John Adams' Memorial to the States General, 19 April 1781 273
The memorial of 19 April to the States General is the single most important diplomatic document in this volume and John Adams' first major initiative as minister plenipotentiary to the Netherlands. The chain of events that began with the memorial would end a year later, on 19 April 1782, when the States General resolved to recognize the United States, admit Adams as minister plenipotentiary, and begin negotiations for a treaty of amity and commerce.
Although Adams designed the memorial to appeal to the economic self-interest of the Dutch Republic, he also emphasized the special kinship of the two republics, both born in the fires of revolution. Adams argued that if the Netherlands delayed recognizing the United States it risked exclusion from the American market. Moreover, the failure of the American Revolution through lack of support from the Dutch and other Europeans, raised the specter of a stronger and more voracious British empire.
The memorial is more than a simple diplomatic document. Adams deliberately dated it 19 April, the anniversary of the battles at Lexington and Concord. Because Adams emphasized the role of the people in determining their own political fate, his memorial was for the Dutch and other Europeans a revolutionary document. In his account of the origins and meaning of that “immortal Declaration, of the fourth of July one thousand seven hundred and seventy six,” Adams insisted that the Declaration and the American Revolution itself were not the work of a few zealous leaders, but rather the result of long, intense deliberations by the whole people. Like the Dutch in their revolt against Spain, the American people possessed an indomitable will to be free; consequently, if the Dutch refused to support the American cause they would betray their own history.
On the morning of 4 May, Adams set out to present his memorial to Pieter van Bleiswyck, grand pensionary; Baron Lynden van Hemmen, president of the States General; and Hendrik Fagel, secretary to the States General. The memorial reproduced here is one of two manuscripts in the Adams Papers
, both in John Thaxter's hand and labeled “Copy,” that probably were intended for van Bleiswyck and Fagel. The memorial meant for Lynden van Hemmen has not been located.
The Dutch leadership's refusal to accept the memorial did not deter Adams' resolve to present his case to the Dutch people. He already had decided to forestall the States General from ignoring his appeal by publishing the memorial as a pamphlet in English, French, and Dutch. These pamphlets and the widespread publication of the memorial in European and American newspapers probably made it the most widely circulated of any of John Adams' political writings. For accounts of the origin, presentation, and publication of the memorial, see the notes to the memorial to the States General, 19 April
, and JA's letter of 7 May
to the president of Congress, both below.