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Browsing: Diary of John Adams, Volume 2

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Docno: ADMS-01-02-02-0009-0001-0006

Author: Adams, John
Recipient: Vergennes, Charles Gravier, Comte de
DateRange: 1779-02-10 - 1779-02-11

[Draft of a Letter to Vergennes, 10–11 February 1779.1 ]Confidential

[salute] Sir

As your Excellency reads English perfectly well, my first Request { 348 } is that you would not communicate this Letter, even to a Translator.
I have hitherto avoided, in my single Capacity, giving your Excellency, any Trouble at all either by Letter or by Conversation. But the present <Crisis> Emergency demands that I should ask the Favour of your Excellency to explain my Sentiments to you, either by Letter or in Person. If your Excellency will permit a personal Interview, <ignorant, and unpracticed as I am, in the French Language, I am sure that by my Countenance, my Gestures and my broken Syllables in French,> I am sure I can make my self understood by your Excellency. If you prefer a Correspondence in Writing, I will lay open my Heart in Writing, under my Hand.
It is the Address to the People in America under the Name of Mr. Silas Deane, that has occasioned this Boldness, in me....2 It is to me, the most astonishing Measure, the most unexpected and unforeseen Event, that has ever happened, from the Year 1761, from which Year I have been as really engaged in this Controversy with G[reat] B[ritain] as I am now, to this Moment.
I hope your Excellency will not conclude from thence that I despair of <my> the Commonwealth. Far otherwise.—I perfectly know, that the Body of the People in the United States stand immoveable as Mount Atlas, against Great Britain.—The only Consequences of <these> an Address like this of Mr. Deanes <will> may be <a Prolongation of the War, and the necessity of hanging perhaps> <bringing to the last Punishment a few> <half a Dozen Tories the more. This last, I assure your Excellency is with me and still more with my Country men a great Evil. We wish to avoid it. But when I consider the honourable Testimonies of Confidence, which Mr. Deane carried with him to America—when I consider the Friendship which I have heard there was in France between Mr. Deane and the Plenipotentiary, and the Consul of France,3 > <I confess I am afraid that,> <even> <the Honourable Testimonies from Your Excellency, and even, I dread to say it, from his Majesty> <I hope—I sincerely hope, that the Veneration which is due to the Plenipotentiary and the Consul of France has not been so employed> <have emboldened Mr. Deane to this Measure.—A Measure that must end in his Confusion and> <Ruin> <Shame.—I know it will not end in Submission to G.B. which is the greatest American Evil. But it may End in a Division of the States—for upon my Honour I think that this Address, itself is an open Contempt, and, as far as in Mr. Deane lies, a total subversion of our Constitution.—Your Excellency may depend upon this, that no Man knows of this Letter, but myself—and that no other Man shall know it from me.>
{ 349 }
<The Reason, of my presuming, to address myself to your Excellency, separately, is because, Mr. Franklin has unhappily, attached himself to Mr. Deane, and set himself against Mr. Lee, and therefore I have communicated this Letter to neither, and I am determined to communicate it to neither.>
<Dr. Franklin and Mr. Deane were upon better Terms with each other, than Dr. Franklin and Mr. Lee. I am extreamly sorry for this. But I am fully perswaded, that the Dr. is in this Instance mistaken and deceived.> much Trouble to Individuals, but no final Detriment to the common Cause. But on the contrary that it will occasion so thorough an Investigation of several Things, as will rectify many Abuses.
It is my indispensable Duty, upon this Occasion to inform your Excellency, that Mr. Lee was, as long ago as 1770, appointed by the General House of Representatives of the Massachusetts Bay, of which I had then the Honour to be a Member, their Agent at the Court of London in Case of the Death or Absence of Dr. Franklin. <That from that> This Honourable Testimony was given to Mr. Lee, by an Assembly in which he had no Relation or Connection, on Account of his avowed and inflexible Attachment to the American Cause, and the Abilities of which he had given many Proofs in its Defence. From that Time he held a constant Correspondence with several of those Gentlemen who stood foremost in the Massachusetts Bay, against the Innovations and illegal Encroachments of Great Britain. This correspondence I had an Opportunity of seeing, and I assure your Excellency from my own Knowledge, that it breathed invariably the most inflexible Attachment, and the most ardent Zeal in the Cause of his Country. From the Month of Septr. 1774 to November 1777, while I had the Honour to be a Member of Congress, I had constantly an Opportunity to see his Letters to Congress, to their Committees and to several of their Individual Members. That through the whole of both these Periods, he <constantly> communicated the most constant and the most certain Intelligence, which was received from any Individual, within my Knowledge. And since I have had the Honour to be joined with him in the Commission, here, I have found in him the same Fidelity and Zeal.
I have not a Reason in the World, to believe or to suspect, that he has ever <written> maintained an improper Correspondence in England, or held any Conference or Negociation with any Body from England without communicating it to your Excellency and to his Colleagues.
{ 350 }
I am confident therefore, that every Assertion and Insinuation and Suspicion against him, of Infidelity to the United States or to their Engagements with his Majesty are false and groundless, <and> that they may easily be made to appear to be so, and that they certainly will be proved to be so, to the Utter Shame and Confusion of all those who have rashly published them to the World, <and particularly of Mr. Deane, who has been so forsaken by his Discretion as to have published to the World many such Insinuations>.
<The two Honourable Brothers of Mr. Lee, who are Members of Congress, I have long and intimately known. And of my own Knowledge I can say that no Men have discovered more Zeal, in Support of the Sovereignty of the United States, and in promoting from the Beginning a Friendship and Alliance with France, and there is nothing of which I am more firmly perswaded, than that every Insinuation that is thrown out of Mr. R. H. Lees holding improper Intercourse with a Dr. Berkenhout,4 is a cruel and an infamous Calumny.> 5
1. Written in JA 's Diary (D/JA/47) beneath a date caption, “1779. Feb. 10,” for a regular journal entry that was never written. Thus the letter draft may have been written on 10 or 11 Feb. or on both days. It bears no indication of the addressee's name, and three-quarters of the text is either lined out or crossed out, no doubt by JA himself. Three other versions of the letter are known, all of them dated 11 Feb. 1779: (1) LbC , Adams Papers; (2) RC , Archives Aff. Etr., Paris, Corr. pol., Etats-Unis, vol. 7; (3) Tr , MH: Arthur Lee Papers, enclosed to Lee in a letter from JA written at Lorient, 9 June 1779 ( LbC , Adams Papers; JA, Works , 7:95–97). LbC is actually a second draft, replacing the first draft, printed here, which was meant to be wholly lined out; it is nearly identical in substance with the text finally sent to Vergennes, and since it is printed in JA's Works (7:79–80) and again in Wharton, ed., Dipt Corr. Amer. Rev. (3:42–44), there is no need to list here the alterations JA made in revising his text. Roughly speaking, JA sent to Vergennes those parts of his letter which were not struck out in the first draft (that is, those portions which appear in roman type in the present text), and then added a brief and courteous closing paragraph. A notation at the foot of LbC indicates that the letter was “Sent [to Vergennes] by a Comis, early in the Morning of the 12. Feb. 1779.” The delay had doubtless helped to shorten the letter by removing some of the indiscretions and asperities of the first draft.
2. Suspension points in MS .
3. One and the same person, namely C. A. Gérard, who held a commission as consul general of France as well as minister plenipotentiary to the United States (Gérard, Despatches and Instructions , p. 130, note). Deane's sailing with Gerard in the flagship of the Comte d'Estaing's squadron had been intended by the French government as a special mark of favor to the recalled American commissioner (same, p. 89–90).
4. Dr. John Berkenhout, a British secret agent, came to America to promote the aims of the Carlisle peace commission of 1778. Berkenhout had known Arthur Lee in London and thus contrived to meet Richard Henry Lee in Philadelphia, but with no further result than that, thanks to Deane, his relations with the Lees became a warm issue in the Deane-Lee controversy. See Deane Papers , 3:2–3, 72–73; Howard Peckham, “Dr. Berkenhout's Journal, 1778,” PMHB , 65:79–92 (Jan. 1941).
5. Vergennes' reply to the much curtailed version of this letter that JA finally sent him on 12 Feb., is in the Foreign Secretary's own hand and is { 351 } dated “a Versailles Le 13. fevrier 1779” ( RC in Adams Papers, printed in JA's Works , 7:80–81, q.v.). See, further, entry of 12 Feb., below, and note 4 there.

Docno: ADMS-01-02-02-0009-0001-0007

Author: Adams, John
Date: 1779-02-11

1779. Feb. 11.

When I arrived in France, the French Nation had a great many Questions to settle.
The first was—Whether I was the famous Adams, Le fameux Adams? —Ah, le fameux Adams?—In order to speculate a little upon this Subject, the Pamphlet entituled Common sense, had been printed in the Affaires de L'Angleterre et De L'Amérique, and expressly ascribed to M. Adams the celebrated Member of Congress, le celebre Membre du Congress. It must be further known, that altho the Pamphlet Common sense, was received in France and in all Europe with Rapture: yet there were certain Parts of it, that they did not choose to publish in France. The Reasons of this, any Man may guess. Common sense undertakes to prove, that Monarchy is unlawful by the old Testament. They therefore gave the Substance of it, as they said, and paying many Compliments to Mr. Adams, his sense and rich Imagination, they were obliged to ascribe some Parts to Republican Zeal. When I arrived at Bourdeaux, All that I could say or do, would not convince any Body, but that I was the fameux Adams.—Cette un homme celebre. Votre nom est bien connu ici.—My Answer was—it is another Gentleman, whose Name of Adams you have heard. It is Mr. Samuel Adams, who was excepted from Pardon by Gen. Gage's Proclamation.—Oh No Monsieur, cette votre Modestie.1
But when I arrived at Paris, I found a very different Style. I found great Pains taken, much more than the Question was worth to settle the Point that I was not the famous Adams. There was a dread of a sensation—Sensations at Paris are important Things. I soon found too, that it was effectually settled in the English News Papers that I was not the famous Addams. No body went so far in France or Ingland, as to say I was the infamous Adams. I make no scruple to say, that I believe, that both Parties for Parties there were, joined in declaring that I was not the famous Adams. I certainly joined both sides in this, in declaring that I was not the famous Adams, because this was the Truth.
It being settled that he was not the famous Adams, the Consequence was plain—he was some Man that nobody had ever heard of before —and therefore a Man of no Consequence—a Cypher. And I am inclined to think that all Parties both in France and England—Whiggs { 352 } and Tories in England—the Friends of Franklin, Deane and Lee, differing in many other Things agreed in this—that I was not the fameux Adams.
Seeing all this, and saying nothing, for what could a Man say?— seeing also, that there were two Parties formed, among the Americans, as fixed in their Aversion to each other, as both were to G.B. if I had affected the Character of a Fool in order to find out the Truth and to do good by and by, I should have had the Example of a Brutus for my Justification. But I did not affect this Character. I behaved with as much Prudence, and Civility, and Industry as I could. But still it was a settled Point at Paris and in the English News Papers that I was not the famous Adams, and therefore the Consequence was settled absolutely and unalterably that I was a Man of whom Nobody had ever heard before, a perfect Cypher, a Man who did not understand a Word of French—awkward in his Figure—awkward in his Dress—No Abilities—a perfect Bigot—and fanatic.
1. A French translation of Thomas Paine's Common Sense, or rather of extracts from it, had been published in Affaires de l'Angleterre et de l'Amerique, vol. 1 (1776), No. 1, p. 84–87; No. 4, p. 33–85 (see note on entry of 3 March 1779, below). The introduction to the first extracts, in a “Lettre d'un Banquier de Londres à M.*** à Anvers ... le 4 Mai 1776,” remarks (p. 83–84):
“... je puis vous dire un mot au-jourd'hui de la sensation que me paroît faire sur nos négociants, un écrit que l'on vient de recevoir d'Amérique, & qui a, dit-on, la plus grande vogue dans les Colonies.
“II est intitulé le Sens commun, & on l'attribue à M. Adams, fameux proscrit, que le général Gage a exclu, ainsi que M. Hancoks, de son amnistie. Vous savez que M. Adams est un des députées de la baie de Massachusets au Congrès général, où on le regarde comme un des premiers pivots de la révolution. Vous allez voir quelques extraits de son Ouvrage. C'est M. Adams qui parle [&c.].”