Paris and Amsterdam in 1780
John Adams ended the year 1780 by observing that it had been “the most anxious and mortifying Year of my whole Life.”1
The documents presented in volumes 9 and 10 supply ample evidence of the anxiety and mortification that he experienced, but they also offer an unparalleled portrait of Adams the diplomat, first at Paris, as he tried against all odds to initiate Anglo-American peace negotiations, and then at Amsterdam, as he sought against equally formidable obstacles to encourage European political and financial support for the American cause.
John Adams was named minister to negotiate Anglo-American peace and commercial treaties on 27 September 1779, and by early February 1780, after a perilous voyage on the French frigate La Sensible
and an arduous trek through Spain, he reached Paris.2
There, with his sons John Quincy and Charles, and secretaries Francis Dana and John Thaxter, Adams took up residence at the Hôtel de Valois on the Rue de Richelieu. Adams remained in Paris through July, seeking to execute his mission in the face of vigorous opposition from the French foreign minister, the Comte de Vergennes. The French minister feared that Adams' efforts to bring the North ministry to the negotiating table would only divide the Franco-American alliance and encourage the common enemy. Historians have long focused on the two men's sharp exchanges over Adams' mission as well as their views of Congress' revaluation of its currency, and the adequacy of French military and financial aid to the United States. But the present volumes do not merely lay out the dramatic Adams-Vergennes correspondence, they also illuminate Adams' motives in his dispute with Vergennes.
The single most important document for understanding Adams' view of Franco-American and Anglo-American relations and his con•
duct as a diplomat is his reworking of Thomas Pownall's A Memorial, Most Humbly Addressed to the Sovereigns of Europe, on the Present State of Affairs, Between the Old and New World
(London, 1780). Adams published his revision as Pensées sur la révolution de l'Amérique-Unie, extraites de l'ouvrage anglois, intitulé mémoire, addressé aux souverains de l'Europe, sur l'état présent des affaires de l'ancien et du nouveau-monde
(Amsterdam, 1780), and as A Translation of the Memorial to the Sovereigns of Europe upon the Present State of Affairs Between the Old and New World into Common Sense and Intelligible English
Pownall's pamphlet was the catalyst that prompted Adams to draw together his own ideas and form a coherent view of American foreign policy that would be his guide in all future diplomatic endeavors.
Adams saw Pownall's notion that Britain's political and economic welfare demanded peace and free trade as a wedge that he might use to open peace negotiations. This strategy, and a growing perception of France as an obstacle to peace, prompted Adams to reply to a pamphlet entitled Cool Thoughts
(London, 1780 [i.e. 1779]
), written by Joseph Galloway, a loyalist exile and former Pennsylvania politician. Adams' rebuttal, entitled “Letters from a Distinguished American” when published in 1782, countered Galloway's justification for Britain's continuation of the war and, as an inducement to those Englishmen for whom the Franco-American alliance was an obstacle to peace, declared that the alliance would last no longer than the war.4
These and other documents show that as Adams' conflict with Vergennes intensified, he was drawn to the possibility of a peace settlement in 1780. And as this vision grew stronger, his willingness to accept Vergennes' concerns as valid diminished. This led to increasingly contentious exchanges in June and July, and, on 29 July, Vergennes broke off all relations with Adams. Two days earlier, however, Adams had left Paris to go to Holland for what he believed would be a brief visit.5
Adams had no suspicion, upon his arrival at Amsterdam in mid August, that he was beginning a most important two-year mission to the Netherlands. But in October, he learned that Henry Laurens, Congress' minister to the Netherlands, had been captured and im•
prisoned in London. Using his authorization from Congress to act in Laurens' place, Adams intensified his efforts to promote American interests and took on the role of de facto minister to the Netherlands. Despite the friendship and support offered him by individuals, Adams' letters indicate his surprise at finding far less Dutch support for America than he had expected. In an effort to advance the American cause, he cultivated the friendship of such men as Hendrik Calkoen, an Amsterdam lawyer; Jean Luzac, editor of the Gazette de Leyde
; Joan Derk van der Capellen tot den Pol, the highest ranking Dutch partisan of the American cause; Antoine Marie Cerisier, a pro-American publicist; and Hendrik Bicker, a leading Amsterdam banker. Adams exchanged letters with each of these men, but two are of particular interest: Calkoen posed a series of questions to Adams, who replied with twenty-six letters that emphasized the bond between the Dutch and American republics, each having its origin in a revolt against a despotic occupying power;6
and Luzac proved an important ally by publishing Adams' Pensées
and offering his newspaper as a ready forum for Adams' contributions.
With few exceptions, such as a brief correspondence on the production and quality of Bordeaux wines,7
the documents in these volumes reflect John Adams' devotion to the business of diplomacy. Adams conducted an extensive, but one-sided, correspondence with Congress. He requested intelligence and instructions on such matters as a truce and his relations with Vergennes, but received little in return. Most of his eighty-seven letters written to Congress from March through July concerned such matters as the League of Armed Neutrality, the County Association Movement in England, the Gordon Riots, and British, French, and Spanish military and naval deployments. Adams became Congress' principal source of European intelligence, obtaining his information from British and European newspapers, and from such men as Edmund Jenings and William Lee at Brussels, Thomas Digges at London, John Bondfield at Bordeaux, Joshua Johnson at Nantes, and Joseph Gardoqui at Bilbao.
To dispel misperceptions about the American cause and promote his peace initiative, Adams supplied Edmé Jacques Genet with items for his Mercure de France
and sent pieces to Edmund Jenings for publication in England. He tried to avoid involving himself in Ben•
jamin Franklin's business, and when he was forced to, as in the controversy over Pierre Landais' command of the frigate Alliance
, he did so reluctantly.8
Adams wrote to friends in America, such as Samuel Adams, James Lovell, Benjamin Rush, and James Warren, and received useful information on political and military events in return, but his trans-Atlantic correspondence was relatively sparse, and he often complained that inadequate American intelligence hindered his efforts in Europe.
Fewer letters are printed for the five months of 1780 that John Adams spent in Amsterdam than for the similar span of his residence in Paris. This is because Adams wrote fewer letters to Congress, had no correspondence with the Dutch government, failed to record some letters in his Letterbooks, and had a smaller circle of acquaintances. He continued to correspond with Edmund Jenings, Thomas Digges, and William Lee, all of whom wrote on the steadily deteriorating state of Anglo-Dutch relations. Although he wrote fewer letters to Congress, those that he did write were more substantive. Many were intended to inform Congress about the complex nature of the Dutch government, if only to make clear the reasons for his apparent lack of success.
These volumes show John Adams to be an active, intelligent diplomat, determined to further his nation's interests as he saw them. His actions, whether at Paris or Amsterdam, were carefully calculated to promote his view of American foreign policy. But unlike most of his contemporaries, Adams was as concerned with the long-term as he was with the short-term interests of the United States. While in France, this led him to revise Pownall's Memorial
, debate the Comte de Vergennes over the existing and future Franco-American relationship, and attempt to initiate peace negotiations. In the Netherlands, particularly after learning of Henry Laurens' capture, Adams began efforts to raise a loan and opened a propaganda offensive to educate the Dutch about the American cause. For John Adams, 1780 was anxious and mortifying because so much had been tried and so little accomplished, but he could hope that “more Vigour, Wisdom and Decision may govern the Councils, Negotiations and Operations of Mankind in the Year 1781.”9
John Adams and His Letterbooks
John Adams' Letterbooks are indispensable because they often permit the reconstruction of an entire correspondence when Adams' original, outgoing letters have been lost, and because they supply text that is missing from damaged recipient's copies. From 1 March through 31 December 1780, John Adams recorded most of his public and private letters in Letterbooks numbered 8, 10, 11, 12, 13, and 14; which appear respectively on reels 96, 98, 99, 100, 101, and 102 of the Adams Papers microfilm. The first three, containing copies of public and private letters for the period from November 1779 through July 1780, have been described in the Introduction to volumes 7 and 8, which also contains a general discussion of the nature of John Adams' Letterbooks.10
Letterbook 12, entitled “Paris 1780 From June 10. to August 14. 1780. Peace.,” contains twenty letters to the president of Congress.11
Numbered 81 to 100, these copies are, with the exception of a portion of No. 91 and all of No. 100, drafts in John Adams' hand and complete the record, begun in Letterbook 10, of his correspondence with Congress from his arrival in Spain in 1779 to his departure from France in 1780.12
As in Letterbook 10, John Thaxter's notations explain the means by which the letters were sent to Congress. The letters fill 68 pages of the 292-page Letterbook, the remainder of which is blank, except for ten pages near the end where Thaxter recorded statistics on population, trade, weather, and the costs of outfitting naval vessels. The intended use of this material is unknown.
Letterbook 13, entitled “Holland 1780 Vol. 1. From August 14. 1780 to Feb. 7. 1781 and Letters to The P.H. Jan. 22. 1782 Pol. Holl.,” contains John Adams' letters to the president of Congress written at Amsterdam between 14 August 1780 and 7 February 1781. Adams restarted his numbering system upon arriving at Amsterdam so the first letter is No. 1 and the last, “never sent nor copied,” is No. 44. The letters to Congress are followed by drafts of four letters to
Antoine Marie Cerisier, publisher of Le politique hollandais
, that were done on or about 22 January 1782, in which Adams commented on Révolution de l'Amérique
by Guillaume Thomas François, Abbé Raynal.13
Adams used 102 pages of Letterbook 13, leaving the rest blank.
Letterbook 14 contains 203 private letters, many of these copies by John Thaxter, and is entitled “Holland August 17. 1780 to April  Amsterdam Leyden.” It begins with John Adams' letter of 17 August 1780 to Francis Dana and ends with that of 26 April 1782 to the Amsterdam merchant John Hodshon. Adams wrote one hundred of these letters in 1780, the last being that of 18 December to Edmund Jenings. Unfortunately, he recorded no letters between 10 and 16 December or between 19 December 1780 and 15 January 1781. This has resulted in the loss of an undetermined number of letters to Thomas Digges, William Lee, and others.
Notes on Editorial Method
Since the first volumes of the Papers of John Adams appeared in 1977, some changes have occurred in the editorial method. Most have been refinements, resulting from the need to deal with specific problems that arose during the editorial process, but it seems appropriate here to reiterate the central aspects of the editorial method common to all volumes and to make clear the principles that have guided the editors in the preparation of the present volumes.
The decision to print, calendar, or omit a document is based on how well it illuminates John Adams' thoughts and personal behavior. The degree to which Adams played a role in a document's creation is of paramount concern in deciding whether to include it. The editors also consider whether a document is a repetition of a letter already printed or calendared; is a routine letter of transmittal or recommendation; or is a letter to Adams requesting help or favors. All letters omitted from volumes 9 and 10 are listed in the Appendix immediately preceding the index.
Most of the 131 letters that John Adams wrote to the president of Congress from March through December 1780 have been calendared. Almost all of them appear in Francis Wharton's Revolutionary Diplomatic Correspondence of the United States
, and consist of extracts
from printed sources, material taken from letters to Adams, or comments repeated by him in letters to other correspondents. A letter to the president of Congress is printed in the Papers of John Adams
when Wharton's version differs materially from either the recipient's copy or Adams' Letterbook copy, or when it led directly to action by Congress, was a request for instructions, or presents a significant analysis of an important issue not repeated elsewhere. This last consideration has resulted in the publication of a higher percentage of Adams' letters written at Amsterdam than at Paris.
One change in the format of calendar entries should be noted. Endorsements on calendared letters will be omitted when they merely indicate a letter's date and author and provide a brief summary of its contents. The date on which the letter was received or read in Congress, if indicated, will be noted in the text of the calendar. Letterbook copies of Adams' letters to Congress will not be routinely mentioned if the only reason for doing so is to indicate a letter's number, but if it contains a substantial notation the Letterbook copy will be indicated and the notation included.
Other categories of documents also need to be mentioned. In these and other volumes, the editors have presented a few important documents written by John Adams, or by him in collaboration with others, in more than one form. The changes and development of the text in these cases is too elaborate to handle clearly with editorial apparatus and footnotes joined to only one printed text.14
French and Dutch documents are followed by an English translation in which the footnote numbers are repeated. Translations provided by the editors appear in a smaller typeface, but when a contemporary translation used by John Adams in the course of his activities is available, it has been used in preference to a modern one because of its historical relevance. Because it then constitutes a separate document, it is set in the normal font size. Third-party documents, those involving Adams but not written by or sent to him, are occasionally included based on the editors' judgment of their intrinsic worth to the study of our subject.
Letters or documents often exist in more than one form. When multiple copies of the same letter were sent, we print the copy that was received first. When another copy of the text exists (i.e. draft,
Letterbook copy), differences between that and the printed text are noted when they reveal something about the intentions, style, and mood of the author. Copies of letters that were made from the recipient's copy ordinarily are not referred to in our descriptive note on the text; if significant, they are mentioned in the footnotes.
Our primary purpose is to present a text that can be read by both scholars and the general public, while striving faithfully to retain the spelling, grammar, capitalization, and punctuation of the original manuscript. While no transcription policy can take care of all questions that will arise, the following practices guide us in our efforts.
Punctuation follows that in the manuscript with the following rules for intelligibility. All sentence breaks are retained as in the manuscript, but when needed we silently supply an uppercase letter at the beginning of the sentence and a period at the end. Dashes obviously intended to be terminal marks are converted to periods, and superfluous dashes are removed, but dashes evidently intended to indicate breaks or shifts in thought or used as semi-paragraphing devices are retained. Minimum punctuation for intelligibility is silently supplied in dialogue and quoted matter. If quotation marks appear only at one end or the other of a passage of direct discourse, the matching pair is supplied without notation when its location is clearly determinable, but quotation marks are not systematically inserted according to modern usage. The editors have refrained from altering, suppressing, or supplying punctuation in passages that are truly ambiguous. When punctuation is supplied in a passage where there could be more than one reading, it is always noted.
Abbreviations and contractions are preserved as found in names of persons and places; in the datelines, salutations, and complimentary closes of letters; in endorsements and docketings; in units of money and measurement; and in accounts and other tabular documents. They are also retained elsewhere if they are still in use or are recognizable. Ambiguous abbreviations are silently expanded when the editors are certain of their meaning. Abbreviations that are indeterminate or questionable are expanded in brackets following the abbreviation. Where abbreviations are retained, superscript letters used to indicate contractions are brought down to the line. The ampersand is retained in the form “&c.” and in the names of firms; elsewhere it is rendered as “and.”
Missing and illegible matter is indicated by square brackets enclosing the editors' conjectural readings (with a question mark appended if the reading is doubtful), or by suspension points if no reading can
be given. If only a portion of a word is missing, it may be silently supplied when there is no doubt about the reading. When the missing or illegible matter amounts to more than one or two words, a footnote estimating its amount is attached.
Canceled matter in the manuscripts is included when it is of stylistic, psychological, or historical interest. In our text such passages are italicized and enclosed in angle brackets. If a revised equivalent of a canceled passage remains in the text, the canceled matter always precedes it.
Variant readings (variations in text between two or more versions of the same letter or document) are indicated when they are significant enough to warrant recording, and then always in footnotes keyed to the basic text that is printed in full.
Editorial insertions are italicized and enclosed in square brackets.
In recent years the editors have tended to a slightly more literal rendering of the text, especially in retaining peculiar but often consistent punctuation and abbreviation oddities. This practice reflects the expanded awareness and expectations of both our academic and general audiences. The editors know, however, that there is no way to give the reader a completely literal textual reproduction except by document facsimile.
In addition to the 627 letters and documents in these two volumes and the 168 omitted letters listed at the end of vol. 10, over 100 letters by or to several Adamses for the period March–December 1780 appear in
Adams Family Correspondence
, vol. 3:292–425
, and vol. 4:1–56
. The most important of these, for a full appreciation of John Adams' public career in 1780, are 21 letters from John to Abigail Adams, and 14 letters from Abigail to John. Another 13 letters written by John to Abigail, and 4 by Abigail to John, from November 1779 through February 1780, also contain much valuable material for this same period. Other important correspondences in the Family
volumes for 1780 include those between John Adams and John Quincy Adams, Richard Cranch, Isaac Smith Sr., John Thaxter, and Cotton Tufts; interesting views of John Adams' life in Europe and commentary on public matters appear in Abigail Adams' correspondence with John Quincy Adams, Elbridge Gerry, James Lovell, John Thaxter, and Mercy Otis Warren. The
Diary and Autobiography of John Adams
, especially vol. 2:344–453
, and vol. 4:173–254
, and the
Diary of John Quincy Adams
, vol. 1:1–75
, are most helpful in understanding John Adams' diplomatic mission and in following his travels through Europe in 1779–1780.