A website from the Massachusetts Historical Society; founded 1791.
close

Browsing: Papers of John Adams, Volume 8


Search for a response to this letter.

Docno: ADMS-06-08-02-0047

Author: Gordon, William
Recipient: Adams, John
Date: 1779-05-08

From William Gordon

[salute] My dear Sir

We are just returned from visiting your good Lady at Braintree, where I had a complaint exhibited against me for not writing to you, which I mean to answer totidem verbis.2 But before I proceed further must mention, in brief, that news which will be the most important and agreeable of all you will meet with in the letter, viz, that Mrs. Adams and children are well and as chearful as can be expected while you are at such a distance from them. We spent the evening and lay at your villa, and returned immediately after breakfast, having to attend in the afternoon the funeral of Dr. Winthrop, who deceased the last Monday, to the great loss of the College, State and Continent.3 The late General Court died the same day with Dr. Winthrop. Some of their last acts I think are not the most honourable or equitable. I have my eye particularly to that which confiscates the estates real and personal of all absentees that withdrew, without leave, after the 19th. of Apl. 1775 into any parts and places under the acknowledged authority of the king of G B, or into any parts and places within the limits of the united States being in the actual possession of the fleets or armies of the said king; or who before the 19th of Apr. after the arrival of Thos. Gage Esqr. withdrew from their usual places of habitation into the town of Boston with an intention of obtaining his protection and have not returned and been received as subjects of the United States.4 To confiscate the estates of all such absentees without distinction or exception I must deem till I have more light—cruel—cruel—superlative cruel. Besides there is a gross absurdity in the act for the preamble sets forth as the reason for the confiscation, their withdrawing when it had become their indispensible duty to unite in defence of their common freedom, in consequence of the kings having declared the people of the United States to be out of his protection, and levying war against them. Now the king did not declare the people of the United States out of his protection nor levy war against them, till long after the 19th. of Apr. 1775.5 It might have sufficed to have confiscated where absentees had been in arms or had subscribed towards raising wherewithal to subdue us, or had withdrawn after the declaration of Independence. But the State wants money; and individuals who have made a great { 57 } deal of paper money during the war want to buy estates, and turn their nominal riches into real, ere they expire in their possession.
I could get no further on the saturday, and am now in a great hurry, having a journey to Providence before me, in order to pay Genl. Gates a visit. Our currency is our greatest difficulty for the present; and what it will soon come to is hard to say. I wish it was all burnt to ashes, never to rise again. It will not be the true policy of France to attempt dividing the fishery with G B to the exclusion of the Americans.6 Such a manoeuvre will disgust the New Englanders to that degree, that if G B is not downright folly she may take the advantage of such disgust and make it turn much to her own account and equally so to the damage of France. I have wrote you several letters,7 and have received not one from you, while I have heard once and again from Dr. Franklin; but while I consider the interruption to which the present correspondence is liable, and how few letters Your Lady hath received out of the many You have wrote, I suspend all censure. The man 8 whom you thought would be governor, I apprehend never will be. He sinks daily; and the world begins to know a little more of him. Would time permit you should have more words; but I am straitened, tho' I got up before I could see to read. Believe me to be with much esteem, Your sincere friend & very humble servant
[signed] William Gordon
It is pritty well over with Deane; he and his colleagues outwitted themselves. Paine hath done or will do for them; for he will tell the truth. I could write you more about them, but it might not be safe.
RC (Adams Papers); docketed by John Thaxter: “Dr G[ordon] May 8.” The bottom of the page has been cut off, resulting in the loss of a portion of the docketing.
1. The date and the docketing in Thaxter's hand are indications that JA did not receive this letter until his return to France in 1780.
2. In so many words.
3. Professor John Winthrop, JA 's former teacher and friend, died on 3 May. In AA 's letter to JA of 8 June, she paid tribute to his memory ( Adams Family Correspondence , 3:200–201).
4. “An Act for Confiscating the Estates of Certain Persons Commonly Called Absentees” was adopted on 30 April. The sentence largely follows the text of the first section of the act (Mass., Province Laws , 5:968–971; Mass., House Jour. , 1778–1779, 2d sess., p. 203).
5. Presumably Gordon is referring to the king's proclamation for “Supressing Rebellion and Sedition” of 23 Aug. 1775.
6. Gordon is alluding to the debate then going on in the congress over the American peace ultimata, in which the question of American access to the Newfoundland fisheries was a major issue. He was not alone in his concern about the possibility of an Anglo-French division of the fisheries, for James Lovell wrote Gen. Horatio Gates on 5 April that “two European Powers have fancied that they could claim the Fishery of the Banks and Gulphs of America not only against their european Nations but against all weaker People ever bordering on their Sease” { 58 } (Burnett, ed., Letters of Members , 4:142). For a more detailed treatment of the fisheries issue and its implications for JA 's appointment to negotiate treaties of peace and commerce with Great Britain, see James Lovell to JA , 27 Sept., note 2 (below).
7. No letters from Gordon since JA 's departure from America in Feb. 1778 have been found.
8. Probably a reference to John Hancock. In letters to James Warren on 7 July and to Elbridge Gerry of 9 Dec. 1777, JA had indicated his belief that Hancock sought the governorship (vol. 5:242–243, 352–353).

Docno: ADMS-06-08-02-0048

Author: Franklin, Benjamin
Recipient: Adams, John
Date: 1779-05-10

From Benjamin Franklin

[salute] Sir

I received the honour of yours of the 29th. past from Nantes. I hope you are before this time safely arrived at L'Orient. M. De la Luzerne is making diligent Preparation for his Departure, and you will soon see him. He and the Secretary of the Embassy1 are both very agreable and sensible Men, in whose Conversation you will have a great deal of Pleasure in your Passage. What Port the Ship will be ordered to I have not yet learnt, I suppose that it may be partly left to the Captain's Discretion, as the Winds may happen to serve. It must certainly be most agreable to you to be landed in Boston; as that will give you an earlier Sight of your Family; but as you propose going immediately to Congress, being landed at Philadelphia will have some little Advantage,2 as it saves half your Journey. I shall take care to procure the Order to the Captain from Mr. De Sartine, which you desire; tho' I should suppose showing the Original Letter of that Minister, which you have, would be sufficient. No publick Dispatches are arrived here since you left us. I see by the Virginia Papers that the 6th. of February, being the Anniversary of the signing of the Treaty, was observed with great Festivity by the Congress &c. at Philadelphia.3 From Holland I have just received the Resolution of the States General, of the 26th. past, to Convoy their Trade, notwithstanding Sir Joseph York's Memorial, and to fit out directly 32 Ships of War for that purpose;4 which is good News and may have consequences.

[salute] I have the honour to be, with great Regard, Sir, Your most obedient & most humble Servant.

[signed] B Franklin
RC (Adams Papers); docketed: “Dr Franklin May 10. ansd 17th. 1779.”
1. François Barbé-Marbois had acted as La Luzerne's secretary during his service at the Court of Bavaria between 1775 and 1778 (Stinchcombe, Amer. Rev. and the French Alliance , p. 77). With his arrival in America, Barbé-Marbois began a long association with American affairs that culminated in the sale of Louisiana in 1804 (see E. Wilson Lyon, The Man Who Sold Louisiana ..., Norman, Okla., 1942). In the course of JA 's passage to America on La Sensible in company with La Luzerne and Barbé-Marbois, JA and the latter engaged in extensive conversa• { 59 } tions on American affairs and formed a close and cordial relationship (JA, Diary and Autobiography , 2:383–384, 386–394 386, 386–389, 389–390, 390–392, 392–395 , 396–397. For JA 's sketch of Barbé-Marbois, see his letter to the president of the congress of 3 Aug. (below).
2. Franklin was mistaken about JA 's intentions; see JA 's reply of 17 May (below).
3. Franklin is probably referring to the Virginia Gazette (Dixon and Nicolson) of 5 March, which reported that “the cheerfulness which existed in the company upon the happy occasion of their being assembled, was not to be exceeded; and a thousand brilliances alluding to the alliance were uttered.”
4. The memorial of 9 April was a protest against the Dutch failure to contest effectively the French order of January that denied all privileges previously granted to Dutch ships in French ports until measures were taken to protect Dutch trade, particularly in ships timbers and other naval stores, from British warships and privateers. The removal of Amsterdam and Haarlem from the effects of the order, following their protests against the States General's refusal to undertake convoys, led Yorke to warn that continued indifference to French interference in Dutch internal affairs would bring British retaliation. Yorke saw the French order as a ploy to provoke an Anglo-Dutch war by forcing the Netherlands to provide unlimited convoys to protect its French trade in the midst of an Anglo-French naval war, while at the same time demanding that the provisions of the Anglo-Dutch treaties of 1674 establishing naval stores as noncontraband be strictly observed. This was unacceptable to the British because compliance would permit the Dutch, under the guise of neutrality, to supply France with the naval stores that its own merchant fleet was incapable of carrying and that would be otherwise unobtainable. Yorke's memorial was too late, for protests by other cities against the favored treatment of Amsterdam and Haarlem, as well as the absence of action by the States General that would restore all the Dutch cities to an equal footing, led to the secret resolution of 26 April to outfit 32 ships (Miller, Sir Joseph Yorke , p. 76; Edler, Dutch Republic and the American Revolution , p. 125–126; for the text of Yorke's memorial, see vol. 2 of John Almon's Remembrancer for 1778, p. 358–359; or the Annual Register for 1779, p. 425–427; for the French order concerning Dutch ships, see Dumas' letters to the Commissioners of 16 and 19 Jan., above).
Franklin received the news from C. W. F. Dumas in a letter of 3 May ( Cal. Franklin Papers, A.P.S. , 2:72). Dumas presented a more detailed account of the resolution, including the number of ships that each city was to outfit, in a letter to the Committee for Foreign Affairs of 15 May (French text, PCC, No. 93, I, f. 276–279; translation, Wharton, ed., Dipl. Corr. Amer. Rev. , 3:166–168). There Dumas intimated that the resolution might be less significant than it seemed, for by failing specifically to state that naval stores were to be protected by the convoys, it was unlikely that the resolution would be accepted by France as justification for lifting its restrictions.