“Weary . . . Almost with My Life”
In the two years covered by these volumes John Adams' service in the congress ended (although he did not realize when he left that he would not be back), and his diplomatic career began. Volume 5 includes correspondence, committee assignments, and a few committee reports and drafts for the final weeks of a stint that had begun in February 1776, details his contributions during the nine months he served in 1777, and documents his preparations for going abroad. Volume 6 takes him through his first five months as a Commissioner in France.
No essential change marked Adams' service in the congress during the weeks before he left Philadelphia on 13 October for a badly needed rest. At the start of that month he wrote Abigail, “From four O Clock in the Morning untill ten at Night, I have not a single Moment, which I can call my own.”1
Military matters continued to be Adams' major concern. With Franklin and Edward Rutledge he was sent to confer with Lord Howe, much against his wish and to the astonishment of some of his friends. An account of the trip to Staten Island in early September and of the conversations that took place, as well as the formal report made afterward, are set down in his Diary and Autobiography.2
Seeing American troops in the field caused him on his return to push for regular military exercises to discipline and harden the men. His work on a plan for a “new army” and on the revision of the Articles of War are explained in notes to Adams' letter to James Warren, 25 September 1776. Both efforts testify to an understanding of the need for a more professionally led force. On 1 October he offered a motion to create a military academy. Although he was named to a five-man committee to make plans for it, nothing came of the move. A few days later another committee, returning from inspecting the army in New York, recom•
mended that the Board of War prepare a plan for an academy. Its effort was equally fruitless. No academy was established until well after the Revolution.3
The most demanding of Adams' continuing responsibilities was his presidency of the Board of War, which took up his “whole Time, every Morning and Evening.”4
Dozens of matters, large and small, were referred to it by the congress, and some few came to it directly from the field. During Adams' final year of service about 60 to 70 percent of the Board's recommendations to the congress concerned personnel matters: military appointments and resignations; rank, promotion, and pay; rebukes, commendations, awards, and even memorials for the honored dead; and provision for and treatment of prisoners. Eighteen to 20 percent of its activities concerned the procurement and distribution of supplies—munitions, provisions, and other materials needed to keep soldiers going. The rest of the Board's recommendations were scattered over a variety of categories. It sometimes made proposals of a strategic and even tactical character, as when it recommended devising a defense for the frontier or mounting guards at Billingsport, N.J. It occasionally issued orders to commanders and gave them special power to act in particular circumstances. And it examined military accounts and proposed advances of large sums for purchases of supplies and recruitment of military units. Adams could not always meet with the Board, but, given his other responsibilities, his record of attendance was good. Here and there he added a phrase to a Board report, and three Board documents are in his hand, but other than these and his claimed role in drafting the new army plan, there is little to distinguish his particular contribution to the Board's work.
In March 1777 Adams was added to a standing committee to hear appeals from state admiralty courts in prize cases. Before the committee was created on 30 January, the congress had heard appeals by appointing special committees to deal with each case, having claimed appellate jurisdiction as early as November 1775.5
The Committee on Appeals, sometimes called the Court of Commissioners of Appeals, heard eleven cases while
Adams was a member. Incomplete records in the National Archives show that he participated in at least five determinations, and there may have been more. Certainly this work was no negligible addition to his duties in the congress.6
None of the decisions signed by Adams is included among the documents printed in Volume 5, for this phase of his work awaits expert analysis of the relation between his legal training and public service.
In assessing Adams' performance in the congress, one must examine more than committee and board reports and even correspondence. The diary of Benjamin Rush, abstracts of debates by Thomas Burke, and a few notes made by Charles Thomson give some indication of what Adams had to say on the floor concerning significant issues. Moreover, in late August 1777 the congress resolved that when it was divided, any member could request that all votes be recorded in the Journals. Adams' vote was recorded nineteen times, in seven instances on the losing side. What the votes, speeches, and two or three documents in his hand reveal is his commitment to a national outlook.
In February 1777 Adams supported Washington's proclamation that would have allowed those accepting pardons from General Howe to withdraw under controlled conditions behind British lines. When Abraham Clark of New Jersey protested the general's action as interference with the right of states to deal with traitors, Adams denied any interference, defending the document as a necessary and prudent measure for the national army.7
Also in February, Adams made two speeches that give further insight into his attitude toward the states. In a debate over the convention of New England states that had met to institute price controls in their region, he declared that states “have no right to touch upon Continental Subjects . . . therefore the Meeting
stands in need of the Approbation of the Congress.” When Thomas Burke of North Carolina challenged the right of the congress to empower state officials to seize army deserters, his main opponent was James Wilson, but Adams asserted that the states must enact the Articles of War, which Burke saw and wanted to keep as an agreement entered into personally by each soldier.8
That the congress was not just a meeting of state delegates but rather a national legislature was the assumption underlying a set of resolutions offered by Adams in June 1777, when Gunning Bedford, not then a member of the congress, challenged Jonathan Dickinson Sergeant to a duel because of remarks made about him on the floor. Claiming for the congress, in language paraphrased from the Bill of Rights of 1689, the traditional freedom of legislators to speak and debate without threat from outside sources, Adams sought Bedford's imprisonment for breach of privilege. Although the congress preferred milder language, it did incorporate in the Articles of Confederation, Adams' borrowing from the Bill of Rights.9
The clearest indicator of Adams' nationalism, however, is his stand on several provisions of the Articles of Confederation. His firm convictions about representation in the congress caused him to vote no
on giving each state one vote and on giving each state no less than two and no more than seven representatives. He felt that disregarding population in determining representation from each state was unjust. Adams also sided with a strong minority in opposing the determination of assessments according to the land values of each state. In this instance, with the help of New Jersey, the southern states, which feared taxation by a population count that would include Negroes, prevailed.10
Three weeks before he left the congress for the last time Adams proposed an amendment to the Articles that might have given the congress greater latitude in money-raising in that it authorized that body “to ascertain necessary sums . . . to be raised for the service of the united States.” This language was perhaps less limiting than the reference in the adopted Articles to defraying from a common treasury charges for war, the common defense, and general welfare.11
Adams' last no
vote, in which he joined all his fellow Massachusetts delegates, may have had mixed motives. Undoubtedly his opposition to a vote of thanks to John Hancock grew out of personal distaste for what he deemed Hancock's careful maneuvering for political aggrandizement, but Adams may also have felt sincerely that the dignity of the congress would be compromised by a vote to thank one of its officials for doing his duty.12
One other area of concern, reflected in Adams' speeches and votes, as well as in his correspondence, needs mention: inflation. A number of his correspondents, to say nothing of his wife, complained of the steep rise in prices and wages, and of several proposed schemes to combat it. Despite the view of many of his constituents that price and wage controls were an answer, Adams maintained that scarcity was a cause of many high prices, and that government-imposed controls would only make the scarcity greater. Some help would come from not unnecessarily increasing the supply of money to finance the war. Thus, he urged higher taxes at the state level and in the congress argued for raising the interest rate on loan certificates to 6 percent because they would then be considered an investment and not circulate as money.13
To make loan certificates still more attractive, the congress provided for interest payments in bills of exchange drawn on funds provided by the French. Adams voted yes
for certificates already issued, but he was the only New Englander to vote no
on such interest for certificates still to come.14
No reason has been found for the latter vote. Conceivably he had doubts about depleting funds in France that were badly needed for purchases of war material.
The increased burden of congressional work helps explain the considerable reduction in the number of non-family letters that Adams wrote. For the eight-month period of February through October 1776 the editors have found 116 such letters; from February through November 1777, only 57.15
Still, his correspondence continues to be instructive. Understandably, military concerns comprise a large part of the letters of both Adams and his friends. Generals and others furnished him information on engagements as significant as the battles of Long Island and Germantown and as little known as the skirmish at Bound Brook and the raid on Staten Island. Adams' desire for military intelligence never languished, but he was no passive listener. He was
vigorous, sometimes almost rude, in urging Massachusetts to fill its quota and get its men marching. Washington's “excessive” caution and Conway's professional leadership provoked a number of comments on both sides of the correspondence. A strong believer in attack and summary punishment for major generals who were weak or cowardly, Adams filled his letters with insistent appeals and sharp judgments. He liked to guess at strategic maneuvers that the British might employ and to weigh the possibilities of an attack in this or that place.
His correspondents did not hesitate to complain to him, for if they were sincere and made sense, they knew that he would do what could be done given political realities. Although some writers praised the conduct of the militia in New Jersey and that of New Hampshire at Bennington, several field commanders protested about the unreliability and ineffectualness of state forces. The resort to long-term enlistments in the regular army, called for by the new plan, without greater incentives than the congress offered was thought to be no solution to keeping up the army's strength in the field; but Adams felt that the congress had done all that it could. He sided with those like General Greene, who worried about the election of foreign officers to high commands; yet he knew that politics required consideration for those influential at the French court. When Greene, Sullivan, and Knox threatened to resign if Du Coudray were made commander of artillery, Adams, keenly sensitive to this challenge to civilian authority, drafted a firm and cogent reply to Greene, half in sorrow, half in anger at the presumption of the generals.16
Adams had always to keep before him the larger picture. Winning the war was but part of the business of creating a new nation. Promoting true republican virtue in opposition to an alarming willingness to rely unduly on France and in opposition to a pervasive spirit of gambling and speculation was critical. “Are we to be beholden to France for our Liberties?” he asked. And a proposed lottery caused this lament: “I dread the Effects of the Gambling Spirit that is abroad.”17
Damping down discord that might spoil the fruits of victory was another concern. Generals Parsons and Sullivan, as well as Adams' close friends William
Tudor and James Warren, resented the pretentions to military superiority they attributed to the states south of New England. Adams had no patience with murmurs of “long endured insult”; he despised such prejudices. What he wanted to hear about was first-rate performance—from whatever state.18
When officers raised points of honor in being passed over for promotion to general, he pointed out that harmony required generalships to be spread around among all the states. His recognition that the states must work together caused him to hope that a bill for freeing the slaves in Massachusetts would be allowed to sleep awhile.19
Despite his nationalism, Adams never lost a lively interest in the doings of his state; he remained unequivocally a Massachusetts man, sensitive to criticism from whatever quarter. In response to Tudor's complaint that the state's embargo on exports was threatening the other states, Adams reminded his friend that Massachusetts in the beginning of the contest with Great Britain had sacrificed itself for the good of all.20
He always saw the state as a model for the other members of the union; that is why he felt such personal embarrassment, even pain, when Massachusetts fell short in performance.
The man who had offered a plan of constitution-making in 1776 continued to fret over his state's delays in establishing an organic law. In letters written in 1777, Warren, one of a committee to draft a constitution and Adams' most faithful political reporter on their state, almost never omitted recounting progress or the lack of it and drew unfailing responses from Adams. He regretted that the draft would have to be submitted to a popular vote, for he feared the distractions and divisions among the people that would result. “However,” he added, “their Will be done. If they suit themselves they will please me.” Most important was that the minority cheerfully accept the will of the majority; the divisions in Pennsylvania over its new constitution provided a depressing example of the disregard of this principle.21
Division on the state level was as ominous as on the national one. Occasionally a mood of despair caused Adams to write pessimistically about the prospects for republicanism,
even in Massachusetts. The state's abundance of ambitious and avaricious men aroused a fear that “our Government, will be turbulent, our Laws unstable, and consequently our Exertions too languid.”22
Clearly, Adams saw James Warren, like himself, as an example of the self-sacrificing public servant. That is why he thought of his friend as a possible governor and why he nominated him to the Navy Board for the Eastern Division. Warren and several other Massachusetts friends, however, dreamed of Adams for the governorship, even if he could not assist in drafting a constitution. Nothing was further from Adams' mind: “I pant, and Sigh for private Life and rural Felicity. Here all my Wishes terminate,” he replied.23
When chosen to replace Silas Deane as one of the Commissioners to France, he bemoaned the economic loss to himself and his family; other lawyers were enjoying the handsome fees of private practice. Yet honor and duty, plus the seconding of his innermost desires by an understanding and self-sacrificing wife, persuaded him to accept the appointment. After only a few months of enjoying his company while he vacationed from the congress and resumed his law practice, Abigail would have liked to accompany him abroad, but, said her husband, “A Thousand Reasons are against it. It would be too much Happiness for [me]
Adams, taking along his son John Quincy, sailed for France on 15 February 1778.
Adams in France
“I have the Honor to inform Congress, of my Safe Arrival . . . in the Frigate Boston after a most dangerous, and distressing Voyage of Six Weeks and four Days.”25
With these words, in a letter that was captured at sea and never reached America, John Adams informed Henry Laurens of his landing at Bordeaux on 1 April 1778. Eight days later Adams reached Paris and officially took up his duties as one of the three American Commissioners at the French court.
Volume 6 contains 316 documents, either printed in full or cal•
covering the first five months of Adams' mission, which officially ended in early February 1779, when he received formal notification that Benjamin Franklin had been appointed the sole American Commissioner to France.27
The letters chronicle Adams' initiation into the complexities of diplomacy, which brought with it a growing awareness of European affairs and the problems facing the new nation as it entered the European diplomatic arena. Letters to or from the Commissioners, by far the largest in number, deal with such varied topics as the supervision of American commercial agents in French ports, issuance of orders and commissions to American naval officers, regulation of privateers, settlement of disputes between the crews and officers of both the Ranger
and the Boston
, transmission of naval and political intelligence to America, negotiation of loans, publication of news from America and refutation of British propaganda, and efforts in behalf of American prisoners in England. Relatively few letters are from or to Adams alone. His devotion to “business,” lack of European correspondents, and distance from America, as well as the loss of letters at sea and the uncertainty among his American correspondents whether he had reached France, all account for the sparsity of personal letters.28
Those in Volume 6 run the gamut from Adams' views on the proper conduct of American diplomacy and the blunders of British policy to strangers' pleas for aid in locating relatives in America and an offer of a miraculous cure for the body's ills.
From the standpoint of John Adams' expectations and desire to serve the nation, his first mission could not have been wholly satisfying. He had been commissioned as one of the three American representatives to negotiate a treaty with France, but the signing of the Franco-American treaties in February had largely obviated the need for three Commissioners.29
Adams himself reached this conclusion in mid-May when he recommended to Samuel Adams that the three Commissioners should be reduced
to one in order to cut expenses and increase efficiency.30
It would be misleading, however, to conclude that he played an insignificant role during this first mission or to discount its importance as a period of preparation and training for his second and more important mission, which began in late 1779.
Contrary to the usual impression of Adams as little more than a clerk, putting accounts in order and copying letters into his Letterbook, the evidence indicates that he was the Commission's chief administrator, largely responsible for its day-to-day operation. In his Autobiography he wrote that because “Public Business had never been methodically conducted,” he was determined to devote himself “with Diligence to Business”31
at the expense of severely limiting his social life. His Diary indicates, however, that he found time to dine with company at Passy and to dine out regularly.
With Adams in the lead, he and his colleagues sought to bring order to the Commissioners' accounts, which Silas Deane at his departure had left in disarray. Control over accounts was particularly important because the funds available to the Commissioners were almost entirely derived from the French government's quarterly payments, and excessive expenditures and the heavy drafts made by the congress, if unchecked, would have bankrupted the Commission and ended its usefulness. Thus, much of the correspondence with the congress warned of the dangers of continued substantial drafts on the Commissioners, while letters to and from such men as John Bondfield, Jonathan Williams, John Ross, James Moylan, J. D. Schweighauser, Ferdinand Grand, William Bingham, and Bersolle conveyed the Commissioners' demand that orderly accounts be submitted for approval before payment from their funds was made.32
Of particular importance in assessing Adams' role as a Commissioner is the Letterbook in which the Commissioners' correspondence was entered, and which was one of the blank books
that he purchased on or about 9 May.33
For the period covered by this volume the Commissioners' Letterbook contains 94 letters, of which 2 are third-party letters copied by Arthur Lee and 12 are copies in Adams' hand of letters written before the date of purchase and appear to constitute the only use of the Letterbook in the traditional way; that is, for making copies of letters in their final form. Of the remaining 80 letters, 68 are in Adams' hand and 12 are by Lee.34
Because of the numerous insertions and deletions, most, if not all, of these are drafts rather than copies of letters sent.
John Adams' Autobiography, the Commissioners' Letterbook, and Arthur Lee's Letterbook provide clear evidence of Adams' claim to be the center about which the business of the Commission revolved. Although Benjamin Franklin presumably exerted considerable influence, he apparently left the daily correspondence to the direction of his colleague. This conclusion is supported not only by Adams' references, general and specific, to letters drafted by him but also by the large number of letters to the Commissioners that he docketed. Adams comments on the difficulty of gaining Franklin's signature because of his social life and states that a letter to C. W. F. Dumas on 10 April was the only letter drafted by Franklin during the mission, an assertion supported by the absence of any drafts in Franklin's hand in the Commissioners' Letterbook.35
The letters by Arthur Lee in the Commissioners' Letterbook substantiate Adams' claim that he and Lee met to consider incoming correspondence, but the rela•
tively small number of letters by Lee does not diminish Adams' role as the principal draftsman of the Commissioners' correspondence. Indeed, the letters in Lee's Letterbook for the period after Adams' arrival appear to have been copied, even in their order, from Adams' Letterbook; and a note attached to a letter in Lee's Letterbook identifies it as an Adams draft.36
The Letterbook into which the Commissioners' correspondence was entered has importance beyond establishing Adams' role as a Commissioner. It not only permitted him to achieve his aim of bringing order to the Commission's business but also provided a record when he prepared his Autobiography. Because the Letterbook copies are often the only extant versions of the Commissioners' letters, the historian benefits as well.
On his arrival John Adams found the Americans in France divided into two camps: one led by Franklin and Silas Deane, the other by Arthur Lee. The reality of the conflict was thrust upon him almost from the moment he stepped ashore at Bordeaux, when William MacCreery, a resident American merchant, warned him against Lee.37
Soon afterward he received a similar warning in a letter from Silas Deane,38
who had the additional motive of enlisting Adams on his side in the storm about to break over his financial dealings. Evidence for the split is found in secret correspondence between Franklin and John Paul Jones concerning a visit by Jones to Paris and, as well, in Lee's letters to Adams and his notes on drafts or copies of letters sent by the Commissioners.39
Privately, Franklin eagerly sought Adams' allegiance, and it is safe to assume that Lee did likewise. Despite such pressure to choose one side or the other, including the offer of a share in one of Franklin's favorite projects—the Vandalia Company—Adams, through measured comments on his colleagues and refusal to discuss the Commissioners' affairs too candidly with outsiders, tried to remain above the controversy to avoid compromising his ability to serve the public. He acknowledged that, for the French government and others, Franklin was the most
important American in France, and at no time did he attempt to minimize his role. Adams had reservations about Franklin's age, morals, way of doing business, and time devoted to social life, but even when suggesting that the three Commissioners be reduced to one, he assumed that if the reduction were made the single Commissioner chosen should be Franklin. Adams believed Lee to be both honest and unfairly dealt with by the Franklin-Deane faction, but he recognized that Lee's abrasiveness encouraged controversy and made him ill-suited for diplomacy.40
Because he maintained a kind of neutrality, John Adams apparently served as a go-between for Franklin and Lee, but his exact relations with each of them are difficult to determine. Contributing to the difficulty is Adams' tendency in recalling his first mission to assess Franklin in terms of the conflicts that were so much a part of Adams' second mission.41
Yet it is likely that he was closer to Franklin, personally and on policy matters, than to Arthur Lee. Adams and Franklin lived together at Passy, while Lee lived in Paris and had to travel back and forth to take part in the Commission's business. That Adams saw this separation as a problem explains his concerted effort in October to have Lee move to Passy, an effort that Lee rejected.42
The living arrangements shared by Franklin and Adams and the frequent contacts between the two men must have produced a relatively close relationship. Moreover, it is impossible to conceive of Franklin's permitting Arthur Lee in mid-1778 to exert the influence over the day-to-day business of the Commission that Adams evidently enjoyed.
Effective diplomacy demands accurate intelligence, thus the persistent cry in this correspondence for news of events in America. Lack of it produced uneasiness. Adams repeatedly requested information about the arrival of Admiral d'Estaing's fleet in American waters when months passed with no news of
He and the other Commissioners hungered for details about the military situation, the reception of the Carlisle Commission, the state of American finances, and other matters that affected the progress of the war and their efforts to present the American cause in Europe. When reliable reports from home were delayed, they were forced to rely on such sources as British newspapers, in which they could not place confidence. Still, an intermittent stream of personal accounts, often supplemented by newspapers and documents, reached France. Simeon Deane wrote to report his arrival in America with the first signed copies of the Franco-American treaties; William Vernon wrote to Adams on naval affairs; James Lovell described the deliberations of the congress; William Heath commented on the reception of the treaties and the military situation; while James Warren noted events in Massachusetts and the fate of the 1778 constitution. The Commissioners also received reports on efforts to use Lord North's Conciliatory Bills, the reception given the Carlisle Commission, the ratification of the treaties, and the general economic situation of the country.
From European correspondents—John Bondfield at Bordeaux, Francis Coffyn at Dunkirk, C. W. F. Dumas at The Hague, and Ralph Izard, the American minister to Tuscany, among others—Adams and the Commissioners received intelligence on naval and commercial affairs, the impending Austro-Prussian war over succession to the Bavarian throne, and the general attitude of Europeans toward the American cause. News from America, if it was good, was used to bolster the efforts of European friends of America and often appeared in such publications as the Gazette de Leyde
and Affaires de l'Angleterre et de l'Amérique
. Several contributions by Adams to the latter have been identified.44
The Commissioners sent European intelligence to America and, with it, their advice and observations. Adams reported his belief that Spain would soon adhere to the Franco-American alliance, made observations on the Anglo-French naval balance, criticized British policy blunders that he believed assured an American victory, and commented on the difficulty of obtaining
a loan in Europe.45
With Franklin, he advised the congress on the proper reception for the Carlisle Commission and on the sanctity of the newly ratified Franco-American treaties. In May and June 1778 they sent circular letters reporting on the sailing of a British fleet.46
The two- or three-month gap between sending and receiving dispatches, however, meant that intelligence was often outdated by the time it reached its destination.
The Commissioners' correspondence with the French government, that is, with either Sartine, Minister of Marine, or Vergennes, Foreign Minister, largely concerned the activities of American naval vessels and privateers and the implementation of the Franco-American treaties.47
The disposal of prizes, the care of prisoners taken from English vessels, and the status of American ships in French ports were continuing concerns. Sartine usually resolved these issues with instructions to the appropriate French officials, but in July he sought to end such problems by proposing regulations that were tentatively approved by the Commissioners in August.48
That relations with Sartine were not always good can be seen in the Commissioners' reaction to his intervention in their efforts to gain control over the expenditures of their agents in French ports.49
Also productive of much controversy, because it was kept secret from Adams and Arthur Lee, was a July meeting between Sartine and John Paul Jones at which Jones probably produced a plan for the Bonhomme Richard
expedition of 1779.50
In the larger context of Franco-American relations most of the Commissioners' correspondence was with Vergennes. Its content ranged from such routine matters as the announcement of Adams' arrival and subsequent presentation to Louis XVI on 8
May to French assistance in obtaining European loans. Included also were letters concerning the invocation of Article 8 of the commercial treaty requiring France to use its good offices to aid the United States in dealings with the Barbary pirates and the status of American citizens under the treaty with respect to French taxes on goods in transit through France to the United States.51
In light of Adams' later views on France and the Franco-American treaties, his attitude in the first months of his diplomatic career is interesting. Then he was a firm partisan of France. Convinced of the advantages accruing to the United States, he characterized French enthusiasm for America by asserting there were no “French tories.”52
Because he saw the French alliance as a deciding factor in America's struggle against England, his initial great expectations, when not wholly fulfilled, may have led to his later disillusionment. Or perhaps, because of his inexperience and status as only one of three Commissioners, he was in these first months less critical than he might otherwise have been.
Adams' later negotiation of a treaty with the Netherlands gives an added significance to the 22 letters written by C. W. F. Dumas to the Commissioners. Dumas was the unofficial American representative at The Hague and, with the help of Engelbert François van Berckel and the Duc de La Vauguyon,53
was engaged throughout most of the period covered by this volume in an effort to persuade the Dutch government to take cognizance, official or unofficial, of the Franco-American Treaty of Amity and Commerce. His reports on the progress of his effort paint a rich portrait of Dutch politics, the complexities of the government of the Dutch Republic, and the personalities with whom he worked. In addition, he provided the Commissioners with
much information taken from the dispatches of Dutch ministers abroad. These letters introduced Adams to Dumas and must have provided valuable knowledge and insights for Adams' later mission to the Netherlands.
On 27 August, Adams wrote his wife that “we are all well here. The Climate, the Air, and the manner of living agree very well with our Health. But when will the happy Time arrive, that I shall return to the scaene of my Happiness.”54
Despite his adjustment to the routines of the diplomat, he longed for America, where the war continued and great events appeared to be in the offing. Having concluded that the signing of the Franco-American treaties left little need for three Commissioners, he was the more ready for a return to America, where important work for him in the service of the new nation might remain, or failing that, where his talents as a lawyer would better enable him to support his family. Adams, however, served another six months as a Commissioner and then waited three more before he could leave France. Still unfulfilled was his hope that surviving the dangers of the voyage to France meant that he “had been saved for some valuable End and some important purpose for my Country.”55
Notes on Editorial Method
Descriptions of the editorial method in previous volumes of the Papers of John Adams
apply here, but some points should be reemphasized and additions and modifications noted. The amount of material in the period covered by Volumes 5 and 6 required increased selectivity: 754 documents were considered; 183 of these were omitted. The primary concern in the editors' decision to print, calendar, or omit a document was how well it illuminated John Adams' thoughts and personal and official activities. The degree to which he played a role in a document's creation, either as sender or recipient, was of paramount concern. Other considerations, although not decisive in themselves, that played a role were whether a document was a repetition of a letter already printed or calendared; was routine, such as a
letter of transmittal or recommendation; or was of intrinsic interest, not part of a class, like letters requesting help or favors. The numerous letters for this period that Adams included in his Autobiography, especially those related to his diplomatic efforts, posed a separate problem. Because of the gaps that would have resulted from the omission of all such letters, and because for a substantial number of them significant new information is provided, most have been calendared. Documents omitted are usually referred to in the notes.
The most difficult decision concerns letters exchanged between Adams and other prominent persons whose papers appear in modern scholarly editions. Typical are those to and from Thomas Jefferson and Nathanael Greene and those from Benjamin Rush. It is impossible to establish simple principles for selecting correspondence for every volume of the Adams Papers
yet to come. For the present we are printing letters that, we believe, reveal something about Adams or whose content complements information and views from other Adams correspondents. When omitted, such letters are calendared.
These volumes contain large numbers of documents in French. Each document is followed by a translation in which the note numbers are repeated. When the translation has been provided by the Adams Papers
, it is set in smaller type. When a contemporary translation is available it has been used in preference to a modern one because of its historical validity. Because it then constitutes a separate document, it is set in the same type as the French text.
The order of documents has not changed from previous volumes. When several documents have the same date, letters by Adams, alphabetically by recipient, are followed by letters written by him and others in an official capacity. These are followed by letters to Adams, alphabetically by sender, and then by official communications addressed to him and others. Third-party letters and official documents come next. The only exception is a personal or business letter sent to Adams that he answered on the same date. Then the letter to Adams appears immediately before his reply. For official correspondence during Adams' mission to Europe, captions indicate letters to or from the Commissioners. Only surnames have been used for French correspondents. Docketings on letters to Adams or the Commissioners are by Adams unless otherwise indicated.