A website from the Massachusetts Historical Society; founded 1791.

Browsing: Papers of John Adams, Volume 12

This note contained in document ADMS-06-12-02-0236
1. Digges’ report to Lord Shelburne regarding his meeting with JA on 21 March differs significantly from JA’s account of their conversation. Compare JA’s comments to Benjamin Franklin (26 March, above) with the following memorandum Digges submitted to Shelburne:
“Mr. Adams, Dr Franklin, Mr Jay, Mr Laurens and Mr Jefferson are the Commissioners in urope to treat for Peace.
“Their Powers are to treat and conclude with the Ambassadors, Plenipotentiarys or Commissioners of the States with whom it may concern.
“Each of them are vested with equal powers relative to the Establishment of Peace and a majority of them, or any one (the others not being able to attend) can treat and conclude.
“Mr. Adams cannot speak to any proposition of a direct tendency to Truce or Peace from England without consulting His Colleagues, and from them it must be expected to go to the French minister; The other Belligerent powers having as yet no right to expect information about any propositions for Peace.
“There may however questions be askd Mr Adams and His Colleagues that they may not think essentially necessary to communicate to the French Court. And any proper messenger sent to ask such questions will be answerd with confidential Secrecy.
“Mr. Digges read over Mr Adams’s Commission; It is dated the 15th. June 1781, and His Powers (wch are exactly the same as the other four) are as full as possible, and go to conclude as well as treat for peace.
“Mr. Adams’s first Commission appointed Him to the Court of Great Britain; and this was in force until abot the beginning of Sepr 1781 when the above Commission conjointly with the other four was received in Europe; And it was so alterd by Congress for no other reason than some ill treatment of the Americans by the British Army in South Carolina and from the unfavorable treatment shewn Mr Laurens in the Tower.
“Mr. Digges has Mr Adams’s assurance that any questions put to Him as to further consulting upon the mode of opening a parley or entering into a treaty shall be confidentially and secretly answerd. And altho His, Mr As name, stands first in the Commission any direct propositions made to Dr. Franklin will be equaly attended to.
“Mr Digges leaves these memorandas with Lord Shelburne for the purpose of His Lordships communicating them to any other of the present administration whom Mr D has not the honor to know” (MiU-C:Shelburne Papers).
The most controversial points in Digges’ report are the fifth and eighth paragraphs, which insinuate that JA and his colleagues { 380 } would be willing to negotiate a separate peace—a flat contradiction of Congress’ instructions (vol. 11:375–377) and of every letter JA had written since the beginning of 1782 regarding the possibility of peace negotiations. In fact, when Shelburne met with Henry Laurens on 4 April, he stated that Digges assured him that JA said “the American Ministers can treat for Peace with Great Britain, Independent of France” (Laurens, Papers, 15:400–401). Laurens’ skepticism that JA would make such a statement, and Shelburne’s desire to confirm it, resulted in Laurens’ undertaking a mission to the Netherlands to meet with JA. See Laurens’ memorandum, [post 18 April], below.
Digges also misrepresented the reasons why the U.S. peace commission was expanded. See Commissions and Instructions for Mediation and Peace, 15 June 1781 (vol. 11:368–370).
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, 2017.