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

Browsing: Papers of John Adams, Volume 9


Search for a response to this letter.

Docno: ADMS-06-09-02-0282-0001

Author: Franklin, Benjamin
Recipient: Adams, John
Date: 1780-06-26

From Benjamin Franklin

M. Adams, after having perused the inclosed Papers, is desired to give his Opinion on the following Questions.1
1st. Whether Captain Landais, accused as he is, of Capital Crimes, by his Senior and late Commanding Officer, after having apparently relinquished the Command of the Alliance frigate, by with drawing his Effects from the same, after having asked and received money by Order of the Minister Plenipotentiary, in order to transport himself to America, and take his Trial there, upon the said accusation, and after having for that Purpose, in writing, requested a passage to be procur'd for him, was intituled, at his pleasure, to retake the Command of the Alliance, (contrary to the positive order of the Minister Plenipotentiary, whose orders the said Landais was by the Navy Board instructed to obey),2 and to dispossess his successor, the oldest naval officer of the United States, in Europe, who had commanded the said frigate near eight months, and brought her to the Port where she now is?
{ 475 }
2dly. Whether the Conduct of Captain Landais, at L'Orient in exciting the Officers and Seamen of the Alliance, to deny the Authority of Captain Jones under whose Command they had voluntarily come, and remained there, and encouraging the said Seamen to make unlawful Demands on the Minister Plenipotentiary for the United States, and to enter into a mutinous Combination, not to put to Sea with the Alliance until the said Demands should be complied with, thereby retarding the Departure of the said frigate and of the Public Stores, on board, be not highly Culpable?
3dly. Whether after Captain Landais's late Conduct and the manner in which he has retaken the Command of the frigate Alliance, it be consistent with good order, Prudence, and the Public Service, to permit him to retain the Direction of her, and of the Public Stores intended to be sent with her, accused as he is of Capital Crimes by his late Commodore, and for which if he arive in America, he must of Course be tried?
RC (Adams Papers;) endorsed: “from Dr Franklin.”; docketed by CFA : “June 1780.”; marked in another hand: “Queries.”
1. This undated request for JA 's opinion regarding the case of Pierre Landais and the Alliance may have resulted from a conversation between JA , Francis Dana, and Benjamin Franklin reported in JA 's unfinished and unsent letter of 23 June to Arthur Lee ( LbC , Adams Papers). The documents that Franklin enclosed with this letter cannot be positively identified, but from the issues raised, particularly the first and second queries, it is likely that they included the letters exchanged by Franklin with Landais and members of the Alliance's crew. For these letters as well as the charges brought against Landais by John Paul Jones, see Benjamin Pierce's letter of 1 June, and notes 1–3; Arthur Lee's letters of 5 June, and notes 3–4, and 14 June; and Pierre Landais' letter of 14 June, and notes 1–3 (all above).
2. For Franklin's “positive order” or rather “orders,” see Landais' letter to JA of 14 June, note 2 (above). But Franklin may also refer to two documents that seemingly empowered him to command Landais and were likely among those sent to JA . The first was Landais' orders of Dec. 1778 from the Navy Board at Boston, which were derived from a letter of 27 Oct. from the Marine Committee of Congress, requiring Landais, upon reaching France, to report his arrival to Benjamin Franklin “whose orders you are to obey.” The second may have been the Marine Committee's letter to Franklin of 27 Oct. 1778, which informed Franklin that “the Captain will on his Arrival inform you thereof, and we have directed that he get his Vessel in readiness to follow any orders which you may think proper to give, which orders he is bound to obey” (PCC, No. 193, f. 607; Charles O. Paullin, ed., Outletters of the Continental Marine Committee and Board of Admiralty, 2 vols., N.Y., 1914, 2:21–23).

Docno: ADMS-06-09-02-0282-0002

Author: Adams, John
Recipient: Franklin, Benjamin
Date: 1780-06-26

To Benjamin Franklin

[salute] Sir

I have read over all the Papers in the Bundle left with me, numbered to thirty seven. I have also read the three Queries stated to me.
These Queries I apprehend can legally be answered only by Con• { 476 } gress or a Court Martial; and therefore it would be improper in me to give any answer to them because the Papers will appear before Congress or a Court Martial; who can judge of them better than I. They will also hear Captain Landais which I cannot do. My Opinion therefore would have no Weight either before the one or the other Tribunal or supposing it to be admitted to be read and to have any Weight it ought not to be given, because I cannot be legally either a Witness or a Judge.
I cannot however think that the Instructions of the Navy Board to Captain Landais to obey the orders of the Minister Plenipotentiary, contain Authority to remove him, without his Consent,1 from the Command of a Ship committed to him by Congress, because the Navy Board themselves had not as I apprehend such Authority.
Since those Instructions were given, as I was informed at Boston, Congress have given to the Navy Board Power, upon any Misbehaviour of an Officer, to suspend him, stating to Congress at the same Time a regular Charge against him. But I do not find among these Papers such Authority given to any Body in Europe, nor do I find that any regular Charge against Captain Landais has been stated to Congress.2
There has seldom if ever been in France a sufficient Number of Officers at a time to constitute a Court Martial, and our Code of Admiralty Laws is so inadequate to the Government of Frigates for any Length of Time in Europe, that it is presumed Congress in future will either omit to put Frigates under any direction in Europe, or make some Additions to the Laws of the Admiralty adapted to such Cases—for there is an End of all Order, Discipline and Decency, when disputes arise and there is no Tribunal to decide them, and when Crimes are committed or alledged, and there is no Authority to try or to punish them.3
I have not observed among these Papers any clear Evidence of Captain Landais Consent to leave the Command of the Ship and therefore upon the whole, rather than bring the present disputes about the Alliance to any critical and dangerous decision here, where the Law is so much at a loose and there can be no legal Tribunal to decide, I should think your Excellency would be most likely to be justified in pursuing the mildest measures, by transmitting all the Papers and Evidence to Congress or the Navy Board for a Trial by a Court Martial and ordering the commanding Officer of the Alliance with the Stores and Convoy as soon as possible to America.4
{ 477 }
I give this opinion to your Excellency, to make what use of it you think proper.5
I have the Honour to be, with great Respect, sir your most obedient and humble servant.
[signed] John Adams
RC in John Thaxter's hand except for the date, final paragraph, and signature (PPAmP: Franklin Papers); endorsed: “June 26 1780. Answer to Queries. recd 11 1/2 a.m. June 26. John Adams.” In the Franklin Papers the recipient's copy is accompanied by an MS containing the three questions put to JA by Franklin. This may have been the draft from which the copy received by JA was made ( [ante 26 June] , above). Dft , with date in John Thaxter's hand (Adams Papers); endorsed: “My Answer to Dr. F's Queries.” LbC in John Thaxter's hand (Adams Papers).
1. In the draft the preceding three words were interlined.
2. For Pierre Landais' orders of Dec. 1778, mentioned in this and the previous paragraph, see Franklin's letter of [ante 26 June] (above). JA is correct that no authorization had been given to any person in Europe to suspend or remove a naval officer from his command by any act of Congress and that no formal charges had been lodged against Landais in America. However, congressional resolutions adopted in May and Aug. 1778, prior to the orders issued to Landais, had authorized the Navy Boards to institute courts of inquiry and courts-martial to deal with the loss of naval vessels and other infractions and to suspend the accused officer from command ( JCC , 11: 469–471, 814).
3. For JA 's further thoughts regarding the regulation of the navy and his recommendations to Congress, see his letter of 29 June to the president of Congress (No. 88, below).
4. JA 's recommendation here likely resulted in Franklin's letter of 27 June, addressed “To the commanding Officer for the Time being of the Frigate Alliance, belonging to the United States of North America,” ordering Landais to take on board the Alliance the supplies awaiting transport and to carry them to Philadelphia (PCC, No. 193, f. 667). No letter has been found, however, from Benjamin Franklin to anyone in America enclosing the documents that were sent to JA for his examination. Indeed, the court-martial leading to Landais' expulsion from the navy resulted from his actions during the return of the Alliance to America, not his earlier conduct during the engagement between the Bonhomme Richard and the Serapis or his displacement of John Paul Jones as captain of the Alliance.
5. In the draft, which does not contain the final closing paragraph, this sentence was followed by the following canceled passage “I shall not communicate it to any Body on Board the Alliance, or elsewhere, not even to Congress.”