund To Edmund Jenings, 8 June 1779 Adams, John Jenings, Edmund
To Edmund Jenings
Dear sir L'orient June 8. 1779

Yours of the Second of this Month, was brought to me, but this Moment, and I am happy to find that I agree in so many Points with you.

The Armament that has been fitting out here, has been a Mystery, as almost every Thing else has.1 I never was informed, of the intended 79strength, the Number of ships or Troops, or who was to command— or where they were to go. I never asked any Questions. I chose to be ignorant—determined in order to do as little Mischief as possible, to be as silent as possible. For, whatever may be Said of me, I certainly do not abound with Envy, nor am I capable of endeavouring to obstruct or embarrass any public Measure, by drawing a Party after me, to make my self important. If I had there has been ample opportunities at Nantes Brest and L'orient.

There is a Phenomenon here however, that surprises me, altho I have not talked much about here, I may mention it to you. Here are two french Gentlemen very agreable ones too dressed in American Uniforms, and I have been told I know not how truly that the american Minister has given them, Commissions as Captains in the Navy. I have not dared to Speak upon this subject but to Jones and Landais, because I knew it would throw it into a Flame excite great Discontents if not throw all into a Flame, because it is contrary to a possitive Instruction of Congress.2

Am surprized to learn that the Expedition is totaly laid aside. On fait et defait — on mande et contramande — on range et derange — et c'est toujours ainsi ici,3 Said a French Gentleman to me two or three days ago. And if he had Said it, of the Management of our American affairs, in France here I would have sworn for him that every Word of it was true.

I am wearyed to death, with the oscillations of our Politicks, and I am every Hour more and more convinced that Chaumont and Bancroft will have the entire Guidance of our Affairs, unless the system is wholly altered, and I am sure I have not Faith enough in the Head of the former or the Heart of the latter, to be willing to trust them with my share in this great Interest. Some Machinery will be set on foot to procure a Letter from a Minister of State, to be an Excuse or give a Colour for schemes that nobody will be able to develope or penetrate.4

You Say I may still go home in my favourite Frigate, but you are mistaken. She is ordered on a Cruise and my Baggage is on board the Sensible, which as she is she appears to me to be a dull Sailor, and has but 28 Guns, gives me at least a fair Chance of meeti rencountering an English Frigate of superiour Force being a Witness taking a share in a sublime Battle, and being carried Captive to Hallifax or N. York, which would put it out of my Power to do Mischief good or harm, for some Years, unless as a Random shot, might do for ever. Either of these Suppositions would give Pleasure to some many People, and pain to very few. I am very confident, that neither Case 80would make me unhappier than I have been for a Year past, and therefore I am not much distressed at the Cont Presage.

Dont misunderstand this. It was not Versailles Paris, France — French Dress, Cookery, or Gallantry that made me unhappy, for I but my own Countrymen.

I have at last received, the Remembrancer, you was so kind as to send me and have read with great Pleasure “the Spirit and Resources of G. Britain considered in twelve Letters.” I shall preserve this Pamphlet and the other5 with great Care. I hope the Author will continue his Speculations for a Writer with such Talents and such a Temper cannot fail to do much service to the Public.

I had heard of the Advancement of the Bust. It deserves it—it has merited it, by zealous and successful services to that House—it, or a Noddle as little respectable in my Estimation, by imposing upon honest Men6 erected the present system, as ill digested and contrived for the public service, as it is flattering to a Pride that was otherwise and before two much flattered.7

I am not dead Mr. Johnson Jennings, nor have I lost my own Feeling or my Love to my Country. And if I can preserve my Head from Balls and Captivity that Voice And that Pen which has been heard heretofore very often and sometimes with Indulgence, shall be heard again. I will not always see the Honour and Interest of my Country, intrigued away and her most solid Characters immolated at the shrine of Moloch and be Silent.

I had the Pleasure of Some Acquaintance with Mr. Johnson, and of receiving many Civilities from him, at Nantes, and agree with you in thinking him a Sensible, worthy Man, indeed I do not know at present, where to find a Person, more Suitable, but it is a subject that deserves, what our Ld. Coke calls a great deal of Sad Consideration.

LbC (Adams Papers); notation: “not sent.”


For the “Armament,” see Benjamin Franklin to JA, 24 April, note 1 (above).


Although JA may have seen only two, there were three French officers at Lorient who had received captain's commissions in apparent violation of a resolution of 9 May 1778 directing the Commissioners not to recommend “any foreign sea officers, nor give any of them the least expectation of being employed as captains in the navy of the United States” ( JCC , 11:485). They were Brulôt de Cottineau de Kerloguen of the Pallas, Philippe Nicolas Ricot of the Vengeance, and Joseph Varage of Le Cerf. The three men, all French naval officers, and their ships had been sent to Lorient to join the squadron being formed by John Paul Jones (Morison, John Paul Jones , p. 190–191; Allen, Naval Hist. of the Amer. Revolution , 2:714).


One makes and unmakes — one orders and cancels — one sets and upsets — and it is always so here.


JA may be referring to Sartine's letter of 20 April to Benjamin Franklin asking that the Alliance be sent to Lorient (from Benjamin Franklin, 24 April, note 1, 81above), or he might be thinking of Sartine's letter of 5 July 1778 to the Commissioners, requesting that John Paul Jones be permitted to remain in Paris for consultations concerning an unspecified mission (vol. 6:265).


For the “other” pamphlet, see Edmund Jenings to JA, 10 March, note 7 (above).


The previous five words were written above the line for insertion here.


As mentioned in Jenings' letter of the 2d (above), the bust of Silas Deane. By “zealous and successful services to that House” JA may mean Deane's financial dealings with Leray de Chaumont, the owner of the Commissioners' house at Passy.

To Arthur Lee, 9 June 1779 JA Lee, Arthur To Arthur Lee, 9 June 1779 Adams, John Lee, Arthur
To Arthur Lee
Dear Sir L'orient June 9. 1779

Your Favours of June 2d and 5th are now before me: that of 29 March, I have answered if I ever received it, for I have answered every one received from you, but not having my Papers at Hand cannot be particular. Thank you for the Manuscript and the Pamphlet.1

Am happy to hear from you and from all others, so agreable a Character of the Chevalier de la Luzerne, and M. de Marbois the last of whom I have had the Pleasure to see. Wish it was in my Power to do more for M. Ford, and to take him with me but the Frigate will be so crouded, I fear it will be impossible. The Declarations of the northern Powers against the Right of England to Stop their Merchant Vessels, and arming to support their Rights are important Events. The displacing of Mr. Paine is a disagreable and alarming one.

It is with no small Astonishment, that I learn by your Letter of the fifth, that by Advices from America Since your last to me your Ennemies are determined to impeach your Attachment to our Country and her Cause. Your Request that I would give my Opinion on that subject, from the Knowledge I have had of your Conduct, while We acted in Commission together can meet with no Objection from me.

But I hope I need not inform you, that my Opinion upon this Point is no secret, at Versailles, Paris, Nantes or Elsewhere. Inclosed is Copy of a Letter, I did myself the Honour to write his Excellency the Comte de Vergennes sometime ago, which for any Thing I know is communicated to all the Court: But the answer Shews that it was received.2 I had my Reasons then for keeping it to myself, which exist now no more. I would transcribe the whole Correspondence, if it was in my Power but I have not time, and it is Sufficient to Say that it was conducted by his Excellency, with the most obliging Politeness. It is my Duty now to furnish you with a Copy, least any Accident may befall me, which is by no Means improbable. I thought then and am con-82firmed in that Opinion more and more, that it was my Duty, to communicate my Sentiments at Court, upon that very extraordinary occasion, and from Regard to my own Reputation, I am very glad you have given me an Opportunity of furnishing you with Evidence, that I did this Part of my duty so far forth. The Letter was written, sent to Versailles and received by his Excellency, before the Arrival of the Marquis de la Fayette, his Aid de Camp or Dr. Winship, that is before the News reached Passy, of the new Arrangement.

But least that Letter should not be Sufficient, I shall inclose another Certificate,3 not without an heartfelt Grief and Indignation, that Malice should have been so daring and so barbarous, as to make either such a Letter or such a Certificate from me, either necessary, or even pardonable. Your Hint that I must correct Some Things that are amiss, extorts from me, an involuntary Sigh. I shall be in a situation critical and difficult without Example. My own Character at stake from various Quarters, and without any Thing to support me, but Truth and Innocence and you need not be informed that these are not always Sufficient. I have little Expectation of doing good: God grant I may do no Harm. I shall not designedly. But I suppose Congress intend to examine me as a Witness, and I must tell the Truth, the whole Truth and nothing but the Truth, as far as I know it. If the Task should end here, I should not be much embarrassed, but if they proceed to demand of me, Opinions and Judgments of Men and Things, as there is Reason to expect they will, altho I hope they will not, what will be the Consequence?

Upon the whole, Truth must be my shield, and if the shafts of interested Malice, can pierce through this, they shall pierce me. I have the Honour to be with Esteem and Respect, sir your most obedient humble servant.

John Adams

RC (Adams Papers); docketed by JQA: “Recd from R. H. Lee 24 July 1828.” For an explanation of how this letter came to be in the Adams Papers, see JA to Arthur Lee, 10 Oct. 1778, descriptive note (above).


Neither item has been found; see Lee's letter of 2 June, note 1 (above).


JA's letter of 11 Feb. to Vergennes was answered on the 13th (both above). The copy of JA's letter to Vergennes, enclosed in this letter, was, in turn, submitted by Lee to the congress as an enclosure in his letter to the president of the congress of 17 Oct. 1780 (PCC, No. 83, II, f. 306–308, 302–303). The copy bears the notation: “Copied from my Letter Book, at L'orient June 9. 1779 By John Adams.” A few days later, JA decided to send a copy of Vergennes' reply of 13 Feb. to Lee; see JA to Lee, 13 June (below).


See JA to Lee, 10 June (below).