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Browsing: Papers of John Adams, Volume 8


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Docno: ADMS-06-08-02-0111

Author: Adams, John
Recipient: Gerry, Elbridge
Date: 1779-09-20

To Elbridge Gerry

[salute] My dear sir

I have transmitted my Account to the Board of Treasury, according to their Directions together with my Vouchers, and have desired that these last may be delivered to you after the Board should have done with them. I must beg the favour of you to receive them and transmit them to me by a safe Hand.
I see that Congress have allowed to their Commissioners, one half of what they voted in the Beginning of Things to give the secretary to the Commission, not half, I suppose of what I could very honourably have earned at Home in my Profession—not half to be sure of what, some Gentlemen of the Bar, have actually earned since my departure. As Congress have been so moderate in the Salary, I presume they dont intend to be stingy in the Article of Expences.1
If I had known before I left France, of even this Allowance, I could have made a very honourable as well as handsome Advantage of it: but nothing being settled I did not dare to run the Risque, as I knew not what Temper or Principles prevailed.
I have received, a sum in the whole, over and above my Expences, part of it is gone to Jersey and Guernsy2 and part is by me in Cash and part is foolishly spent in a manner I am ashamed to tell.3 It was necessary to take some Cash with me, in order to bear my Expences in Case of Captivity or in Case of landing at Philadelphia, Virginia or South Carolina as might have been my fortune.4 If I could have brought it hence in Goods, it would have been happy for my family, but this I could not do because I must come home in a French Frigate, which was so incumbered with Passengers and their Baggage that I had not the Confidence to add to the Cargo more than was indispensible. In short I have been very, genteely <duped> bubbled, as every other modest and virtuous Man is like to be.
What is the Reason that you and I cannot Speculate in Change Ally, that We cannot trumpet our own Praises, that We cannot avail ourselves of our public Characters to get private Credit in Trade, and make Fame and Fortune like other Men? I begin to believe that We { 160 } had better leave it to those who can.5 This is the Way to get Popularity and Power. This is the Way I find to obtain the Confidence of the People. This is the only Way in which they will suffer any Man to do them good.
You said something to me in one of your Letters which I did not understand. That you had not approved of the Policy of some and therefore did not expect their Confidence. I dont know whose Confidence is meant here.6 It will be a long Time before you will loose mine, I believe. You must depart from those fair, honourable, virtuous, benevolent and publik Spirited Principles, or you must loose that Sagacity and Judgment, which I ever found in you, before my Confidence in you will be lost or diminished. What your Conduct has been in Congress since I parted from you, I know not, but some of your Votes that I have seen were more consistent with Truth, Justice and sound Policy, than others that I see in the same Page. Pray let me know a little of these Things, and believe me, with unabated Affection your Frid.
1. On 6 Aug. the congress had resolved “that an allowance of 11,428 livres tournois per annum, be made to the several commissioners of the United States in Europe for their services, besides their reasonable expenses respectively” (JCC, 14:928). JA received this resolution and another by the Treasury Board of 26 Aug., ordering that it be sent to him, as enclosures in a letter of 2 Sept. from Robert Troup, secretary of the Board of Treasury, which also asked him to submit his accounts (Adams Papers). It was from the resolution of 6 Aug. that JA derived the figure given for his annual salary in his accounts printed under the date of [ca. 19 Sept.] (above). JA's complaint concerned the apparent incongruity between the congress' action in 1779 and that taken in 1776. When the Commissioners were first appointed the congress did not set a precise salary, but rather, in a resolution on 28 Sept. 1776 that was postponed and may not have been acted on later, declared “that the Commissioners should live in such stile and manner at the court of France, as they may find suitable and necessary to support the dignity of their public character” and “that besides the actual expences of the commissioners, a handsome allowance be made to each of them as compensation for their time, trouble, risque and service.” At the same time a salary of £1,000 per year was proposed for the Commissioners' secretary (JCC, 5:833–834). These resolves, even if not formally adopted, were considered while JA was at the congress, and he presumably would have assumed that the salary allowed the Commissioners would be higher than that of their secretary. However, £1,000 was equal to approximately 24,000 livres, a far cry from the 11,428 livres allowed in 1779, thus explaining JA's anger at the miserliness of the congress.
2. JA may be referring to money he furnished to Americans imprisoned on these islands who escaped or were exchanged, but he may also be speaking of goods sent by him to America that were captured by the islands' notorious privateers. See, for instance, his letters to AA of 26 July 1778, and note 2, and 6 Nov. 1778, in Adams Family Correspondence, 3:66–67, 114–116.
3. The clause beginning with “and part is foolishly spent” is interlined.
4. “My fortune” is interlined as a replacement for “the case,” perhaps because JA had already used “case” twice in the sentence.
{ 161 }
5. The remainder of this paragraph is squeezed in, in smaller writing, before the next paragraph.
6. JA refers to Gerry's letter of 24 Aug. (above). Gerry did not specifically resolve JA's uncertainty in his reply of 12 Oct., but felt he had generally enlightened JA in his long letter of 29 Sept. (both below).
Cite web page as: Founding Families: Digital Editions of the Papers of the Winthrops and the Adamses, ed.C. James Taylor. Boston: Massachusetts Historical Society, 2014.
http://www.masshist.org/apde2/