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Browsing: Papers of John Adams, Volume 9


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Docno: ADMS-06-09-02-0286

Author: Adams, John
Recipient: Huntington, Samuel
Recipient: President of Congress
Date: 1780-06-29

To the President of Congress, No. 88

No. 88 Duplicate

[salute] Sir

The disputes about the Alliance, have been so critical and disagreable, that Congress will pardon me, for writing a few Observations upon our Arrangements here.
I apprehend that many of the Disputes, Delays and other Inconveniences, that have attended our Affairs in this Kingdom, have arisen from blending the offices of Political Minister, Board of Admiralty, Chamber of Commerce, and Commercial Agent together.
The Business of the Minister is to negotiate with the Court, to propose and to consult upon Plans for the Conduct of the War, to collect and transmit Intelligence from the other Parts, especially concerning the designs and the forces of the Enemy. This is Business enough for the wisest and most laborious Man the United States have in their Service, aided by an active, intelligent and industrious Secretary. But added to all this our Ministers at the Court of Versailles have ever been overloaded with Commercial and Admiralty Business, complicated and perplexing in its Nature, and endless in its detail: { 484 } But for this, I am persuaded much more might have been done in the Conduct of the War, and the United States might have had more effectual assistance, and France and Spain too fewer misfortunes to bewail.
I would therefore beg leave to propose to Congress to appoint a Consul without Loss of Time to reside at Nantes, and to him consign all Vessels from the United States. I think it should be an American, some Merchant of known Character, Abilities and Industry, who would consent to serve his Country for moderate Emoluments. Such Persons are to be found in great Numbers in the United States. There are many applications from French Gentlemen. But I think that a Want of Knowledge of our Language, our Laws, Customs and even of the Humors of our People, for even these must be considered, they never would be able to give Satisfaction nor to do Justice. Besides if it is an Honor, a Profit, or only an Opportunity to travel and see the World for Improvement, I think the native Americans have a Right to expect it and further that the Public have a Right to expect that whatever Advantages are honestly to be made in this Way, should return sometime or other to America, together with the Knowledge and Experience gained at the same time. These Consuls as well as the foreign Ministers should all be instructed to transmit to Congress, written Accounts of the Civil and Military Constitutions of the Places, where they are, as well as of all the Advantages for Commerce with the whole World, especially with the United States. These Letters preserved will be a repertory of political and commercial Knowledge, that in future Times may be a rich Treasure to the United States.
To these Consuls, the Commercial Concerns of the Public should be committed, and the Vessels of War.
It will be necessary sometimes to send a Frigate to Europe, to bring Intelligence, to bring Passengers, even perhaps to bring Commodities, or to fetch Stores: but I hope no Frigate will ever be again sent to cruise, or be put under the Command of any Body in Europe, Consul or Minister. They may recieve their orders from the Navy Board in America, and be obliged to obey them.
I have had a great deal of Experience in the Government of these Frigates, when I had the Honor to be one of the Ministers Plenipotentiary at the Court of Versailles, and afterwards at Nantes, L'Orient and Brest, when I was seeking a Passage home. Disputes were perpetually arising between officers and their Crews, between Captains and their officers, and between the officers of one Ship and another. { 485 } There were never officers enough to compose a Court Martial and nobody had authority to remove or suspend officers without their Consent: so that in short, there was little Order, Discipline, Subordination or Decency.
Another thing, when Frigates are under the direction of an Authority, at a distance of three or four hundred Miles, so much time is lost in writing and sending Letters and waiting for Answers, as has been found an intolerable Embarrassment to the Service.
It is now two years since Consuls were expected and a Secretary to this Mission. It is a great Misfortune to the United States that they have not arrived. Every Man can see that it has been a great Misfortune, but none can tell how great. There is much Reason to believe that if our Establishments here had been upon a well digested Plan and compleated, and if our Affairs had been urged with as much Skill and Industry as they might in that Case have been, that We should at this moment have been blessed with Peace, or at least, with that Tranquility and Security which would have resulted from a total Expulsion of the English from the United States, and the West India Islands.1
I have the Honor to be, with great Respect, Sir, your most obedient Servant.
Dupl in John Thaxter's hand (PCC, No. 84, II, f. 161–164); docketed: “No. 88 Letter from honle J Adams Paris June 29. 1780 read Novr. 27. 1780 Duties of a Minister Secretary Consul no Frigates to cruise in Europe.” LbC (Adams Papers); notations: “88” and “Recd. in congress Nov. 25. duplicate.”; by John Thaxter: “July 6th. 1780. This day was delivered to Commodore Gillon, who is bound to Amsterdam, the Duplicates of Nos. 82, 83, 84, 85, 86, and the Original and Duplicate of No. 88.” The “Original,” mentioned in Thaxter's note, has not been found.
1. The statements in this letter reflect the long held views of both JA and Benjamin Franklin concerning the conduct of American diplomatic, commercial, and maritime business in Europe. For earlier statements by JA on these matters, see vol. 8:index; and for Franklin's views, see his letters of 31 May and 9 and 10 Aug. to the president of Congress, and of 10 Aug. to James Lovell (Wharton, ed., Dipl. Corr. Amer. Rev. , 3:742–746; 4:21–22, 25– 27).

Docno: ADMS-06-09-02-0287

Author: Digges, Thomas
Recipient: Adams, John
Date: 1780-06-29

From Thomas Digges

[salute] Dr. Sir

Since my letter by Mr. Barnet (who was Capn. and supercargoe of a Ship of Chamonts taken and carryd into Ireland) of the 8th. Instant, I have put in the common conveyance two letters for you the 10th. and 23d. Instant, which I hope reachd your hands.1 A freind going to Holland promises to put this in the first Post Office abroad. { 486 } Since my last, there has been nothing whatever from America, nor any other quarter save the account of a second brush between the French and English fleets in the Wt. Indies. A packet is arrivd from St. Kitts the 25 May. By which there is advices that on the 13th. May, Martinico bearing W by N twelve Leagues, Rodney descried the french fleet turning to windward to get into Martinico; after much maneuvreing on both sides, the rear of the English fleet got up with the van of the Enemy and engagd. They got very roughly handled (tho not disabled so much as to be obligd to quit the Seas) before the body of the Fleet could assist them. The van consisted of six, cheifly the Copper Bottomd and best sailers. They have lost it is said 220 men in killd and three ships the Cornwall, Conqueror and another are very much pepperd. Rodney however prevented their purpose of getting into Martinique, every other instance of this brush is spoken of as being very much against the English, and stocks sunk thereon about 3/4 per Cent. Altho there has been a packet, Government give the public no account of it, which carrys the face of its being a worse account than we hear. The Gentry at Loyds Coffee House rather shake their heads for fear of their Wt. India Ships, if not Islands; but the friends to Ministry are trying every art to make it appear an action favorable to the English fleet, that Rodney remaind master of the Seas, that the French fleet fled back into Guadale., that they can be effectually prevented from joining the other division in Martinique &c. &c.2
By many private letters and the accounts from Passengers in the Man of war with Dispatches of the Surrender of Chas. Town, there are very melancholly accounts of the State of things in the Country distant from Chas. Town, cheifly in respect to the Negroes, where there are at least 8 or 10 for one white. These accounts say, that as soon as they had heard of the surrender of the Town to the English all bond of them towards their masters were broke and that the civil powers could not prevent their liberating themselves; They collected in bodys of one two and 300 each, quitted all sorts of work or controul whatever, took what they could carry and plunder from their masters and were moving about the Country bending rather westward when the last accounts were had of them. From these accounts as well as what I hear from the quarter of the Torey Carola. Merchants in the City, it is not possible for that Country to be in a worse situation than it now is. The last Crop of Rice and Corn had faild almost universally, The people during the invasion of the Country in the planting months of April and May could not attend to agriculture, a scarcity of Cattle { 487 } and hogs, and this more deplorable than all the other evils the blacks going at large and doing much mischeif, together with the cheif of the principal Gentry being either prisoners in the Town or out of the Country, makes the whole a very melancholly picture indeed. Their prospects too are bad from their Western neighbours and from the still greater Savages the back settlers of No. Carolina, whither it is said <Clinton> Cornwallis with about 1100 men had certainly gone.
The Brutes in this Country, (who I am very sorry to say seems to be a majority of the People) seem to exult at all this, because in their opinion it leads to a sure reduction of all the Southern Colonies, and gives, as they term it, a death blow to rebellion. This is not the language of the common, but of the better sort of People, and of almost every man in power or of consequence. I cannot help damming them all together. I have been bouyd up lately with some hopes, that the ministry would look a little further toward the Interest of the Country than the narrow circle of St. James, and have made some profers of terms—even the parley for which could not be disadvantageous to America and might at least have led to a cessation of hostilities for a small time. Every one must know, and I beleive they see themselves, that terms excluding France and Spain would not do. I am now fully persuaded that they are determind either England or America shall be totally ruind in the trial. The last days debate on Hartleys and Sir Geo. Savilles motion (which you will read in the papers)3 convinces me that my opinion is not ill founded. You may depend upon it, the ministry have no sort of idea of Peace or accomodation with America, and that they mean to send more troops and push another Campaign for the subjugation of it. It is impossible to explain to you why they are at this juncture prepossessd with an opinion nay declare publickly, “that in all human probability they will succeed.” Many men of worth who thought otherways till lately, seem now, from the present account of the state of things in America which too many are infatuated to beleive, have fallen into an opinion that England should push the Contest further and risque much on another Campaign. Gen. Conway (tho I do not mention him as a pattern either of judgement or honesty, for sure I am he has been long under the sunshine of ministry) in the Ho. Commons the day of Hartleys motion, declard that another ten, another 20,000 men, should be sent to Ama. rather than offer terms of Independence now. If I were to write pages I could only mention such instances of folly and infatuation as these. I wish to impress upon your mind that the intention in this quarter is still to prosecute the war vigorously against { 488 } America, and every nerve will be straind to send men and ships to that station. They will effect it too, if France and Spain, do not act more vigorusly at Sea and go to work instead of making a parade. Five ships of the line on any of the Southern Coasts of America in the months of March, Apr. or May would have effectually securd Chas. Town, and capturd a British army. The very same mischiefs will happen in Virga. if the Coasts are not guarded and protected by men of war this summer; and the people finding it the woeful fact will become discontented with their allies, and naturally suppose the intentions of them are not to risque any thing but protract the war to the emminent ruin of that as well as of this Country.
At present there is no standing against the torrent of folly expressd in all Companys about the certainty of subjugating America. I have seen frequently these people as much depressd and as often in the lower appartments of the House, as they are now elated and dancing about in the Garrets; perhaps, before reason gives them time to think quietly in the middle story, some news may arrive that will put them all in the cellars. If one may draw a conclusion about the fate of this Country, from the general face of things in Europe as well as in America and the West Indies, one would be led to suppose that in a few weeks, if not days, some news would arrive far more depressing than the late accounts from America have been elating to the unthinking inhabitants of it. God send some that may bring them to reason and to think that the wisest measure they can adopt for the salvation of the Country is peace and accomodation with America.
I am wishing to hear of the safe arrival of the Books, papers &c.4 I hope you did not put a stop to my forwarding them from any supposition that it was troublesome to me to execute your Commissions, for I can assure you it was none, and that next to serving my Country, that of assisting its servants abroad is my principal wish and desire. I beg you will not spare me whenever you think I can be servicable and that you will believe me to be with great Esteem Dr. Sir Your obet. Hum Sert.
[signed] TD
RC (Adams Papers;) endorsed: “Mr Digges. June 29”; docketed by CFA : “1780.”
1. Neither of these letters has been found.
2. For the newspaper reports of which Digges gives a digest here, see, for example, the London Courant of 28 June. Between 9 and 20 May the fleets of Guichen and Rodney skirmished off St. Lucia and fought two indecisive battles on the 15th and 19th. In the course of those engagements the British losses were 68 dead and 213 wounded, with the Cornwall, Conquerer, and Boyne suffering heavy damage. The outcome of the encounter was that Rodney foiled Guichen's effort to take St. Lucia, but failed to prevent the French fleet from returning to its base at Martinique. One other consequence was that Guichen, worn down by the strain of com• { 489 } mand, requested his recall as commander of the French fleet in the West Indies (Mahan, Navies in the War of Amer. Independence , p. 141–145). It should be noted, however, that since the information came from St. Kitts the report probably dealt with only the encounter on 15 May.
3. On 27 June, David Hartley and Sir George Saville sought unsuccessfully to introduce motions concerning the war in America. Hartley moved for permission to introduce his long awaited “Bill for Conciliation with America” (see Thomas Digges' letter of 2 May, and note 7, above; the Descriptive List of Illustrations, vol. 10; and Hartley's letter of 17 July, below). The bill authorized the appointment of negotiators empowered to agree to an unconditional cessation of hostilities, articles of conciliation lasting for a period of ten years, and a suspension of acts of Parliament relating to America for a like period. Saville's motion declared that the war in America served only to hinder British efforts against France and Spain and facilitated the destruction of the British empire ( Parliamentary Reg. , 17: 751–753). No published account of the debate over the two motions has been found.
4. See JA 's letter of [28] June (above).