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Browsing: Papers of John Adams, Volume 10


Search for a response to this letter.

Docno: ADMS-06-10-02-0163

Author: Adams, John
Recipient: President of Congress
Recipient: Huntington, Samuel
Date: 1780-10-31

To the President of Congress, No. 19

[salute] Sir

The British Ministry, by the terrible Examples of the Rioters, have So intimidated the Nation, and by their Success in the late Elections have So great a Majority in Parliament, that they think themselves secure for Seven Years, and Seem determined to go on, with more Vigour than ever.1
The Letters from their Generals Clinton, Cornwallis &c. shew that they are now adopting a new system. These Letters are full of Panygyricks upon the Tories and Refugees. Gage and the two Howes and Burgoine, made light of these Auxiliaries, which made Mr. Galloway their Ennemy, who has been very industrious, in exposing their Characters.2 Indeed the Ministry Seem to be wholly governed now, by Mr. Galloway, and their Generals, Seem to have adopted the Same Sentiments. The Consequence is that in America, at least where the British Army Rules the Refugees are cherished. Cornwallis in his last Letter, in which he gives an Account of his Battle with General Gates, assures the Ministry that he is determined to make some Examples among his Prisoners, and private Letters Say, that he hanged seventeen upon the Field of Battle in the Face of his Army. But none of these are more decisive Proofs of their present System than their Treatment of Mr. Laurens, whom they are holding up to that nation { 313 } in the frightfull Character of a Rebel, knowing that this Word and this Idea is enough to inflame them, beyond all degrees of Reason.
It is not only in England and America, that they mean to Spread a Terror. They think they can terrify all Nations: This in particular. They have Sent over to his most serene highness the Prince of orange, Some Copies of Letters taken with Mr. Laurens. I cannot learn that there are any but from Mr. De Neufville and Mr. Gillon, who are here. But it is propagated that there are many more—and Mr. Van berkel and the Baron Vander Capellan are named. But I have very good Reason to believe, that they have not a Line of either.3 The English are giving out as is their practice every fall, that they are determined to send, great Forces to America. Fourteen Regiments are talked of—ten thousand Men are talked of. But these Threats will be executed as usual. Fourteen Regiments if they send them will not produce, <five?> four thousand Men in America, to repair all their Losses in North America and the West Indies.
We have one Ennemy more pernicious to Us than all their Army and that is an opinion, which Still prevails in too many American Minds that there is still Some Justice, Some Honour, Some Humanity and Some Reason in Great Britain, and that they will open their Eyes and make Peace. That there are Individuals who have these Virtues cannot be doubted. Rome had many Such, even after the Ultimi Romanorum.4 But they were So few in Comparison to the whole, and had so little share in Government, that they only served, by their Endeavours to bring things back, to Make the Nation more miserable.
I am So fully convinced that Peace is a great Way off, and that We have more Cruelty, to encounter than ever, that I ought be explicit to Congress. We shall be forced to wean ourselves, from the little Remainders of Affection and Respect, for that nation—nay even from our Curiosity. I cannot think it decent, that any American should voluntarily set his Foot on British Ground, while We are treated as We are. The Practice is too common to Step over, upon Motives of Curiosity, Pleasure or Business, and I cannot but think it ought to be discountenanced.
I have the Honour to be &c.
LbC (Adams Papers). There is no copy of this letter in the PCC, nor any indication in the JCC that it was ever received.
1. Accounts of the trials and executions of those apprehended in the Gordon Riots filled the London newspapers from late June to early August. See, for example, the London Chronicle and the London Courant.
2. For JA 's comments on the controversy between Joseph Galloway and the former commanders in America, notably Gens. William Howe and John Burgoyne, over the loyalist's usefulness, see Replies to Hendrik Calkoen, { 314 } 4–27 Oct., Letters 2, 6, and 9 (above). See also Ira D. Gruber, The Howe Brothers and the American Revolution, N.Y., 1972; and the 1779 parliamentary inquiry into the conduct of the war in Parliamentary Reg. , 13:passim.
3. In this JA was mistaken; see his letter to the president of Congress, No. 18, 27 Oct., note 3 (above).
4. Presumably JA means after the fall of the Roman republic.

Docno: ADMS-06-10-02-0164

Author: Digges, Thomas
Author: Church, William Singleton
Recipient: Adams, John
Date: 1780-10-31

From Thomas Digges

[salute] Dr. Sir

We have not the least news from the Westward more than the publick papers will announce, but in hourly expectations of some from N York. Our grand fleet passd Plymo. the 27th. and these winds have probly put them on their intendd station for Cruizing. A small fleet has saild to N York—a frigate or so with 10 or a doz store Ships and Merchantmen, but no troops or any thing like any. Four Ships of the line are going soon to the Wt. Inds. They carry troops 3 to 5,000—and I guess these will be the last Expeditions or fleets in this year of our Lord 1780.1
We are all anxiety for the Speech, which some say is not to deliverd to day, but tomorrow.2 I Shall keep this letter open to a late hour to inclose it or give you any cue of the tendency of it that may be in my power to gather.
Yours of the 14th. got to hand after my letter of the 27th. was forwarded. I have in my possession one from Mr. S[ear]le to Mr. L[aurens] which I understand the substance of from the bearer of it Mr. J[o]nes,3 this shall find its way to Mr. L tho the letter may not. Please to mention this to Mr. S——le with my best wishes &c. &c. Any thing flat and smally folded will duly find its way. I only observe a caution of not doing Him any hurt by what is written. The day will come when relaxation from present severity will take place, therefore any discoverys may make confinement longer. Any hints can be securely communicated. He is made easier, and better in health by them. No one I beleive can tell upon what principle Mr. L was committed upon. Principle here, is not so much regarded as you immagine; It is generally the sudden impulse of the hour that lead our rulers in Error. I beleive they think themselves in an Error already about the Committment and ill treatment of that man, and probably they will act with more lenity soon, and sink into the other extreem. Appearances however speak that His Confinement will be a long one. The Law for suspending the Habeas Corpus to those who have embarkd and been beyond Sea, which was passd in 1777 and is I believe in force to Jany. 1. 1780, prevents Mr. L getting releasd by Bail, { 315 } | view and authorises his Enemys to keep him in confinement as long as they think fit. I will get you the Law, as well as the Arguments in Ebenezer Smith Platts case and send them You.4
It is impossible to describe why or wherefore these people act as they do; every thing seems to indicate they mean to play away the last stake with America, to exasperate Your Countrymen all in their power, and drive them to acts of retaliation. They seem to deliver themselves up intirely to the Government of their passions and their Caprice, and conduct themselves according to no system whatever. This harsh treatment of Mr. Laurens, together with Lord Cornwallis's military Executions and cool butchery of defenseless people in So Carolina, irrevocably seals the perpetual disunion between Great Britain and America. I cannot but lament that appearances speak Peace at a very great distance—Come when it will we may safely pronounce that it will be accompanyd with anguish and humiliation to the Savage Heart of “White Eyes,” that seems insatiable of human gore.
I am with the Highest Esteem Yr Obedient Servant
[signed] WSC
There was no Speech to day. But the jst of it is supposd for a Continuance of the War—that Cornwallis success shews what may be done by vigorous exertions—very Complimentary to that Genl.—assuring that the money which may be granted will be properly applyd &c. &c. &c.—
C. W. Cornwall chosen Speaker by a Majority of 31 votes5  
for Cornwall   234  
for Sr. Fletcher Norton   203  
  31  
1. This paragraph is a summary of reports appearing in the London newspapers since Digges' letter of 27 Oct. (above).
2. George III opened Parliament on 1 Nov. ( Parliamentary Hist. , 21:808–810). The content and tone of his speech did not differ substantially from the preview provided by Digges in his postscript to this letter.
3. This was William Jones, a distinguished British lawyer and opponent of the war in America ( DNB ). From mid-September to mid-October, he and John Paradise had visited Benjamin Franklin at Paris (Archibald B. Shepperson, John Paradise and Lucy Ludwell of London and Williamsburg, Richmond, Va., 1942, p. 149–152).
4. The law to which Digges refers is 17 Geo. 3, c. 9, which suspended the right to a writ of habeas corpus with regard to all those charged with and arrested for treasonous activities in the American colonies. The act was adopted in Feb. 1777 and was originally intended to expire on 1 Jan. 1778. In Dec. 1777 it was extended for the duration of the war. Digges' reference to it being in force only to 1 Jan. 1780 was presumably an inadvertence. During the parliamentary debates over both the bill's original passage and its extension, the case of Ebenezer Smith Platt, a Savannah merchant, was cited by those opposing the suspension of habeas corpus ( Parliamentary Hist. , 19:3–53, 461–466, 560–562). For an ac• { 316 } count of Platt's ordeal, from his arrest in 1776 through his release in 1778, see his letter of 21 April 1778 to the Commissioners (vol. 6:44–46).
5. For the actions of Sir Fletcher Norton, the former Speaker of the House of Commons, that led the North ministry to replace him with Charles Wolfran Cornwall, see Thomas Digges' letter of 14 April, note 7 (above). Digges' figures, however, are wrong; Cornwall received 203 votes to Norton's 134, thus giving him a majority of 69 votes ( Parliamentary Hist. , 21:807).