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Browsing: Papers of John Adams, Volume 10

This note contained in document ADMS-06-10-02-0157
3. The papers seized from Henry Laurens were sent to Sir Joseph Yorke, who laid them before William V on 16 October. Chief among the documents was the treaty signed by William Lee and Jean de Neufville at Aix-laChappelle on 4 Sept. 1778 (vol. 7:5–6, 64–65; Wharton, ed., Dipl. Corr. Amer. Rev., 2:789–798). Since Lee had no powers from Congress to negotiate and Neufville acted only as Amsterdam's agent, the treaty had no official standing. From the British point of view, however, it was a perfect pretext for war if the Dutch did not immediately comply with British demands. William V, agreeing with the British and outraged that Amsterdam would take such a provocative step, demanded an explanation from Egbert de Vrij Temminck, Burgomaster of Amsterdam. When Temminck failed to reply to the Prince's satisfaction, William V submitted the documents to both the Provincial States of Holland and the States General on 20 Oct. (Schulte Nordholt, Dutch Republic and Amer. Independence, p. 148–150; Edler, Dutch Republic and the American Revolution, p. 152–155).
A printed copy of the documents, in English and Dutch, submitted to the States General entitled Papieren Zyn Hoogheid ter Vergadering van hun Ed. Groot Mog. op den 20 October 1780 overgegeeven is in the Adams Papers, but see also the first volume of John Almon's Remembrancer for 1781 (p. 37–48), which purports to include all of the documents that Yorke was ordered to submit, including letters of 8 April and 6 Sept. 1778 from Joan Derk van der Capellen tot den Pol to Henry Laurens. Included in the Dutch publication was the text of the draft treaty and letters, clearly indicating Amsterdam's role in the negotiation, from Jean de Neufville to Samuel Stockton of 28 July 1779; Samuel Stockton to John Witherspoon of 14 April 1779; Jacob Gerard Dircks to Henry Laurens of 13 Dec. 1779; and Alexander Gillon to John Rutledge of 1 March 1780. JA was mentioned in Stockton's letter of 14 April 1779, which noted that JA was to carry the letter on his return to America in 1779; and in Gillon's letter of 1 March 1780, which referred to his unsuccessful effort in Feb. 1780 to elicit JA's help in obtaining ships for the South Carolina navy (vol. 8:321–327, 343–344).
Amsterdam responded to the demands for an explanation on 25 October. The city admit• { 308 } ted its role in the negotiation of the Lee-Neufville treaty, but argued that it was only a proposal, intended to prepare the way for the Netherlands to form a commercial relationship with the United States when and if it became independent. This was essentially the same position taken by Engelbert van Berckel, the principal advocate for the treaty among the Amsterdam leadership, in his letter to the Commissioners of 23 Sept. 1778 (vol. 7:65–66). A printed copy of Amsterdam's reply, entitled Missive van Heeren Burgemeesteren en Regeerders der Stad Amsterdam, . . ., together with an English translation in the hand of Herman Le Roy, is in the Adams Papers.
Both the Papieren and the Missive were filmed at 20 Oct. 1780, Adams Papers, Microfilms, Reel No. 353. The position taken by Amsterdam was clearly unsatisfactory to Great Britain as is evident from the memorial presented to the States General by Sir Joseph Yorke on 10 Nov. (to the president of Congress, 16 Nov., No. 20, below).
Although JA, in this letter and others in November and December, indicates that the disclosure of the Lee-Neufville treaty by the submission and later publication of the documents was “a fortunate Event,” his judgment was more muted in 1809, when he published this letter in the Boston Patriot. There he wrote that “although Mr. Vanberkel, with all that honor, integrity and fortitude which marked his character through the whole course of his life, frankly avowed the measure [the Lee-Neufville treaty], and although the regency of Amsterdam resolved to support it, yet it is certain, the discovery of it spread an universal consternation throughout the seven Provinces. I do not remember to have found one person who pretended to see the wisdom of it, though no man doubted the purity of the design. . . . I have always believed that the regency was importuned into this measure by Mr. De Neufville, who was then a very busy and a very popular man upon the Exchange of Amsterdam” (JA, Corr. in the Boston Patriot, p. 261–262).
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, 2018.