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Browsing: Papers of John Adams, Volume 12

Search for a response to this letter.

Docno: ADMS-06-12-02-0021

Author: Adams, John
Recipient: Franklin, Benjamin
Date: 1781-10-22

To Benjamin Franklin

[salute] Sir

I have recieved your Excellency’s Letter of the 12th.
I should be much obliged to You for your sentiments, of what is to be understood by accepting the Mediation of a Power or Powers? Is a Mediator to be an Arbitrator, and is the Power that accepts the Mediation bound to submit to the Award? Is the great question of the War submitted to the discussion and final Judgment of the Mediator? For Example, if the United States should accept of a Mediation between them and Great Britain, would this be to submit to the Judgment of the Mediator, whether America should be independent, or come again under the dominion of England? I hope We should run no Risque of a Judgment against Us, but it seems to be too much to submit. I am glad the Communication is to be postponed.
It is said that the Prince de Gallitzin has demanded a categorical Answer from their High Mightinesses concerning the offer of Mediation of his Sovereign of opening Negotiations of Peace between Holland and Great Britain: adding, that upon this Answer might depend not only the Peace of the Republick, but also certain Measures, which his Court is determined to take relative to the present Conjuncture of affairs.2
Some Persons surmise, that the meaning of these mysterious words is, that if Holland persists in reckoning herself among the Number of the Enemies of G. Britain, the Empress will think herself under The Necessity of becoming her Friend, to prevent her from being crushed. But We may as well surmise that She intends to acknowledge the Independence of America, and invite Congress to send Ministers to Vienna.
{ 33 }
I thank your Excellency for your Advice as a Physician, which I have ventured to follow, though I had taken very largely of the Bark in my illness by the Advice of Dr Osterdyke, a very able Physician at the head of his Profession in this Town.3
I thank You, Sir, for Major Jackson’s Letter.4
Pray what is to become of the Continental Goods which Gillon left here? Would it not be well for Jackson to come here and take Care of them? I suppose they are still on board Vessels chartered to transport them to America, and detained for the freight. Who is to pay this Freight?5
I had written thus far, when accidentally seeing Mr De Neufville Junr:, he mentioned to me his having recieved a Letter some time ago when I was sick, from your Excellency, referring them to me, about the affair of the Goods.6 This was the first hint I ever had of the Letter. Indeed at the time when he recieved it, I was insensible to even the Incision Knife.
I have never had, since I have been in Europe, the least Connection in business of any kind public or private with Gillon. He wrote me two very long Letters last Winter and Spring, using all the Arguments his Wit could devise to persuade me to lend him the Credit of the United States by furnishing him with some of my Obligations to answer his Necessities. I answered both Letters forthwith by a positive and final Refusal.7 These Letters both his and mine will speak for themselves. I knew nothing of his being gone to Paris, when he entered into the Contract with Collo Laurens, nor did I know of Mr De Neufvilles being there. When I recieved a Letter from your Excellency and another from Collo Laurens, requesting me to draw Bills upon your Excellency for payment for the Goods,8 I was willing to have taken trouble on myself from Respect to your Excellency and to Coll Laurens, but was relieved from this, by your Excellency’s accepting the Bills drawn, as I understand, by Major Jackson: so that never, from first to last, directly or indirectly, have I ever been consulted in this Business; I <Shall> Should9 therefore be justifiable I suppose, if I were to persevere in avoiding to give any Opinion about it. But here is at present a large Interest of the United States suffering, and Americanus sum et nil Americanium a me alienum puto.10
To all appearance, Coll Laurens has been imposed on, and Gillon has violated his Contract with him. The Goods are left here on board Vessels hired to carry them. The freight is not paid: the Goods will be held I suppose responsible. The Question is, what is to be done?
{ 34 }
Money must be advanced I suppose for the freight of the Vessels. If your Excellency cannot advance it, I presume the Goods must in part be applied to the payment of this Expence: for there is nobody in Europe has any Money belonging to the States but your Excellency, nor Credit to procure any.
I would submit it to your Excellency, whether Jackson had not better come here and finish this Business, either by selling the Goods outright, at a loss no doubt, or by selling enough of them to pay the freight of the rest, or by agreeing for the freight and paying it at your Excellency’s Expense,11 as you shall advise.
For my own part, I have no Judgment in the Prices of Freight, the Goodness of Vessels, or Masters or Mariners, and therefore if I were to interfere, it could be only by employing some Merchants to do the Business; and no Merchant here, in my Opinion, would do it with more Care or success than Jackson. Moreover, I have certainly no Authority to order the Goods or any of them sold, and without this I have no Money to discharge the freight or pay for any Expenses.
That this affair has been miserably, or rather abominably managed by Gillon seems to be past a doubt. But the question is how shall We prevent it occasioning a greater loss and more mischief than necessary? I should not have omitted a Moment to write to your Excellency upon the subject, if I had had the least Suspicion that You had referred it to me; provided I could have held a Pen, which indeed I can very badly do now. I am still very far from being a Man in Health and capable of going through much Business. Yet nothing shall suffer for want of my doing what I have strength to do.

[salute] I have the honor to be, with great Respect, Sir, your most obedient and most humble Servant

[signed] John Adams
RC in John Thaxter’s hand (PPAmP:Franklin Papers); endorsed: “J. Adams Octr 22. 1781.” LbC (Adams Papers).
1. This is JA ’s second letter to Franklin of this date. In the first ( LbC , Adams Papers), JA indicated that he had drawn a bill for 2,000 crowns in favor of Fizeaux, Grand & Co. to discharge bills that he had accepted.
2. For the Russian offer to mediate the Anglo-Dutch war, see JA ’s letters to the president of Congress, 6 Aug., calendared, and to Benjamin Franklin, 25 Aug. (vol. 11:440, 467–471). The Dutch accepted Russia’s mediation on 4 March 1782 (De Madariaga, Armed Neutrality of 1780, p. 351).
3. At this point in the Letterbook is the following canceled passage: “Major Jacksons Letter[] I had a Letter, from Major Jackson,[] I had a Letter from Major Jackson, from Corunna, but not so particular as that to your Excellency. Gillon left this Place, in a manner that occasioned much Censure and Complaint. What his View can be I cant conceive. He cant return here, nor go to America, with any Prospect of a good Recep• { 35 } tion, and as to going, where Jackson Hints, his Hopes there, would not be very good.” For Jackson’s letter to JA , see Adams Family Correspondence , 4:219–220.
4. See Franklin’s letter of 12 Oct., note 2, above.
5. Following this paragraph in the Letterbook is the abbreviation “Mem.” and the canceled passage “Every day convinces me more and more of the Utility and absolute necessity, some where or other in the Universe, of a [Deity?]. It is not possible to do without one.” Following this deletion is a canceled complementary closing.
6. Franklin to Jean de Neufville & Fils, 4 Sept. (Franklin, Papers , 35:437–438).
7. Gillon’s letters were dated 12 Nov. 1780 and 8 March 1781; JA ’s replies were of 12 Nov. 1780 and 10 March 1781 (vol. 10:335–337; 11:186–191).
8. These were John Laurens’ letter of 28 April and Franklin’s of the 29th (vol. 11:293–296, 298–299).
9. The correction of John Thaxter’s copying error is in JA ’s hand.
10. That is, I am an American and nothing American is foreign to me. This is a paraphrase of Terence, Heautontimorumenos, Act I, scene i, line 25. Dumas invoked the same passage on 1 Nov. 1780. For the complete Latin text, see vol. 10:318.
11. The following four words are in JA ’s hand, and were entered in the Letterbook by John Thaxter.

Docno: ADMS-06-12-02-0022

Author: Dana, Francis
Recipient: Adams, John
Date: 1781-10-22

From Francis Dana

[salute] Dear Sir

This letter together with a packet for Congress, will be delivered to you by Mr: Stephen Sayer who sets off from hence tomorrow for Amsterdam. He knows nothing from me about my business or affairs. Indeed I have had but little acquaintance with him, less than I shou’d have had, had he not been unfortunately confined by sickness almost the whole time I have been here. The account he will be able to give you touching the principal characters on the political stage here, will be, I believe, nearly the true one. My hopes however are much stronger than his. I think things are in a good train, and that we have nothing to fear but the influence of British gold upon a certain character,1 to impede them for a while.
The packet for Congress contains only duplicates of one forwarded about the 10th. of Septr: O.S. from hence by water for Amsterdam, under cover to Messrs: De Neufville & Son, which was to be submitted to your perusal, except my letter to the President of the 4/15 inst:.2 You will break it up to read that, and then be pleased to forward it by the earliest opportunity. But I shall expect you give me your sentiments in return with your wonted integrity. I stand much in need of your friendly and substantial advice. If you find any opinions which are not just, correct them with freedom. You know me too well to suppose I shall not take this in good part. You will much oblige me by some account of matters upon your last tour.3 I want to know whether they wear the same aspect in that, as I have supposed them to do in this political hemisphere. These { 36 } communications may serve to correct the notions of both of us, concerning them. When I have said The Independence of the United States was certainly the basis of the first plan of pacification, I have not grounded my assertion upon the propositions of the Mediators. I have such assurances of this fact that I do not doubt it. What I have said of the Emperor, I think myself at present equally well founded in; and I wish you may not find my conjecture about Holland true, and that she may be earlier prepared to do as she ought to do. Does not her political pendulum still vibrate between bellegerent and neutral? I have indeed more hopes of her from the spirit with which the regency of Amsterdam seem to be now supported. If you shou’d be called upon to negociate a Treaty with her, you will pardon my suggesting to you that the project sent to you is very defective.4 If the copy which Mr: Thaxter made out for me is a true one, there is no provision in it upon the following points—the right to participate in commercial priviledges granted to the most favoured nation. (The 2d. article I think does not reach this)—Not to disturb national Fisheries—ships of war &c, freely carrying their prizes whithersoever they please—foreign privateers fitting out or selling prizes in the ports of either party—free trade, except contraband articles, with an enemy—free ships free goods—description of contraband and lawful effects—sea-papers in case of one party being at war—searches at sea—searches in port. Is it to be supposed all these particulars were omitted as being against us? There is a new point which I have already mentioned to you. The abolition of the Law of Amsterdam which prohibits a Captain of a foreign Nation in that port receiving on board his vessel even one of his own Countrymen, either as passenger or mariner, without permission from the City Magistrate, under a very heavy penalty.5 This law is unjust in itself, is a snare for strangers, especially under the infamous practices of their petty officers, who employ some villainous sailors to go on board strange vessels to ship themselves, and then to come away and give information to them. Some of our Countrymen have already suffered severely under it. You will consider this Law I am sure in its proper light. There is another matter of much more consequence still, about which I am unable to give particular information, tho’ you may obtain this tis probable, from some of our mercantile Countrymen at Amsterdam. The abominable abuse at the weigh houses, where after goods are weighed, certain officers (who have a good understanding with their own merchants as some of them have confessed to me) in a most arbitrary manner not only { 37 } settle the tare, but make enormous deductions under pretence of the goods being of an inferiour quality, or damaged, and this without giving themselves the trouble of making the proper examination.6 Their decision is conclusive, or at least as things stand, upon appeal redress is sought in vain: for by this craft we make much gain, say the Dutch Merchants. Those of them to whom I have talked upon this matter, have freely acknowledged the iniquity of this practice, but say, there is no helping it at present, when we make a commercial treaty with you, it must be provided against. I know your views are so direct, that you have the real interest of our Country so much at heart, that you can never be offended at the liberty I take, or consider it as an impertinent interference in your department. We were last seperated too suddenly, and my mind was too much agitated by the weight of the business that lay before me, when compared with my abilities, to recollect these things which did not immediately concern me. I am now more at ease, tho’ I feel the want of the gentleman’s7 Company and abilities, who had flattered me that I shou’d not want them. I wish he had had the fortitude, shall I say, to face dangers, no, there were none in the way; but to dissipate his unpromising apprehensions. Pray tell him (for I have not time to tell him myself) that I have not once even in my dreams been troubled with the idea of being banished into Siberia. If my company is not welcome here, at least I shall be permitted to return to the place from whence I came, without being compelled to go from thence to the place of execution. He that attempts nothing will accomplish nothing. And if there is nothing dishonourable in the thing attempted, and some good may come out of it, why shrink from making it? Is a fear of being a little mortified by failing of success to deter one? If such personal considerations had prevailed every where, the grandest Revolution that has ever taken place in the World, cou’d never have existed. When I see such instances of indecision in Men of real abilities and worth, I think of an observation of yours, that no American however well disposed he may be towards his Country, and however sincerely he may wish it success, who has not been bred up in it, under the immediate influence, and the early perils of this Revolution, is fit to be entrusted with the management of its important affairs.
My dear Sir, I am afraid I shall become tedious to you; and besides I have room only to express my sincere wishes that you may speedily recover from the effects of your late dangerous illness, of which I was acquainted a few days since by a letter from Mr: De { 38 } Neufville. This accounts for your long silence at which I began to be surprised. I beg you to present my regards to Mr: Thaxter in a special manner and to all other friends in Amsterdam; And to believe me to remain with much respect and affection your much obliged Friend and obedient humble Servant
[signed] FRA DANA
P.S. Your Son writes you by this opportunity.8 Mr. T. must write me. Mr. De Neufville will give my address.
RC (Adams Papers); docketed by CFA : “Dana Fr October 11th 1781.” LbC (MHi:Dana Family Papers, Francis Dana Letterbook, 1780–1781).
1. Dana refers to rumors that Prince G. A. Potemkin, Catherine II’s chief advisor, received subsidies or bribes from the British Ambassador Sir James Harris (De Madariaga, Armed Neutrality of 1780 , p. 114, 202, 297).
2. Besides Dana’s letter of 15 Oct., the packet contained duplicates of his letters of 28 July and 15 Sept. to the president of Congress (Wharton, ed., Dipl. Corr. Amer. Rev. , 4:773–776, 610–613, 710–714).
3. In his letterbook Dana indicated that he meant JA ’s journey to Paris in July.
4. For the Dutch-American treaty plan that Congress adopted on 29 Dec. 1780, see vol. 10:451–458. Most of the articles that JA included in the treaty he proposed to the Dutch in April 1782 were taken from Congress’ plan, with a few additional ones derived from the Lee-Neufville treaty of 1778 (Wharton, ed., Dipl. Corr. Amer. Rev. , 2:789–798).
5. This issue was resolved by Art. 27 of the Dutch-American Treaty of Amity and Commerce signed on 8 Oct. 1782 (Miller, ed., Treaties , 2:83).
6. For the extent to which JA was able to ameliorate this problem, see Art. 28 of the Dutch-American Treaty (same, 2:84, 89–90).
7. Edmund Jenings.
8. JQA wrote letters to both his mother and father on 23 Oct. ( Adams Family Correspondence , 4:233–235).