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Browsing: Papers of John Adams, Volume 7


This foot note contained in document ADMS-06-07-02-0261
1. The recipient's copy is more reasoned and focused than the draft, but from both it is clear that JA 's chief motive for writing was concern over the implications for the conduct of American foreign policy raised by Silas Deane's address “To the Free and Virtuous Citizens of America” (Pennsylvania Packet, 5 Dec. 1778). In his Diary entry of 8 Feb., JA called it “one of the most wicked and abominable Productions that ever sprung from an human Heart” and described Silas Deane as “a wild boar, that ought to be hunted down for the Benefit of Mankind,” the only alternatives being “the Ruin of Mr. Deane, or the Ruin of his Country” ( Diary and Autobiography , 2:345). The depth of JA 's anger owed to his belief that such an appeal by a private person over the head of the congress, combined with that body's refusal to censure its author, appeared “like a Dissolution of the Constitution,” well calculated to create in the European mind a perception of the American government as being weak and untrustworthy (same, 2:353). More specifically, the address dramatically called into question the fundamental support of the congress, or significant elements within it, for the French alliance and the war effort as well as its competence to appoint its own representatives.
Although he never showed this letter to him, JA writes in his Diary that he explained to Franklin on 8 Feb. why such an approach to Vergennes seemed to him necessary. It was imperative to know what the chief ministers of the French government thought of Deane's conduct because “if they, and their Representatives in America, were determined to countenance and support by their Influence such Men and Measures in America, it was no matter how soon the Alliance was broke” (same, 2:345). When Deane left France in 1778 he had received testimonials to his conduct from various French officials, including Louis XVI and Vergennes, as well as from Benjamin Franklin, who described him as “an able and faithfull Negotiator” (same, 2:352). JA hoped to convince Vergennes that Franklin had been deceived, but he also wanted to know if the French testimonials indicated support for the views expressed in Deane's address, for then it would indicate, at least in JA 's mind, a desire to dictate the foreign policy of another sovereign state.
Had Deane simply criticized congress' foreign policy, it is unlikely that JA 's re• { 404 } sponse would have been construed as a defense of Arthur Lee's conduct as a Commissioner. No one with whom JA dealt during his first mission is treated more harshly in his Diary than Arthur Lee. On 9 Feb., JA wrote that Lee, “whom I have allowed to be honest, has such a bitter, such a Sour in him, and so few of the nice feelings, that G[od] knows what will be the Consequence to himself and to others.” He had “Confidence in no body,” believing “all Men selfish—And, no Man honest or sincere. This, I fear, is his Creed, from what I have heard him say. I have often in Conversation disputed with him, on this Point.” Finally, Lee “with his privy Council, are evermore, contriving” and “their Contrivances, render many Measures more difficult” (same, 2:346–347). Arthur Lee's reputation became part of the assault on the address because Deane had cast doubt on Lee's loyalty (and that of his brothers William, Richard Henry, and Francis Lightfoot), and on his legitimacy as an appointed executor of the policies set down by the congress. Such “a Contempt of Congress committed in the City where they set, and the Publication of such Accusations in the Face of the Universe, so false and groundless as the most heinous of them appeared to me, ... made too by a Man who had been in high Trust, against two others, who were still so, ... ought to unite every honest and wise Man against him” (same, 2:345). Clearly JA felt compelled to remove any doubts about the authority of the congress or the credibility of its representatives; in so doing, he defended Arthur Lee the Commissioner, not Arthur Lee the man.