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Browsing: Papers of John Adams, Volume 9


Docno: ADMS-06-09-02-0282-0002

Author: Adams, John
Recipient: Franklin, Benjamin
Date: 1780-06-26

To Benjamin Franklin

[salute] Sir

I have read over all the Papers in the Bundle left with me, numbered to thirty seven. I have also read the three Queries stated to me.
These Queries I apprehend can legally be answered only by Con• { 476 } gress or a Court Martial; and therefore it would be improper in me to give any answer to them because the Papers will appear before Congress or a Court Martial; who can judge of them better than I. They will also hear Captain Landais which I cannot do. My Opinion therefore would have no Weight either before the one or the other Tribunal or supposing it to be admitted to be read and to have any Weight it ought not to be given, because I cannot be legally either a Witness or a Judge.
I cannot however think that the Instructions of the Navy Board to Captain Landais to obey the orders of the Minister Plenipotentiary, contain Authority to remove him, without his Consent,1 from the Command of a Ship committed to him by Congress, because the Navy Board themselves had not as I apprehend such Authority.
Since those Instructions were given, as I was informed at Boston, Congress have given to the Navy Board Power, upon any Misbehaviour of an Officer, to suspend him, stating to Congress at the same Time a regular Charge against him. But I do not find among these Papers such Authority given to any Body in Europe, nor do I find that any regular Charge against Captain Landais has been stated to Congress.2
There has seldom if ever been in France a sufficient Number of Officers at a time to constitute a Court Martial, and our Code of Admiralty Laws is so inadequate to the Government of Frigates for any Length of Time in Europe, that it is presumed Congress in future will either omit to put Frigates under any direction in Europe, or make some Additions to the Laws of the Admiralty adapted to such Cases—for there is an End of all Order, Discipline and Decency, when disputes arise and there is no Tribunal to decide them, and when Crimes are committed or alledged, and there is no Authority to try or to punish them.3
I have not observed among these Papers any clear Evidence of Captain Landais Consent to leave the Command of the Ship and therefore upon the whole, rather than bring the present disputes about the Alliance to any critical and dangerous decision here, where the Law is so much at a loose and there can be no legal Tribunal to decide, I should think your Excellency would be most likely to be justified in pursuing the mildest measures, by transmitting all the Papers and Evidence to Congress or the Navy Board for a Trial by a Court Martial and ordering the commanding Officer of the Alliance with the Stores and Convoy as soon as possible to America.4
{ 477 }
I give this opinion to your Excellency, to make what use of it you think proper.5
I have the Honour to be, with great Respect, sir your most obedient and humble servant.
[signed] John Adams
RC in John Thaxter's hand except for the date, final paragraph, and signature (PPAmP: Franklin Papers); endorsed: “June 26 1780. Answer to Queries. recd 11 1/2 a.m. June 26. John Adams.” In the Franklin Papers the recipient's copy is accompanied by an MS containing the three questions put to JA by Franklin. This may have been the draft from which the copy received by JA was made ([ante 26 June], above). Dft, with date in John Thaxter's hand (Adams Papers); endorsed: “My Answer to Dr. F's Queries.” LbC in John Thaxter's hand (Adams Papers).
1. In the draft the preceding three words were interlined.
2. For Pierre Landais' orders of Dec. 1778, mentioned in this and the previous paragraph, see Franklin's letter of [ante 26 June] (above). JA is correct that no authorization had been given to any person in Europe to suspend or remove a naval officer from his command by any act of Congress and that no formal charges had been lodged against Landais in America. However, congressional resolutions adopted in May and Aug. 1778, prior to the orders issued to Landais, had authorized the Navy Boards to institute courts of inquiry and courts-martial to deal with the loss of naval vessels and other infractions and to suspend the accused officer from command (JCC, 11: 469–471, 814).
3. For JA's further thoughts regarding the regulation of the navy and his recommendations to Congress, see his letter of 29 June to the president of Congress (No. 88, below).
4. JA's recommendation here likely resulted in Franklin's letter of 27 June, addressed “To the commanding Officer for the Time being of the Frigate Alliance, belonging to the United States of North America,” ordering Landais to take on board the Alliance the supplies awaiting transport and to carry them to Philadelphia (PCC, No. 193, f. 667). No letter has been found, however, from Benjamin Franklin to anyone in America enclosing the documents that were sent to JA for his examination. Indeed, the court-martial leading to Landais' expulsion from the navy resulted from his actions during the return of the Alliance to America, not his earlier conduct during the engagement between the Bonhomme Richard and the Serapis or his displacement of John Paul Jones as captain of the Alliance.
5. In the draft, which does not contain the final closing paragraph, this sentence was followed by the following canceled passage “I shall not communicate it to any Body on Board the Alliance, or elsewhere, not even to Congress.”

Docno: ADMS-06-09-02-0282-0003

Author: Adams, John
Recipient: Huntington, Samuel
Recipient: President of Congress
Date: 1780-06-26

To the President of Congress, No. 87

[salute] Sir

The Resolutions of Congress of the 18th. of March respecting the paper bills, appeared first in Europe as recited in the Act of the Assembly of Pennsylvania.1 They were next published in the English News-Papers as taken from a Boston Paper published by the Council;2 at last the Resolutions appear'd in the Journals of Congress.
A great clamour was raised and spread, that the United States had violated their Faith, and had declared themselves Bankrupts unable to pay more than Two and a half pr. Cent.
{ 478 }
A Gentleman3 soon after called upon me, and told me that the Court were alarmed, and that the Comte De Vergennes wou'd be glad to consult me upon the Subject. I then receiv'd a Letter from Boston acquainting me that the Legislature of Massachusetts had adopted the Plan. Of this letter I sent an Extract immediately to the Comte,4 and waited on him at Versailles, where I had the honor of a long Conversation with his Excellency on the Subject.5 He desired me to converse with his first Commis6 upon the Subject; which I did particularly.
He Excellency told me he had written to me upon the Subject and that I shou'd receive the letter the next Day. On my return from Versailles, I received a letter from Mr. Gerry7 informing me of the Resolutions to pay the Loan Office Certificates at the value of money at the Time when they issued. I had before told the Comte, that I was persuaded this was a part of the plan. I sent an Extract of this letter also to the Comte without loss of time. The next day I received the Letter from his Excellency; Copy of which and of my Answer are enclosed.8 Yesterday Mr. Trumbull of Connecticut, favoured me with a Law of the State, respecting this matter, and an Estimate of the gradual progress of Depreciation. Those papers I forthwith transmitted to his Excellency.9
I am determined to give my sentiments to His Majesty's Ministers whenever they shall see Cause to ask them; altho it is not within my Department, untill I shall be forbidden by Congress and to this End, I will go to Court often enough to give them opportunity to ask them, if they wish to know them.10
The Clamour that has been raised, that has been so industriously spread, that I cannot but suspect; that the Motive at Bottom, has either been a wish to have opportunity of continuing the profitable speculations, which artful Men are able to make in a depreciating Currency, or else by spreading a diffidence in American Credit to discourage many from engaging in American Trade, that the profits of it, may still continue to be confined to a few. I have the honour with the greatest respect Your Excellency's Most obedient and most humble Servant
[signed] John Adams11
RC in Francis Dana's hand (PCC, No. 84, II, f. 153–156); endorsed: “No. 86 Letter from John Adams June 26. 1780 Read Novr. 30. Referred to Mr. Lovell Mr. Houston Mr. Motte.” LbC (Adams Papers); notations: “Recd. in congress Nov. 25.”; by Thaxter: “No. 87” and “NB. The original of No. 87 was delivered with the Letters mentioned to be inclosed in it, to Mr. Braxton of Virginia, who was going to L'Orient. 26th June 1780. Duplicate of No. 87 & its Inclosures were delivered to Thomas Fitz { 479 } Gerald an officer under Commode. Gillon, to go to Amsterdam—1st. July 1780. Triplicates of the above were delivered to Mr. Gridley a Gentleman with Commodore Gillon bound to Amsterdam—8th July 1780.”
1. See Jonathan Williams to JA, 23 May, and note 3 (above).
2. The resolution of 18 March, taken from the Boston Independent Chronicle of 6 April, appeared in the London Courant of 24 May.
3. Probably Leray de Chaumont. If so, and if JA's account is correct, then considerable light is shed on Vergennes' role in initiating the exchange over the resolution of 18 March, but see Chaumont's letter of 16 June to Joseph Mathias Gérard de Rayneval (above).
4. To Vergennes, 16 June (above).
5. In the Letterbook this sentence continues: “and endeavoured to convince him of the Rectitude of the Measure.” The omission was likely a copying error, for the passage appears in a duplicate of this letter received by Congress on 19 Feb. 1781 (PCC, No. 84, II, f. 157–160).
6. That is, Rayneval.
7. This was Gerry's letter of 5 May (above). The extract was enclosed in JA's letter of 20 June to Vergennes (above).
8. The register of letters received by Congress indicates that the letter as received on 30 Nov. contained two enclosures: “June 21st Count De Vergennes to Mr. Ad. Objections agst. Act of Congress 18 March 22 Mr. Ad: to C. de Vergennes Answr. and vindication of sd. Act” (PCC, No. 185, II, f. 75). The “vindication” was probably JA's first letter of 22 June to Vergennes, for no copy of the second letter is in the PCC, but see JA's letter of 29 June to Franklin, note 1 (below). The copies received by Congress on 12 Dec. 1780 and 19 Feb. 1781, however, contained six enclosures: the two letters noted above as well as his letters of [22] and 29 June to Franklin, Vergennes' letter of 30 June, and his reply of 1 July (PCC, No. 185, II, f. 77; No. 84, II, f. 157–159). See also Vergennes' letter of 29 July, note 1 (below).
9. For this letter to Vergennes of 25 June (Adams Papers) transmitting the information obtained from John Trumbull, see JA's letter to Vergennes of 16 June, note 2 (above).
10. This is the most determined statement concerning JA's approach to the French government found in any of JA's letters to date, and foreshadows the bitter exchange between JA and Vergennes in July over French aid and the disclosure of his mission to the British ministry (The Dispute with the Comte de Vergennes, 13–29 July, below). For a discussion of its implications, see the Editorial Note, 16 June–1 July (above).
11. For Congress' approval of JA's representations regarding the revaluation described in this letter, see its resolution of 12 Dec., which was enclosed with the Committee for Foreign Affairs' letter of that date (below).
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/