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Browsing: Papers of John Adams, Volume 7


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Docno: ADMS-06-07-02-0196

The Commissioners to the Comte de Vergennes

DocGroupNo:

[ante 20] December 1778 – [ante 9] January 1779

I. JOHN ADAMS' DRAFT OF THE COMMISSIONERS TO THE COMTE DE VERGENNES, [ANTE 20] DECEMBER 1778
II. THE COMMISSIONERS TO THE COMTE DE VERGENNES, [ANTE 9] JANUARY 1779

Docno: ADMS-06-07-02-0196-0001

Editorial Note

The Commissioners' letter or memorial to Vergennes of early January 1779 is highly significant. Despite its long dissertation on the evils of the Carlisle Commission's manifesto of 3 October 1778 and its appeal for a French declaration to counter the manifesto's effects, the principal object of the letter was the dispatch of naval reinforcements to America. John Adams later wrote to Elbridge Gerry (11 Sept. 1779, below), that it represented the culmination of Adams' long effort to persuade his colleagues that an appeal to the French government for additional aid was necessary. He had pursued that objective since October, when he engaged in conversations with Ralph Izard and Edmé Jacques Genet on the subject and had been encouraged by the latter, in a letter of 29 October (above), to compose a memorandum that might be submitted to the appropriate ministers.
Adams wrote such a paper (to Genet, 31 Oct., above), but did not send it because, as he stated in his letter to Gerry, he determined that the participation of Benjamin Franklin and Arthur Lee was needed to give the appeal additional impact. Such unified support was not automatic, particularly in the case of Franklin, because implicit in a request for additional naval forces was a criticism of France's past efforts, an echo of American criticism of Admiral Estaing for his failures at New York and Newport earlier in 1778. For this reason presumably, Adams told Gerry, Lee entered into the project with “zeal,” while Franklin did so with “moderation.” What may have made such a letter more palatable to Franklin was the Carlisle Commission's manifesto, which by December had become an issue, as can be seen in Ralph Izard's letter to Adams of 22 December (below). The manifesto, proposing a change in the character of the war, justified an appeal for more naval aid, which would then not be seen as a criticism of previous French efforts.
{ 293 }
Upon that basis the drafting of the letter began in mid-December. Four drafts have been found, and there may have been a fifth that is not extant. The first draft was by Arthur Lee. According to John Adams in his letter to Gerry, Lee's draft was too short. As a result, Adams wrote in his Letterbook a second, much longer draft, which is printed as No. I. It became the basis for the letter as actually sent. Arthur Lee then copied John Adams' draft, incorporating insertions and deletions made in the course of its composition, thus producing a third draft on which Lee entered his alterations, while Franklin made his revisions in Adams' Letterbook. For a more detailed comment on these three drafts and the possibility that there was another, see the descriptive note to No. I. For a fourth extant draft, see the descriptive note to No. II.
The recipient's copy (No. II) shows the effects of intensive editing, being half as long as Adams' initial draft, with whole paragraphs removed, repositioned, or considerably shortened. Many changes were made for the sake of clarity or to avoid repetition, but protocol was the prime consideration in the decision to direct the letter to Vergennes rather than to Louis XVI. Other changes were of more substance, as for example, those in portions of the memorial that dealt with the French alliance, made to avoid any implication that the Commissioners' memorial was an ultimatum and that the lack of a favorable response to its requests would lessen the attachment of the United States to the alliance.
The Commissioners' letter brought no response from Vergennes beyond his reply of 9 January (below) acknowledging its receipt. Vergennes' decision to ignore the plan probably resulted from three considerations: his belief that French assistance was adequate; a plan, presumably unknown to the Commissioners, to invade England with a combined French and Spanish force in the event that Spain entered the war; and the French navy's size, which prevented any substantial augmentation of its forces in American waters at that time. It is significant that the request for “a powerful Fleet of thirty or forty sail” in Adams' Letterbook draft was scaled down in the recipient's copy to “sending of a powerfull Fleet sufficient to secure a naval superiority” (No. II, note 6).
Despite the lack of a positive response from Vergennes, John Adams did not abandon his belief that the dispatch of additional French ships was a necessity, as is apparent in his letter to Gerry in September 1779, as well as in the letters between him and Lafayette of 21 February and 9 April (both below). The drafts and the resulting letter to Vergennes provide a fascinating glimpse of the Commissioners' efforts to deal with the French government on a most sensitive issue: the amount of material aid to be supplied the United States.
{ 294 }

Docno: ADMS-06-07-02-0196-0002

Author: Adams, John
Recipient: Vergennes, Charles Gravier, Comte de
Date: 1778-12-20

I. John Adams' Draft of the Commissioners to the Comte de Vergennes

[salute] Sir

<Certain> <The> Some late Proceedings of the common Ennemy, are of a Nature so extraordinary, and may if not in some Way or other controuled, produce Consequences so <disagreable> [injurious] not only to <all the belligerent Powers> [France and the United States], but by their Example to other Nations, that We have thought it our Duty, to Submit a few observations upon them, to <the> [your Excellency's] Superior Lights and Judgment <of his Majesty and his Council>.2
The Earl of Carlisle, Sir Henry Clinton and William Eden Esq. his Britannic Majestys Commissioners, appointed for Purposes Sufficiently known, have seen fit on the third day of October 1778 to publish a Manifesto in America, in which, among many other exceptionable Paragraphs (not necessary to be here remembered,) are the following (Words vizt.)
“But if there be any Persons, who divested of mistaken Resentments, and uninfluenced by Selfish Interests, really think that it is for the Benefit of the Colonies to Seperate themselves from Great Britain, and that So Seperated they will find a Constitution more mild, more free, and better calculated for their Prosperity, than that which they heretofore enjoyed, and which We are empowered and disposed to renew and improve; with Such Persons we will not dispute a Position, which Seems to be Sufficiently contradicted by the Experience they have had. But We think it right to leave them fully aware of the Change, which the maintaining Such a Position, must make in the whole Nature and future Conduct of this War; more especially when to this Position is added the PRETENDED Alliance with France. The Policy, as well as the Benevolence of Great Britain, have thus far checked the Extremes of War, when they tended to distress a People Still considered as our Fellow Subjects, and to DESOLATE a Country Shortly to become again a Source of mutual Advantage: But when that Country professes the unnatural Design, not only of estranging herself from Us, but of mortgaging herself and her Resources to our Ennemies, the whole Contest is changed; and the Question is, how far Great Britain may, by every Means in her Power, DESTROY or RENDER USELESS a Connexion contrived for her Ruin and for the Aggrandisement of France. Under Such Circumstances, the Laws of Self Preservation must direct the Conduct of Great Britain, and if the British Collonies are to become an ACCESSION to France, will di• { 295 } rect her to render that ACCESSION of as little avail as possible to her Ennemy.”
The Congress, on the Thirtyeth of October, in a Resolution, a Copy of which We have the Honour to inclose, holding in just abhorrence, the Threats in the British Manifesto, <unanimously determined> declared with great solemnity and perfect Unanimity, that if their Ennemies dared to execute their Manaces and persist in their Plan of Barbarity, that they would take a Vengeance So exemplary, as should deter all others, who might hereafter be under a Temptation to imitate Great Britain.3
Motions have been made in both Houses of the British Parliament, to address the King to disavow the barbarous Clauses in the Manifesto of his Commissioners <,> [;] <and We have read with Pleasure the virtuous Detestation of the wisest and best Men in that Nation against this Measure.> But these Motions have been rejected, by Majorities in both Houses, and the Manifesto Stands, avowed by King Lords and Commons, an eternal Monument of <their Revenge, their> Inhumanity, <their malevolent Passions> and <their anti> unchristian Policy.4
<The Artifice, of representing, that the united States, had mortgaged themselves and their Resources to France—[and that] 5 the Connection between the two Countries [was] formed for the Ruin of Great Britain, is very obvious. They know full well, the Americans have made no Mortgages of themselves or their Resources, but for their own Preservation. That the Connection was not made for the Ruin of G.B. or for any Ruin, but for the Independance of the united States, which is but another Word, for their Preservation from Ruin.6 Indeed if the United States had formed an Alliance with France, for the Purposes of ruining Great Britain, it would have been but an Imitation of her Example, a Retaliation—and much more excuseable than her Alliances with Germans Indians, and Negroes for the Ruin of the United States—but.>
<The Artifice of calling that a pretended Alliance, which their own Feelings as well as their Consciences, attested and which the Interests of their Posterity will acknowledge to be a real Alliance, <is too litt> an Artifice so unworthy of any great Character, and much more so of Characters representing Nations and Sovereigns, is however So little important, as scarcely to be worth an observation.> 7 That the Aggrandisement of France, would be a Consequence of this Connection, We acknowledge to have foreseen and <all> America would join with Us, <in [ . . . ] from> from her essential Interests as well as her Gratitude in avowing this is Part of the Proclamation. But G.B. must thank her own Injustice Ingratitude and Impolicy for this.
{ 296 }
The Declaration <amounts, to a formal annonciation> <of> [announces] a Settled Design, to make their Utmost Exertions in the <horrid> barbarous Work of Conflagration and Massacre.8 There is to be “a Change in the Nature and Conduct of the War.” <We know of no> [A] Change for the Worse <that it is possible for them to make> [must be horrible indeed!] 9 <unless it be to burn every House they can put fire too, and to murder upon the Spot every Soldier at least if not every Woman and Child that unfortunately shall fall in their Way. Whether Such a Change would be for the Worse is a Point that may be disputed. This would put our People upon their Guard, and prevent their making so many Prisoners as they have, to be destroyed, by the lingering Torments of Hunger Cold, and Disease.>
<They have already burned [burnt] as many of our Towns, as they had Power <to burn>, and <dared> Courage to burn.> They have burned the beautiful Towns of Cha[r]lestown, Falmouth, <Bedford> Norfolk, Kingston, Bedford, and Egg Harbour and German Flatts.10 It is true they left Boston and Philadelphia, unburnt, but in all Probabi[li]ty, it was merely the dread of a Superiour Army, and of immediate Destruction that in these Cases restrained their Hands. Not to mention they have more Secret <treacherous> Friends in Boston <and> Philadelphia and New York than in all America besides.
They have not indeed hitherto murdered upon the Spot, every Woman and Child that unfortunately fell in their Way, nor have they in all Cases refused Quarter to the soldiers that at times have fallen into their Power, tho they have in <Some> [many]. <Yet they have gone great Lengths> [They have also done their utmost] in seducing Negroes and Indians to commit inhuman Bucheries, upon the Inhabitants, <in some Instances> Spearing neither Age nor sex, <or> [nor] Character.
<Alltho they have not in all Cases refused Quarter to the soldiers <they> and sailors <they have made Prisoners> [that have fallen into their hands.] Yet t> [T]hey have done what is perhaps worse [than refusing them quarter]. They have thrust <them> [the prisoners] into such Dungeons, <confined> loaded them <in> with such Irons, exposed them to such lingering Torments of Cold Hunger and Disease, as has probably destroyed greater Numbers than they could have <murdered> [had an Opportunity of murdering], if they had made it a Rule to give no Quarter. Many others they have in a most tyrannical and inhumane Manner compelled by Force, to serve and fight against their Relations and Countrymen, on Board their { 297 } ships<, a> [. A] Destiny to many brave and generous <Men> Minds more terrible than Death itself.
This is not exaggeration, but serious and melancholly Truth<, i> [. I]t is therefore difficult to comprehend, what they mean by a Change in the Nature and Conduct of the War. But there is no doubt to be made that they meant to be understood to threaten something, more cruel, more terrible and more desolating than any Thing they have yet done, greater Extreams of War <than we have yet felt>—Measures that shall distress the People <more>, and desolate the Country more, than any Thing We have yet felt.
All this is to be done to destroy and render Useless, our Connection with France, to prevent Us as an Accession to France, from becoming usefull to her, at least in any great degree.
<Here is a Change indeed of the Principle of the War.> [The object of the war is now entirely changd.] Heretofore their Massacres and Conflagrations, were to reclaim Us to Great Britain. [But] Now <indeed> despairing of that End, despairing of seducing, deceiving and dividing Us, the Sole Principle of their former Policy, and perceiving that We shall be faithfull to our Treaties, and consequently lost to them, their Principle now is by destroying Us to make Us <less usefull> [useless] to France.
<The Language here <is artfull>, Accession to France, is indeed artfull, but So grossly fallacious, that the <lowest> least discerning of the People for whom it was intended cannot be deceived by it. They meant to insinuate that our Connection with France, would make Us for the future an Accession to France in the Same manner, as We were formerly an Accession to Great Britain. They knew otherwise very well, and that the United States are no more an Accession to France, than Switzerland, Spain, Sweden, the Empire or any other Sovereign State in Alliance with her, or than Holland Portugal, Prussia or Russia is an Accession to Great Britain. Yet such are the Artifices that our Ennemies are capable of Using, and such is the Principle upon which our Destruction is to be accomplished if they can effect it.>
This Principle ought to be held in Utter Execration, not only by all Christians, but by all civilized Men and Nations. If it is once admitted as a Principle that Powers at War, have a Right to do whatever, will weaken or terrify an Ennemy, <there is no> or make him less powerfull it is not possible to foresee, where it will end. It would be very easy to burn the great Cities of Europe, and <this would weaken> [and bring infinite calamities on] 11 the Nations to whom they belong. The Sav• { 298 } ages, who torture their Prisoners, do it to make themselves terrible <to> And their Ennemies less powerfull in Battle. In short all the Assassonations all the Horrors of the Savage ages,12 all the Desolations that in ancient times have been practiced by the Scourges of Mankind, may be introduced again and justified by this Shocking Principle.
The persevereing Cruelties of our Ennemies, have heretofore more than once exasperated the Minds of the People in America So much, as to excite Apprehensions that they would proceed to Retaliation, which if once commenced might be carried to horrible Extremities; to prevent which the Congress issued an Address exhorting to Forbearance and a farther Tryal by Examples of Generosity and Lenity, to recall their Ennemies to the Practice of Humanity amidst the Calamities of War. In Consequence of which neither the Congress of the united States, nor any of the States apart, have ever exercised or authorized the Exercise of <this> the Right of Retaliation. Their Ennemies however continued their Barbarities, till the issue of War turning against them, put one of their Armies, and <many thousands> <Six> Several Thousands of other Prisoners into the Power of the States. From that time, till lately, their Conduct towards those Citizens of the united states, whom they had made Prisoners, was less Stained with atrocious <Insolence and> Inhumanity.13 At least their Cruelties were more disguised, under Professions of Care and Tenderness.
But Since they have found that all the Arts of their Commissioners could neither intimidate nor seduce the Congress nor the People,14 but that both are unalterably determined Not only to maintain their Sovereignty, but their Alliance with France, with perfect Faith, they have become outrageous,15 thrown off all Disguises, and the three Branches of their Government in the Face of all Europe, have avowed the Manifesto, Part of which We have before recited.
Congress, <in order still to restrain their impious Hand> have published their Manifesto in Answer, in order still if possible to restrain their impious Hands.
It is manifestly the Policy of the Common Ennemy, whatever may be their Pretences to disgust the People of America, with their new Alliance, by <convincing> [attempting to convince] them that instead of Sheilding them from future Distresses it has accumulated Additional Calamities upon them.16
Certainly nothing can more become any Character that is both great and good, than to stop the progress of their Cruelties, <and> disappoint their Purpose,17 and vindicate the Rights of human Nature and of all { 299 } Society, <with an> which with such shameless Boldness, are set at open Defyance by this <Savage> Proclamation.
We therefore beg Leave to suggest to Consideration, whether it would not be eligible for his Majesty to interfere, by some Declaration to the Court of London, and to the World, bearing Testimony against this barbarous Mode of War, and giving assurances that he will join the United States in practising Retaliation if G. Britain shall make it necessary.
There is another Measure, however, which would more effectually put a Stop to their new Mode of War, and seems to bid fairer than any other, to bring the whole War to a Speedy Conclusion,18 that of sending immediately to the Coast of America, a powerfull Fleet of Thirty or forty sail, to Secure a naval Superiority over the Ennemy in those Seas. Such a Measure as this, to all human Probability acting in Conjunction with the Armies of the United States, would take and destroy the whole of the British Power both by sea and Land, in that Country. It would put their Wealth and Commerce into the Power of France, and19 reduce her to the Necessity of Suing for Peace.
Upon a naval Superiority in those Seas depend, not only the rich Commerce of their Islands, and the Dominion of the Islands themselves,20 but the supply of the Armies and Fleets with Provisions and every Necessary.
The Ennemy have near four hundred Transport ships, constantly employed in the service of their Fleet and Army in America, passing backwards and forwards from New York and Rhode Island to England, Ireland, Nova Scotia, the West India Islands and other Places. Great Numbers of these would necessarily fall into the Hands of the French Fleet, and as Prizes go to a sure and Speedy Market in the United States. By this Means also great Numbers of Seamen, on board those Transports would fall into french Hands, a loss that England cannot repair.
It is conceived that it would be impossible for G.B. to send So great a Fleet, after the French into that part of the World. Their Men of War, now in Europe are too old too rotten, too ill manned, and their Masts and Yards are of two bad Materials to endure such a Navigation. The Impossibility of the English obtaining Provisions, Artists and Materials of every Kind in that Country, which would be easy for the French, makes it Still clearer that they cannot send so great an Additional Force to America. And furthermore the Fear of Spain's interfering with her powerfull Navy would restrain them. Whereas France has { 300 } little to fear in Europe from them, as the Numbers and Excellence of her Armies are an ample security against the feeble land Forces of Great Britain in Europe.
Such a naval Superiority in the American Seas, would farther, open immediately such Commerce between the United States, and the <West India Islands> < <dutch and Spanish but especially the> > French West India Islands, as would be of great Utility to both, would give new Spirits and fresh Vigour to both, would enable our People to supply themselves with those European as well as West India Articles which they now most Want, and to send abroad Such of the Produce of the Country as they can Spare.
The late Speedy Assistance and Reperation of his Majestys Fleet under the Comte D'Estaing at Boston, will shew the Advantages which this Country must enjoy in carrying on a naval War, on a Coast friendly to her and hostile to her Ennemy. And these Advantages we trust will in future be much more Sensible, because the appearance of the Fleet this time was sudden and unexpected, and the last <Season> [Harvests] in that Part of the Country unfavourable.21
It is true that the Comte found a Difficulty in obtaining Bread at Boston. But < <this is no just objection, and> > as this < <Subject> > [Circumstance] may not be perfectly understood We beg Leave to enlarge a little in Explanation of it.
Of all the thirteen united States of America, the Massachusetts Bay alone, has never raised its own Bread. Their Soil or Air is unfavourable for the Culture of Wheat, and their Fisheries and other Branches of Trade, enabled them to import flour and Corn so easily from Pennsylvania, Maryland and Virginia, that it has been computed that about fifty-thousand People Inhabitants of the sea Port Towns Boston, Salem, Marblehead and Newbury Port, were annually fed with Corn imported, the Province not producing a sufficient Quantity for its Inhabitants.
Since this War commenced the Inhabitants have raised more grain than before but still not enough and they have supplied the Deficiency partly by Land in Waggons from Connecticutt and the state of New York, and partly by sea from Pensylvania, Maryland And Virginia, by small Vessells, with Skillfull Navigators which all the Vigilance of the British Frigates, has never been able wholly to prevent.
This Year unfortunately the southern States, for good Reasons of State however, had laid a Strict Embargo on Grain, which cutt off entirely this Channell of Supply from Boston. General Burgoines Army near 6000 Men, were at Cambridge, within a League of Boston and { 301 } must be Supplyed with Bread. So that in the Moment when his Majestys fleet arrived in Boston Harbour So great was the real Scarcity of Bread among the Inhabitants, and so great the fears of Famine arising from the sudden Addition of so great a Demand,22 probably a little fomented among Sailors by treacherous Individuals concealed23 as to produce the Insult and Injury, to some of the french Guards which every good Man in Boston laments and abhors. Yet notwithstanding, a sufficient Quantity was brought by Land. And We think it may be depended on that no fleet his Majesty may send, will ever want for Bread in any Part of the United States<.> [, especially if a little previous Notice is given of the Ports they may touch at.]
We beg leave before We close this long Memorial to observe, that altho the ruling Passion of Great Britain towards her Colonies was Contempt it is now most effectually changed towards the United States for another which is much more violent, we mean fear.
They fear the united States in Alliance with France as the most dangerous Rival that has ever risen against them. In the long Train of Consequences of American Independance they see or fancy that they see, <the> Canada, Nova Scotia and the Floridas following the other thirteen—their West India Islands in the Hands of the French—the Americans trading to the East Indies—the French and Americans drawing off their Fisheries both of Cods and Whales—the French obtaining all Kinds of Timber of Construction <and> naval stores, Masts and Yards, cheaper and of better Quality than they. Their Commerce and Consequently finances So diminished that they shall not be able to sustain <its> their Credit at its height, national Bankrupcy, and a Revolution in their Government. Nothing less than these frightfull objects Staring in their Faces could have produced, so <universal> general a Ratification of a Manifesto so outrageous as that We have been considering. And these will stimulate them to Exertions which will probably make more of these fearfull Apprehensions, Realities than would otherwise happen. But these Apprehensions, these Exertions, <and> the Passions they have excited in their own Breasts as well as in the Americans, added to the situation of the two Countries, and the Nature of their Commerce all conspire to induce Us to consider great Britain as likely to be <forever hereafter> for Ages our natural Ennemy, and consequently France as our natural Friend. And as it is obvious to all Europe, that nothing less is at stake in this Contest between France and England, than the Dominion of the Sea, at least the Superiority of naval Power, We do not expect that G.B. will easily give it up, or ever indeed without some decisive Effort, Some capital Stroke on the Part { 302 } of France. Such an Effort and such a Blow is the Measure of Sending a Great Fleet to America, which We have taken the Liberty to propose. With such an Exertion, We see nothing in the Course of human affairs, that can possibly prevent France from obtaining this naval Superiority, without delay. Without it the War may languish for many Years, to the infinite Distress of our Country to the exhausting both of France and England, and the Question at last left to be decided by another War.
We are the more zealous to represent these Things to < <his Majesty> > [your Excellency], as all our Correspondence from England for some Time past has uniformly represented, that the Intention of the Cabinet, is conformable to the Spirit of the Manifesto. That all Parties grow more out of Temper with the Americans, that it is become fashionable, with the Minority as well as with the Majority and the Administration to abuse Us, both in and out of Parliament. That all Parties perceiving that We are forever lost as fellow subjects, join in Speaking of Us, in the bitterest Terms and in heartily wishing We could be well chastised, that great Clamours are raised about our Alliance with France, as an unnatural Combination to ruin them. That Multitudes of Fictions are framed and propagated, to make it believed that the People of America, are weary of the Government of Congress, that there are great Dissentions in our Army, and that nothing is wanting to make the People desert France, and resign their Independance, but a Speedy and powerfull Reinforcement of Clintons Army and a Spirited Exertion of a Fleet with it—to make descents on the sea Coasts, while murdering and desolating Parties are let loose upon the Frontiers of the Carolinas, Virgini[a], Pensylvania, N.J., N.Y. and N. England. And that Very early in the Year, they will carry all these Projects into Execution, as far as they can, unless Spain should soon openly join its fleet to that of France, in which Case it is hardly credible that they should send any more of their Force out of Europe. That Strong Hopes are entertained that Spain will not join—That a pacific Negociation is going on with Spain, to cede Gibralter to her. That their best Politicians think it would be better to give Spain Gibralter than suffer the great Branches of the House of Bourbon to be confederated with America in a War against them. That all their Regiments of Infantry, are to be Sent in February to America to reinforce Gen. Clinton, and their Place supplied, by an Act of Parliament, obliging each Parish in the Kingdom to furnish a certain Number of Men, a Measure that if Ministers move it will certainly take Place.
This whole system, may as we <humbly> conceive be totally de• { 303 } feated, and the <whole> Power of Great Britain now in America, <totally> captivated or destroyed, even without the Interposition of Spain, which however We ardently wish, by the Measure We have proposed of sending thirty or forty ships of War forthwith to America.
There are two other Arguments in favour of this Measure, that We beg Leave to suggest.
The two principal sources of Unhappiness in America, at present, and the two principal Causes of Disputes < [ . . . ] Army, and among the People are> altho all these Controversies are very far from being dangerous, to the Confederation, are the <unhappy> [depreciated] state of their Currency, and the <inconsiderable> [remaining] Number of Persons who secretly wish from Sinister Motives to become again subject to G.B.
The Maintenance of such a Fleet in America, would circulate so much Cash and Bills of Exchange, there as would in a great Measure relieve them from the Evils of a depreciating Currency, and this Money would all return to France for Goods, thereby cementing the Connection and extending the Trade between the two Countries.
And the Appearance of such a Fleet would annihilate Toryism in every state in America.
LbC (Adams Papers). The Letterbook copy is a draft with numerous additions and deletions—in ink by JA and in pencil by Benjamin Franklin—and takes up eight full pages in the Letterbook, making it twice as long as the recipient's copy (No. II). Additions by Franklin are enclosed in double parentheses. JA 's deletions are indicated by single angled brackets, while those by Franklin appear in double angled brackets. Where both marked a deletion, it is enclosed in triple angled brackets. The Letterbook copy constitutes the second extant draft, and proceeded from Arthur Lee's earlier, undated, and much shorter draft (MH-H: Lee Papers), with some deletions, on four pages, each approximately half the size of a page in JA 's Letterbook. For portions of Lee's draft used by JA , see notes 13–21. A copy of a third draft, dated 20 Dec. 1778, is in PCC, No. 102, III, f. 1–10. It was made by Ludwell Lee, who, at the bottom of the final page, certified it “to be a true copy from the original Letter in possession of the Hble Arthur Lee Esqr.” The “original Letter” has not been found.
The draft in the PCC poses some problems when compared with the Letterbook and recipient's copies in determining when and by whom changes were made. The copy made by Arthur Lee from the Letterbook was clearly a third draft, for Ludwell Lee's copy of it incorporates the changes made by JA in the course of his drafting. It also includes, as interlineations, the changes that appear on the Letterbook copy in Benjamin Franklin's hand, indicating that Lee probably consulted the Letterbook after making his own changes and transferred those by Franklin to his copy. On the final page of Ludwell Lee's draft, however, there is a notation in Arthur Lee's hand stating that “the Paragraphs, parts and words marked were left out in { 304 } the letter that was sent. Those with a mark only, were Dr. Franklin's corrections; those with hooks [parentheses] added, Mr. Lee's.” Despite this, many of the changes that are in Franklin's hand on the Letterbook copy are enclosed in parentheses on the PCC copy, thus raising questions regarding who actually made what changes, a problem that the editors have been unable to resolve. Moreover, when the revisions made on the third draft are compared with those incorporated into the recipient's copy, it is clear that many of the changes were not entered on the draft. This may indicate that there was a later draft, now lost (for a fourth extant draft, see No. II), on which additional changes were indicated or that the unrecorded changes were made by JA when he recopied his draft to produce the final version of the letter. In order to facilitate comparisons between the Letterbook copy and the recipient's copy, major changes marked on the third draft are indicated in the notes that follow. For notes regarding matters of substance referred to in the draft, see No. II.
1. For this date, which is derived from the third extant draft, see the descriptive note.
2. On the third draft this paragraph was reduced in length and put into the form that appears in the recipient's copy.
3. This paragraph was followed by a wide gap, indicating that JA may have intended to add more, perhaps a quotation from the countermanifesto. In addition, on the third draft it and the preceding two paragraphs were marked for deletion, but the form of the single paragraph that replaces them in the recipient's copy was not indicated.
4. On the third draft this paragraph was reduced to a single sentence and put into the form that would appear in the recipient's copy.
5. Franklin's insertion was intended to replace the dash, which was not canceled.
6. To this point this paragraph was interlined in a wide gap between the preceding and succeeding paragraph. The remainder of the paragraph was written in the left margin and marked for insertion at this point.
7. The remainder of this paragraph was interlined. Franklin did not mark the interlined passage for deletion, but his marginal mark here shows some uncertainty. Moreover, JA may have added the interlined passage after Franklin marked his deletion, so it cannot be assumed that Franklin approved of the remainder of the paragraph. In any event, it was not retained in the recipient's copy.
8. In the third draft this and the preceding two paragraphs were marked for deletion, but no substitute language, such as appears in the recipient's copy was indicated.
9. The remainder of this paragraph also appears in the third draft, indicating that it was first canceled after Arthur Lee had copied it.
10. JA added “and German Flatts” above the line.
11. In the Letterbook Franklin's insertion is mostly illegible and has here been supplied from the third draft. It appears that Franklin intended the final word to be “upon” rather than “on.”
12. To this point in the paragraph and through the previous seven paragraphs, all of the changes that were “inserted into the recipient's copy were marked on either the Letterbook copy or the third draft. From this point to the end of the letter, however, except for the canceled passage mentioned in note 22, the third draft, like the Letterbook copy, contains no significant canceled passages or important insertions, despite the fact that over half the remaining material was not included in the recipient's copy.
13. To this point this paragraph is taken, with only a few changes, from Arthur Lee's initial draft.
14. To this point this sentence is taken almost directly from Arthur Lee's draft.
15. “Have become outrageous” is taken from Arthur Lee's draft.
16. This paragraph is taken almost verbatim from Arthur Lee's draft.
17. Including the canceled “and,” the passage beginning “to stop the progress” and continuing to this point is an exact { 305 } quotation from Arthur Lee's draft.
18. The remainder of this sentence was taken, with some changes in word order, from Arthur Lee's draft.
19. The remainder of this sentence was taken from Arthur Lee's draft.
20. To this point this sentence is taken, with minor changes, from Arthur Lee's draft.
21. This paragraph was taken, with only minor changes, from Arthur Lee's draft.
22. To this point this paragraph, as well as the two preceding ones, were inserted in JA 's letter to Edme Jacques Genet of [30 Dec. 1778] (below). The substance of the remainder of this paragraph was also included in that letter. In the third draft the text from this point to “and consequently France as our natural Friend. And as” in the second paragraph that follows was marked for omission.
23. From the previous comma, this passage was interlined.

Docno: ADMS-06-07-02-0196-0003

Author: Franklin, Benjamin
Author: Lee, Arthur
Author: Adams, John
Author: First Joint Commission at Paris
Recipient: Vergennes, Charles Gravier, Comte de
Date: 1779-01-09

II. The Commissioners to the Comte de Vergennes

[salute] Sir

Some late Proceedings of the Enemy, have induced us, to submit a few Observations to your Excellency's superior Lights and Judgement.
His Britannic Majesty's Commissioners, in their Manifesto of the 3d of October, have denounced “a Change in the whole Nature and future Conduct of the War,”2 they have declared “that the Policy as well as Benevolence of Great Britain, have thus far checked the Extremes of War,” when they tended to “distress the People, and desolate the Country.” That the whole Contest is changed, that the Laws of self Preservation, must now direct the Conduct of Great Britain, that these Laws, will direct her, to render the United States of as little avail as possible to France, if they are to become an Accession to her. And by every means in her Power, destroy, and render Useless the new Connection contrived for her Ruin.
Motions have been made and supported by the wisest Men in both Houses of Parliament to address the King to disavow these Clauses; But these Motions have been rejected by Majorities in both Houses, so that the Manifesto stands avowed by the three Branches of the Legislature.3
Ministers of States have made in Parliament a Question, concerning the meaning of this Manifesto. But no Man who reads it and knows the History of their past Conduct in this War, can doubt its import.
There is to be “a Change in the Nature and Conduct of the War,”—A change for the worse must be terrible indeed!
They have already burnt the beautiful Towns of Charles Town, Falmouth, Norfolk, Kingston, Bedford, Egg Harbour, and German Flatts,4 besides innumerable single Buildings and smaller Clusters of Houses, wherever their Armies have march'd. It is true, they left Boston and Philadelphia unburnt, but in all probability it was merely the dread of { 306 } a Superior Army, that in those Cases restrained their Hands, not to mention, that burning these Towns would have been the Ruin of the few Secret Friends they have still left, of whom there are more in those Towns than in all America besides.
They have not indeed murdered upon the Spot, every Woman and Child, that fell in their Way, nor have, in all Cases refused Quarter to the Soldiers, that at times have fallen into their Power, tho' they have in many; they have also done their utmost in seducing Negroes and Indians to commit inhuman Butcheries upon the Inhabitants sparing neither Age, Sex, nor Character. Altho they have not in all Cases refused Quarter to Soldiers and Sailors, they have done what is worse than refusing Quarter: they have thurst their Prisoners into such Dungeons, loaded them with Irons, and exposed them to such lingering Torments, of Cold, Hunger and Disease, as have destroyed greater Numbers, than they could have had an Opportunity of murdering, if they had made it a Rule to give no Quarter. Many others they have compelled by Force, to serve and fight on Board their Ships against Fathers, Brothers, Friends and Countrymen, a Destiny to every Sensible Mind more terrible than Death itself.
It is therefore difficult to comprehend, what they mean by a Change in the Conduct of the War; yet there seems to be no Room to doubt that they mean to threaten something more cruel—greater Extremes, Measures that shall distress the People and lay waste the Country, more than any thing they have yet done.
The object of the War is now entirely changed. Heretofore their Massacres and Conflagrations were to divide Us, and reclaim us to Great Britain. Now despareing of that End, and perceiving that we shall be fait[h]ful to our Treaties, their Principle is by destroying us, to make us useless to France.
This Principle ought to be held in Abhorrence, not only by all Christians, but by all civilized Nations. If it is once admitted, that Powers at War, have a Right to do whatever will weaken or terrify an Enemy, it is not possible to foresee where it will end. It would be possible to burn the great Cities in Europe.
The Savages who torture their Prisoners do it to make themselves terrible: in fine all the Horrors of the barbarous Ages may be introduced again and justified.
The Cruelties of our Ennemies, have heretofore, more than once, exasperated the Minds of the People so much, as to excite Apprehensions that they would proceed to Retaliation, which if once commenc'd might be carried to extremities, to prevent which the Congress issued { 307 } an Address,5 exhorting to Forbearance, and a farther Tryal by Examples of Generosity and Lenity, to recall their Ennemies to the Practice of Humanity, amidst the Calamities of War. In consequence of which, neither the Congress, nor any of the States apart, have ever exercised, or authorised the Exercise of the Right of Retaliation.
But now that the Commissioners vested with the Authority of the Nation, have avowed such Principles, and published such Threats, the Congress have by a Resolution of the 30th. of October, solemnly, and unanimously declared that they will retaliate.
Whatever may be the Pretences of the Enemy, it is the manifest Drift of their Policy, to disgust the People of America, with their new Alliance, by attempting to convince them, that instead of shielding them from Distress, it has accumulated, additional Calamities upon them.
Nothing certainly can more become a great and amiable Character, than to disappoint their Purpose, stop the Progress of their Cruelties, and vindicate the Rights of Humanity, which are so much injured by this Manifesto.
We therefore beg leave to suggest to your Excellency's Consideration, whether it would not be adviseable for his Majesty to interfere, by some Declaration to the Court of London, and to the World, bearing his Royal Testimony against this barbarous Mode of War, and giving assurances that he will join the United States in Retaliation, if Great Britain by putting her Threats in Execution should make it necessary.
There is another Measure however, more effectual to controul their Designs, and to bring the War to a speedy Conclusion; that of sending a powerfull Fleet sufficient6 to secure a naval Superiority over them in the American Seas. Such a naval Force, acting in concert with the Armies of the United States, would in all human Probability, take and destroy the whole British Power, in that Part of the World: It would put their Wealth and West Indian7 Commerce into the Power of France, and reduce them to the Necessity of suing for Peace.
Upon their present naval Superiority in those Seas depend, not only the Dominion and the rich Commerce of their Islands, but the supply of their Fleets and Armies with Provisions and every Necessary. They have near 400 Transports, constantly employed in the Service of their Fleet and Army in America, passing from New-York and Rhode Island, to England, Ireland, Nova Scotia and their West India Islands, and if any one Link in this Chain was struck off—if their Supplies from any one of these Places should be intercepted, their Forces could not subsist. Great Numbers of these Vessells would necessarily fall into the { 308 } Hands of the French Fleet, and go as Prizes to a sure Market in the United States: great Numbers of Seamen too would become Prisoners, a Loss that England cannot repair.
It is conceived that it would be impossible for Great Britain to send a very great Fleet after the French, into those Seas. Their Men of War now in Europe are too old too rotten, too ill mann'd, and their Masts are of too bad Materials, to endure such a Navigation; the Impossibility of their obtaining Provisions, Artists and Materials, in that Country, which would be easy for the French, makes it still clearer, that they cannot send a great additional Force, and the Fear of Spains interfering with her powerful Navy would restrain them. Wheras France has nothing to fear in Europe from them, as the Numbers and excellence of her Armies, are an ample Security against the feeble Land Forces of Great Britain.
This Naval Superiority would open such Commerce between the United States and the French West India Islands, as would enable our People to supply themselves with the European and West India Articles they want, to send abroad the Produce of the Country, and by giving fresh Spirits and Vigour8 to Trade, would employ the Paper Currency, the want of which Employ has been one Cause of its Depreciation.
The Maintenance of such a Fleet, in America, would circulate so many, Bills of Exchange, as would likewise in a great Measure relieve them from that Dangerous Evil. And these Bills would all return to France for her Manufactures thereby cementing the Connection and extending the Trade between the two Countries.9
Such a naval Superiority, would contribute very much to extinguish the Hopes of the remaining Number of Persons who secreetly wish from sinister motives to become again subject to Great Britain, and would enable the People of the several States to give such Consistency, and Stability to their Infant Governments, as would contribute greatly to their internal Repose, as well as to the Vigour of their future Operations against the common Enemy.
The late speedy supply and Reparation of his Majesty's Fleet at Boston, will shew the Advantages, which this Country must enjoy, in carrying on a Naval War, on a Coast Friendly to her and hostile to her Ennemy. And these Advantages will in future be more sensible, because the appearance of the Fleet, before was unexpected, and the Harvests in that Part of the Country had been unfavourable.
It is obvious to all Europe, that nothing less is at Stake in the present Contest than the Dominion of the Sea, at least the superiority { 309 } of naval Power, and we cannot expect that Great Britain will ever give it up, without some decisive Effort on the Part of France. With such an Exertion as that of sending a superior Fleet to America, we see nothing in the Course of human Affairs, that can possible prevent France from obtaining such a Naval Superiority without Delay. Without it, the War may languish for Years to the infinite Distress of our Country to the exhausting both of France and England, and the Question left to be decided by another War.
We are the more earnest in representing these Things to your Excellency, as all our Correspondence from England for some time has uniformly represented that the Intention of the Cabinet, is conformable to the Spirit of the Manifesto; that all Parties grow more and more out of Temper with the Americans, that it is become fashionable with the Minority as well as the Majority and Administration to reproach us, both in and out of Parliament, that all Parties join in speaking of Us in the bitterest Terms, and in heartily wishing our Destruction: that great Clamours are raised about our Alliance with France as an unnatural Combination to ruin them. That the Cry is for a speedy and powerful Reinforcement of their Army, and for the activity of their Fleet in making Descents on the Sea Coast, while murdering and desolating Parties are let loose upon the Frontiers of the Carolinas, Virginia, Pennsylvania, New-Jersey, New-York and New-England, and that very early in the Year they will carry all these Projects into execution.
This whole System, may as we conceive be defeated and the Power of Great Britain now in America totally subdued (and if their Power is subdued there, it is reduced every where) by the Measure we have the honour to propose. We submit the whole merely as our Opinions to your Excellency's superior Wisdom, & have the honour to be, with the greatest Respect Your Excellency's, most obedient and most humble Servants.
[signed] B Franklin
[signed] Arthur Lee
[signed] John Adams
RC (Arch. Aff. Etr., Paris, Corr. Pol., E.-U., vol. 7); docketed on the first page: “rep. le <8> 9,” “Les deputès americains demandent que la france oppose des Secours efficases aux [me]nacer que contient le manifeste des deputès anglois en amerique,” and on pages 5, 9, and 13: “[ . . . ] suite avant le 9. Janvr. 1779.” LbC (Adams Papers); this is the fourth extant draft (for three earlier drafts see No. I). Undated and written on a loose sheet folded in half to make four pages, it is very similar to the recipient's copy, with only a few changes by JA and Franklin, some of which are indicated in the notes that follow. It was laid in between pages 1 and 2 of the second ex• { 310 } tant draft (No. I; p. 112 and 113 of the Letterbook) and was filmed immediately following those two pages in the Adams Papers, Microfilms, Reel No. 92. At the top of the first page is a notation by CFA : “The American Commissioners to Count de Vergennes first draught Paris 1. January. 1779. Dipl. Correspondence 1.500.” When CFA wrote this note he was unaware that JA 's Letterbook contained an earlier draft and concluded that the fourth draft, probably found among JA 's loose papers, constituted his first effort. The reference in the notation is to Jared Sparks, ed., Diplomatic Correspondence of the American Revolution, 12 vols., Boston, 1829–1830. In 1852 when CFA published this same draft in JA, Works , 7:72–77, he had become aware of the earlier one (No. I) and wrote in a note at the end of the printed letter: “it is proper to state that the original draft of this letter bears the marks of considerable reduction in extent and tone from the hand of Dr. Franklin.”
Two additional copies of the letter to Vergennes, both in John Thaxter's hand and done from the fourth extant draft, can be found in the PCC, No. 85, f. 240–249 and in the Edward Davis Townsend Collection at the Huntington Library. The first is part of the copy made by Thaxter of Lb/JA/4, containing the Commissioners' letters during JA 's first mission to France, for transmission to the congress (see Introduction, part 2, John Adams and his Letterbooks). The second, probably made at the same time, was enclosed in JA 's letter to Elbridge Gerry of 11 Sept. 1779 (below). On both copies JA wrote in the dateline and the name of the intended recipient and on that in the PCC supplied the Commissioners' names.
1. As previously published in volumes or correspondence edited by Jared Sparks, CFA , and Francis Wharton, this letter has been assigned the date of 1 January 1779. That date, however, was apparently supplied conjecturally by Sparks and then accepted in later editions. The editors have been unable to find supporting evidence for such a date; in fact all of the extant copies of the letter as sent bear only the month and year: January 1779; and Vergennes' reply of 9 Jan. (below) refers to the letter as being undated. Therefore, it has been thought more accurate to date the letter in terms of Vergennes' reply.
2. “Denounce” is used here in the now obscure meaning of “announce” or “promulgate” ( OED ). For the full text of the passage from which this and later quotations were taken, see No. I. For the manifesto, see Evans, No. 15832.
3. For debates over motions opposing the manifesto offered by Thomas William Coke in the House of Commons on 4 Dec. and by the Marquis of Rockingham in the House of Lords on 7 Dec., as well as a protest signed by 31 members of the House of Lords, see Parliamentary Hist. , 19:1388–1402; 20:1–46.
4. Charlestown, Mass.; Falmouth (now Portland), Maine; Norfolk, Va.; Kingston, N.Y.; Bedford (now New Bedford, then part of Dartmouth), Mass.; Egg Harbor, N.J.; German Flats (now Herkimer), N.Y.
5. See JCC , 12:1080–1082.
6. Originally this passage in the fourth draft read “a powerfull Fleet of Thirty or Forty Sail,” as it did in No. I. The deletion of the exact size of the force requested and the substitution of “sufficient” are in Benjamin Franklin's hand.
7. These two words were inserted by Franklin in the Letterbook.
8. The remainder of this sentence was inserted by Franklin in the Letterbook to replace the canceled passage: “would be of great utility to both.”
9. This paragraph is based on the final paragraph of No. I. By the time it was inserted into the fourth extant draft it had undergone considerable changes, none of which were indicated on any of the drafts referred to in No. I. In the fourth draft it read: “The Maintenance of such a Fleet, in America, would circulate so <much Cash and> many Bills of Exchange, as would likewise in a great Mea• { 311 } sure relieve them from <the next> that dangerous Evil. <they have now to fear, a depreciated Currency. This Money> And these Bills would all Return to France for <Goods> her Manufactures, thereby cementing the Connection and extending the Trade between the two Countries.” The insertion of the words “many,” “likewise,” “that dangerous,” and “her Manufactures” was by Franklin. The deletions were marked by both Franklin and JA .