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Browsing: Papers of John Adams, Volume 9

Docno: ADMS-06-09-02-0076

Author: Adams, John
Recipient: Jenings, Edmund
Date: 1780-04-02

To Edmund Jenings

[salute] Dear Sir

After Settling a Point or two here, I now think myself at Liberty to inform you, that I have indeed the Honour, to be a Minister plenipotentiary from the United States of America, “vested with full Powers and Instructions to confer, treat, agree and conclude with the Ambassadors or Plenipotentiaries of his most christian Majesty and of his Britannic Majesty, and those of any other Princes or states, whom it may concern, vested with equal Powers, relating to the Reestablishment of Peace and Friendship, and whatever shall be so agreed and concluded to Sign, and make a Treaty or Treaties and to transact every Thing that may be necessary for compleating, the great Work of Pacification.”1 This you may affirm, without making Use of my Name as your Authority, at present unless to particular Friends.
My Mission was not the Effect of any sudden Joy or Sorrow, Hope or fear arising from any Event of War prosperous or Adverse: but a measure more than a year under Consideration of Congress, and it was thought very proper to have a Minister residing in Europe, Solely for the Purpose of attending to Propositions for Peace. Their Deliberations were long upon the Commission and Instructions, which were at last concluded, and the Choice to my utter astonishment fell upon me, by the Votes of Eleven states, twelve only being present.
This Unanimity, after all the Struggles and Divisions about our foreign Affairs, and the Certainty of still greater Divisions, which I was assured would be the Consequence of my Refusal, determined Me, to put myself once more to sea from a quiet and an happy Harbour. It is a situation that is and will be envyed. And I have Seen enough of what there is in human Bosoms to know that Envy is a formidable Ennemy. It is however more justly to be dreaded than envyed. I assure you it appalls me, when I reflect upon it. The Immensity of the Trust, is too great for every Thing but an honest { 105 } Heart, and for that too, without a sounder Understanding, and profounder, sublimer and more extended Views, than I have any Pretentions too.
I should esteem it as a favour if you would take Measures, to have Some Paragraphs inserted in the English Newspapers, announcing the Purport of my Mission. The Nature of them I shall leave to your Discretion. I am with much affection yours,
[signed] John Adams
1. Although set off by quotation marks (closing supplied), the passage is an accurate paraphrase of a portion of JA's commission of 29 Sept. 1779 to negotiate a peace treaty (calendar entry, vol. 8:185; JA, Diary and Autobiography, 4:178–179). With minor stylistic changes and the addition of some introductory material, this passage formed the basis for the announcements of JA's mission that appeared in various London newspapers, including the General Advertiser and Morning Intelligencer and The Morning Post and Daily Advertiser of 12 April and the London Chronicle of 11–13 April. The notice appearing in the General Advertiser was copied by John Thaxter and forms one entry in a twelve page document that JA endorsed: “Paragraphs <in> Public Prints”; and which contains items from various British and continental newspapers for the period from 5 April to 4 July. Immediately following the piece from the General Advertiser of 12 April, Thaxter copied another that appeared on 13 April in the same paper. “We can venture to assure the Public from respectable Authority, that Mr. Adams, the Minister Plenipotentiary from the United States of America to the Court of France, is not arrived in Europe for the purpose of offering Terms to Great Britain; and that he has only recieved Instructions to listen, conjunctively with France, to the Overtures of the King of England and his Ministers for Peace.” On 18 April the General Advertiser again commented on JA's mission in an article copied by Thaxter and of which a clipping is in the Adams Papers (Microfilms, Reel No. 604). There, after noting that the declining position of Great Britain vis-à-vis the European powers made peace a necessity, the author stated that “we have the fullest authority to declare, that the paragraph in the public prints, mentioning the powers with which Mr. Adams, the Minister from the United States to the Court of France, is absolutely invested, ought to be relied on as a certain fact. Time will soon discover, whether it be the inclination of those who govern us to put a period to the national calamities, or to increase them beyond the hope of remedy.” For a possible explanation for these additional statements regarding JA's status, see Edmund Jenings' letter of 24 April, note 3 (below).

Docno: ADMS-06-09-02-0077

Author: Adams, John
Recipient: Lee, William
Date: 1780-04-02

To William Lee

[salute] Dear Sir

Your Favour of the 30th. of March, is just come to Hand, and I thank you for it.
I did not <Suspect> construe any Thing in your last into a design of drawing from me, any of the Secrets of my mission, indeed there is no secret in it, but my Instructions, which will I hope <forever> remain so, untill they are executed if that time should ever come.
I have had Reasons, however for saying nothing till now, about my Commission, but those Reasons exist no more. I have indeed the { 106 } Honour to be Minister Plenipotentiary, with full Powers with the Ambassadors or Ministers from France and Great Britain and all other Princes and states whom it may concern, to enter into Conferences Negotiations and Treaties for Peace.
When our Ennemy will wish for Peace, So far as to think of it in earnest I know not. Peace concerns her more than any of the belligerent Powers. America, even, can Sustain the War, although it will be irksome and greivous, infinitely better than England.
America grows more powerful, more numerous, more brave, and better disciplined every Year of the War, and more independant too both in Spirit and Circumstances. Their Trade it is true does not flourish as it did, but their Agriculture Arts, and Manufactures increase in Proportion to the decline of their Trade. England is wasting away, not withstanding the violence of her convulsive Struggles, both in Wealth in Commerce, in Manufactures, in Sailors Soldiers Population <and every Thing else. Nothing[ . . . ]> and above all in political Consideration among the Powers of Europe, every day. Her Reputation1 which is a more durable Source of Power, and a more constant Cause of Prosperity, to states as well as individuals, declines amidst all her Activity, Exertions and successes. The Hopes and Fears of other Nations are turning by degrees from her to other People, and these She will find it harder to regain than even the good Will of America, which is also leaving her, every day. The English2 Nation dont seem to me to <consider> see any thing in its true Light or weigh any thing in a just ballance. The Points already gained by Ireland, dont appear to be understood in England in their Consequences. If she should carry the other Points she aims at, she will become a dangerous Rival to G. B. in Trade, and even in political Power, and dangerous to her even in military. And she must and will carry those Points if this War is continued. Yet the predominant <Passion> Temper, drowns all, in England. Their Pride, Revenge and Habits of domineering will not suffer them to listen to any Thing that does not sooth those lively Passions.
The Fury that appears among the Members of Paliament, convinces me that the opposition is more formidable than you Seem to think it. The Committees go on, and, altho I dont found my Expectations, upon Characters that now appear, I know that those Committees will bring up others to public View, who will do the Work. When a society gets disturbed Men of Great Talents and great Qualities are always found, or made.
I wish you had been more particular concerning the Buccaneering { 107 } Expedition, which you say is preparing in England against the Spanish Possessions in S. America.
Nothing from America, nor from Mr Laurens. Adieu
I think I am perfectly sure of my self, that I shall never be led much astray by my Resentment against the English however Strong they may have been, and however justly founded. Distrust of them I have, quite seperate from all Resentment, So fixed by 20 Years incessant Attention to their Policy, that it is very possible they may be in earnest about Terms of Peace, before I shall beleive it. But this Error I hope will do neither them nor me any harm.3
1. The preceding fifteen words were interlined for insertion at this point.
2. This word was interlined.
3. This paragraph was written in the left margin.
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.