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Browsing: Adams Family Correspondence, Volume 3


This foot note contained in document ADMS-04-03-02-0173
3. For the four-month period from mid-August through mid-November 1779, virtually nothing survives in the way of family correspondence. So far as we know, AA wrote no letters. JA broke off his diary upon arriving off the American coast, and in writing his Autobiography many years later he skipped his sojourn at home except for copying in at the { 225 } beginning of the third and last section, called “Peace,” a number of letters and documents relative to his second mission to Europe; see JA, Diary and Autobiography , 2:400; 4:173–191. For the Adamses' occupations during the late summer and fall of this year we are therefore dependent on JA 's comparatively scanty correspondence with persons outside the family and on scattered printed and MS sources outside the Adams Papers.
We do know of JA 's presence at one semi-public event that had momentous consequences. This was a visitation by La Luzerne and his suite to Harvard College, followed by a dinner there, and although the following account of the event from the Boston Independent Chronicle for 2 Sept. (p. 1, col. 1–2) mentions neither JA 's presence nor the consequences, it is essential to understanding JA 's hopes for his country:
“On Tuesday se'nnight [24 Aug.], the Chevalier de la Luzerne, accompanied with M. de Valnais, Consul of France, M. de Marbois, Councellor of Parliament, M. de Chavagnes, Captain in the royal navy of France, and a number of other gentlemen of distinction, both French and Americans, made a visit to Harvard-College, at the invitation of the President and Corporation. The Chevalier and company having alighted from their carriages, passed through the College yard between two lines of Students in their academical habits, their heads uncovered, to the door of Harvard-Hall, where they were received by the President, Corporation, Professors, and Tutors, and conducted to the Library.—Soon after they were seated, the President rose, and in the name of the Corporation, and the whole University, addressed the Chevalier in the latin language, congratulating his safe arrival, making the most respectful mention of our illustrious Ally, His Most Christian Majesty; expressing the warmest wishes for the perpetuation of the alliance, and the completion of its important and happy design, and for the prosperity of religion and learning throughout the world.
“The Chevalier replied in the most polite manner, and in the same language; assuring his audience that his wishes had been most fortunately crowned by seeing a country, once indeed the region of ignorance and barbarity, but now the seat of freedom, commerce, virtue, and the liberal arts; and expressing at the same time, the uncommon joy he should derive from finding the turbulent scenes of war, and the public negociation in which he was engaged, preparing the way for a closer alliance between the arts and sciences in distant nations, to their mutual improvement, and the common benefit of mankind.
“After amusing themselves among the rich variety of books reposited in the Library, the company were conducted into a large and elegant Philosophy room, where a very decent entertainment was provided:—After dinner they viewed the curiosities of the musaeum, and the Philosophical apparatus, fabricated by some of the best artists in Europe.
“Every countenance indicated pleasure, and every circumstance of the day testified the joy that was diffused through the whole university, upon this agreeable occasion.”
As one of the “other gentlemen of distinction” present, JA was to remember years later that at the dinner in the “Philosophy room” (i.e. the late Professor John Winthrop's science laboratory in Harvard Hall) he had happened to sit next to the Rev. Dr. Samuel Cooper and “engaged him in Conversation, for the whole time on the subject of a natural History of the Country and the means of promoting it.” Being fresh from France, where he had visited public and private collections of “Specimens of the Works of Nature” and had observed the activity of learned societies in promoting science, “I suggested to him,” JA went on, “the Plan of an American Academy of Arts and Sciences, to be established by the Legislature, as a Corporation with Capacity to receive donations in Land and Money” ( JA to Benjamin Waterhouse, 7 Aug. 1805, MHi: Adams-Waterhouse Coll., printed in Ford, ed., Statesman and Friend , p. 22–29; see a similar account in JA, Corr. in the Boston Patriot , Letter 29 [31 July 1809], esp. p. 163). The suggestion was so well received (despite initial fears that the proposed Academy would { 226 } “injure the College”) that in May of the following year Cooper and numerous other amateurs of science were incorporated by the General Court as the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, realizing JA 's wish that Boston might have a counterpart to Philadelphia's American Philosophical Society, for which he had heard frequent praise in Europe.
The dinner was also the immediate inspiration for a novel and elevated passage in the Massachusetts Constitution of 1780, which JA himself was soon afterward to write in its earliest form. This was Ch. V, §2, entitled “The Encouragement of Literature, &c.,” which declared it “the duty of legislators and magistrates, in all future periods of this Commonwealth, to cherish the interests of literature and the sciences, and all seminaries of them; . . . to encourage private societies and public institutions, rewards and immunities, for the promotion of agriculture, arts, sciences, commerce, trades, manufactures, and a natural history of the country,” not to mention “sincerity, good humour, and all social affections, and generous sentiments among the people” (A Constitution or Frame of Government, Agreed upon by the Delegates of the People of the State of Massachusetts-Bay . . . , Boston, 1780, p. 43–44).
“As the Words flowed from my Pen,” JA afterward remembered, “from the heart in reallity rather than the head, in composing this paragraph, I could not help laughing, to myself alone in my Closet, at the Oddity of it. I expected it would be attack'd, in the Convention from all quarters, on the Score of Affectation, Pedantry, Hypocrisy, and above all Oeconomy. Many Ideas in it implied expence: and I knew then as well as I have known since that too large a portion of the People and their Representatives, had rather starve their Souls than draw upon their purses to pay for nourishment of them: and therefore no mercy was to be expected for a Paragraph, that I would not now exchange for a Sceptre, and wish may be engraved on my Tomb Stone.
“But to my great Surprize, instead of Objections, it was received with Applause and adopted I believe with Unanimity, and without any Amendment. Even the Natural History of the Country received no Opposition.” (Letter to Waterhouse, cited above in this note; Ford, ed., Statesman and Friend , p. 25–26.)
The concept that government and learning are natural partners, written into the Massachusetts Constitution of 1780 in these terms, was to be standard Adams doctrine for two generations but was not to be accepted on the national level until at least a century later.
It was, of course, the drafting of a frame of government for his native state that chiefly occupied JA during the few months he spent at home in 1779. On 9 Aug., hardly a week after he had arrived home, he was elected by his fellow townsmen sole delegate from Braintree to the Convention to be held at Cambridge beginning 1 Sept. ( Braintree Town Records , p. 503). Much as he would have liked to return to private life and to resume his legal business, no assignment could have been more challenging to JA . This was a role for which, as his early diaries and letters show, he had more or less consciously prepared himself from the time he plied his lawbooks in Samuel Putnam's office in Worcester and in his chamber in his father's house at Braintree. (See especially his Earliest Diary , p. 37–40, and references there.) From the summer of 1774, when he began his more than three years of service in the Continental Congress, he had been gravely concerned over the break in governmental continuity in Massachusetts, even though he had approved that break as recommended by Congress in June 1775 and had indeed been one of its chief advocates (JA, Diary and Autobiography , 3:351–359). That the province (or state) was still functioning under the old royal charter he knew was a pretense; executive power had lapsed except for a Council which had no basis in direct or indirect representation and was therefore also a pretense; and, with the courts of justice closed, signs of lawlessness and anarchy began to appear that were to a man of JA 's temperament abhorrent (same, p. 326–327). It was as a member of the Revolutionary Council that JA prepared, in mid-January { 227 } 1776 while on a brief leave from Congress, one of his most important state papers, a Proclamation by the newly reconstituted General Court which was designed to be read from every pulpit, at every town meeting, and at the (hoped-for) opening of every court in Massachusetts. This remarkable document linked the ideas of government by consent, the obligation to resist tyranny, the propriety of Massachusetts' organizing its own government, and the necessity to preserve and promote “the Means of Education, . . . Piety and Virtue,” and exemplary social order—ideas that were all to reappear in JA 's draft and the adopted version of the Massachusetts Constitution of 1780. ( JA 's MS of the Proclamation is in M–Ar, vol. 138:281–284; it is printed in his Works , 1:193–196, and also, though without mention of its authorship, in Oscar and Mary F. Handlin, eds., The Popular Sources of Political Authority: Documents on the Massachusetts Constitution of 1780, Cambridge, 1966, p. 65–69. A copy of the handbill printing, without imprint but dated 23 Jan. 1776 from the concurring vote of the House on that day, is in MHi: Broadsides Coll.; Evans 14839; Ford, Mass. Broadsides , No. 1973, with reduced fascimile. See also JA, Diary and Autobiography , 2:226.)
In March and April 1776, reacting to what he thought was the naiveté of Paine's Common Sense, JA had outlined his constitutional principles in Thoughts on Government for the benefit of friends in other states who were engaged in constitution-making. See JA, Diary and Autobiography , 3:331–333; Adams Family Corr., 1:384–385. The printed version, addressed to George Wythe, concludes with a sentiment that both echoes and develops similar ones in JA 's earliest records as a student of law:
“You and I, my dear Friend, have been sent into life, at a time when the greatest law-givers of antiquity would have wished to have lived.—How few of the human race have ever enjoyed an opportunity of making an election of government more than of air, soil, or climate, for themselves or their children. When! Before the present epocha, had three millions of people full power and a fair opportunity to form and establish the wisest and happiest government that human wisdom can contrive?” (Thoughts on Government, Boston, reprinted 1776, p. 16.)
Throughout this year and the next, although engrossed in his duties as one of the most industrious members and committee chairmen in the Continental Congress, JA remained attentive to every rumor from Massachusetts about maneuvers looking toward a new frame of government. “I suppose you will have a Constitution formed this Year,” he wrote AA , 2 June 1777. “Who will be the Moses, the Lycurgus, the Solon?” (above, vol. 2:253). Clearly he yearned to be that Moses, Lycurgus, and Solon but feared he would be precluded from such a role. In June 1777 the House of Representatives converted itself into a constitutional convention and appointed a large committee that labored at intervals during the following months and presented a draft constitution for consideration. At this point (Feb. 1778) JA departed on his first mission to Europe. The work he wished to do was, however, providentially saved for him because the “Convention” botched its work and the towns rejected the proposed Constitution of 1778, partly on the ground that the body that framed it was not properly constituted. (See Cushing, History of the Transition , p. 207–226; O. and M. Handlin, Popular Sources of Political Authority, p. 20–22; the text of the rejected Constitution is printed in Mass. Constitutional Convention, 1779–1780, Journal , p. 255–264, and by the Handlins, p. 190–201, followed by the towns' returns and objections, p. 202–365.)
In Feb. 1779 the General Court resolved to take “the sense of the People” on whether they wished another attempt to be made to frame a constitution, and, if so, whether delegates should be elected for that “sole purpose.” In June the General Court declared that two-thirds of the towns had agreed to both propositions, ordered elections to be held during the summer, and recommended that the frame of government the prospective convention agreed upon should be printed and laid before the people for approval “by at least two { 228 } thirds of [the male inhabitants] who are free and twenty one years of age”—a feature of the constitutional movement in Massachusetts which is among its remarkable distinctions. See Mass. Constitutional Convention, 1779–1780, Journal , p. 5–6, 189–190; Cushing, History of the Transition , p. 227–231; O. and M. Handlin, Popular Sources of Political Authority, p. 23, 383–403.
The Convention held four plenary sessions between Sept. 1779 and June 1780, only the first two of which JA attended, from 1 through 7 Sept. and from 28 Oct. through 11 Nov., both held in the First Church at Cambridge, then located in the southwest corner of the Harvard Yard (on the site of the present Lehman Hall). The first session was devoted to electing officers, framing “rules and orders,” and holding “free conversations” on general principles (Mass. Constitutional Convention, 1779–1780, Journal , p. 7–49). On 4 Sept. it chose a drafting committee of 30 members, of whom JA was one (same, p. 26–31). Payroll records indicate that JA was compensated for 25 days of committee work between plenary sessions (M-Ar, vol. 170:413; vol. 171: 20), for he became, as he wrote not long afterward, “a Sub Sub Committee” of one, “so that I had the honour to be principal Engineer” (to Edmund Jenings, 7 June 1780, Adams Papers). That is to say, he was the sole draftsman of the Constitution as it was laid before the committee, to be amended by the committee in minor details and laid before the Convention at the beginning of its second session, amended further in that and the third session (Jan.–March 1780), printed for consideration by the towns, declared adopted by the Convention at its fourth session (June 1780) without further change, and, with numerous later amendments, still in force as the fundamental law of the Commonwealth. (The Committee's Report of a Constitution or Form of Government for the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, i.e. JA 's draft as slightly amended, was printed for the members of the Convention in a 50-page pamphlet that is now exceedingly rare; Evans 16352; an annotated copy is in MHi. The text was reprinted, from the sole copy then known, as an appendix in the Massachusetts Constitutional Convention, 1779–1780, Journal , p. 191–215. In JA's Works , 4:213–267, CFA presented a text with invaluable notes enabling the reader to follow the evolution of the Constitution from its draft form through the version adopted, together with all amendments through 1850. The Handlins do not include in their documentary work on the Constitution JA 's draft of 1779 in its “committee print” form, although it is basic to understanding how the text of the Constitution evolved. For the amendments and debates in convention, the submittal to the towns, and the formal adoption of the Constitution, see the Convention's Journal as first printed in 1832, p. 35–187; Cushing, History of the Transition , p. 227–279; and S. E. Morison's brilliant study of “The Struggle over the Adoption of the Constitution of Massachusetts, 1780,” MHS, Procs. , 50 [1916–1917]:353–411. The Handlins omit all the proceedings of the Convention until those of March 1780 submitting the proposed constitution to the people, but they include the towns' copious responses and votes; Popular Sources of Political Authority, p. 475–930.)
It was the “committee print” or Report of a Constitution . . . Agreed upon by the Committee in Oct. 1779 of which JA took a supply of copies when he sailed for Europe the second time. With justifiable pride he presented copies to friends and officials in Spain and France and to clandestine correspondents in England, so that this, rather than the Constitution as ratified in 1780, was the form in which the Massachusetts Constitution was first read, translated, published, and “exceedingly applauded” abroad. See JA, Diary and Autobiography , 2:413–414; JA to Edmé Jacques Genet, 26, 29 Feb. 1780 ( LbCs in Adams Papers); Genet to JA , 28 Feb. 1780 (Adams Papers); JA to William Gordon, 26 May 1780 ( LbC , Adams Papers); JA, Corr. in the Boston Patriot , p. 157–158 (Letter 29); [John Almon,] The Remembrancer, ... for the Year 1780, p. 377–381, and same, part 2, p. 17–30.
Back of JA 's election by Congress in { 229 } Sept. 1779 to the dignity of minister plenipotentiary to negotiate treaties of peace and commerce with Great Britain lies one of the most complex chapters of diplomatic and political maneuvering in the history of the United States. A summary of it is necessary here in order not only to explain JA 's acceptance of a second mission abroad so soon after the discouraging conclusion of his first but also to suggest the difficulties under which he was again to labor in Europe.
One root of the difficulties lay in the continuing and widening feud between the partisans of Silas Deane and those of Arthur Lee. Into this “first serious division in national politics since independence occurred,” as Professor Morgan has characterized it, JA had been reluctantly but unavoidably drawn almost from the moment when he first arrived in France (Edmund S. Morgan, “The Puritan Ethic and the American Revolution,” WMQ , 3d ser., 24:25 [Jan. 1967]; and see above, AA to Lovell, 4 Jan. 1779, and JA to AA , 9 Feb. 1779, with notes and references under both). Intertwined with this issue in Congress was the devious international policy of France and Spain. During 1778 and 1779 the Bourbon monarchies were engaged in an elaborate diplomatic game of trying to deceive each other while joining hands to deceive Great Britain and the United States. Their maneuvers forced the first of many “agonizing reappraisals” of foreign policy in American history. Congress' uncertainty as to its course was in turn the reason why JA had been stranded in France without an assignment and in fact without word of any kind from his former colleagues in Philadelphia—as helpless as Ariel, he later wrote, “wedged by the Waiste in the middle of a rifted Oak” (to William Whipple, 11 Sept. 1779, LbC , Adams Papers). Nor was its course to be determined until after debates that lasted through the greater part of 1779.
Since Spain, however hollowly, had offered to mediate peace between Great Britain and France, it became necessary to empower and instruct a minister to represent the interests of the United States in the proposed negotiation. Vergennes wished that Franklin, now sole minister to France, could be given the needed additional powers, or even that he would act without them sub spe rati. But the vigilant French minister in Philadelphia, to whom he communicated this idea, cautioned Vergennes repeatedly that Franklin's standing in Congress was far from what it was at Versailles and that he would not emerge spotless from the Deane-Lee disputes. “Un nouvel Orage,” he reported in a dispatch of 4–6 March, “s'est élevé contre le Docteur franklin. Je crains que la facilité qu'il a eiie de se laisser entrainer dans les animosités de ses Collegues, ne conduise le Congrès, malgré lui, à en faire le sacrifice au parti de l'opposition” (Gérard, Despatches and Instructions , p. 561).
A storm had indeed arisen, and it enveloped all current and former members of the foreign service. On 24 March a special committee on foreign affairs, consisting of one member from each of the thirteen states, brought in a report that recited the accumulated charges and complaints against them all, together with the evidence. On 15 April Congress debated the proposed vote of censure in the following words: “That suspicions and animosities have arisen among the said commissioners which may be highly prejudicial to the honor and interests of these United States.” On the 20th, in a further debate on the motion for censure, the names of all the commissioners were called over and individually voted on for inclusion or exclusion. Included were Franklin, Deane, Arthur Lee, Izard, and William Lee. JA was excluded by a vote of three states for censure, four against, and three divided or not voting. Remarkably, the Massachusetts delegation was among those that divided. Samuel Adams and James Lovell voted for, and Gerry and Holten against the inclusion of JA 's name. (See JCC , 13:363–368, 456, 479–487, 484–485.) Since the Journal was being printed serially and successive numbers were sent to Braintree, these proceedings aroused strong feelings there. Lovell in particular, who had been caught in a parliamentary trap baited by the Deaneite or pro-French faction, had a great deal of explaining to do. (See AA to Lovell, ca. 15 July, { 230 } and to Samuel Adams, ca. 30 July 1779, both above. Lovell's explanation is in his letter to JA of 13 June 1779, “Confidential” [original and variant duplicate in Adams Papers], printed in JA, Works , 9:480–483, with valuable editorial clarification by CFA ; also printed and annotated in Burnett, ed., Letters of Members , 4:261–263.)
There was of course not only the question of who could best represent the United States abroad; there was that of how such representatives should be instructed. If peace negotiations were to take place, what were the minimum–maximum American peace objectives? Under Gérard's eye and frequently with his interference, Congress warmly debated these from time to time until after JA , to everybody's surprise except his own, arrived home early in August. Only after the news brought by La Luzerne that England had declined Spain's mediation and that Spain had become a cobelligerent with France did the badly divided Congress agree, on 14 Aug., on instructions to the emissary—still to be named—who was to negotiate, when possible, treaties of peace and commerce with Great Britain. (Texts, amendments, and votes thereon are in JCC , 14:956–962.) On the day they were adopted Gérard sent a summary of them to Vergennes, modestly adding that “Elles m'ont été communiquées avant d'être portées au Congrès,” which was apparently true, and that the prospective American emissary had been instructed to reveal his full instructions to the French government, which according to JA 's understanding was not true (Gérard, Despatches and Instructions , p. 847–848). Thus was laid the groundwork for the misunderstanding and coolness between the American envoy and the French foreign minister before JA 's peace mission even began.
Six weeks of electioneering followed among the adherents of the two factions in Congress, climaxed by a Friday-through-Monday struggle, 24–27 Sept., over the choice of a minister to be stationed in Paris to negotiate peace and another to go to Madrid to urge recognition of American independence, an alliance, and the right of navigating the Mississippi and also to obtain a substantial loan. As reported in the Journal and in the letters of members and of Gérard, the involutions of this contest defy lucid exposition. Elbridge Gerry, who was in the thick of it, could well say that “the Embarrassments, Difficulties and Delays attending this Business, in consequence of the Disputes between the late Commissioners, have exceeded every thing of the Kind” that he had ever met with (to JA , 29 Sept. 1779, Adams Papers; Burnett, ed., Letters of Members , 4:454).
Before the actual balloting began, an attempt was made at a compromise between the factions that seems to have been reported only by Gérard, namely to commission Franklin and JA jointly as ministers for peace, but this failed (Gérard, Despatches and Instructions , p. 895). So, too, on the 25th, did a warmly debated motion, aimed at John Jay, currently president of Congress and one of Gérard's confidants, to exclude from nomination any present member of Congress ( JCC , 15:1105–1107). Thereupon JA was nominated by Henry Laurens, and John Jay was nominated by Meriwether Smith, for the peace mission. Three successive ballots taken on Sunday the 26th resulted in deadlocks (same, p. 1107, 1109). Then occurred what Laurens called a “Manouvre” and Lovell called an “Accommodation . . . proposed in Whispers” among the pro-French faction. The election of a peace minister was deferred, and nominations for a minister to Spain were called for (same, p. 1109–1110; Burnett, ed., Letters of Members , 4:437, 447). Laurens himself, a die-hard anti-Deane man, then nominated Arthur Lee, who still held a separate commission to Spain although he had been dispossessed, with JA , of duties in Paris. William Paca, a Deane man, nominated JA (“Divide and conq[uer],” commented Laurens), and James Mercer, a new member from Virginia, nominated John Jay ( JCC , 15:1110).
The hope of vindicating Arthur Lee's character and conduct proved forlorn. In the ballot taken on the 27th he received the vote of only one state, New Hampshire, represented by a single delegate (Burnett, ed., Letters of Mem• { 231 } bers , 4:438). Laurens, Lovell, and a few others thought he had been “cruelly injured” both by the French government and at home, but it may be pointed out that by this time even JA thought that Lee could no longer be useful abroad. He had done what he could to defend Lee against aspersions, but in a letter to Lovell that could not have reached Philadelphia before the balloting, JA wrote of Lee:
“I respect his past services, I know his Attachment to America, and I believe his Integrity. But I know his Prejudices, and his Passions. His Countenance is disgusting, his Air is not pleasing, his Manners are not engaging, his Temper is harsh, sour and fierce, and his Judgment of Men and Things is often wrong.—Virtue itself is said to be not always amiable” (21 Sept. 1779, LbC , Adams Papers; without name of addressee but clearly in answer to Lovell's letters of 20, 24 Aug., Adams Papers).
Eight states voted for Jay, three were divided or did not vote, and none voted for JA —a clear indication of how well understood an “Accommodation” this was. For some it may have been most gratifying as a means of punishing Arthur Lee. It was evidently satisfactory to John Jay because, according to Laurens' Notes of Proceedings, “Mr. Jay's own vote was necessary” to deliver New York's vote in his favor. And the friends of JA were pleased because it cleared a pathway for his election to the peace mission. ( JCC , 15:1113; Burnett, ed., Letters of Members , 4:438, 443, 447; Gérard, Despatches and Instructions , p. 896.)
For this post JA alone was nominated and promptly elected by eleven states—a vote considered unanimous because the twelfth state, Delaware (represented by “your old Friend Mr. D[ickinso]n,” Gerry explained to JA ), voted for Franklin, who was not in nomination ( JCC , 15:1113; Laurens, Notes of Proceedings, in Burnett, ed., Letters of Members , 4:438; Lovell to JA , 27, 28 Sept. 1779, both in Adams Papers; Gerry to JA , 29 Sept. 1779, Adams Papers).
The tireless man who had had as much to do with these results as anyone, Conrad Alexandre Gérard, now about to leave America, professed himself satisfied. In his last dispatch, written on the day the elections were completed, he suavely reported to Vergennes:
“Enfin, Monseigneur, le Congrès a nommé ses plénipotentiaires. M. Jay est destiné pour l'Espagne et les pleins pouvoirs pour la paix sont confiés à M. John Adams. M Arthur Lée n'a eu en sa faveur qu'une seule voix isolée. On doit demain élire un [nouveau] Président à la place de M Jay.—Le choix de ce Ministre ne laisse rien à desirer. A beaucoup de Lumières et aux meilleures intentions, il joint un caractère et un esprit liant et conciliant.—Quant à M. Adams je ne le connois point et il n'est connu que d'un petit nombre des membres actuels du Congrès. Il a la reputation d'être honête homme et le presomption qu'il vous est agréable a [beaucoup] influé sur les opinions.” (27 Sept. 1779, Despatches and Instructions , p. 896–897.)
Then, probably more candidly and certainly very significantly, Gérard added: “M. le Chevalier de La Luzerne a eu occasion pendant sa traversée de démeler son caractère et ses sentimens; Il me semble, Monseigneur, que le resultat de ses observations, est qu'il eut été à désirer que les deux commissions eussent été differemment distribuées.” La Luzerne had arrived in Philadelphia from Boston on 21 Sept. and had had ample time to exchange news and views with the minister he was now replacing. His knowledge of JA was indeed intimate, for during the voyage from France in June and July JA , not then having the slightest notion that he would return to Europe soon or ever, had freely aired his views on men and measures with both La Luzerne and his canny secretary, Marbois; see JA, Diary and Autobiography , 2:380–399. Expressing something like horror at the very thought of French meddling in American affairs, they drew him out on matters that would serve the interests of France in America and Europe. Later on, JA was to learn how to discount such professions by any subordinate of Vergennes, but he did not learn soon enough. It is the judgment of a profound student of American diplomatic history that La Luzerne was to exercise “a { 232 } more complete ascendancy over the Government of the United States than any foreign envoy since his time” (Bemis, Diplomacy of the Amer. Revolution , p. 102–103). Under Vergennes' orders he was to work diligently and in the end successfully to have JA 's powers as peace minister limited and countermanded. Eventually he succeeded in having them withdrawn. See William E. O'Donnell, The Chevalier de La Luzerne, Bruges and Louvain, 1938, p. 43, 123–125, 141, and passim.
Fortunately, JA 's occupations at home in the late summer and early fall of 1779 did not leave him a great deal of time to brood over “maneuvers” and “accommodations” in Philadelphia. Having, however, been reading the serially printed issues of the Journal of Congress, he did address to President Jay a formal request on 10 Sept. to supply him with copies of all the “Complaints and Evidences” against his conduct as a commissioner, so that he could “take such Measures as may be in my Power to justify myself to Congress” (PCC, No. 84, 1, printed in Wharton, ed., Dipl. Corr. Amer. Rev. , 3:313–314). His letter was read in Congress on 29 Sept. ( JCC , 15:1122), and Gerry “moved the House to comply with your Request.” But Congress declined to do so, Gerry reported, on the ground that it had “by your late Appointment rejected the Charge, and had in the first Instance cleared You of the animosities subsisting amongst the other Commissioners.” Besides, to have the subject brought up again would taint Congress' judgment in making the new appointment. In this long letter reporting JA 's election and illuminating much that had gone on behind closed doors over the past several years, Gerry went on to say:
“Upon the Whole, I am of Opinion, that in the Esteem of Congress, your Character is as high as any Gentleman's in America. That as much is obtained in the Arrangement and Determinations of our foreign Affairs as could be expected. That if Matters had been driven further, We should have been more deeply involved in Animosities and Dissentions, and have put a total Stop to our foreign Negotiations. That in Consequence thereof, We must, on the Return of Monsr. Gerard, have sunk in the Esteem of our Ally, of the Court of Spain, and of all Europe. . . . That however some late Measures may not be equal to our Wishes, It becomes our indispensible Duty to support them with Vigour, and to listen no more to Insinuations without Evidence to support them. That an able, upright, firm Friend to America, is greatly Injured in Doctor [Arthur] Lee. . . . But that his Usefulness being destroyed, had it been practicable to continue him in office, he could not have served with Satisfaction to himself, or Advantage to the public.” (29 Sept. 1779, Adams Papers; printed in full in Burnett, ed., Letters of Members , 4:454–458.)
These sentiments were so gratifying to JA and so in accord with his own that they must have powerfully affected his thoughts about a return to Europe. The news he received soon afterward that his good friend and fellow lawyer Francis Dana had been named by Congress secretary to the peace mission could only have added to his satisfaction ( JCC , 15:1128; Lovell to JA , 1 Oct. 1779, printed in Burnett, ed., Letters of Members , 4:465–466). His decision must also have been influenced by a remarkable letter written by Henry Laurens a few days after the elections were completed. In terms that JA himself might have used in his most self-pitying moments, Laurens first offered sympathy for JA 's recent plight in Europe, where, although he had deserved so well of his country, he had found himself “in the most awkward situation that an honest susceptible mind can be reduced to—Sent, without his own desire, and probably inconsistent with his Interest and inclination, on an embassy beyond the Atlantic—kept unemployed, and in the course of a few Months virtually dismissed, without censure or applause, and without the least intimation when or in what manner he was to return and report his proceedings.” But all that is over, Laurens continued, “and now My Dear Sir, I not only congratulate you on a safe return but I have another opportunity of rejoicing with my Country Men on the judicious choice which Congress { 233 } have made in their late election of a Minister Plenipotentiary to treat . . . with his Britanic Majesty on Peace and Commerce. The determination of Congress in this instance, will be grateful to the People of these States and may expiate the queernesses of some of the queerest fellows that ever were invested with rays of sovereignty. Let me intreat you Sir, for my Country's sake, to accept the appointment without hesitation or retrospection. . . . Wisdom and Patriotism forbid exceptions on account of past circumstances. I speak in pure truth and sincerity and will not risque offence by uttering a word respecting your fitness or peculiar or exclusive fitness for the important Office, but I will venture to add, it is necessary you should accept and stand ready to execute it, your determination to do so will make the true friends of American Independence happy, and will abate their apprehensions from incompetency or negligence in other quarters” (4 Oct. 1779, Adams Papers, printed in Burnett, ed., Letters of Members , 4:467–469).
Since a major issue at the peace table was bound to be the North Atlantic fisheries, other friends did not fail to point out, knowing they would strike home, that “the Interest of America requires . . . that a New England Man should negotiate a Peace” (John Lowell to JA , 12 Oct. 1779, Adams Papers).
All these considerations had been borne in upon JA 's consciousness well before he received official word of his election, sent by Samuel Huntington (who had succeeded Jay as president of Congress), together with his commissions and instructions, in a letter of 20 Oct. (Adams Papers, printed in JA, Works , 7:119–120). Each had due weight; combined, they were irresistible to one schooled to believe that the highest duty entailed the greatest labor and privation while offering few chances of success against many of failure. Such, for better or worse, was the nature of the Puritan ethic, as Professor Morgan has recently reminded us in his illuminating article cited earlier in this note. While no formula will sum up a man, particularly a man as full of surprises as JA , the struggles, frustrations, bruising quarrels, justified and unjustified boasts, self-dedication, and occasional triumphs of his diplomatic career furnish a paradigm of the Puritan ethic in action.
“And what, my dear sir, shall I say,” he began a letter to James Lovell on 17 Oct. 1779, “to your Favours of the 27. and 28 of September, which came by the last Post?—The Unanimity of my Election surprizes me, as much as the Delicacy, Importance, and Danger, of the Trust distresses me” ( LbC , Adams Papers, printed in Works, 9:499–501). But the question was rhetorical: he evidently made up his mind almost instantaneously. On this very day he replied to La Luzerne, who had written from Philadelphia to offer him a return passage to France in the Sensible, still lying in Boston harbor, that “the Frigate shall not be unnecessarily detained, on my Account” ( LbC , Adams Papers, printed in JA's Diary and Autobiography , 4:175–176). Service to his country was even more delicate, important, and dangerous than completing a frame of government for his native state, and the claims of his business, his family, and his own peace of mind and physical comfort weighed little in comparison.