Thomas Attwood Digges, Attributed to Sir Joshua Reynolds, ca. 1775–1781 9
This portrait, reproduced from a photograph that appeared in the Records of the Columbia Historical Society in 1904, was in the Digges family's possession until 1957. Its present location is unknown.
The letter of 3 March 1780 from Thomas Attwood Digges (1742–1821) to John Adams (below) opened a correspondence that endured less than three years, but is one of the most valuable in John Adams' career. Digges, a Maryland merchant living in London, carried on a parallel correspondence with Benjamin Franklin, was active in prisoner relief efforts, and had ties to such British supporters of the American cause as David Hartley (Digges, Letters
, p. xxiii–liv). Writing under a variety of pseudonyms, Digges supplied John Adams with news gleaned from London newspapers and was Adams' primary source for pamphlets written in the ongoing British debate over the American war. It was through Digges, for example, that Adams received Thomas Pownall's A Memorial, Most Humbly Addressed to the Sovereigns of Europe, on the Present State of Affairs, Between the Old and New World
, London, 1780; and Joseph Galloway's Cool Thoughts
(London, 1780 [i.e. 1779]). John Adams' letters to Digges consist of appeals for additional printed material, requests for more information on current events, and comments on British policies. Of particular interest are the letters exchanged following Henry Laurens' October imprisonment in the Tower of London, for while Digges lacked direct access to Laurens, he spoke with those who did and kept Adams informed of Laurens' situation. Also of interest is Digges' involvement in the events surrounding the British arrest of the American artist John Trumbull in November, and his efforts, as an Anglo-Dutch war became inevitable, to conceal his American identity in letters sent to Adams at Amsterdam.
Courtesy of the Massachusetts Historical Society.
Thomas Pownall, by Henry Cheever Pratt, 1861 165
This treatment of Thomas Pownall is based on a 1777 engraving by Richard Earlom of a portrait by Francis Cotes.
Thomas Pownall (1722–1805) served as governor of Massachusetts from 1757 to 1759. According to John Adams, he was a good governor and for that very reason removed (to Edmund Jenings, 18 July
, vol. 10). Pownall returned to England and sat in Parliament from 1767
to 1780, during which time he was sympathetic to the Americans in their dispute with the mother country, at one point even urging that the colonies be given representatives in Parliament (
; Namier and Brooke, House of Commons
). But Pownall is best known for his seminal work The Administration of the Colonies
(London, 1764), in which he proposed a unified colonial administration that would take full advantage of the colonies' growing economic potential. It was from that work that Pownall derived A Memorial, Most Humbly Addressed to the Sovereigns of Europe, on the Present State of Affairs, Between the Old and New World
(London, 1780). The Memorial
, like the Administration
, emphasized North America's growing economic importance, but in it Pownall called for the restoration of peace so that Anglo-American commerce could be restored. By 1780, he believed that the colonies were irretrievably lost and that continued war endangered Britain's vital economic interests.
Thomas Pownall's influence on John Adams has been overlooked. This is unfortunate because the Memorial had a profound effect on Adams' views regarding the prospects for peace, postwar Anglo-American relations, and the course of American foreign policy. Adams believed that the importance of Pownall's work was obscured by the awkwardness of his prose and undertook to revise the Memorial so as to focus its arguments and emphasize those points he believed most crucial. Adams reduced Pownall's 127-page pamphlet by half and sent it off to Congress. He then prepared his manuscript for publication and it subsequently appeared under the titles Pensées sur la révolution de l'Amérique-Unie, extraites de l'ouvrage anglois, intitulé mémoire, addressé aux souverains de l'Europe, sur l'état présent des affaires de l'ancien et du nouveau-monde (Amsterdam, 1780) and A Translation of
the Memorial to the Sovereigns of Europe upon the Present State of Affairs Between the Old and New World into Common Sense and Intelligible English (London, 1781). The French version was intended to build support in the Netherlands for the American cause and assist Adams in raising a loan. The English version, which Adams would have preferred to see published in 1780, was part of a concerted effort by Adams to promote an Anglo-American peace in the summer of that year. That effort failed and, in fact, Adams never received credit for the Translation, which was usually attributed to Edmund Jenings.
Courtesy of the Massachusetts Historical Society.
Map of Paris, 1780 382
The Paris that John Adams knew in 1780 was a city of about 500,000 people concentrated in a relatively small area, leaving large open spaces on its borders. John Adams lived in the Hôtel de Valois at 17 Rue de Richelieu. He had stopped there briefly in 1778, before joining Benjamin Franklin in Passy, and would return for brief periods in 1781 and 1782. The Rue de Richelieu is approximately
one-half mile long and extends from the Rue St. Honoré on the south to what is now the Boulevard des Italiens on the north. In 1780 it was home to luxurious hotels, theaters, gambling houses, and merchants such as the stationer Furgault from whom Adams bought several Letterbooks. Adams' hotel was on the west side of the street near its southern end, opposite the gardens of the Palais Royal, where Paris' rumormongers gathered beneath the “tree of Cracovie” (to James Warren, 18 March
, below). Just to the north and also on the opposite side of the street was the Bibliothèque du Roi, now the Bibliothèque Nationale.
John Adams' hotel in the heart of Paris placed him in close proximity to its many sights. His letter to C. W. F. Dumas of 6 June
(below) indicates that he enjoyed his walks about Paris and in a letter to his wife Adams marveled at the gardens of the Palais Royal and the Tuileries as well as the many squares and statues that graced the city. But John Adams devoted little time to describing the sights of Paris, an omission that he explained in a famous passage that reveals much about Adams' view of his pivotal roles as diplomat, revolutionary, and politician. “I must study Politicks and War that my sons may have liberty to study Mathematicks and Philosophy. My sons ought to study Mathematicks and Philosophy, Geography, natural History, Naval Architecture, navigation, Commerce and Agriculture, in order to give their Children a right to study Painting, Poetry, Musick, Architecture, Statuary, Tapestry and Porcelaine” (to Abigail Adams,
[post 12 May 1780]
Adams Family Correspondence
, 3:341–342). It is to John Quincy Adams, therefore, that one looks for descriptions of the Hôtel de Valois and the Rue de Richelieu.
In 1815, during Napoleon's Hundred Days, John Quincy Adams lodged at the Hôtel du Nord, 97 Rue de Richelieu. Adams described the street as “one of the greatest thoroughfares in Paris,” and remarked that it looked “exactly like the Rue de Richelieu where I first alighted with my father in April 1778.” The Hôtel de Valois, however, had not stood the test of time so well. In 1778 and 1780 it had been “a magnificent and elegantly furnished hotel,” but in 1815 it was “no longer what it was, and the chambers and the furniture equally indicate the depredations of Time” (JQA, Diary, 5 and 12 Feb. 1815,
Memoirs of John Quincy Adams, Comprising Portions of His Diary from 1795 to 1848
, ed. Charles Francis Adams, Phila., 1874–1877, 12 vols., 3:155; JQA to AA, 21 Feb. 1815, Adams Papers
, The Writings of John Quincy Adams
, ed. Worthington C. Ford, N.Y., 1913–1917, 7 vols., 5:277).
This folding map of Paris and its suburbs is an engraving on laid paper attached to a linen backing. It measures 30.5 inches x 21.5 inches and is drawn at a scale of 500 toises (fathoms, or 3,000 feet) per 4 inches. It was presumably obtained from the stationer Lattré in Bordeaux. The name below the map's title is traced over an earlier, penciled effort and is not by John Adams. On the reverse is the notation, “Map of Paris F. Dana. 1780.”
From the original in the Adams Papers.
Lord George Gordon, 1780 395
Between 2 and 9 June 1780, London was convulsed by the Gordon Riots. Named for Lord George Gordon (1751–1793), member of Parliament and president of the London Protestant Association, the riots are described by Thomas Digges in his letter of 8 June
(below). The disorders began when Gordon, whom John Adams earlier compared with Oliver Cromwell and declared to be “the only Man of Common sense” in Parliament for his stance on Anglo-American peace (to Edmé Jacques Genet, 20 May
, below), led 60,000 marchers to the Houses of Parliament to present a petition against the Catholic Relief Act of 1778. That law did little more than allow Catholics who had taken an oath of loyalty to worship freely and purchase and inherit land, but was a convenient vehicle for violent reaction against government authority and Irish Catholic laborers who competed with English Protestants for jobs. The rioters paralyzed the government, opened the prisons, mounted an abortive assault on the Bank of England, and destroyed the property of both Catholics and prominent members of Parliament. The riots, put down by massive military intervention, resulted in nearly 800 deaths and the end of parliamentary reform. Gordon was later tried and acquitted of inciting the riots (Christopher Hibbert, King Mob: The Story of Lord George Gordon and the London Riots of 1780
, Cleveland, 1958; Morris, Peacemakers
, p. 67–87). John Adams saw the riots as evidence of Britain's accelerating decline, which could be slowed or stopped only by concluding an Anglo-American peace.
This cartoon by R. Bran was published by John Harris on 4 August 1780. Lord George Gordon is shown standing above St. George's Fields, across the Thames from Parliament, where the marchers gathered to accompany Gordon to present the petition. His cane points to the “Protestant Petition,” while his right foot rests on a book inscribed “Popery.” Behind him are orderly groups of marchers, labeled A, B, C, and D, representing those from Southwark, London, Westminster, and Scotland, respectively (British Museum, Catalogue of Political and Personal Satires, comp. Mary Dorothy George, [London], 1935, 5:No. 5694).
Courtesy of the British Museum, London.
“Vergennes's Snarling, Growling Letters” 454
Few comments by John Adams better capture the essence of his relationship with the Comte de Vergennes in 1780 than this entry on the index page of Letterbook No. 11. The Letterbook is entitled “Paris 1780 From Feb. 12. to September 12 Peace, Correspondence with Vergennes & others.” As noted on its first page it contains letters to and from the French ministry, but they date from 31 December 1779 to 29 July 1780. The date 12 September refers to two notes by John Thaxter indicating that Francis Dana was carrying to Adams in Amsterdam duplicates of several letters exchanged by Vergennes and Adams.
The correspondence between John Adams and the Comte de Vergennes in 1780 is important for any study of John Adams' diplo•
matic career. This is particularly true of the letters exchanged in June and July concerning Congress' revaluation of the Continental currency, French aid to the United States, and Adams' exercise of his powers to negotiate Anglo-American peace and commercial treaties. On each of these issues the two men were sharply divided, and while there was some substance in Adams' description of Vergennes' letters as “snarling” and “growling,” Vergennes might, with equal justification, have described Adams' letters in similar terms. Vergennes broke off further correspondence with John Adams with his letter of 29 July, but by then Adams had left Paris for Amsterdam, not to return until mid-1781 when Vergennes summoned him to discuss the Austro-Russian mediation proposal.
The word “Vindication” that Adams placed beside the entries for his two letters of 22 June is also significant. Those letters defended Congress' decision on 18 March to revalue its currency at 40 to 1 and opposed exempting French merchants from the effect of the action. Clearly Adams believed that he had vindicated Congress' position; in December Congress voted to commend him for his defense of the revaluation.
From the original in the Adams Papers.
Joseph Galloway, Etching by Max Rosenthal 535
Joseph Galloway (1731–1803), formerly a Pennsylvania politician, associate of Benjamin Franklin, and member of the First Continental Congress, was in 1780 an exile in London and the leading loyalist advocate of the military conquest of the colonies. John Adams believed that “a meaner, falser, heart, never circulated Blood” (to Edmund Jenings, 18 July
, vol. 10). Adams considered Galloway a traitor for abandoning the American cause and serving under Gen. William Howe as superintendent-general of Philadelphia during the British occupation, but more particularly for his pamphlet Cool Thoughts
(London, 1780 [i.e. 1779]
). That pamphlet, which argued that Britain's loss of its American empire would so weaken the nation as to expose it to foreign conquest, spurred John Adams to write twelve letters in reply, ten of which were published in 1782 as “Letters from a Distinguished American.” For a discussion of Galloway's Cool Thoughts
and the text of Adams' reply, accompanied by an examination of its origin, significance, and publication, see “Letters from a Distinguished American,”
[ante 14–22 July]
Courtesy of the Yale University Library.