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Browsing: Papers of John Adams, Volume 8


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).

Docno: ADMS-06-08-02-0112

Author: Adams, John
Recipient: McKean, Thomas
Date: 1779-09-20

To Thomas McKean

[salute] My dear sir

It is a long Time, Since I had the Pleasure to see you, but my Esteem is not at all diminished. None of Us have any Thing to boast of in these Times, in Respect to the Happiness of Life. You have been in disagreable Scaenes no doubt—mine have been much worse than I expected.
I never heard of any Jealousy, Envy or Malevolence, among our Commissioners, at Paris, untill my Arrival at Bourdeaux. Judge of my surprise, Grief and Mortification, then, when I heard at Bourdeaux, and found on my Arrival at Paris, the Heat and Fury to which it had arisen. Both Sides most earnestly besieged me, in order to get me to join their Party, but I Saw the only Part a Man who had either Conscience or Honour could take, in my Situation, was to join neither. Accordingly I invariably and firmly refused to have any Thing to do with their Disputes, before my Arrival, or after it, any farther than they might, unavoidably be intermixed, with the public Questions, in which my Office obliged me to give an Opinion, and then to give it impartially for the public Good. I accordingly lived, not only in Peace but in Friendship to all Appearance, with both Sides. If there was any Animosity, in either against me, personally, it was very artfully concealed from me, and certainly never had any just Cause.1 Since my Arrival here, I am informed that I have been honoured with a little of the Ill humour of both sides, and I beg your Assistance in Congress, that I may be informed of the Particulars as I have requested.2
Congress have done the only Thing that could dissolve the Charm that is left one alone. An opposition in Parliament, in an Assembly, in a senate, in Congress is highly usefull and necessary to ballance Individuals, Bodies, and Interests one against another, to bring the Truth to Light and Justice to prevail. But an opposition in a foreign Embassy in the Circumstances of this Country and of Europe, is Ruin. There can be no secrecy, no Confidence, where such an opposition takes Place, much less where there now are Such infernal Quarrells, as were between my Colleagues. It would be better to employ a single Man of sense, even although he should be as selfish and interested as is possible consistent with Fealty to his Country, than three virtuous Men of { 162 } greater Abilities, any two of whom should be at open Variance with each other. It would be better to employ a single Stockjobber, or Monopolizer. It <would be> is better still no doubt to employ one Man of Virtue and Ability.
I presume Congress intend to appoint a secretary to the Commission, and Consuls for the Management of Commercial and maritime matters. It is highly necessary. Franklin is a Wit and a <droll> Humourist, I know. He may be a Philosopher, for what I know, but he is not a sufficient Statesman, he knows too little of American Affairs or the Politicks of Europe, and takes too little Pains to inform himself of Either. He is too old, too infirm3 too indolent and dissipated, to be sufficient for the Discharge of all the important Duties of Ambassador, Secretary, Admiral, Commercial Agent, Board of War, Board of Treasury, Commissary of Prisoners, &c. &c. &c. as he is at present in that Department, besides an immense Correspondence, and Acquaintance, each of which would be enough for the whole Time of the most active Man in the Vigour of Youth.
Yet such is his Name on both Sides the Water, that it is best, perhaps that he should be left there. But a secretary and Consuls should be appointed to do the Business, or it will not be done, or if done it will not be done by him, but by busy People who insinuate themselves into his Confidence without either such Heads or Hearts as Congress should trust.
I took my Pen, chiefly to pay my Respects to you, but it ran insensibly into Politicks, in which the public is so much Interested, that I will neither blot, nor alter.4

[salute] I am, with great Esteem and Respect sir, your most obedient servant

[signed] John Adams
RC (PHi: McKean Papers); docketed: “Lre.—Honble. John Adams. Braintree. Septr. 20th. 1779. No. 19.” LbC (Adams Papers). Illegible canceled words have been supplied from the Letterbook.
1. In the Letterbook, the preceding seven words are interlined. Earlier in the sentence JA also interlined “personally” and substituted the word “artfully” for “hypocritically.” Compare JA's account here of the conflict between the Commissioners with that in his letter to James Lovell of 10 Sept. (above).
2. See JA's letters of 10 Sept. to Elbridge Gerry, the president of the congress, and James Lovell (above).
3. The word “infirm” is taken from the Letterbook, for it is illegible in the recipient's copy, where it is interlined. This whole passage on Franklin's inability to fulfill all his functions was labored over in the Letterbook, as is evident from interlining, the addition of a sentence written in the margin, and clauses of another written out of order. In one sentence the original phrasing is even harsher on Franklin: “He knows <very> too little of American Affairs, <and less> of the Politics of Europe and takes <very> too little Pains to inform himself of either.”
4. In place of this paragraph, the Let• { 163 } terbook has “I write plainly, but confidentially. I write to you, because I believe you have not been heated with any of the personal Disputes between or Concerning the Commissioners.”
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/