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Browsing: Papers of John Adams, Volume 6


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Docno: ADMS-06-06-02-0053

Author: Lovell, James
Recipient: Adams, John
Date: 1778-04-29

From James Lovell

[salute] Dear sir

I promise myself much from the eight or nine scrawls which I have sent to you since your departure from America, in the spirit, I own to you, with which Indians make their presents of feathers or bark.1
I must depend upon your imagination to comprehend what I will not undertake to describe—our chagrin and perplexity at our total ignorance of the situation and transactions of the Commissioners at Paris and other parts of Europe. I ask you a plain question, or two. How often have the Gentlemen at Paris wrote to Congress since June last? Have copies and triplicates of their Dispatches been sent? Do you know who robbed Folgier? Is there more reason to think it was done by the english court than the french, if it was done at all by court influence? Do not our mercantile concerns and the interest of individuals therein furnish the best clue to the robbery?
I must refer you to the printed papers for the conduct of our enemies.2 Tryons certified Bills did not come out 'till after our committee had reported.3 He sent packets to Genl. W—— Gates and others requesting that they would not prevent the dispersion of the Bills among the Officers and people at large. I have not Tryon's letter by me just now but it will be printed shortly with Genl. W——s answer as follows—

[salute] Sir

Your letter of the 17th: and a triplicate of the same were duly received. I had had the pleasure of seing the draughts of the two Bills, before those which were sent by you came to hand and I can assure you they were suffered to have a free currency among the officers and men under my command, in whose fidelity to the United States I have the most perfect confidence; and the inclosed Gazette, published the 24th. at York Town, will show you { 70 } that it is the wish of Congress they should have an unrestrained circulation.
I take the liberty to transmit you a few printed copies of a resolution of Congress of the 23d. instant,4 and to request you will be instrumental in communicating its contents, so far as it may be in your power, to the persons who are the objects of its operation. The benevolent purpose it is intended to answer will, I persuade myself, sufficiently recommend it to your candor.
I am Sir Your most Obedt Servt.
[signed] Go Washington

[addrLine] Majr. Genl. Tryon at New York

The enemy just at the time when they are affecting to treat with us are sending forth in the Gazettes of Philadelphia and New York a forged Resolve of Congress, purporting our grant of a power to Genl. W—— to regard all militia men, enlisted or draughted for 9 months or a year, as soldiers during the war and to treat them as deserters if they shall attempt to leave the camp on the expiration of their present Agreement.5
We have this day offered 800 acres of Land with certain Stock named to any captain in the British Service, not a Subject of the King of Gr: Br:, who shall bring off with him self 40 Men, and proportional rewards to Officers of inferiour rank and to the soldiers.6
This is taking up the enemy's practice. I do not like it because the offers are much too great. The same Generals who have managed the war are not to negotiate reconcilliation: Ld. Amherst is said to have arrived at New York and to have freed all our men, prisoners there, upon parole. This is not certain; but He Admiral Kepple and Genl. Murray are said to be nominated Commissioners. Is it not droll that I should send such news to France; but not expecting to hear from the Gentlemen there this season, I propose to let them know that we do get a little european intelligence other ways. Mr. D—— at the Hague writes very punctually tho we treat him as we are treated by others. I hope that we shall some time or other be told what is the proper recompence for that Gentleman's Services. I wrote to him last year that it was needless, for him, to be at the trouble of any thing more than to correspond with the Commissioners. He is punctual however; and his letters down to Y have reached us and tho little interesting have cost us great Sums indeed, one alone from Boston £50 sterling nearly.7
{ 71 }
RC (Adams Papers); docketed: “Mr Lovels Letter to me April 29. 1778.” A partial French translation (Arch. Aff. Etr., Paris, Corr. Pol., E.-U., vol. 3) bears the notation: “N a Adam traduit de L'anglois Interceptée.” “ADAM” is written over another name which cannot be read. Copies of two other letters that accompanied this one to France are also in the French archives and bear the notation “Interceptée” (John Thaxter to JA , 30 April || and descriptive note||; Isaac Smith Sr. to JA , 6 May ||and descriptive note||, Adams Family Correspondence , 3:17–20, and descriptive notes).
The presence of this letter and the two others in the French archives is interesting and, perhaps, significant. One possible explanation is that the letters were captured by the British and then recaptured by the French, who, before sending them on to JA , made copies. JA , however, notes in his reply to Lovell of 9 July (calendared below) that his letter arrived at Nantes with “Dispatches from Congress which were sent by the Saratoga from Baltimore.” There is no indication that the passage of the Saratoga was interrupted in any way.
A second explanation might be that JA showed this letter, and the others, to the French Ministry because they contained the first news of the American reaction to Lord North's conciliatory proposals. This seems unlikely because in the French translation the identities of the author and recipient are uncertain, the translation extends only to the first sentence of the third paragraph, and it is improbable that JA would have shown the French a letter in which Lovell wondered whether the French, rather than the British, had stolen the dispatches from Folger. It should be noted, however, that JA did show at least part of this letter to Edmé Jacques Genet, publisher of Affaires de l'Angleterre et de l'Amérique for the French Foreign Ministry, because a portion of the letter appears in that publication (see note 2; for Genet and Affaires, see JA to Genet, [ante 8 June] , below). There Lovell was named as the author, an indication that Genet received the text from JA and that the Foreign Ministry's translation, because it does not identify Lovell, was done before the letter reached JA .
A third explanation, and the most plausible one, is that the French were reading the Commissioners' mail; that J. D. Schweighauser, to whom the letter was entrusted (William MacCreery to JA , 4 July, below), or someone else opened the letters between Nantes and Paris and made copies. Ironically, Genet may well have known about the letter before JA showed it to him because, as head of the Foreign Ministry's translators bureau, he would likely have made or at least seen the translation that is in the archives. But without further evidence all explanations remain tentative.
1. This is the first extant letter from Lovell to JA since that of 10 Feb. (above), three days before JA sailed for France. In his reply of 9 July (calendared below) JA noted that this letter was the first that he had received from Lovell or any other member of the congress since his arrival in France.
2. The remainder of this paragraph and the letter from Washington to Tryon that follows were translated and printed in Affaires (vol. II, “Lettres,” cahier 48, p. xxxvi–xxxix).
3. In a speech to Parliament on 17 Feb., Lord North proposed a new reconciliation effort and on the 19th introduced two bills that, with significant changes and the addition of a third bill repealing the Massachusetts Government Act, were adopted on 9 March. The first declared that Parliament in the future would tax the colonies only to regulate commerce and not to raise revenue; the second created a royal commission, headed by the Earl of Carlisle, to treat with the Americans. In the hope of preventing ratification of the recently concluded Franco-American treaties, the Ministry immediately dispatched the two bills, in their draft form of 19 Feb., to America where they arrived in mid-April { 72 } (Alan Valentine, Lord North, 2 vols., Norman, Okla., 1967, 1:505–506, 511, 515–516; Parliamentary Hist. , 19:762–767, 775; Bemis, Diplomacy of the Amer. Revolution , p. 67; JA to the president of the congress, 25 April, note 1, above; for the text of the draft bills, see any of the broadsides and newspapers cited below; for the text of the bills as adopted, see, for example, Rivington's Royal Gazette, 23 May).
Although they had little chance for success, either as presented or adopted, the proposals were received with enthusiasm by the loyalists and the British administration. Efforts were made to give them wide circulation through the publication of two broadsides, the first in Philadelphia under the auspices of Gen. Howe (Evans, No. 15828) and the second in New York over the signature of William Tryon (Evans, No. 15827), and at least 23 separate printings in the New York and Philadelphia newspapers (see Rivington's Royal Gazette, 20, 27 April, 4, 11 May; Pennsylvania Evening Post, 15, 17, 20, 27 April, 4 May; Pennsylvania Ledger, 18, 23, 25, 29 April, 2, 6, 9, 13 May).
Lovell, here, and Washington, in his letter to William Tryon of 26 April, copied by Lovell, are concerned with the two broadsides. Washington received the Philadelphia broadside on 17 April and enclosed it in a letter of the 18th to the congress (Washington, Writings, ed. Fitzpatrick, 11:277–278). On 20 April a committee was formed to consider the broadside and Washington's letter. Its report, approved unanimously on 22 April, declared that although the authenticity of the two bills was doubtful, they should be printed “for the public information” in order to counteract the efforts to circulate them “in a partial and secret manner.” Under no circumstances, however, were negotiations to take place until the British withdrew their military forces or expressly acknowledged American independence ( JCC , 10:367, 374–380). In view of the committee's report, the “inclosed Gazette, published the 24th. at York Town” that is referred to in Washington's letter was almost certainly the Pennsylvania Gazette, which took its text from the Philadelphia broadside.
The New York broadside—“Tryon's certified Bills”—reached Washington on 22 April as an enclosure in Tryon's letter of the 17th. In a letter to congress on 23 April, Washington characterized Tryon's letter as an “extraordinary and impertinent request, that thro' my means the contents of them [the two bills] should be communicated to the Officers and Men of this Army” (Tryon to Washington, 17 April, PCC, No. 152, V, f. 519; Washington to the president of the congress, 23 April, Washington, Writings, ed. Fitzpatrick, 11:300–302). Although Washington indicated in a letter to the congress on 20 April that he had become convinced that the two bills were authentic, neither that nor Tryon's effort led either Washington or the congress to alter their resolve to reject the British proposals. Their determination was clearly indicated by Washington's letter to Tryon of the 26th and the refusal of the congress to weaken the committee report of 22 April (Washington, Writings, ed. Fitzpatrick, 11:281–282; JCC , 10:382). Tryon's letter and Washington's answer were printed in the Pennsylvania Gazette of 2 May that was sent to the Commissioners in a letter from the Committee for Foreign Affairs dated 14 May (below).
4. This resolution recommended to the states that they offer pardons to Americans serving with the British forces who would surrender before 10 June. Five hundred copies of the resolution in English and two hundred in German were to be printed and distributed by Gen. Washington ( JCC , 10:381–382).
5. The forged resolve dated 20 Feb. appeared in the New York Gazette on 9 March and in the Pennsylvania Evening Post of 3 April.
6. The congress ordered that one thousand copies of this address, directed at the German mercenaries, be printed in German ( JCC , 10:405–410).
7. Dumas' voluminous correspondence with the Committee for Foreign Affairs began with letter “A” of 30 April 1776. His letter “Y” was that of 16 Dec. 1777, while his latest was “H2” of 27 April 1778 (PCC, No. 93,1). Although Lovell, in a letter of 8 Aug. 1777, had informed Dumas that it would be more appropriate for him to correspond with the Commissioners, the Committee for Foreign Affairs wrote to Dumas on 14 May 1778, noting that his { 73 } letters had proved invaluable as a source of European intelligence during the eleven-month gap produced by the loss of the Commissioners' dispatches in the Folger affair (PCC, No. 79,1).
As for Dumas' compensation, he had been receiving payments from the Commissioners in Europe since 20 April 1777, when Ferdinand Grand paid him 2,242.19.9 livres. In 1778 he received two equal payments of 2,400 livres and from 19 May 1779 to 16 May 1785 he received twelve payments of 2,700 livres each. This totaled, for the nine-year period, 39,442.19.9 livres (DNA: RG 39, Public Agents in Europe, 1776–1787 [Microfilm, Reel No. 1, f. 10]).