A website from the Massachusetts Historical Society; founded 1791.
close
-
The Adams Papers Digital Edition is undergoing active maintenance while we work on improvements to the system. You may experience slow performance or the inability to access content. We apologize for any inconvenience this may cause. We will endeavor to return to full capabilities as soon as possible.

Browsing: Papers of John Adams, Volume 11


Search for a response to this letter.

Docno: ADMS-06-11-02-0316-0002

Author: Vergennes, Charles Gravier, Comte de
Recipient: Adams, John
Date: 1781-07-18

The Comte de Vergennes to John Adams: A Translation

I have received, sir, the letter which you did me the honor to write to me the 13th of this month. It was owing to the confidence I placed in your judgment and zeal for your country that I entrusted to you the propositions of the two imperial courts and requested that you would make such observations as you might think them susceptible of. Things are not yet sufficiently advanced to admit of communicating them to the mediating courts. As you have seen in the sketch of our answer, there are preliminaries to be adjusted with respect to the United States,1 and until they are, you cannot appear and consequently you cannot transact anything officially with respect to the two mediators. By so doing you would hazard and expose the dignity of the character with which you are invested.
I have the honor to be very perfectly, sir, your most humble and most obedient servant
[signed] De Vergennes
RC (Adams Papers); endorsed: “M. Le Cte. De Vergennes. 18 July. 1781. recd at five O Clock afternoon Same day.” LbC (Adams Papers); notation: “This Letter was { 424 } addressed in these Words A monsieur, Monsieur Adams, Agent des Etats Unis de l'Amérique Septentrionale à l'hotel de valois, rüe de Richelieu a Paris. C. de Vergennes.—all in the Hand Writing of the Clerk who wrote the Letter. The Letter was signed by the Comte, de Vergennes.” In 1809 JA published a translation of this letter in the Boston Patriot. There he copied the notation and continued: “Whether the word 'agent' was a blunder of the clerk, or the art and design of the Comte, is of no consequence now. He knew I was a minister plenipotentiary, both for peace, and to the states of Holland: but what reason he had for avoiding to acknowledge it, I know not. It excited some reflections and suspicions at the time, because it seemed to be conformable to the views of the mediating courts, which the court of France ought not to have countenanced” (JA, Corr. in the Boston Patriot , p. 122–123).
1. In JA 's translation in the Boston Patriot, the passage from the previous comma was italicized.

Docno: ADMS-06-11-02-0317

Author: Adams, John
Recipient: Vergennes, Charles Gravier, Comte de
Date: 1781-07-18

To the Comte de Vergennes

I have received the Letter, Sir, which you did me the honour to write me of this Days Date: and I assure your Excellency I never had a Thought of appearing upon the Scaene, or of taking ministerially or otherwise any Step towards the two mediators. I must confess to your Excellency, that I have too many Jealousies of the motives, and too many Apprehensions of the Consequences of this Negotiation, to be willing to take any Part in it without an express vocation. The English are in such a temper, and are tottering on such a Precipice, that they will not hesitate at any measure, which they think can excite every latent Passion and awaken every dormant Interest in Europe, in order to embroil all the World. Without looking much to Consequences, or weighing whether the quarrels they wish to excite, will be Serviceable to them or not, they Seem to think the more Confusion they make, the better, for which reason, my Fears from the proposed mediation are greater than my hopes.
Nevertheless, if properly called upon, it will be my duty, respectfully to attend to every Step of it: but there are many questions arising in my mind, upon which, in due time, I Should wish to know your Excellency's opinion.
The two Imperial Courts, have proposed, that there Should be an American Representative at the Congress. This is, not merely by implication, but expressly acknowledging, that there is a belligerent Power in America of Sufficient Importance, to be taken notice of by them, and the other Powers of Europe. One would think, after this, the two Imperial Courts, would have communicated their Propositions to Congress. The Propositions, they have made, and communicated to the Courts of France Spain and England, imply that America { 425 } is a Power, a free and independent Power, as much as if they had communicated them also to the Congress, at Philadelphia. Without Such a formal Communication and an Invitation to the United States in Congress, or to their Representative here, made by the mediating Courts, I dont perceive how an American minister, can with Strict Propriety, appear, at the proposed Congress at Vienna, at all. I have never heard it intimated, that they have transmitted their Propositions to Philadelphia. Certainly I have received no Instructions from thence, nor have I received any Intimation of Such Propositions from any minister of either of the mediating Courts, although, as my mission has been long publick and much talked of, I Suppose it was well known to both, that there was a Person in Europe, vested by America with Power to make Peace. It Seems, therefore, that one Step more, might have been taken, perfectly consistent with the first, and that it may yet be taken, and that it is but reasonable to expect that it will. How is the American Minister to know, that there is a Congress, and that it is expected, that he Should repair to it? and that any minister from Great Britain, will meet him there? Is the British Court, or their Ambassador, to give him notice? This Seems less probable, than that the mediators Should do it.
The Dignity of North America, does not consist in diplomatick Ceremonials, or any of the Subtilities of Etiquette: it consists Solely in Reason, Justice, Truth, the Rights of Man kind, and the Interests of the nations of Europe, all of which well understood, are clearly in her favour. I shall never, therefore make unnecessary difficulties on the Score of Etiquette, and Shall never insist upon any Thing of this kind, which your Excellency, or some other Minister in Alliance does not advise me to, as indispensible. I Shall go to Vienna, or elsewhere, if your Excellency Shall invite or advise me to go. But as these Reflections occurred to me, upon the Point of Propriety, I thought it my duty to mention them to your Excellency.
I have the Honour to be, with the greatest Respect, Sir your most obedient and most humble Servant
[signed] John Adams
RC (Arch. Aff. Etr., Paris, Corr. Pol., E.-U., vol. 17:425.)