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Browsing: Papers of John Adams, Volume 12


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Docno: ADMS-06-12-02-0044

Author: Livingston, Robert R.
Recipient: Adams, John
Date: 1781-11-20

From Robert R. Livingston

No 2

[salute] sir

Since my last of the 23d of October nothing material has happened here, unless it be the return of Digby to New York, where he has relanded great part of his Troops, and as is said, proceeded to the West Indies with the Fleet, tho’ this is not fully ascertained, nor have we any authentick Accounts that the Count de Grasse sailed from Chesapeake on the 4th inst. It gives me pleasure however to mention an incident to you, which shews how much the Yeomanry of this country have improved in military discipline, and must defeat every hope that Britain Entertains of conquering a Country so defended. It has been the custom of the enemy to move a large body of Troops Every fall from Canada to Ticonderoga while a light Corps with a number of Indians entered the State from the westward, and { 74 } destroyed the frontier settlements, burning the houses and barns, and scalping the old men, women and Children. Last year, they effected the destruction of Schoharie, and most of the settlements on the Mohawk River, before the Militia could assemble to oppose them. This Year a small Body of State Troops, drafted from the Militia for three months, about sixty N Hampshire levies, part of the militia of the country, and forty Oneida Indians, to the number of four hundred and eighty in all, under the command of Colonel Willet, hastily collected upon the report of the enemy’s coming from the Westward, to oppose them, while the rest of the Militia, and some Continental Troops marched up Hudson’s River (the enemy having about two Thousand men at Ticonderoga). Willet met the Enemy which consisted of a picked corps of British Troops to the amount of six hundred and six, besides a number of Indians and Tories. He fought and defeated them twice with his Militia, killed their leaders, Major Ross and young Butler, made a number of Prisoners, and pursued them three days, ’till he had driven them into the thickest part of the wilderness, whence fatigue, and want of Provisions, will prevent many of them from returning. Those at Ticonderoga have remained inactive ever since.1
It must be a mortifying circumstance to the proudest people in the world, to find themselves foiled, not only by the american regular Troops, but by the rough undisciplined militia of the country. Admiral Zoutman’s combat must also, I should imagine, have some effect in humbling their pride, and what is of more consequence, in raising the spirits of the Dutch nation.
We find from your letters as well as from other accounts of the United Provinces that they are divided into powerful parties, for and against the War, and we are sorry to see some of the most distinguished names among what are called the Anglomanes. But your letters leave us in the dark relative to the views and principles of each party, which is no small inconvenience to us, as we know not how to adapt our measures to them. It is so important to the due execution of your mission, to penetrate the views of all parties, without seeming to be connected with either, that I have no doubt you have insinuated yourself into the good graces and confidence of the leaders, and that you can furnish the information we require, you may be persuaded, no ill use will be made of any you give, and it is expected from You.
We learn from Mr Dumas, that you have presented your credentials to the states general, we are astonished that you have not writ• { 75 } ten on so important a subject, and developed the principles that induced you to declare your public character, before the States were disposed to acknowledge it.2 There is no doubt from your known prudence and knowledge of the world, that some peculiarity in your situation, or that of the politicks and parties of the United provinces furnished you with reasons that overballanced the objections to the measure which arise from the humiliating light in which it places us. Congress would, I believe wish to have them explained, and particularly your reason for printing your memorial, I may form improper ideas of the government, interests and policy of the United Provinces, but I frankly confess that I have ||no hope that they will recognize us as an independent|| 3 state and ||embarrass themselves|| in making their wished for ||peace with our affairs||. What ||inducements can we|| hold out to them? ||They know|| that our own ||interest will lead us|| to trade with them, and we do not propose || to purchase their alliance by|| giving them any ||exclusive advantage in commerce||. Your business, then, I should think lies in a narrow compass. It is to “conciliate the affections of the people, to place our cause in the most advantageous light, to remove the prejudices that Great Britain may endeavour to excite, to discover the views of the different Parties, to watch every motion that leads to peace between England and the United provinces, and to get the secret aid of government in procuring a loan, which is almost the only thing wanting to render our affairs respectable at home and abroad.”4 To these objects I am satisfied you pay the strictest attention, because I am satisfied no man has more the interest of his country at heart, or is better acquainted with its wants. As our objects in Holland must be very similar to those of France, I should suppose it would be prudent for you to keep up the closest Connexion with her minister to advise with him on great leading objects, and to counteract his opinion only upon the most mature deliberation. You were informed before I came into Office that Mr Jay and Mr Franklin are joined in commission with you and have received copies of the instructions that Congress have given their commissioners. This whole business being terminated before I came down, I make no observations upon it, lest I should not enter fully into the Views of Congress—and by that means help to mislead you on so important a subject. I enclose you a resolution discharging the commission for establishing a commercial Treaty with Britain.5 This also being a business of long standing, I for the same reasons transmit it without any observations thereon.6 I would recommend it to you to be in your language { 76 } and conduct a private gentleman—this will give you many advantages in making connexions that will be lost on your insisting upon the assumption of a public character and the rather, as this sentiment prevails generally among the members of Congress, tho’ for reasons of delicacy with respect to you, I have not chosen to ask the sense of Congress to whom it is my sincere wish, as well as my leading Object in the free Letters I write you, to enable you to render your measures acceptable. A number of your letters written last winter and spring, have this moment come to hand.7
This letter will be sent to Europe by the Marquis de la Fayette, who has obtained leave of absence during the winter Season. He wishes to correspond with you, and as from his Connexions, his understanding and attachment to this Country, he may be very serviceable to you, I would wish you to write as freely to him, as you conceive those considerations may render it prudent.8

[salute] I have the honor to be, sir With great respect & esteem Your most obedient & most humble servant

[signed] Robt R Livingston
RC and enclosure (Adams Papers); endorsed: “Secretary Livingston No. 2. November 20. 1781. recd and ansd 19. Feb. 1782.” Dft (NHi:R. R. Livingston Papers). Text for the enciphered passages in the fourth paragraph has been supplied from the draft; see also note 3.
1. Livingston describes the battles between a British force led by Maj. John Ross and American militia commanded by Col. Marinus Willett on 25 and 30 Oct. at Johnstown and Jerseyfield, N.Y., respectively. He summarizes Willett’s report of 2 Nov. to Maj. Gen. William Alexander, which Congress ordered printed in the Philadelphia newspapers, including the Pennsylvania Gazette of 21 November. While Maj. Ross retreated with his troops, Walter N. Butler, the notorious commander of British forces at the Cherry Valley Massacre in 1778 and son of Loyalist Indian agent John Butler, fell at Jerseyfield (Christopher Ward, The War of the Revolution, 2 vols., N.Y., 1952, 2:651–652).
2. Livingston refers to Dumas’ serial letter of 1 May – 4 July that Congress received on 3 Oct., the same day on which the second of JA ’s letters of 16 May arrived (vol. 11:317–319; JCC , 21:1032–1033). Dumas’ letter reported on JA ’s efforts to present his memorials of 19 April (vol. 11:272–284) to the Dutch government and gave details of JA ’s meetings, at which Dumas was present, with the grand pensionary, the president of the States General, and the secretary to William V (Wharton, ed., Dipl. Corr. Amer. Rev. , 4:393–397, which prints a later version of the letter that extends to 13 July). The explanation for JA ’s actions that Livingston desired was contained in JA ’s letters of 3 and 7 May to the president of Congress (vol. 11:301–302, 305–308). There he explained his reasons for undertaking to present the memorials and then to publish them. Unfortunately, although both letters are in the PCC, there is no indication as to when they were received.
Livingston was not alone in his criticism of JA ’s conduct in the Netherlands, as is evident from Edmund Randolph’s letter of 9 Oct. to Thomas Jefferson (Jefferson, Papers , 6:128–129). JA , in his reply of 19 Feb. 1782, below, and other letters written at the same time, mounted a vigorous defense of his actions. JA ’s letters indicate his frustration with Livingston’s criticism and instructions that betrayed a fundamental lack of knowledge or appreciation of European politics and Dutch government and society. His exasperation was made more intense because when he received Livingston’s letter his efforts to obtain Dutch recognition of the United States seemed to be bearing fruit.
{ 77 }
3. This is the first of eight passages that were encrypted using the Lovell cipher. JA ’s interlineations indicate that he deciphered the 2d, 3d, 5th, and part of the 6th passages. JA ’s problem with the undeciphered passage was that whoever enciphered the text did not, with any consistency, follow the rules for enciphering text with the Lovell cipher. Thus, when JA began his decipherment he found only gibberish.
4. The source of Livingston’s quotation is not known. See his letter of 23 Oct., above, which covers much the same ground.
5. Two copies of Congress’ resolution of 12 July ( JCC , 20:746–747) are with a quadruplicate of this letter in MHi:John Adams, Embassy MSS .
6. In the draft Livingston canceled: “An advertizment in the Amsterdam Gazette has been the source of much inquiry here as it leads the world to think you have made considerable loans in Holland or that you wish to impose such an opinion upon the w<orld>. I <suppose it> imagine this has been inserted without your order more particularly as it announces <your> a publick character in which you <can> would not certainly assume in the United provinces without their concurrence. You will I dare say caution your zealous friends against such imprudences in future as serve to throw an air of <contempt> ridicule on your mission.” The advertisement in the Gazette d’Amsterdam has not been found, but for the notice as it appeared in the Gazette de Leyde of 27 Feb., and reports appearing elsewhere, see the Plan for the Negotiation of a Dutch Loan, [ca. 24 Feb.], note 3 (vol. 11:159–160).
7. Congress received 26 letters from JA on 19 Nov. (PCC, No. 185, III, f. 4–5). They were dated 25 and 30 Nov.; 1, 14, 18, 21, 25 (3), 26, 28, 30, and 31 Dec. 1780; 1, 4, 14, 15 (4), and 18 Jan.; 1 Feb.; and 18, 19, and 29 (2) March 1781 (vol. 10:373–374, 385–386, 390, 410–411, 419–421, 426–427, 433–439, 442–443, 458–464, 465–466; vol. 11:2, 15–17, 44–45, 49–51, 55, 96, 213–216, 238–241).
8. With this letter in the Adams Papers is a copy of Congress’ resolution of 23 Nov. regarding Lafayette’s return to France, which Livingston here summarizes in so far as it applied to JA ( JCC , 21:1134–1136). This letter and its enclosure were likely sent to JA under cover of Lafayette’s letter of 1 Feb. 1782 (Adams Papers).