A website from the Massachusetts Historical Society; founded 1791.

Browsing: Papers of John Adams, Volume 7

Docno: ADMS-06-07-02-0276

Author: Adams, John
Recipient: Lafayette, Marie-Joseph-Paul-Yves-Roch-Gilbert du Motier, marquis de
Date: 1779-02-21

To the Marquis de Lafayette

[salute] My dear Marquiss

The Conversation with which you honoured me last Evening,1 has induced me, to give you the Trouble of this Letter upon the same subject.
It is certain that a Loan of Money, is very much wanted, to redeem the Redundancy of our Paper Bills, and without it, it is impossible to foresee what will be the Consequence to their Credit, and therefore every service that may be rendered, in order to obtain it from this Kingdom, from Spain or Holland, will be a most essential and acceptable service.
But without some other Exertions, even a Loan, perhaps would be but a temporary Relief: with them a smaller Loan might suffice.
You know perfectly well, that the Ennemy in America, is at present very weak and in great Distress in every Part. They are weak in Canada—weak in Hallifax—weak in Rhode Island—weak at New York <and> weak in the Floridas, and weak in every one of the West India Islands.
An Strong2 Armament of Ships of the Line, with Five thousand Troops, directed against Hallifax, Rhode Island or New York, must infallibly succeed. So it must against The Floridas. So it must against Canada, or any one of the West India Islands.
You are very sensible that, in this state of Weakness, the British Possessions in America depend upon each other for reciprocal support. The Troops and ships derive such supplies of Provisions, from Canada and Nova Scotia, that if these Places or either of them was lost it { 422 } would be difficult, if not impossible for the others to subsist. The West India Islands derive such supplies from the Floridas, that if they were lost, the others could scarcely subsist. Their Fleets and Armies, in Canada Hallifax, Rhode Island, New York, and the Floridas receive supplies of Rum Sugar, Molasses &c. from the West India Islands without which they could scarcely subsist. Every Part of their Possessions in America, both on the Continent and in the Islands receive constant supplies from, Europe, from England Scotland and Ireland, without which they must fall. You perceive therefore that their Dominions in America at present form such a Chain that the Links mutually support each other, in such a Manner that if one or two were taken away the whole, or at least the greatest Part must fall.
In this state of Things then the obvious Policy is, to send a strong Squadron of Ships of the Line, to co-operate with the Count D'Estaing and the American Army in some Expedition directed against New York Rhode Island or Hallifax or perhaps all of them in Course—five or six Thousand Troops, would be quite enough. Above all it is indispensably necessary to keep a clear superiority of naval Power both on the Coast of the Continent and in the West India Islands. This, together with French and American Privateers, would make such Havock among the Ennemies Transports passing from one of their Possessions to another as must ruin their Affairs.
The French have a great Advantage in carrying on this Kind of War, in America at present. The British ships are badly manned and in bad Repair. They cannot send them into the American seas without the Utmost Terror for their own Coasts—and when they are in America, they have not such Advantages for supplies of Provisions, naval stores and so forth as the French.
The Devastation that was made among their ships of the Line Frigates Transports and Traders in the American seas the last summer, shews how much more might be done, if a stronger Force was sent there.3
As long as the Ennemy keep Possession of New York and Rhode Island so long it will be necessary for Us to keep up large Armies to watch their Motions and defend the Country against them, which will oblige Us to emit more Paper and still farther encrease the Depreciation.
Now as long as they maintain the Dominion of those Seas, their Troops will be protected by the Cannon of their ships, and We could not dislodge them, with any Army however large—<and> at least We could not keep those Places.
But if their Force was captivated in those Places, as it might easily { 423 } be by a sea Force cooperating with the land Forces, We might reduce our Army, and innumerable other Articles of Expence. We need not emit any more Paper, and that already out, would depreciate no further.
I should be happy to have further Conversation with you, sir upon those subjects or to explain any Thing by Letter, which may be in my Power.
With the highest sentiments of Esteem and Respect, I have the Honour to be, sir your most obedient and most humble servant
LbC (Adams Papers); notation: “sent—and recd. as the Marquis told me 27 feb.” A copy (NHi), the first twelve lines of which are in JA's hand and the rest in John Thaxter's hand, was later made from the Letterbook copy and enclosed in JA's letter to Elbridge Gerry of 11 Sept. (below). Another copy, entirely in Thaxter's hand, was sent as an enclosure (PCC, No. 84, I, f. 107–110) in JA's letter of 21 Oct. to the president of the congress (below).
1. JA described the conversation with Lafayette in his letter to Elbridge Gerry of 11 Sept. (below). Certainly JA's proposal fit in well with Lafayette's plan for a Franco-American attack on Canada, which he pressed on the French government. Despite Lafayette's efforts, the plan was rejected for financial reasons as well as the doubtful benefit to France of additional American conquests (Louis Gottschalk, Lafayette and the Close of the American Revolution, Chicago, 1942, p. 7–9).
2. “Strong” was interlined for insertion.
3. The following three paragraphs were written below the closing and marked for insertion at this point.

Docno: ADMS-06-07-02-0277-0001

Author: Vergennes, Charles Gravier, Comte de
Recipient: Adams, John
Date: 1779-02-21

From the Comte de Vergennes

J'ai reçû, Monsieur, la lettre que vous m'avez fait l'honneur de m'écrire le 16. de ce mois.1 Quoique vous Soïez désormais Sans caractère public en France, Soïez persuadé que l'estime et la considération que vous vous êtes acquises à juste titre n'ont aucunement diminüé, et je me flatte, Monsieur, que vous ne me priverez point du plaisir de vous en assûrer de bouche, et d'être en même tems l'interprête des Sentimens de bienvéillance dont le Roi vous honore; Ils sont la suite du contentement particulier qu'a Sa Majesté de la sage conduite que vous avez tenüe pendant toute la durée de votre commission, ainsi que du Zèle que vous avez constamment déploié tant pour la cause de votre patrie, que pour le maintien de l'Alliance qui l'attache à Sa Majesté.
J'ai l'honneur d'être très parfaitement, Monsieur, votre très humble et très obéissant serviteur
[signed] De Vergennes

Docno: ADMS-06-07-02-0277-0002

Author: Vergennes, Charles Gravier, Comte de
Recipient: Adams, John
Date: 1779-02-21

The Comte de Vergennes to John Adams: A Translation

I have received, sir, the letter that you did me the honor to write me the 16th of this month.1 Although in the future you will be without of• { 424 } ficial status in France, rest assured that the esteem and consideration you justly earned has not in any way diminished, and I flatter myself, sir, that you will not deprive me of the pleasure of communicating this to you in person and being, at the same time, the bearer of the feelings of good will with which the King honors you. These are the results of the special satisfaction His Majesty has derived from the wise conduct that you have held to throughout the tenure of your commission, as well as from the zeal with which you have constantly furthered the cause of your nation, while strengthening the alliance that ties it to His Majesty.
I have the honor to be very sincerely, Sir, your very humble and very obedient servant
[signed] Vergennes
RC (Adams Papers); docketed: “M. Le Comte de Vergennes.”
1. From this point, except for the closing sentence, translations of this letter were printed on 27 April 1780 in the London Courant and Westminster Chronicle and Parker's General Advertiser, both organs of the anti-North opposition. They followed a translation of the announcement in the Mercure de France, 5 April 1780, of JA's mission to negotiate the peace and of his presentation at the French court on 7 March 1780. JA sent both items to William Singleton Church [i.e. Thomas Digges] in a letter of 15 April 1780, asking that Digges have them published in the English papers because “it is of Importance, that I should, in my present situation be known to be faithfull to our Allies and Alliances, and in good Understanding with this Court” (LbC, Adams Papers). The two items were later reprinted in vol. 2 of John Almon's Remembrancer for 1780, but there Vergennes' letter was given the date of 21 Feb. 1780. The error is curious, for Almon was also connected with the London Courant and there had printed the letter under its correct date.
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.