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Docno: ADMS-06-09-02-0309

The Dispute with the Comte de Vergennes

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13–29 July 1780

Docno: ADMS-06-09-02-0309-0001

Editorial Note

The eight letters exchanged by John Adams and the Comte de Vergennes between 13 and 29 July provide a resounding climax to Adams' diplomatic efforts at Paris in 1780. Together they constitute one of the most controversial episodes in John Adams' diplomatic career and reveal much about his views of both the Franco-American alliance and negotiations with Great Britain.
The controversy played out in July superficially resembles the dispute in June over Congress' revaluation of the currency, but the two episodes differ in both origin and significance. Ultimately, Adams' opposition to Vergennes' demand that the revaluation be modified in favor of Frenchmen won him a commendation from Congress. The positions of Adams and Vergennes in regard to the revaluation were irreconcilable, but their letters in June did not raise fundamental questions about the viability of the Franco-American alliance. The situation in July was quite different, for then, with no apparent provocation, Adams initiated a correspondence over the nature and adequacy of French aid, and the exercise of his commissions to negotiate Anglo-American peace and commercial treaties. The exchange left no doubt that Adams saw a sharp divergence between the objectives of France and the United States in continuing the war and concluding a peace.
The confrontation opened with John Adams' letter of 13 July (below) on a topic that had concerned him for a long time: French assistance to the United States, particularly the disposition of French naval forces in American waters. The American Commissioners' letter to Vergennes of [ante 9 January 1779] (vol. 7:305–311) on the subject had been largely Adams' work and he had discussed the issue at considerable length in letters written after his return to America in 1779. But he had not raised the issue in any previous letter to Vergennes in 1780.
Adams' letter of the 13th indicated his belief that, while the naval dimension held the key to victory, France lacked a viable strategy for winning the naval war against Britain. In eighteen manuscript pages Adams sought to remedy the situation and to provide France with a plan that would make the most effective use of the resources committed. In his reply of 20 July (below), Vergennes did not deal directly with the substantive issues raised by Adams, but rather reassured him that France was doing all in its power to bring about victory and that statements to the contrary were false and served only to open divisions between the allies. In his letter of the 21st (below), Adams seemed to accept Vergennes' reassurances, but on the 27th (below) he reopened the matter with renewed vigor, declaring that the fleet under Ternay's command at Rhode Island was insufficient to achieve naval { 517 } superiority and thus could not decisively affect Britain's prosecution of the war.
John Adams' comments regarding French aid were divisive because they raised an issue that plagues all wartime alliances, namely the magnitude and effectiveness of each ally's contribution to final victory. In view of the situation that existed in the American theater of operations, Adams' criticism of French policy had merit, but it was, at the very least, impolitic, coming as it did from a person with no official diplomatic status in France and directed toward the only nation willing to give any form of aid to the United States. Although Adams' unsolicited criticism may have angered Vergennes, it could be and was ignored, for Adams had no power to impose his views on France.
John Adams' letter of 17 July (below), however, was far more disturbing to Vergennes because Adams proposed to take direct action under the terms of his commissions. Adams' exercise of his plenipotentiary powers had been discussed, and apparently settled, in letters exchanged with Vergennes in February and March, but in his letter of the 17th, Adams reopened the issue. He denied the validity of Vergennes' reasoning, in his letter of 24 February (vol. 8:362–363), in prohibiting him from officially notifying the British government of his presence with powers to negotiate Anglo-American peace and commercial treaties. Not only was Vergennes' position wrong, Adams argued, it was in direct opposition to American interests. Adams believed that disclosure would force the British government to clarify its position on negotiations, encourage those in Great Britain who wanted peace, dispel rumors that France enjoyed exclusive privileges under the Franco-American Treaty of Amity and Commerce, and take advantage of the forces that were tearing at the fabric of British society. Moreover, Adams saw little difference between what Spain was doing in its negotiations with Richard Cumberland and what he proposed.
The arrival of John Adams' letter provoked in Vergennes an anger that was as intense as it was understandable. The letter was a monument to ingratitude at the very moment that a French fleet and army were arriving in America, the dispatch of which constituted the single most costly endeavor yet undertaken by France in the war. Moreover, Adams' proposal to explore possible peace negotiations came as Spain appeared to waver in its commitment to the war, thus raising the specter of France, abandoned by its allies, fighting Britain alone. The depth of Vergennes' concern is evident from his lengthy reply of 25 July (below) in which he undertook a point by point rebuttal of the issues raised in the letter of the 17th, making it clear that he believed Adams' reasoning to be both absurd and dangerous.
If Vergennes believed that his letter would end the discussion, he was disappointed, for Adams continued it in his letter of 26 July (below). In a gesture to Vergennes, Adams indicated that he would place the matter before Congress and await its instructions before taking any action. But he also declared that the American people were unwilling to continue the war indefinitely in pursuit of objectives of concern only to France. At some point { 518 } there would be pressure for peace and it was the anticipation of this that Adams believed justified the proposals made in his letter of the 17th. The conflict ended three days later with Vergennes' letter of 29 July (below), in which he declared that he would have no further correspondence with John Adams on matters concerning Franco-American relations, but by then Adams had already left Paris for Amsterdam.
The central question concerning the exchange between John Adams and the Comte de Vergennes in July is why did it occur? One element in Adams' decision to confront Vergennes may have been his impending departure for the Netherlands. Such a conclusion is supported by his letters of 26 and 27 July (both below), which do resemble the parting shots of a man who planned no further dealings with the French foreign minister. When the debate opened on 13 July, however, there was no sign that Adams planned anything more than the brief visit to the Netherlands that he had contemplated since early March and of which he had informed Vergennes earlier in July (to Edmund Jenings, 12 March; to Vergennes, 2 July, note 1, both above; to the president of Congress, 23 July, No. 99, and note 2, below). Moreover, only on 12 September did Adams indicate his plan to reside permanently at Amsterdam (to Francis Dana, 12 Sept., below). It seems unlikely, therefore, that his decision to visit the Netherlands was Adams' only or even his principal reason for confronting Vergennes in July.
Of more significance in provoking the exchange was Adams' effort, also undertaken in June and July, to persuade the British people and their government that Britain's interests required an immediate peace. Adams' peace initiative proceeded from his reading of Thomas Pownall's Memorial and Adams' letters to Vergennes in July show the influence of the Memorial. Moreover, in their use of Pownall's arguments, the letters parallel Adams' answer to Joseph Galloway's Cool Thoughts, leading to the conclusion that Adams may have come to see Vergennes' opposition to direct Anglo-American negotiations in much the same light as he saw Galloway's. It was no coincidence, therefore, that Adams' debate with Vergennes over the sufficiency of French aid and the exercise of his plenipotentiary powers began at almost the same time he sent Edmund Jenings the manuscripts of his Translation of Pownall's Memorial and his answer to Galloway.
The content of the letters to Vergennes was determined by Adams' desire that his peace initiative be more than a private, literary undertaking, which required that questions concerning French aid and Adams' exercise of his powers be settled. Peace negotiations were unlikely so long as the war remained a stalemate, a situation that Adams believed would continue until France provided additional aid and deployed its military and naval forces more effectively in the American theater of operations. Adams was also aware that he could not undertake official negotiations without at least the tacit support of his French ally. It seems clear, therefore, that Adams' decision to confront Vergennes in July was due largely to his determination to make one final attempt to create the conditions under which his peace initiative might succeed.
{ 519 }
Whatever John Adams intended, the issues raised in his correspondence with Vergennes did not disappear, but were referred to Congress for its consideration. Although Adams had agreed, in his letter of 26 July, to send the correspondence to Congress, Vergennes was not disposed to rely on Adams' promise. On 31 July Vergennes wrote to Benjamin Franklin and requested that he send the enclosed correspondence to Congress. He declared that Franklin would discover in Adams' letters “opinions and a turn which do not correspond either with the manner in which I explained myself to him or with the intimate connection which subsists between the king and the United States.” By seeing the letters Congress could determine whether Adams had “that conciliating spirit which is necessary for the important and delicate business with which he is intrusted” (Wharton, ed., Dipl. Corr. Amer. Rev. , 4:18–19).
Franklin wrote to the president of Congress on 9 August. There he noted both the offense given Vergennes and the French court by Adams' letters and Vergennes' refusal to correspond further with him. Citing the inherent difficulties in having two ministers at the same court with different views regarding the proper conduct of business, Franklin observed that Louis XVI should be encouraged to reflect on his “generous benevolence . . . by our thankful acknowledgments, and that such an expression of gratitude is not only our duty, but our interest.” John Adams, however, thought that more “stoutness and a greater air of independence and boldness in our demands will procure us more ample assistance” (same, 4:22–23). But Franklin may have been uncomfortable in the role assigned him by Vergennes, for in a letter to Adams of 8 October (below), he indicated that he had not yet sent off the copies of the July letters and suggested that Adams might be able to rectify the situation by apologizing to the foreign minister. Adams did not follow Franklin's advice.
Benjamin Franklin's letter of 9 August, together with the enclosed correspondence, reached Philadelphia on 19 February 1781 ( JCC , 19:174), but by then Congress had already reacted to copies sent at Adams' direction. On 26 December, the correspondence reached Congress as enclosures in Francis Dana's letter of 24 August, and a committee was immediately appointed to consider Adams' letters of 17 and 26 July and Vergennes' of the 25th (same, 18:1194). On 10 January 1781 the committee reported out a draft letter to John Adams which Congress promptly adopted and sent under that date (same, 19:41–42). The letter stated that Congress assumed that Adams' letters to Vergennes concerning the communication of his commissions flowed from his zeal, but that it believed that Vergennes' objections to such an undertaking were “well founded.” Adams was advised to be more circumspect in regard to his evaluations of the prospects for peace derived from his analysis of the vagaries of British politics and society.
The multiple copies of the Adams-Vergennes correspondence sent to Congress can be confusing. Individual items, although numbered, were not kept with their covering letters or distributed in a consistent way through the Papers of the Continental Congress (see PCC, No. 84, II and Misc. { 520 } Papers, Reel No. 1). Moreover, Vergennes sent Franklin the recipient's copies of John Adams' letters so that, instead of being in the Archives of the French Foreign Ministry, they are in the Papers of the Continental Congress, and it is from that source that the copies printed in this volume are taken.

Docno: ADMS-06-09-02-0309-0002

Author: Adams, John
Recipient: Vergennes, Charles Gravier, Comte de
Date: 1780-07-13

To the Comte de Vergennes

[salute] Sir

By the Treaty of Alliance of the sixth of February2 1778, his Majesty and the United States agreed, in Case of War, to join their Councils and Efforts against the Enterprises of the common Enemy: to make it a common Cause, and aid each other mutually with their good Offices, their Councils and their Forces, according to the Exigences of Conjunctures, and each of the contracting Parties, in the manner it may judge most proper, is to make all the Efforts in its Power against the common Enemy.3
I have cited these Clauses from the Treaty, not as foundations of any demand, that I have to make, because they are neither proper to support any demand, nor have I Authority to make any if they were: but as an Apology for the Liberty I take of requesting your Excellency's Attention to a few Observations upon the present Conjuncture of Affairs.
It is certain from the best Intelligence from London, as well as from the debates in Parliament on the several Motions which have been made for a pacification, that the British Ministry are inflexibly determined to pursue the War another Campaign in America, to send more Troops and Ships there, if they possibly can obtain them, and to put to the hazard not only, the national Credit, but their maritime Power, and even their political Existence, rather than give up their designs of domination over America; and indeed this is not at all to be wondered at, that the Ministers and the Nation, who have so far lost their Justice, their Humanity and Policy, as to deliberately form and pursue the plan of4 changing the foundations of the Laws and Government of thirteen Colonies, and reducing them to Slavery; and who have pursued this object with such sanguinary Fury for so many Years, should persist so as to bury themselves in the Ruins of the Empire, rather than fail of their purpose, when it is plain they consider, and, that not without Reason, the same Ruin in the Independence of America and her Connections with France.
The Conduct of Monsieur Le Comte de Guichen; on the seventeenth of April, and the fifteenth and nineteenth of May, in the West { 521 } Indies,5 does great honor to the national Bravery, as well as their Science in naval Tacticks, and shews that there is no Cause to fear that the Enemy will obtain any Advantage there. Yet nothing has yet been done on either Side that seems decisive.
The Advantages which Spain has gained in West Florida, and particularly of late at Mobile, and the probability that they will succeed in acquiring both the Floridas, shews that the English are on the losing hand in that quarter: but it is not the loss of both the Floridas, nor of all their West India Islands, in my Opinion, that will induce them to make Peace, and acknowledge the Independence of America in Alliance with France. They will see every posession they have beyond their Island lopped off, one after another, before they will do this.
I pretend not to know, to what part of America Monsieur de Ternay, and Monsieur de Rochambeau are destined; but to whatever part it is, whether Canada, Nova Scotia, New York, Carolina or Georgia, I have no hopes of any thing decisive from their Operations, altho' they should be instructed to co-operate with General Washington. If they should be destined against Canada or Nova Scotia, they may succeed: but this success will not be decisive. If they are intended against New York, I have no hopes of their Success. The Naval Force is not sufficient to command the Seas. Admiral Graves, added to the Ships before at New York, will be superiour; and I shall venture to give my Opinion that without a Superiority of naval Force, clear and indisputable,6 New York will never be taken. It is so situated, it is so fortified, it is garrisoned with Troops so accustomed to War, and so imbittered and inflamed by cruel passions carefully nursed up in their Breasts by their King and their Generals, and it is universally regarded by them a Post of such essential Importance, that I confess I should dispair of Success against it, with an Army twice as numerous as that of the Generals Washington and Rochambeau united, while the English are Masters of the Seas, or even while they have there an Equality of naval Power.
Most People in Europe have wondered at the Inactivity of the American Army for these two Years past, but it is merely from Want of Knowledge or Attention. The true Cause of it is; the English have confined themselves to their strong holds in Sea port Towns, and have been sheltered from all Attacks and Insults there by the Guns of their Men of War, and forever will be so, while they have the Superiority at Sea. If our Army had been three times as numerous as it was, it must have remained inactive, without a Fleet to co-operate with it; { 522 } for an Attack upon New York, without a Fleet, would have been only sacrificing the Lives of thousands of brave Men, without a possibility of succeeding.
Had the English two Years ago marched into the Country from Philadelphia, instead of retreating7 back with precipitation to New York, Europe would have heard more of the Exertions of the American Army: so much more, that in my serious Opinion, You would have heard of its total destruction.8 As it was, they were closely pursued, attacked, and if not beaten, yet they had much the worst of the Action;9 for besides their loss in killed, wounded, and in those who perished under the fatigue and heat of the day, not less than five hundred deserted from them and their desertions would have multiplied in every unsuccessful Engagement within the Country. If the last Year the British Army10 had marched out into the Country, instead of remaining under Cover of their Men of War, I am equally clear that they would have been ruined.11 The English ever since the Alliance have been fearfully apprehensive of an Attack upon their strong holds on the Sea Coast by the French. This it was induced them to retreat from Philadelphia to New York, and this has kept them almost wholly confined to that Garrison, the last Year.
I mention this, merely to wipe off the Imputation said to result from the Inactivity of our Army, since the Alliance, by shewing the true Cause of it; that it proceeds not from any Change of Sentiment in the Americans, but from the Change of the mode of prosecuting the War on the part of our Enemies.12
I am, however, clearly of Opinion, and I know it to be the general Sense of America, that the English, both in North America and the West India Islands, have been for these Two Years past absolutely in the Power of their Enemies, and that they are so now, and will continue to be so, in such a degree, that nothing will be wanting but attention to their situation, and a judicious application of the Forces of the Allies, to accomplish the entire Reduction of their Power in America. In order to shew this, let me beg your Excellency's Attention to a few Remarks upon the Situation of the English; and upon the Method of applying the force of the Allies so as to reduce them.
The English are in possession of Canada, a Province vastly extensive, and in which there is a great Number of Posts, at a great distance from each other, necessary to be maintained among a People too, who are by no means attached to them, but who would readily afford all the Assistance in their Power to the united forces of France and of the United States, and who would join them in considerable { 523 } Numbers. In this whole Province, the English have not, comprehending the Garrisons of all their Posts, more than four thousand Men.
The English are in possession of Nova Scotia. They have in Hallifax and the other Parts of the Province, and at Penobscot about three thousand Men. But the People of this Province, being descendants and Emigrants from New England chiefly, are discontented with British Government, and desirous of joining the United States.
They are in Possession of New York Island, Long Island and Staten Island, where they have in all of regular British Troops, perhaps[] 13 Thousand Men. The Militia and Volunteers &c., of whom they make such an ostentatious display in the dispatches of their Generals, and in the Gazette of St. James's, are of very little Consideration. Their Numbers are much exaggerated. It is Force, and Fear and Policy, that enrolls the greatest part of them.14 There are perhaps fifteen thousand Inhabitants of the City. These, together with the Army and Navy, are fed and supplied with provisions and stores and fuel, and their Cattle and Horses with forage brought by Sea from Quebec, Hallifax, Ireland, and the West India Islands, except the small Quantity which they draw from Long Island and Staten Island.
They are now in Possession of Charlestown in South Carolina and Savannah in Georgia. Their Armies and Navies in these places, as well as the Inhabitants, must be chiefly supplied by Sea in the same manner.
They are still perhaps in possession of St. Augustine in East Florida and Pensacola in the West. From these places they have drawn of late Years great supplies of Lumber and Provisions for their West India Islands. The Number of Troops in Georgia and Carolina may amount to[] 15 Thousands.
They are in Possession of Jamaica, Barbadoes, Antigua, St. Christophers, and St. Lucie and other Islands. These draw Supplies of Provisions and Lumber &c., from Quebec, Hallifax, Pensacola, and Augustine, that is from the Floridas. The Number of Troops they have in each Island, I am not able to ascertain: but certainly they are not strong in any of them. And the Climate in the West Indies and in Georgia and Carolina, is making a rapid Consumption of their Men.
From this Sketch it will be easily seen, what a great Number of Posts they have to sustain, how these are mutually connected with and dependent on each other, and that their Existence in all of them depends upon their Superiority at Sea, and that to carry on the Intercourse and Communication between these various places, a vast Number of Transports, Provision Vessels and Merchant Ships, are { 524 } necessary. This is so much the fact, that the English Nation has now little Navigation left but what is employed in maintaining the Communication of these places with one another and with Europe. Here then it is that the English Commerce and Navy is vulnerable, and this it is which clearly points out to their Enemies, the only sure and certain Way of reducing their Power in that quarter of the World; and if it is reduced there, it is brought into a narrow Compass every where.
The Policy and Necessity of keeping always a superiour Fleet both in the West India Islands and on the Coast of the Continent of North America, is from all this very obvious. The English are so sensible of this, that they dread it as the greatest Evil that can befal them. The Appearance of the Count D'Estaing upon the Coast of North America never failed to throw the English into the utmost Terror and Consternation.16
The Appearance of a French Fleet upon our Coasts has repeatedly compelled, and ever must compel the English to call off from their Cruises, all their Frigates, and other Ships, and to assemble them at New York for their Security, and the defence of that place. These are among the happy Effects of such a measure. The Communication of the United States, not only with each other, but with the West Indies, with France, and all other parts of Europe, with which they have any Concern, is immediately opened, and they are thereby easily furnished, in all parts, with every thing fitting and necessary to carry on the War with the greatest Vigour. His Majesty's Fleets and Armies will be amply and much more cheaply supplied, and his Subjects will reap, in Common with the Inhabitants of the United States, the benefits of this free Commerce. It will give free Sea-Room to the few Frigates belonging to Congress, and the several States, to cruise for the Merchant Ships, Provision Vessels and Transports of the Enemy. It gives Opportunity also to the Privateers to do the same. There are at this day, notwithstanding the dreadful Sacrifices made at Charlestown and Penobscot, Sacrifices the Necessity of which would have been entirely prevented by a few ships of the line,17 the Continental Frigates, the Confederacy, which is arrived at Philadelphia, the Alliance which will soon be there, the Trumbll, the Deane, the Bourbon, and also a Ship of fifty six Guns, which is nearly ready for Sea. The State of Massachusetts has two Frigates18 and several smaller Vessels. There are besides these now in being, belonging to Newbury Port, Beverly, Salem, Marblehead, Portsmouth, Boston and Rhode Island about forty Privateers. There are several belonging to Philadelphia. { 525 } If a French Fleet should constantly remain upon that Coast, the Number of these Privateers would be doubled in a very few Months. What Havock then must these armed Vessels make, especially if a few French Frigates should be also ordered to cruise for Prizes, among the Provision Vessels, Merchant Ships and Transports passing and repassing to and from America and the West Indies to Europe, and to and from America and the West Indies, and to and from Quebec, Nova Scotia, New York, Charlestown, Savannah and the Floridas. Such depredations have several Times been made by our Cruisers alone, as to reduce the English at New York to very great distress: and it would be very easy to reduce them in this Way, to such Misery, as to oblige them to surrender at discretion.
I therefore beg leave to submit it to your Excellency's Consideration, whether there is any possible Way, that a Marine Force can be employed against the English, so much to the advantage of France, and the disadvantage of England, as in this Way: and whether upon the principles of French Interest and Policy alone, even without taking into Consideration that of the United States, a Fleet ought not to be constantly kept in North America. The Advantages they will there have, in Artists,19 Supplies, Accommodations &c. above the English are obvious.20
But the Question will arise, where shall they winter? I answer they may winter with perfect Security and Advantage, either at Boston, Rhode Island, Delaware or Cheasapeak Bay.
Another Question will arise, whether they should all winter together in one Port, or be seperated to several Ports?
I apprehend, however, that it would be most prudent to leave it to the discretion of the Commander in Chief of the Squadron, to keep the Squadron together, or to detach parts of it, according to the Exigences of the Service, advising with Congress, or with the Chevalier de la Luzerne, from time to time.
Two Ships of the Line with three Frigates stationed at Boston, with orders to cruise occasionally for the protection of French and American Trade and the Annoyance of the Enemy: the same Number at Rhode Island with the same Orders—the same Number at Delaware River with similar Orders and a like Number in Cheasapeak Bay with like Orders, which would make eight Ships of the Line and twelve Frigates, I have a moral Certainty would in one Year reduce the Power of the English in North America to absolute Annihilation without striking a Blow at Land. Those Ships would make a diversion of an equal Force of the English from the West India Islands, so that they { 526 } would be in that respect as usefully employed for his Majesty there as any where. Eight Ships of the Line and twelve Frigates stationed together at Rhode Island, with Orders to cruise for the same purposes would do the same thing.
Which plan would be best I dare not undertake to say. But until further informed, and instructed by Congress, I should think however, that the best plan would be to station the Fleet for the Winter, either in Delaware, or Cheasapeak Bay: and as the War has lately turned to the Southward, I am most inclined to think that Cheasapeak Bay would be the most proper.
But, in all Events, I beg leave to intreat in the most earnest manner that a powerful Fleet may be ordered to winter somewhere in North America. By this means I think there is a moral Certainty that the English will be ruined there; whereas if Dependence is had upon the Assault and Attack of their strong holds, without the most absolute Command of the Sea, I fear it will end in Disappointment and Disgrace.21
There is the more urgent Reason for laying these Considerations before your Excellency, because there is a proportion of the People in America, who wish to return to the domination of Great Britain, many of whom are sensible and artful Men. They take Notice of every Circumstance of the Conduct of France, and represent it in such a Light, as they think will throw a prejudice against the Alliance into the Minds of the People. They represent the Affair of Rhode Island and of Savannah and some other things, as proofs that the Court of France do not mean to give any effectual Aid to America, but only to play off her Strength against that of Britain, and thus exhaust <her> both. The Refugees in England concur with them in these Representations, and the Ministry, and the Members of Parliament in their public Speeches represent the same thing. Even Mr. Hartley, who is more for Peace than any Man in that Kingdom, in a printed Letter to the Inhabitants of the County of York, says, “it is our duty to unravel by Negotiation, the Combination of Powers now acting against Us”: and he says further in express Words, that “it is apparent to all the World, that France might long ago have put an End to that part of the War, which has been most distressing to America, if they had chosen so to do.” He must mean here the War of their Frigates and Privateers upon our Trade. “Let the whole System of France be considered,” says he, “from the beginning down to the late Retreat from Savannah, and I think it is impossible to put any other Construction upon it, but this, viz, that it has always been the deliberate { 527 } Intention and Object of France, for purposes of their own, to encourage the Continuation of the War in America, in hopes of exhausting the Strength and Resources of this Country, and of depressing the rising Power of America.”22 This is not only the Language of Mr. Hartley, but the general Language of Newspapers and Pamphlets, and, I am well informed, of Conversation, in England. These are very industriously sent to America, through various Channels which cannot be stopped, by Laws, Art, or Power.
The body of the People have great Confidence in the sincerity of France; but if these contrary Opinions should be suffered to gain ground, as they most assuredly will, if something is not done to prevent it; when all the World sees and declares as they do, that it is the best Policy of France, if She considered her own Interest alone in the Conduct of the War, to keep a superiour naval Force upon the Coast of the Continent of North America; I leave your Excellency to judge, what a melancholy effect it will have upon our Affairs. There is no Event, in my Opinion, which would have so direct a tendency to give force and extent to Opinions so dangerous to both Nations, as the calling off from the Continent your Naval Force, during the Winter, and not keeping a Superiority there through the Year. I scruple not to give it as my opinion, that it will disunite, weaken and distress Us more than, We should have been disunited, weakened or distressed, if the Alliance had never been made.
The United States of America are a great and powerful People, whatever European Statesmen may think of them. If We take into our Estimate, the Numbers and Character of her People, the Extent, Variety, and Fertility of her Soil, her Commerce, and her Skill and Materials for Ship building, and her Seamen, excepting France, Spain, England, the Emperor and Russia, there is not a State in Europe so powerful. Breaking off such a Nation as this from the English so suddenly, and uniting it so closely with France, is one of the most extraordinary Events that ever happened among Mankind. The prejudices of Nations in favor of themselves and against all other Nations, which spring from self-love, and are often nurtured by Policy for unworthy purposes, and which have certainly been ever cultivated by the English with the utmost Care, in the Minds of the Americans, as well as of the People of every other Part of their dominions, certainly deserve the Attention of the wisest Statesmen, and as they are not to be eradicated in a Moment, they require to be managed with some delicacy. It is too often said in France, where the Prejudice against the English has not been fostered into so much Rancour, { 528 } because France never had so much to fear from England, as England has from France, That “the Americans and the English are the same thing,” not to make it appear that there are some Remnants of Prejudices against Americans among the French: and it must be confessed there are some in America against France. It is really astonishing however, that there are so few, and it is the Interest and Duty of both, to lessen them as fast as possible, and to avoid with the nicest Care every colourable Cause of reviving any part of them.23
I beg your Excellency to excuse this Trouble, because the State of things in North America, has really become alarming, and this merely for Want of a few French Men of War upon that Coast, and to believe me to be, with the greatest Respect Sir, your Excellency's most obedient and most humble Servant
[signed] John Adams
RC in John Thaxter's hand (PCC, Misc. Papers, Reel No. 1, f. 63–81); endorsed on the first page: “M. de R.,” “Rep.”; with an additional notation: “No. 6.”; docketed by Congress: “N 6. John Adams to Ct Vergennes July 13th 1780.” For the presence of this copy in the PCC, see The Dispute with the Comte de Vergennes, 13–29 July, Editorial Note (above). LbC partly in John Thaxter's hand (Adams Papers). MS fragment (Adams Papers), filmed at 7 Feb. 1780 (Adams Papers, Microfilms, Reel No. 351).
1. This letter should be compared with earlier ones from the Commissioners to Vergennes, [ante 20] Dec. 1778 – [ante 9] Jan. 1779, and from JA to the Marquis de Lafayette of 21 Feb. 1779 (vol. 7:292–311, 421–423); see also vol. 8:index, Adams, John: Military Interests, Naval matters. JA sent a virtually identical copy of this letter, in Jonathan Loring Austin's hand, to the Minister of Marine, Gabriel de Sartine (Arch. de la Marine, Paris, Campagnes B4, vol. 182), but no reply to that letter has been found.
2. In the Letterbook JA wrote “April,” which John Thaxter canceled and replaced with “Feby.”
3. This paragraph includes portions of the preamble, Art. I, and Art. III of the FrancoAmerican Treaty of Alliance (Miller, ed., Treaties , 2:36, 37).
4. At this point in the Letterbook JA wrote and then canceled “enslaving.”
5. For the battle between Guichen and Rodney off Martinique on 17 April, see vol. 8:337, 360; and JA 's letter of 14 May to John Bondfield, note 1 (above). For their encounters on 14 and 19 May, see Thomas Digges' letter of 29 June, note 2 (above).
6. In the Letterbook the preceding three words are canceled and do not appear in the letter sent to Sartine.
7. In the Letterbook, John Thaxter inserted this word in place of JA 's “sulking.”
8. At this point in the Letterbook the letter “b” appears, indicating the corresponding passage at the end of the Letterbook copy for insertion at this point. The inserted passage comprised all of the following sentence. The insertions “b” through “e” are in Thaxter's hand, but see note 21.
9. This was the Battle of Monmouth on 28 June 1778.
10. In the copy sent to Sartine, “British Army” was replaced by “Enemy.”
11. In the Letterbook the remainder of this paragraph reads “c. (Had it not been for the Alliance between France and America however, there is every Reason to believe they would have had the Presumption or desperation to have marched into the Country from Philadelphia, in 1778 and from N. York in 1779. So that this Alliance, may be reasonably conjectured to have been the Cause, why the Ennemy in the United States have not been defeated.) <. . . by giving scope to our Privateers and more freedom to our Troops it has been of great Advantage.> d.” The letter “c” indicates the passage at the end of the Letterbook copy that comprises the following two sentences in the recipient's copy. It seems likely that originally they were to be followed { 529 } by the two sentences that are enclosed in parentheses in the Letterbook, but which were subsequently deleted.
12. The letter “d” indicates the passage at the end of the Letterbook copy that comprises all of the following paragraph, but may originally have been intended to replace the heavily canceled sentence in the Letterbook. In any event it seems likely that JA determined to insert passages “c” and “d” and to delete the final sentence before he decided to delete the two sentences now set off in parentheses. Certainly the removal of those two sentences was necessary if JA was not to be seen as echoing, explicitly rather than implicitly, the statements of David Hartley regarding the Franco-American alliance and the continuation of the war that he quotes later in the letter.
13. Left blank. In July 1780, the garrison at New York reportedly comprised 20,048 troops, of which 14,285 were fit for duty (Mackesy, War for America , p. 346).
14. At this point in the Letterbook, set off in parentheses, presumably for deletion, is the following passage: “The English themselves have So little Confidence in them, that they exercise them in the day time, with only Pieces of Wood in their Musquets for Flints, that they take their arms from them every night, and pile them up in the magazines, and they never trust them with Powder and their officers have frequently been heard to say, that the greatest Part of them ought to be in Prison.” JA 's reason for deleting this passage is unknown, but for his previous use of this description of the loyalist troops at New York, see “Letters from a Distinguished American,” [ante 14–22 July], No. II, below).
15. Left blank. In July 1780, the British reportedly had 8,439 troops in South Carolina and Georgia, of which 6,129 were fit for duty (Mackesy, War for America , p. 346).
16. In the Letterbook the text continues “(Even the Appearance of the Kings Frigate the Sensible in Boston Harbour, was some Protection to Us.)
“e. (The first Consequence of the Appearance of a french Fleet upon the Coast, is, the English are obliged to call off from their Cruises all their Frigates and other ships, and assemble them at New York in order to defend that.)”. The letter “e” indicates the passage at the end of the Letterbook copy which comprises the first four sentences of the following paragraph.
17. JA inserted the words “Sacrifices the Necessity . . . ships of the line.” The passage does not appear in the letter sent to Sartine.
18. At this point in the Letterbook is the canceled passage “one frigate of 22 Guns the Protector.” At the time of this letter Massachusetts had only two major warships, the frigate Protector and the ship Mars (Charles O. Paullin, Navy of the American Revolution, Cleveland, 1906, p. 342).
19. At this point in the Letterbook is the canceled passage “protecting the French Trade,” but see note 20.
20. In the Letterbook the paragraph continues “(The Protection they will afford to the supplies to his Majestys fleets armies and subjects in his Colonies is equally obvious, and to the Trade both of his subjects and allies.).”
21. The remainder of the Letterbook copy is in John Thaxter's hand and was copied from a manuscript in JA 's hand (see descriptive note), bearing the notation “f,” and consisting of four folio pages, one and a quarter of which contain text. JA 's designation of the manuscript as “f,” thus placing it in sequence with the other textual insertions, may indicate that he originally intended to end the letter at this point. The portion of the text copied from the manuscript is immediately followed by the passages marked “b,” “c,” “d,” and “e,” which were intended for insertion in the text. No character “a” or passage “a” has been found.
22. The quotations are from David Hartley's letter of 21 March 1780 that was published in Two Letters from D. Hartley, Esq. M.P. Addressed to the Committee of the County of York, London, 1780. For JA 's earlier criticism of these statements, some of which he repeats here, see his letter of 18 April to the president of Congress, No. 48 (above).
23. The manuscript ends at this point, but the closing paragraph is in the Letterbook.