Papers of John Adams, volume 11

To C. W. F. Dumas, 8 March 1781 JA Dumas, Charles William Frederic To C. W. F. Dumas, 8 March 1781 Adams, John Dumas, Charles William Frederic
To C. W. F. Dumas
Dear Sir Leyden March 8. 1781

I Send you the Letters.1 If any Thing is necessary to be added to the Memorial before the Signature, you will be So good as to add it. 183I should be obliged to you for a Line by the Bearer, in Return, and the News, if any. My first Demarch you See, is on the Princes Birth day, which is no doubt a good omen both to his Highness and your servant.2 You will please to put a Wafer under the Seals.

John Adams

LbC (Adams Papers). Upon receiving his commission as minister to the Netherlands on 25 Feb., JA immediately began a new Letterbook (Lb/JA/16; Adams Papers, Microfilms, Reel No. 104), which he designated “Holland Vol. 2.” The first three documents copied were his commission of 29 Dec., the letter of 1 Jan. from the president of Congress, above, and Congress' resolution of 5 Oct. concerning the armed neutrality. These were followed, in the order given, by the seven documents mentioned in note 1. They, in turn, were followed by this letter of transmittal to C. W. F. Dumas.


The letters enclosed constituted JA's first démarche as minister plenipotentiary to the Netherlands, although, as the documents show, he did not refer to himself in that capacity. His purpose was to request Russia, Sweden, Denmark, and the Netherlands to permit the U.S. to accede to the armed neutrality as proposed in Congress' resolution of 5 Oct. 1780. The seven documents comprising the démarche were all dated 8 March and included JA's first memorial to the States General, below, and letters to Prince Gallitzin, the Russian minister, below; Baron Ehrensvärd, the Swedish envoy; M. de Mestral de Saint Saphorin, the Danish envoy; the Duc de La Vauguyon, below; Engelbert François van Berckel, pensionary of Amsterdam; and Carel W. Visscher, soon to replace van Berckel as pensionary of Amsterdam. For the four letters not printed, all LbC's, Adams Papers, see the notes to the Gallitzin and La Vauguyon letters. The initiative failed for very practical reasons, namely that the U.S. was a belligerent rather than a neutral and for the signatories to permit the accession of the U.S. to the armed neutrality they must recognize U.S. independence and thereby become involved in a war with England. Nevertheless, it represented an uniquely American view of the armed neutrality as serving the long term interest of the U.S. to remain neutral in future European wars. This is clear from the letters to the diplomats as well as from the memorial to the States General, in all of which JA refers to the armed neutrality as reflecting a “reformation in the maritime law of nations.” For Catherine II's declaration of an armed neutrality on 10 March 1780 and a discussion of its provisions and the U.S. view of them, see vol. 9:121–126.


William V, Prince of Orange, was born 9 March 1748. Dumas intended to deliver the letters and the memorial on William's birthday, but in a letter of 9 March (Adams Papers) he explained that he had been frustrated by the absence of a “principal personnage,” probably the president of the States General, and postponed the execution of JA's orders until the 10th. That Dumas enjoyed the role assigned him is clear from JA's comments immediately preceding this letter in the Boston Patriot. JA wrote that “These papers I sent to Mr. Dumas, at the Hague, to be all delivered with his own hand, an office with which he was extremely delighted, because as he said it enabled him 'á commencer á jouer un Rêe public'” (JA, Corr. in the Boston Patriot , p. 395). Presumably Dumas was happy because he could finally act openly in his capacity as an American agent.

To Prince Dmitri A. Gallitzin, 8 March 1781 JA Gallitzin, Prince Dmitri Alexeivitch To Prince Dmitri A. Gallitzin, 8 March 1781 Adams, John Gallitzin, Prince Dmitri Alexeivitch
To Prince Dmitri A. Gallitzin
Sir Leyden March 8. 17811

I have lately received from Congress, as one of their ministers plenipotentiary, their resolution of the fifth of October last, relative to the rights of neutral vessels, a Copy of which, I do myself the 184Honour, to inclose to your Excellency, as the Representative of one of the high contracting Parties, to the marine Treaty, lately concluded, concerning this Subject.

As I am fixed by my duty for the present, to this part of Europe, I have no other Way of communicating this measure of Congress to the northern Courts, but by the favour of their Ministers in this Republic: I must therefore, request of your Excellency, if there is no impropriety in it, to transmit the Resolution to the Minister of foreign Affairs, of her Imperial Majesty.

Your Excellency will permit me to add, that I should esteem myself, very fortunate, to be the instrument of pledging, in form, the faith of the United States of America, to a reformation, in the maritime Law of nations, which does So much honour to the present Age.

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

John Adams

RC (AVPR, Moscow, f. Snosheniia Rossii s Gollandiei, op. 50/6, d. 218, l. 24–25); endorsed: “à la Lettre du Pce. Gallitzin à la Hage au Vice Chancelier, en datée du 13 Mars 1781.”


This letter is virtually identical to those JA sent to Baron Gustaf Johan Ehrensvärd, Swedish minister to the Netherlands, and to Armand François Louis de Mestral de Saint Saphorin, the Danish minister to the Netherlands (both LbC's, Adams Papers). Russia, Sweden, and Denmark did not recognize the U.S. and thus their representatives, in their official capacities, could neither accept JA's letter nor reply to it. However, this did not prevent them from sending the letters received from JA to their respective foreign ministries (The United States and Russia: The Beginning of Relations, 1765–1815, ed. Nina N. Bashkina and others, Washington, 1980, p. 109).