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Browsing: Papers of John Adams, Volume 13


Docno: ADMS-06-13-02-0099

Author: Adams, John
DateRange: 1782-07-05 - 1782-07-08

A Memorial to the Sovereigns of Europe

[salute] Sir

This War has already continued so many Years, been extended to so many Nations, and been attended with so many unnatural and disagreable Circumstances that Every Man, who is not deficient in the Sentiments of Philanthropy, must wish to see Peace, restored upon just Principles, to Mankind:2 I shall therefore make no other Apology, for the Liberty I take in Writing this Letter, not in a public ministerial Character, but in a private and confidential Manner So that it is not expected or desired that you should make any further Use of it, then for your private amusement, unless you should judge it proper, to take any publick steps in Consequence of it, in which Case you are at Liberty to make what Use of it you think proper.
All the World professes to wish for Peace: England professes Such a Desire, France, Spain, Holland and America, profess it. The neutral Powers, profess it, and Some of them are giving themselves much Trouble, by Negotiations and offers of Mediation to accomplish, it, either generally or at least partially. All the Nations at War with England seem to be be very well agreed in the Sentiment, that any partial or Seperate Peace, would only retard a general Peace, and therefore do more harm than good, and this Sentiment, is past all doubt perfectly just.
What Measures than can be taken, with any plausible appearance of Probability, to bring about a General Peace?
Great Britain, is in a Situation as critical as any Nation was ever known to Stand in. Ireland and all her foreign Dominions discon• { 161 } tented, and almost ripe to follow the Example of the United states of America in throwing off, all their Connections with her. The Nation at home, nearly equally divided between the old Ministry and the New, and between the old System and the new, So that no Party, has an Influence sufficiently clear to take any decided Step. A Sentiment of Compassion for England3 <and a Jealousy of the growing Commerce and naval Power of their Ennemies>,4 may take Place in Some of the neutral Powers, and after sometime induce them, especially if any new Motive should turn up, to become Parties to the War, and thus involve all Nations in a flame.
America has perhaps the least to dread, perhaps the most to gain by Such an Event of any of the Nations of the World. She would wish however to avoid it. But the Question is, in what manner?
If England could be unanimous, in the only Plan of Wisdom she might easily resolve this Question, by instantly declaring the United states of America, A souvereign and independent state—and by inviting them as Such to a Congress, for a general Pacification, under the Mediation of the two Imperial Courts as was proposed last Year.5 But the present british Ministers are not Sufficiently Seated in the Confidence of the King or the Nation to venture upon so Striking a Measure. The King would be displeased, the Nation allarmed, and the old Ministry and their Partisans, would raise a popular Cry against them, that they had Sacraficed the Honour and Dignity of the Crown and the essential Interests of the Nation.
Something is therefore wanting, to enable the Government in England to do what is absolutely necessary for the Safety of the Nation. In order to discover what that is, it is necessary to recollect, a Resolution of Congress of the
5th. of October 1780, in these Words
“Her Imperial Majesty of all the Russias, attentive to the Freedom of Commerce, and the Rights of Nations, in her Declaration to the belligerent and neutral Powers, having proposed Regulations founded on Principles of Justice, Equity and Moderation, of which their most Christian and Catholic Majestys, and most of the neutral maritime Powers of Europe, have declared their Approbation, Congress willing to testify their Regard to the Rights of Commerce, and their Respect for the Sovereign, who hath proposed, and the Powers who have approved the said Regulations.
Resolve, that the Board of Admiralty prepare and Report Instructions for the Commanders of armed Vessells, commissioned by the { 162 } United States, conformable to the Principles contained in the Declaration of the Empress of all the Russias, on the Rights of neutral Vessells.
That the Ministers Plenipotentiary, from the United States, if invited thereto, be, and hereby are, respectively impowerd to accede to Such Regulations, conformable to the Spirit of the Said Declaration, as may be agreed upon, by the Congress expected to assemble in pursuance of the Invitation of her imperial Majesty.”6
This Resolution, I had the Honour on the 8th of March 1781 of communicating to their High Mightinesses, and to the Ministers of Russia, Sweeden and Denmark residing at the Hague, and to inform them, that I was ready and desirous of pledging the Faith of the United states, to the Observances of the Principles of the armed Neutrality, according to that Resolution of Congress.7
Now I Submit it to your Consideration sir, whether the Simplest and most natural Method of bringing this War to a General Conclusion is not, for the neutral Powers to admit a Minister from Congress to acceed to the Principles of the marine Treaty of Neutrality in the Same manner as France and Spain have done.
But it will be Said this is Acknowledging the Souvereignty of the United States of America. Very true—and for this very Reason it is desirable, because it settles the main question of the Controversy, it immediately reconciles, all the illdisposed Part of the English Nation to the Measure, it prepares the Way to the two Imperial Courts to invite the Ministers of the United states of America to a Congress, for making Peace under their Mediation, and enables the British Ministry to reconcile the King and the present opposition to an Act of Parliament declaring America independent, and most probably is the only Method of Saving Great Britain herself from all the Horrors of an internal civil war.
This great Point once decided, the Moderation of the belligerent Powers and the impartial Equity of the two imperial mediating Courts, would leave no room to doubt of a Speedy general Peace.
Without Some such Interposition of the Neutral Powers, the War will probably be prolonged untill a civil War breaks out in England, for which the Parties there appear to be nearly ripe. The Vanity of that Nation will always enable artfull Men to flatter it, with illusive hopes of Divisions among their Ennemies, of Reconciliation with America, and of Seperate Peace with some that they make take vengeance on others. But these are all Delusions—America will never be unfaithfull to their Allies nor to herself.
{ 163 }
I wish therefore, Sir, for your Advice, whether it would not be prudent for the Sates General to take Some Steps. To propose this matter to the Considerations of the Empress of Russia, the Emperor of Germany and all the other Neutral Courts—or at least to instruct their Ambassadors at all those Courts, to promote, the Admission of the United states of America to become Parties to the late Marine Treaty.8
LbC (Adams Papers); located between items dated 5 and 8 July.
1. This date is derived from this letter's location in the Letterbook between JA 's second letter of 5 July to Robert R. Livingston (above) and that of 8 July to John Jay (below), but see also note 3. The caption is taken from JA 's comment following the letter as printed in the Boston Patriot of 17 April 1811. There he wrote: “N. B. in 1810. This letter in the substance of it, was afterwards transformed into 'A memorial to the sovereigns of Europe,' and published in the gazette of Leyden, and from that into many other journals, without any names.”
Although a revised version of this letter was published in several newspapers, European and American, it seems likely that when JA wrote it he had a recipient in mind, possibly the French ambassador, the Duc de La Vauguyon. This may be indicated by JA 's statement in the first paragraph that he was not writing “in a public ministerial Character” but rather intended the letter for the recipient's “private amusement” unless he judged “it proper, to take any publick steps in Consequence of it.” Further evidence that JA did not initially intend the letter for publication is his statement immediately after the text of Congress' resolution of 5 Oct. 1780 that “This Resolution, I had the Honour on the 8th of March 1781 of communicating to their High Mightinesses.” That, plus the reference in the first paragraph, clearly identified JA as the author, something that he likely would not have done if he originally intended to publish the letter.
At some point JA decided not to send the letter but rather to have it published, and to facilitate that effort he had C. W. F. Dumas translate the letter. The format of Dumas' very literal translation in his letterbook (Nationaal Archief, The Hague, Dumas Papers, Microfilm) makes it almost certain that it was done from JA 's Letterbook copy, and it is clear that all of the French printings were derived from that translation. Although it is impossible to know with certainty how many European newspapers the letter appeared in, JA wrote to JQA on 18 Aug. that it had been printed in the Courier du Bas Rhin, the Gazette de Leyde, and the Gazette de la Haye ( AFC , 4:366–367). It also appeared in Courier de l'Europe of 23 Aug. and Le politique hollandais of 26 August. JA sent a copy of the Courier du Bas Rhin containing the piece to Cotton Tufts, who had it translated and printed in the Boston Evening Post of 2 Nov. (same, 5:12, 14).
Before the letter was published, the salutation, date, and personal pronouns were removed. Because these alterations did little to change either the meaning or the tone of the letter, they have not been indicated by specific notes. But two changes were significant: the removal of a portion of the first paragraph and the replacement of the final paragraph with a wholly new creation, for which see notes 2 and 8. It cannot be determined whether JA , or perhaps Dumas, made the changes before the document was submitted for publication or whether one of the publications' editors made them before publishing the piece. What is clear is that the copy printed in the Gazette de Leyde of 11 Aug. is identical to that in the Courier de l'Europe and Le politique hollandais and, from an examination of the English translation in the Boston Evening Post, to that in the Courier du Bas Rhin. In the Gazette de Leyde the proposal was preceded by a short introduction commenting on Britain's difficulty in deciding how and when to recognize the United States as a party to peace negotiations and offering JA 's proposal as a means to cut the Gordian knot. In the Boston Evening Post, apparently the only American newspaper in which it appeared, it was prefaced by the headnote: “The following speculation on the most likely means of bringing about a general peace, was published in Europe in the month of August last. { 164 } | view It is said to have been written by an American gentleman now residing in Holland, whose great abilities as a statesman are universally acknowledged. If you think that its publication, though under the disadvantage of a translation, will be acceptable to your readers, it is at your service.”
2. As printed the remainder of this paragraph was omitted.
3. JA 's remarks here and in the second paragraph below about the British ministry refer to the overthrow of the North ministry and its replacement by Rockingham's, and are similar to the sentiments expressed in his letter of 8 July to John Jay (below). This is another indication that JA wrote on or before 8 July, because in the letter to John Jay of that date it is clear that JA did not yet know of Rockingham's death, which was first reported in the Gazette d'Amsterdam of 9 July.
4. When JA prepared the letter for publication in the Boston Patriot, he restored this passage.
5. For the proposed Austro-Russian mediation, see the indexes to vols. 11 and 12 and the index to this volume, below. The proposals contained in this letter and later in the published version, however, had been overtaken by events. By July 1782 direct, if only preliminary, negotiations aiming toward a peace were already in progress among Britain, France, Spain, and the United States. This effectively made the proposed Austro-Russian mediation or the League of Armed Neutrality's recognition of the United States irrelevant.
6. JCC , 18:905–906.
7. Vol. 11:182–185 .
8. As printed in Europe and America in 1782 but not in the Boston Patriot in 1811, this paragraph was replaced by the following: “Ainsi, repuë de chimères en chimères, la Grande-Brétagne verra à la fin ses maux devenir incurables; et le Système de la Neutralité-armée, qui peut-étre n'eût jamais eu lieu sans la Révolution Américaine, et qui ne scauroit subsister qu'imparfaitement, si les Etats-Unis ne sont admis à la jouissance de ses avantages et a l'observation de ses devoirs, restera sans effet et s'évanouira enfin dans l'ancienne Anarchie” (Gazette de Leyde, 11 Aug.). Translation: “Thus conducted from one chimera to another, Great Britain will finally become incurable, and the system of the armed neutrality which would never have been attempted to be formed without the American revolution, and which cannot subsist if the United States are not admitted to the enjoyment of its advantages and, the observation of its duties, will remain without effect, and vanish into its antient anarchy” (Boston Evening Post, 2 Nov.).
The reasons for the change cannot be known with certainty, but two possibilities seem likely. The first is that the change removed the last vestiges of the original letter format by deleting the appeal for advice. The second is that it provided the piece with a more decisive ending, one that emphasized the American Revolution's effect on European diplomacy.